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Learning from Quarterbacks

16 February 2016

Paul Nixon, Managing Director - Vestra US

It is estimated that, on Sunday night, over 111 million people across the globe tuned in to watch Super Bowl 50 play out between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s stadium in Santa Clara, CA. Perhaps somewhat more surprising is that over 4 million people in the UK made the effort to stay up on a Sunday night, for an 11.30pm kick-off, to watch the finale of the NFL season. Whether it is the opening kick-off, the half time show or the TV adverts there is no denying the draw of the NFL’s premier event.

As Leigh Steinberg once said, "The Super Bowl is like a movie and the quarterback is the leading man.”, and so it comes as no surprise that in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl both team’s quarterbacks were subject to increased media scrutiny; particularly when the two protagonists are in such markedly different stages in their career. The Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton, the 26 year old league MVP (Most Valuable Player) who was picked first in the 2011 draft and Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos’ 39 year old veteran of over 18 seasons, coming off a difficult (potentially final) season of football. Whichever team you followed, each quarterback has his distinctly different style but there are some common themes present in all successful quarterbacks and many of the attributes they display can be seen and applied to our role in managing finances.

In both football and finance it is essential to have a game plan, a strategy and an objective, that can all be established at the outset. However, as I am sure we all know too well, no matter how thorough the plan, we must be prepared to react quickly should any obstacles arise. Whether that is Denver Broncos’ outside linebacker Von Miller appearing through the line to rush Cam Newton, or increased volatility in the equity markets, it is important to be able to keep calm and act in the most appropriate manner given the specific obstacles faced and the changing field.

A good quarterback will scan the defense as he approaches the line of scrimmage and goes under center, recognizing the secondary coverage, identifying blitzing linebackers or spotting any potential mismatches to take advantage of. This will all happen in seconds. He will then relay these observations and any changes to the play to the rest of the team via audibles at the line of scrimmage. As such the team can adjust to any threats or opportunities as they are identified. In much the same way, it is important for wealth managers to have a strategic objective, but to be aware of the current environment, and adjust the portfolio as necessary. Whether that is through the taking of defensive positions or reallocating capital to different markets to take advantage of opportunities that arise, in both situations it is important to remain flexible and be able to adjust quickly.

Although these audibles are split-second decisions made at the line of scrimmage, this does not do justice to the hours of preparation that the quarterbacks and the rest of the team have gone through in order to fully understand their environment. It is this continual practice and review that is mirrored in the investment process where decisions should be based upon accurate and relevant research methodology rather than a ‘snap’ decision.

Late on Sunday evening in Santa Clara, the Denver Broncos were crowned Super Bowl champions for the third time in their franchise history. It was largely the result of an exceptional defensive performance combined with some reliable kicking that provided a fairytale ending to the career of one of the greatest quarterbacks of his generation. Once again, this win demonstrated the benefits of synergy, of each player contributing at precisely the right moment and of each person doing their job to the best of their ability - a strategy reflected by our emphasis on the importance of a blend of research, understanding and timely implementation, not just immediate action.

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
- Vincent ‘Vince’ Lombardi, legendary Green Bay Packers Head coach. The NFL's Super Bowl trophy is named in his honor after his death in 1970 to commemorate leading the Green Bay Packers to victories in the first 2 Super Bowls.