We’re making significant changes at SMI that will enable us to do a better job helping you achieve your financial goals. This article will explain what those changes are, why they’re being made, and what those changes will mean for you. I trust you’ll read it carefully.
The SMI staff and I are excited about this new path for helping you manage the financial resources God has entrusted to you! – AP
It’s been a challenging and exciting ride these past 25 years! The SMI newsletter has evolved during this time, both in the scope of its content and in the way that content is delivered to readers. Now, 21st century technology and market conditions mean it’s time for Sound Mind Investing to change once again.
The changes we’re announcing with this issue will allow us to provide the SMI family with a more comprehensive approach to delivering our content and investing data, along with new ways for you to receive it promptly, and better opportunities for us all to have a good discussion about it.
My goal since Day One has been to teach our readers how to effectively and consistently apply God’s protective money-management principles to their personal situations. In recent years, this has proven to be an increasingly challenging task.
- Amount of information.
Information leads to knowledge. It has been estimated that until about 1900, knowledge doubled roughly every 100 years. Then our learning curve began to speed up. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. The more we know, the faster we know more. Today, knowledge is thought to be doubling every 12-18 months. Whatever the speed, the amount of financial information available today is far greater than what was available 25 years ago when SMI was launched. This can overwhelm the average investor, and it complicates the teaching process.
- Speed at which information travels.
In our increasingly connected world, information gets disseminated more quickly than ever. Investors have always had a desire to obtain financial news quickly, but not until recently has it been global and virtually instantaneous. The downside to this development is that the arrival of the news, often accompanied by breathless commentary, leads investors to feel they must “do something” quickly. To help all of our subscribers (not just web members who read our Editors’ Blog) put the latest developments into perspective, SMI needs to have the capability to comment on the news and explain its significance (or more commonly, complete lack of significance to our strategies) more frequently than once a month.
- Lack of accuracy in reporting.
Not only is an avalanche of information falling on you daily, much of it is misleading or incomplete. Driven by competitive pressures, news outlets and bloggers race to be the first to report. Everyone now has a global platform from which they can re-broadcast the news and share their opinions. But not everyone is appropriately cautious about providing information in context! Therefore, we realize that better two-way communication between our readers and the SMI staff would allow us to address your questions and verify your correct understanding of current events.
- Proliferation of investing options.
In the early 1990s when SMI was launched, about 2,500 mutual funds existed. Today there are three times that many (!) covering a much wider landscape of investing specialties. The fund universe also now includes exchange-traded funds (ETFs), exceeding 1,500 in number. Plus, vehicles for investing have expanded, with many families using 401(k) accounts for retirement and 529 accounts for college. Making your way through the investing jungle is more daunting than ever.
The “editorial challenge”
In addition to the above, our editorial task is made more difficult by the fact we’re always writing on a broad range of investing topics for two different groups of SMI subscribers:
- Those who receive only the print-edition content.
We can’t assume our print-only subscribers have read or retained earlier issues of SMI. If they’re new, they may have access only to the newsletter in their hands. This necessitates that we review and re-teach certain basics rather than simply provide links to earlier articles. This explains, for example, why we repeat the same “Easy as 1-2-3” page in each issue. We could begin to expand our content if this wasn’t necessary.
- Those who have access to our online content and tools.
SMI’s web members have access to daily commentary, years of back issues, and so much more. They are ready for more advanced topics because the basic material is online for ready review. We’ve been limited, however, in how much of that we can do without leaving our print-only readers behind.
Furthermore, new people are always joining the SMI family. We need to teach them in beginner terms yet help them get up to speed quickly. That is much easier when we can point them to our online “getting-started” sections as well as our Member Forums where they can ask questions of our more experienced readers.
How SMI is changing to help you more effectively
It has become increasingly clear, then, that we need to develop a better way of communicating with all the members in the SMI family. The best way to do this, we have concluded, is to eliminate the dual track where we’re trying to cover the investing waterfront for both print-only and web members simultaneously.
