The Key Lesson of Benjamin Graham’s “The Intelligent Investor”

The “intelligent investor” is one who knows what type of investor they are.

With world equity markets swooning once again, I thought it would be an apt time to review my key takeaway from one of the best investment books ever written.

I recently re-read The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, who is known as the father of value investing, as well as the teacher and mentor of Warren Buffett. The publishers of all recent editions (there are many) have added the following to the cover of each book: The classic text on value investing. I think a more apt addition to each cover would simply be: “The classic guide on choosing what type of investor you are.” While this may not sound as exciting as reading the formative guide on how to succeed at a particular style of investing, I do think my title better encapsulates Graham’s intention with this book. I am not convinced that Graham was trying to teach investors how to value companies. I think he was trying to teach investors how to value themselves.

First, a little history… the book was written in 1949 at a time when, according to Graham, common stock ownership was not actually common in portfolios of institutions nor individuals. In fact, it was written at a time when security analysis was just becoming something of a profession. Graham writes “the various societies of analysts […] have well over fifteen hundred members.” Today, 25,000+ firms employ more than 160,000 CFA charterholders. Graham had experienced The Crash of 1929 as an investor, managed through it arduously, and then effectively dedicated his life to managing his investment partnership and educating future security analysts through his perch at Columbia University.

The book is 250 pages long and it is important to note that before there is serious discussion of security analysis, there are 108 pages laying the groundwork for readers to make the following key decision: Are you going to manage your investments yourself and strive for high returns (Graham called this person “The Aggressive Investor”)? Or are you going to either let an advisor manage for you or strive for generally good results (Graham called this person “The Defensive Investor”)?

“The investor’s choice as between the defensive or the aggressive status is of major consequence to him, and he should not allow himself to be confused or compromised in this basic decision. The aggressive investor must have a considerable knowledge of security values—enough, in fact, to warrant viewing his security operations as equivalent to a business enterprise. The majority of security owners should elect the defensive classification. They do not have the time, or the determination, or the mental equipment to embark upon investing as a quasi business.”

I found it interesting that the phrase “margin of safety” – the rallying cry of value investors for decades –  is only mentioned for the first time on page 241 of 250:

“Confronted with a like challenge to distill the secret of sound investment into three words, we venture the motto, margin of safety.”

I also found it amazing that most of Graham’s comments on investing, markets, forecasters, and risk could have been written yesterday rather than over 70 years ago. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same:

“Through all its vicissitudes and casualties, as earth-shaking as they were unforeseen, it remained true that sound investment principles produced generally sound results. We must act on the assumption that they will continue to do so.

In the old legend the wise men finally boiled down the history of mortal affairs into the single phrase, ‘This too will pass.’”

The final sentence of the book reads:

“To achieve satisfactory investment results is easier than most people realize; to achieve superior results is harder than it looks.”

I worry that this phrase may be misunderstood by some readers. Satisfactory seems to take on a derogatory meaning when in reality, for almost all investors, Graham was encouraging satisfactory investment results. He believed the pursuit of satisfactory investment results is the prudent, conservative way to grow one’s assets. For those to whom satisfactory returns are actually not the goal, Graham’s guide warns that one will have to put significant “study, effort, and businesslike resources to bear to achieve – with no guarantees – superior results.”

Ultimately, Graham’s “intelligent investor” is one who understands what she is striving for, and what she is equipped to achieve herself, or not.

That conclusion should not be surprising. It’s the title of the book.



Graham details very clearly in his book the role of the advisor:

“[To…] use his superior training and experience to protect his clients against mistakes and to make sure that they obtain the results to which their money is entitled.

The leading investment counsel firms make no claim to being brilliant; they do pride themselves on being careful, conservative, and competent.”

Sounds like an apt summary of my firm, Ginsler Wealth. For the “intelligent investor” who appreciates that they need help managing their wealth, we are here.


Note: this article should not be considered investment advice.

Ginsler Wealth Fourth Quarter 2021 Client Letter

(An audio version of this letter can now be found as Episode 2 of The Unlimited Podcast by Ginsler Wealth. Use the link provided or find us on your favourite podcast app.)


To Ginsler Wealth’s Clients:

The new omicron variant was certainly an unwelcome and perhaps unexpected holiday development. I do hope the holiday season found you and your loved ones happy and healthy.

“Uncertainty is the only thing I know with certainty.”

With the arrival of the end of the calendar year comes the requisite financial and market forecasts for the new year. On December 30, 2021, the Globe and Mail ran two articles, one directly on top of the other:

The first, written by my dear friend David Rosenberg entitled, Here’s what investors should expect in 2022, details the potential for a 30 percent equity market correction. The second, written by BMO Capital Markets’ Chief Investment Strategist was titled Why the bull market will be alive and well in 2022. Its content is self-evident by its title.[i]

Which of the above will prove prescient, I don’t know. Nor can I identify the best forecasts from the many other experts who have weighed in. So instead of trying to be right, at Ginsler Wealth we aim to be prudent.

Because the only thing I know with certainty is that there are uncertain roads ahead, we build your portfolios by incorporating a variety of investment strategies with the collective goals of both reasonable performance and commensurately reasonable downside protection. To be clear, the other thing of which we are fairly certain is that over the longer term, equities will remain the best performing asset class and will always be an important and sizeable component of most clients’ investment portfolios. However, the cost of achieving higher returns through equities is always their accompanying volatility.

So how do we strive for equity-like returns[ii] while aiming to protect capital? Among others, we do so in a number of ways:

  1. Investing in exchange traded funds, for extremely low cost, broad market exposure (no capital protection component here),
  2. Selecting equity managers that use a variety of strategies to hedge market exposure and reduce volatility,
  3. Utilizing equity managers with strategies that focus on dividends and income,
  4. Allocating capital to hedge funds that aim to take a “market neutral” approach to investing, and
  5. Finding managers with unique and often non- or less-correlated investment strategies.

As an example of the last approach, we have recently begun allocating capital to a specialized SPAC (“Special Purpose Acquisition Corporations”) arbitrage strategy. We believe this strategy is unique in that it has a track record of delivering equity-like returns with principal protection qualities, low downside volatility and low correlation to equity and fixed income markets. In fact, to date, 99% of the fund’s closed positions have resulted in positive realized returns. We believe this strategy’s long-term target return is between 8-10%. As an added benefit, due to our scale, all Ginsler Wealth clients—regardless of the size of their allocation—are able to invest in the fund’s lowest fee class. In a recent Globe and Mail piece entitled How SPACs can tone down your risk, Larry MacDonald[iii] writes on this type of strategy: “…buying and selling pre-acquisition SPACs can be a virtually riskless way to earn positive returns in bear and bull markets.” Our job, as always, is to find the managers with the experience to execute well.

How to Build a Goldilocks Portfolio

This past quarter, a new client asked us to build a portfolio for his family with the following characteristics:

  • Limited direct equity exposure
  • High single digit target returns
  • Tax efficient
  • Downside protection

While we thought of calling this portfolio the “Unicorn” portfolio, given the difficulty in finding such a magical collection of investments, we ultimately named this portfolio the “Goldilocks” portfolio by mixing a few asset classes (i.e., not too much, not too little, just right) with the goal of achieving the client’s objectives. The resulting portfolio blends an income-oriented equity strategy (with hedging capabilities), the SPAC strategy mentioned above, a venture debt strategy (closed to most outside investors), a market neutral hedge fund (closed to most outside investors) and a long/short public real estate focused investment strategy. We utilized the family’s registered (non-taxable) accounts to hold the income-producing securities, while keeping capital gains-oriented holdings in taxable accounts. Through a combination of asset allocation, security selection, and asset “location” decisions, we believe we have built a portfolio that meets the client’s needs[iv]. We will be reaching out to all clients as part of our normal portfolio review process and will be happy to discuss this Goldilocks portfolio in more detail.

Incidentally, this past quarter, we reviewed upwards of 40 or so additional investment strategies and ultimately made allocations to two new strategies (both of which we have known and followed for many years). The bar remains very high.

Digital Asset Activity

We remind you that digital asset exposure generally only comprises a very small, single-digit proportion of our clients’ (where applicable) investment portfolios. However, we continue to spend a disproportionate amount of our time and energy on this space. We remain bullish on the long-term outlook for digital assets broadly and the underlying technology more specifically. This was a particularly active quarter for Ginsler Wealth in the following ways:

  1. We worked with Digital Asset Council of Financial Professionals (DACFP) to bring its certificate program to Canadian advisors at a special, Ginsler Wealth discounted price. We believe it is incumbent on financial advisors to truly understand this space (this goes for the media as well!) prior to making client recommendations. I was also featured on DACFP TV, where I discussed Ginsler Wealth’s approach to digital asset investing.

DACFP GW discount code

  1. We spent an extraordinary amount of time performing due diligence on a Singapore-based digital asset fund manager. Due to the 12-hour time difference, this included many late-night Zooms with the company. When we say we “search the world” for investment strategies for our clients, we really mean it! The core strategy that we have begun allocating to returned 295% for the year through November 2021. While we do not expect this level of return to be repeated, we are confident that we have found a group that are truly experts in this space.
  1. Finally, we were pleased to get clients access to participate in a highly oversubscribed private investment in Sygnum Bank AG, the world’s first fully-regulated digital asset bank, alongside other major international investors. You can read the announcement and company press release.

Digital asset investing is not appropriate for all clients, but we are always available to discuss the asset class with you.


As we begin 2022, I am hopeful that the end of the COVID pandemic is in sight, as we learn to live with whatever variant or variation of the virus remains. From a financial perspective, I am hopeful that world economies will remain resilient. Most of all, I am hoping that you and your families are, and will remain, happy and healthy.

But, in these uncertain times, hope is not a strategy. We will remain unrelentingly focused on managing your wealth and investments carefully and prudently. Because, unfortunately…we can’t forecast the future.

Thank you for your trust, support, and confidence. We are available 24/7 should you need us.


Brian singnature

Brian Ginsler
President & CEO



Alphabet Soup and Tax Savings

RRSPs (Registered Retirement Savings Plans)

Reminder that March 1, 2022 is the deadline to contribute to your 2021 (last year’s) RRSP. The maximum RRSP contribution limit for 2021 is $27,830. However, check your CRA account to confirm your personal contribution room. If you have good visibility into your 2022 earnings, we also encourage you to make your 2022 (this year’s) contribution now to benefit from tax-deferred investing as early as possible. The maximum RRSP contribution for 2022 is $29,210. We can help you determine your best course of action in this regard.

TFSAs (Tax Free Savings Accounts)

Similarly, you now have another $6,000 of TFSA contribution room to utilise. The TFSA is a wonderful way to invest tax-free, forever. For those that have not yet established a TFSA, you may have up to $81,500 of lifetime contribution room. We recommend all our clients make use of this tax saving opportunity.

RESPs (Registered Education Savings Plans)

Finally, for those saving for their children’s education via a RESP, for those who are eligible, you can now earn 2022 CESGs (Canada Education Savings Grants – i.e., “free money from the government”) on your contributions. At Ginsler Wealth, we love helping our clients get free money.





[i] Both articles are only available to Globe and Mail subscribers. Apologies if you are unable to access them.

[ii] While equity markets of late have been returning high double-digit returns, please recall that the historical, long-term compound annualized total return of the S&P 500 has been approximately 10% since 1928. Source:

[iii] This article is also only available to Globe and Mail subscribers. The article references a SPAC strategy offered by a Calgary-based firm. Ginsler Wealth is not familiar with such strategy nor its principals.

[iv] Of course, no investment results are guaranteed and there is no guarantee that this portfolio of strategies will meet the targets and objectives detailed herein.

Van Halen’s M&Ms and Ginsler Wealth’s Pencils

Let me tell you about the pencils we use at Ginsler Wealth. If that opening sentence doesn’t instantly grab you, then for some important context, let me first tell you about Van Halen’s M&Ms.

You may know that when rock stars roll into town, their contracts with the venues are long and often include a contract “rider” with specific details the band requires (or demands). In the case of Van Halen, buried deep in their lengthy contract rider included the demand for a bowl of M&M’s with “ABSOLUTEY NO BROWN ONES”. Clearly absolutely ridiculous, right?

Well…not exactly. According to David Lee Roth, the band’s original and then on-again/off-again frontman: “Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets [think, older arenas like Maple Leaf Gardens]. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.”

At first glance, it seemed like Van Halen’s request was just another instance of rock stars being difficult or demanding. However, their M&M rule was their “canary in the coal mine”; it helped them identify the partners they could trust, who had demonstrated great attention to detail. Because if they hadn’t, it could literally mean a life and death safety issue for the band or its fans. This litmus test ensured they could protect the band, the crew, and their fans, and enabled them to put on a spectacular show each evening.

So maybe their request wasn’t so ridiculous after all.

At Ginsler Wealth, we are also sticklers for attention to detail. We look after people’s money…we better be! So let me tell you about our pencils. We use Blackwing Matte pencils with a special-order yellow eraser in place of the standard-issue black (which we hand-swap ourselves). We sharpen it with a two-step long point sharpener (for the perfect point), and protect such point with a matching black point guard.

Why do we use these and why does it matter? When we help our clients, we have a key phrase we keep in the back of our minds: “best in the world”. If our clients need strategic tax planning, we seek out professionals who, in our opinion, are “best in the world”; when we build investment portfolios for clients, we seek to find external managers who, in our view, are “best in the world” at their specific investment mandate. And then we customize a plan or portfolio for each client.

So, similar to our research into any financial or investment detail for our clients, for our use, we searched for pencils rated “best in the world”…and found Blackwing: a pencil whose roots go back to the 1930’s and which uses Genuine Incense-Cedar and premium Japanese graphite. Then, we customized the pencil to match Ginsler Wealth’s black and yellow branding. And then we take care of our tools. Most of our clients won’t see this. Much like most will never open the backs of their Apple computers to see what Steve Jobs demanded: “Jobs had always insisted that the rows of chips on the circuit boards look neat, even though they would never be seen.”

Van Halen took what appeared to be extreme steps to ensure their customers got a safe, “best in the world” experience. Similarly, if Ginsler Wealth puts all this effort into our pencils, imagine the effort we exert to create a “best in the world” experience for our clients.

Postscript: Blackwing just released a limited edition set of Bruce Lee-inspired pencils with a black and yellow design motif, complete with yellow eraser. We’ll be using these for a while!

Brian Ginsler’s First Quarterly Letter to Ginsler Wealth Clients

(An audio version of this letter can now be found as Episode 1 of The Unlimited Podcast by Ginsler Wealth. Use the link provided or find us on your favourite podcast app.)


To Ginsler Wealth’s Founding Clients:

You won’t see the same salutation on a Ginsler Wealth letter ever again. Because as the third quarter of 2021 has ended, so too has the first full quarter of operations of Ginsler Wealth. So I will start this update by thanking you, Ginsler Wealth’s Founding Clients, for your trust, support, and confidence.

Ginsler Wealth (or “G|W”) was born out of my desire to build a completely independent, unconstrained, and unbiased wealth management firm for successful families. I am not an egotistical person; I didn’t put my name on the door so that I could see my name in lights. I put my name on the door because it ensures that I never forget that I am personally accountable to you. Over time the firm will grow well beyond myself and our current small team (more on that later), but I wanted my clients to know that I am ultimately responsible for their care. I also wanted our firm to have a personality that can be traced back to mine: smart, serious, and unwaveringly ethical…but also humorous, real, and humble.

The latter trait drives our approach to managing your wealth and investments. We know where we excel: managing relationships, pulling the pieces together, identifying opportunities for savings or growth, and constructing and managing a differentiated, diversified investment portfolio. We are also very clear in knowing that we cannot excel at everything. We cannot be the best tax planner, estate planner, insurance advisor or stock picker – because we don’t practice those disciplines 24/7 and haven’t done so for 20+ years. But boy do we know how to find those experts and engage them for the benefit of our clients.

