Active Investing or Passive Investing – 5 key differences

Active investing sounds like a positive, proactive way to invest your assets. Passive investing sounds boring – your financial advisor is not doing much.  Here are 5 key differences between active and passive investing.

1.  It’s a Religion

It is what you and your financial advisor believe.

At the Church of Active Investing advisors sell performance to gain control of your assets. They want you to select them based on undocumented sales claims that they can produce superior returns.

At the Church of Passive Investing advisors do not sell superior performance. They vehemently believe advisors can get lucky during short time periods, but they cannot produce exceptional returns over longer time periods. So why try? Investors are better off with passive investment strategies.

2. Asset Class Investing 

You invest in securities, funds, or ETFs to exceed or match the performance of a particular asset class. For example, large capitalization, U.S. stock is an asset class that is represented by the S&P 500. Your goal is to capture the performance of this asset class.

The active manager says he can beat the performance of the S&P 500 with superior stock selection. The passive manager says invest in an S&P 500 index fund and capture the performance of the asset class for less risk and expense. 

3. Beat the Market

Active management is a continuous series of investment decisions that are supposed to produce superior results. Examples of decisions include asset allocation, security or fund selection, when to buy, and when to sell.

Advisors who sell active management have to beat the market to justify higher exposure to risk and expense. For example, an actively managed mutual fund may charge 4-6 times higher fees than a passively managed index fund.

4. Match the Market

Passive management makes decisions for asset allocation and fund or ETF selection and does not change them. They become the static decisions of passive investing.

If you can’t beat the market your next best option is to match the performance of the market. For example, the S&P 500 represents the performance of the stock market. It is up 10% during the year and so is your investment. You have matched the performance of the market.

Computers run passive investing so it is 75% to 90% cheaper than active investing that requires continuous tweaking and management by expensive professionals.

5. Investment Risk

Advisors who sell active management have to beat the market to justify the extra expense and risk. If they beat the market you are rewarded for the extra risk. If they lag the market you are not rewarded for the risk.

Advisors who sell passive management do not take extra risk to beat the market. They take the same risk as the market they intend to duplicate.

Who is right?

There is no right. It depends on your financial advisor’s beliefs.

However, there is a bottom-line. You have a big problem if you are paying for active management and your advisor is lagging the performance of the market indices after all expenses are deducted.

Jack Waymire worked in the financial services industry for 28 years before he left to found the Paladin Registry ( in 2004. This investor education website was based on the Principles in Jack’s first book: “Who’s Watching Your Money? The 17 Paladin Principles for Selecting a Financial Advisor.” 
The Registry also has a free service that matches investors to advisors who meet Paladin’s minimum requirements for competence and trustworthiness.

Other posts from Jack Waymire

One response to “Active Investing or Passive Investing – 5 key differences”

  1. Great, short and quick article. I’m passionately on the side of educating investors that passive management is the only route to go. If you’re in the market long enough active and passive management will both growth your assets. However, passive management will grow your assets MORE than active management simply because both methods ultimately produce the same market return less the fees they take. Since passive management takes significantly less fees from you your portfolio will outperform a similar actively managed portfolio. Unfortunately, I recall from DFA that about 60 or 70 cents of every mutual fund dollar that is invested is still going to higher priced worse performing actively managed mutual funds.

    You’re right, Jack, passive management sounds boring. But investing is supposed to be boring and dull, and not complicated, either. I don’t want my money for retirement to generate excitement for me; financial excitement should be left to gambling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *