Financial resilience – Tail risk and ruin

Based on our ability to foot the bills for standard of living we are often placed in socio-economic classes. The middle class is one long continuum before reaching affluent or HNI class. What I observed is, unforeseen events can push an individual and their families a notch or two below their current status more often than well planned savings and investments pushing individuals few notches above. Thereby it is easy to lose wealth than to gain and keep it safe, so extra care needs to be taken to preserve it. Someone who has an enviable lifestyle of a luxury apartment and a D segment car can lose it all within a month due to either a natural disaster or an accident which was never thought of.

These type of risks are tail risks, we are inherently optimistic and given the low probability of these high impact events we always think that such cases never happen. So we never have a mitigation plan in place. These risks when materialising will not just cause a setback, it ruins. Tail risks cumulatively increases, which means though as a single risk in single exposure looks negligible, multi risk, multi exposure over time will increase the likelihood of ruin very much.

Photo by Nicola Barts on

Consider the following risks taken together – You don’t wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, you frequently ride in the night in accident prone highways, you don’t sleep well often, you don’t eat a balanced diet, your motorcycle is not maintained routinely. The combined risk of having a serious injury has a very high likelihood thereby leading to a ruin.

Some tail risks like lifestyle diseases can be avoided altogether with a healthy lifestyle, many others like a geopolitical instability can’t be mitigated but can only be prepared to sail through with diversification of holdings. Insurance is a good option against many unforeseen circumstances, though many people view insurance as a expense, it is a way of paying it forward and praying such a scenario never happens. Someone not paying for insurance will have some money left in hand but at the grave risk of losing it all.

Identifying the tail risks in our life and planning for a mitigation is very much necessary. Being poor is expensive, once we are knocked off the socio-economic position, it is very difficult to claw back on to the same position. Mitigations are not just insurance, it is healthy lifestyle, adherence to safety standards, avoiding risky behaviours, hedging, diversification etc.

I like Nasim Taleb’s work on this topic and much more on probabilities. We don’t realise the skin in the game in the long term as we are too short sighted as a common human.


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