Going forward, all SMI subscribers will receive both the print issue and have access to our web content and tools as well. Combining these two audiences will allow us to do several things:
- Make our current and past content available to every SMI subscriber. This will permit us to reduce repetition of the basic topics and open additional space for new content.
- Deliver our monthly newsletter content to everyone more quickly (usually no later than the 25th of the month). On today’s fast-paced information highway, this will be a significant improvement for our print-only readers.
- Provide important online features to our print subscribers. Three prominent ones include, first, our editors’ published commentary throughout the month will now be accessible. This will provide more opportunity for us to put current news and developments into perspective as well as open up communication through the comments section. Second, the Personal Portfolio Tracker offers a very helpful tool for tracking and managing 401(k) and other retirement accounts. And third, gaining access to our Member Forums means being able to post questions and participate in financial give-and-take with your fellow travelers in the SMI family.
Redesigning our website to enhance understanding
From the outset of planning this change, we knew we needed to rebuild our website from the ground up to maximize our readers’ experience. There has been a great expansion of our content and strategies over the past 15 years, with each new concept and feature being “patched” in where it seemed to fit best. Veteran readers had the opportunity to absorb these additions one at a time, so for the most part the old design worked fine for them. New readers, however, had an increasingly difficult maze of information to navigate. For many, it was too much too soon, and they dropped by the wayside. A new design was needed to enhance our ability to teach newcomers more effectively and help them get their questions answered more quickly.
As you tour our new site, here are some benefits you might want to check out:
- The various SMI investing strategies have been given individual sections which include an explanatory overview, historical performance, their pros and cons, recent recommendations, and related articles.
- There will no longer be a separate Editors’ Blog area. In fact, we’re doing away with the term “blog” altogether. For many people, a “blog” refers to articles readers can comment on. On the new site, you’ll be able to comment on all articles, not only the blog posts. Each daily post will appear in its relevant section as another article. Additionally, at the bottom of every article page, there will be a link to the SMI Member Forum (formerly called the Message Boards) to make it easier to connect with other SMI readers and discuss that particular article.
- We’ve built a more muscular email subscription capability. If you’ve been receiving our blog content via email, you’ll still be able to receive our latest articles that way. You’ll even have the ability to tell us whether you want to receive all new articles or only new articles within certain topic areas such as investing, retirement, personal finance, and faith & finance. For specific strategies, you’ll be able to set up alerts so you receive our latest recommendations and articles about the strategy the minute they’re available.
- Another important change is the way our Member Forums have been integrated into the various topical areas. For example, when a reader interested in Fund Upgrading goes to the section dedicated to that strategy, he or she will find not only all the related Upgrading articles, but a “Discussion” tab at the top. Clicking on it will navigate to that portion of the Member Forum where only Fund Upgrading matters are discussed among our members. Also, there will no longer be an additional log-in process needed to gain accesss, making it easier to enter and exit the forums.
- We know many of our members use Facebook and a growing number use other social media platforms such as Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and others. In the past, your ability to share SMI content with your friends on these networks has been very constrained. If a recipient of your link was not an SMI member, that person seldom had access to much more than the first paragraph of content. That’s all changing with our new site. Going forward, for the most part, we plan to lock only the articles that contain specific investment recommendations. Otherwise, you’ll be free to share content with anyone you believe would benefit from reading it.
Two levels of service, depending on your needs
Over the years, we’ve bent over backward to keep our content as affordable as possible so that we might serve as many as possible in the Body of Christ. When SMI was launched, our annual subscription price was $59 (after a temporary charter rate was offered to our earliest subscribers). Today, more than 24 years later, the price of an SMI print subscription is only $79. Meanwhile, the consumer price index has increased 82% during this same period. Our inflation-adjusted price would be $107, not the current $79.
Neither have our web membership prices kept pace with even the minimal inflation of recent years. Our website was launched in 2000 at a monthly price of $7.95. With the CPI rising 39% since that time, the inflation-adjusted price for a web membership would now be $11.05 rather than our current $9.95.
