Don’t confuse risk awareness with risk aversion

4 September 2016

A few people close to me have formed the impression that, because I’m interested in (or perhaps obsessed with?) risk and risk management, I’m “risk averse”.

If I’m constantly looking at risks, I must be risk averse, right?

Not entirely.

Having an eye for risk doesn’t make you risk averse. It helps you take risks with open eyes. In fact, it’s likely to make you more clear minded and sophisticated about the risks you take.

It’s true that risk awareness makes me more conservative in some areas of my life. But risk awareness also encourages me to be more risk (and reward) seeking in relation to certain arenas of my life than others:

  • On several occasions, I’ve resigned from good positions without having another role lined up. Many people would never take that risk. In each case it has worked out very positively for me.
  • I invest my financial assets aggressively because I’m confident that, in my position, the long-term rewards outweigh the risks, and that I’m taking all of the necessary steps to minimise the risks. (For example, diversifying and keeping fees as low as possible.)
  • I’m writing a blog and expressing opinions that may come back to bite me, because I think the benefits outweigh the risks.
  • I’ve been known to take certain types of social risks that many others don’t, because I know that the downside is usually much less than we’re wired to perceive, and the upside is potentially great.

It’s true, I’m “risk averse” in certain domains compared to other people. And there are risks that I simply refuse to take – particular those that have the potential for catastrophic ruin.

And temperamentally, I probably am fairly conservative when I’m low on energy or haven’t given much thought to something.

But there are many domains where I’m “risk seeking” in way that that many others aren’t.

Part of this is because I understand that “risk” doesn’t relate to any single option. Risk is inherent with any decision we make. Including decisions not to do anything.

A key reason for this is because I try to keep my eyes open to uncertainty and the potential for downside and upside in a given situation.


A quick qualification regarding being “risk averse”. Anyone in their right mind is risk averse. No one wants to put anything at risk if there’s nothing to gain. The question is the degree to which we are risk averse. We all stand at our own position on the spectrum in terms of our tolerance for the risks we are prepared to take for a given reward.


risk, risk aversion, risk awareness, risk perception

About the author 

Sonnie Bailey

In his spare time, Sonnie likes telling people that he’s a former Olympic power walker, a lion tamer, or that he is an orthodontist. He is none of those things. In reality, Sonnie is a financial planner based in Christchurch. Through his business, Fairhaven Wealth (www.fairhavenwealth.co.nz), he provides independent, advice-only, fixed-fee financial planning services. Sonnie is a “recovering lawyer”: he has specialised in trusts and personal client work. He has also worked as a financial services lawyer for many years.

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