Diversify your portfolio with human capital

With any investment portfolio, diversification is critical in order to maximize return. Diversification can simply be defined as “not putting your eggs into one basket.” Although this is often preached, the choir is usually the first to ignore it.

We witness it all the time! For example, along with the collapse of Enron, came the collapse of its employees’ retirement plans. Why? According to The New York Times, Enron’s 401k’s asset value was approximately $2.1 billion prior to the collapse, with more than half of its assets invested in the company’s stock. Although employees had the option to choose other financial assets, satisfied with Enron’s financial performance, many invested heavily in the company’s stock. Therefore, when the company’s stock plummeted, employees’ retirement accounts were wiped out in little to no time.

Your Human Capital is an Asset Too

A well-diversified investment portfolio should not only include financial assets, but human capital as well. So, what exactly is human capital? Human capital is the present value of all potential earnings during an individual’s lifetime. So for instance, your compensation you expect to receive during your lifetime is considered your specific human capital.

More importantly, your human capital is in fact a traditional asset and should be taken into consideration when diversifying. Like other assets, human capital can be considered either safe or unsafe. A person who is employed as a tenured professor at a university may be considered to have “safe” human capital because he has a steady stream of income. Therefore, it may be more appropriate for that professor to invest in riskier assets, such as stocks. In contrast, a person whose salary fluctuates, such as a retail sales associate, may be considered to have “unsafe” human capital. It may be more appropriate for that individual to invest in less risky assets, such as bonds.

In addition, if a person is working for a company and is investing heavily into the company’s stock, that person’s investment portfolio is poorly diversified. If the company has a bad financial year, that employee may be overly exposed to the company’s risks and may experience a financial mishap similar to those experienced by Enron’s employees.

Managing the Risks

Just as there are risks associated with stocks, bonds, and other investments, there are also risks associated with your human capital. Human capital is exposed to both earnings and mortality risks. Some things an individual can do to reduce his earnings risk is establish an emergency fund or create a credit line in order to withstand periods when there is a disruption of income.

Human capital is also exposed to mortality risk. Mortality risk is the chance an individual may die prematurely at a time when their dependents need their financial contributions the most. Maintaining life insurance is one way to address this concern as it helps protect against the risk of depleting human capital at the time of death.

So, before developing your investment portfolio, take time to understand your specific human capital. Understanding your specific human capital may allow you to build your financial freedom for yourself and generations to come.

Remember, Your Choice, Your Future!

Kemberley Washington is a certified public accountant and a business professor at Dillard University.  Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog kembeley.com.


2 thoughts on “Diversify your portfolio with human capital

  1. An even more basic understanding that EVERYONE needs to understand is the connection between human capital (HC) as it’s used in the portfolio management context and HC as it’s used in the organizational development context. While HC is undoubtedly the MOST important asset we have, in the traditional use of the word, it’s been treated as the asset of one’s employer. So as people develop awareness of the human capital concept, we must also actively OWN it. I’m referring to making the connection between personality and behavioral tendencies that shape how well we fit into jobs, careers, etc, all of which is too often overlooked, and as Kem points out lead to sub-optimal (often disastrous) financial consequences that actually transfer from generation to generation.

  2. Putting everything in one basket is indeed crazy. Thing is that even now people are still doing it. I know people who work for companies whose entire portfolo is in their company. I tell them to remember Bear Stearns (a company I worked at many years ago) — they still don’t get it. That IS part of their human capital and investment capital, too. And if the company goes under or someoen ends up in jail, there goes their hard earned work.

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