Our humility allows us to put our egos aside and find the best[i] professionals in their fields to help us achieve the best[ii] results for you.

Our humility also allows us to say that we don’t know what the markets are going to do this week, month, quarter, or year. But we know how to construct a diversified investment portfolio – comprised of more than just stocks and bonds – with the goal of weathering the storms that will most certainly come, and delivering returns that are focused on meeting your specific goals and objectives, not on simply beating “the markets”.

On that note, I don’t plan on providing generic updates on the stock and other markets in these letters. There are two reasons for this:

  1. This is done ad nauseum by other managers, advisors, and the financial media and is often a distraction from the long-term investment plan we have in place; and
  2. Ginsler Wealth client portfolios are not homogeneous and are often comprised of a variety of asset classes and strategies. As such, summarizing all the goings-on across the variety of strategies in G|W client portfolios would necessitate monopolizing far too much of your collective valuable time.

I will, however, share with you details of investment strategies that we are assessing, reviewing and/or allocating to. So far this year, G|W has reviewed no less than 50 investment strategies for potential inclusion in client portfolios. These have included traditional stock and bond strategies, along with a variety of different/alternative strategies across asset classes such as real estate, private equity, venture capital, venture debt, private debt, and music royalties, to name but a few. Recall that we are unconstrained in our ability to look at anything…not just what is on your bank’s “approved list”.

We are currently receiving significant demand for an “income-oriented” portfolio, especially in this current period of ultralow interest rates. We have assembled a collection of investment strategies that we believe should pay an approximate 5.5% ongoing distribution yield with a target total annual return of 10%[iii]. Reach out if you want to learn more.

We have also reviewed no less than twenty private “deals” or “opportunities” in areas such as real estate, student housing, cryptocurrency businesses, legal technology, food delivery, healthcare, fintech, cannabis, hospitality, and Israeli cyber-security. That last one was, so far, the only investment funded by Ginsler Wealth clients following our significant due diligence. The bar is high. If you have a particular interest in private investments of a certain type, I encourage you to let us know…we see a lot.

In future letters, I also plan on sharing with you examples of some of the non-investment work we do for clients. Every family is different, and every family requires help from G|W in a different way. This past quarter, we have run expense budgets for families with significant wealth, because they are smart enough to want to keep close track of their spending; we have helped families lay the foundation of financial protection through the simple use of life insurance; and through our “lifestyle concierge” service, with the help of our Advisory Board, we have helped clients navigate medical issues for family members to successful resolutions.

But this first letter is meant to just touch on who we are and what we (can) do for you. We’ll dive deeper in subsequent updates. In the meantime, I encourage you to connect with G|W on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to stay updated on day-to-day goings on.

I’ll conclude this first letter where I began…I take the responsibility of caring for your wealth seriously and I am unrelentingly dedicated to your success. That is my promise to you. My name is on the door.

Once again, thank you for your trust, support, and confidence. We are available 24/7 should you need us.


Brian singnature

Brian Ginsler
President & CEO


Business Updates

During the quarter, we moved into our new offices near Avenue and Davenport in Toronto. Those who know me will not be surprised to find a Lego Seinfeld set in my office. For those comfortable meeting indoors, I encourage and welcome you to come by for a visit and experience my barista skills firsthand. All Ginsler Wealth team members are fully vaccinated.

G|W was also pleased to welcome Kathryn Donville to the team as a Client Service Associate. Kathryn is a recent Ivey MBA graduate. Kathryn has investment management blood in her veins having previously worked for a number of years at Donville Kent Asset Management, a successful investment firm founded by her father Jason over 13 years ago. Kathryn will be working closely with our clients to ensure they receive the highest level of personal service.



[i] Full disclosure – the Ontario Securities Commission would not be happy with Ginsler Wealth using superlatives like “the best” since that is theoretically subjective. So let’s just say “very good…”.

[ii] Same as above.

[iii] Of course, no investment results are guaranteed and there is no guarantee that this portfolio of strategies will meet the targets and objectives detailed herein.