We have invested a great deal of time and money over the years to add many new features, strategies, and the ability to produce significantly more SMI content. Yet we haven’t adjusted our pricing much to reflect all of these improvements. Our desire to remain accessible to as many Christian families as possible is constantly in tension with our ability to invest more into giving SMI subscribers the best information and experience possible.
Long-time readers know that, unlike most newsletter publishers, we have traditionally approached this dilemma by asking those that utilize our more advanced online strategies and services to pay more, while keeping our “base offering” as inexpensive as possible. This has always been our rationale for charging separately for print subscriptions and web memberships.
While that split between print and web has become increasingly unwieldy and is finally being eliminated, the spirit of that pricing model is being retained as SMI moves into this new phase. Over the years, we have developed some incredible new strategies — Sector Rotation and Dynamic Asset Allocation being the most popular — which gradually accumulated on our old “Advanced Strategies” page. These strategies have become increasingly prominent over the years, yet we’ve never adjusted the pricing of our web memberships to reflect these additions.
In keeping with our past desire to maintain an affordable “entry level” starting point for new SMI readers, we have decided that these formerly “advanced strategies” are the most logical and appropriate dividing lines for the new streamlined SMI membership options. We’ve done away with the confusion of dealing with print subscriptions and web memberships separately. From now on, deciding on an SMI membership will be simpler, with the options simplified to the following:
- Basic Membership.
Just-the-Basics and Fund Upgrading have long been our two core strategies. Recommendations and articles for those strategies will be offered under the basic plan, which will be priced at $9.95 per month on a pay-as-you-go, cancel at any time policy. Alternatively, you can pay $99.50 annually in advance (which is non-refundable). You’ll pay for 10 months but receive 12. Importantly, basic SMI members will also have full access to all of the SMI web content not specific to our premium strategies. This includes all online articles published between monthly issues of SMI — additional content that has proved important and valuable, particularly during times of market distress and fear.
- Premium Membership.
Recommendations and commentary concerning our newest core strategy, Dynamic Asset Allocation, along with Sector Rotation, our Optional Inflation Hedges, and Enhanced Just-the-Basics will be available under a premium membership. We’re also working on new features to be announced in 2015. The cost for a premium membership will be $14.95 per month or $149.50 for one year.
You might be interested to know that the average annual price of the 182 investment newsletters tracked by the Hulbert Financial Digest is $296, meaning that our new premium pricing is roughly half that of the average investment newsletter.
In the following sections, we’ll review what these changes mean to each of SMI’s four types of current SMI subscribers.
What our print-only subscribers need to know
For reasons explained in this article, we want you to have access to our web features and tools. We think they can play such an important role in your investing success that, going forward, all SMI memberships will include access to the SMI website and member resources as well as the print publication you’re now receiving.
To allow you to see their benefits for yourself, we are extending to you a one-time complimentary premium membership for the duration of your print subscription. That means, for example, if you still have four months remaining on your current print subscription, we’re giving you a four-month premium membership at no additional cost. We hope you take advantage of this special promotional offer and spend time looking around our site and experimenting with the various resources.
At the end of that time, you will be asked to renew at either a basic or premium level, and be given the choice of paying monthly or annually as described above. If you decide on a basic membership, you will continue to receive information on the same core strategies — Upgrading and Just-the-Basics. Electing the annual payment option will raise your annual cost to $99.50.
This is the first price increase for our print subscribers since January 2003, almost 12 years ago. So while your new rate is higher than you’ve been paying, an SMI subscription remains a great bargain. I’m hopeful that the features you’ll be gaining by having access to the SMI website (such as daily articles, the Personal Portfolio Tracker, and Member Forums) will prove so helpful that you’ll want to continue as a member of the SMI family.
You’ll need personalized log-in information to access the members’ sections of the SMI website. To get you started, we’ve set you up with a log-in based on your last name and zip code. For example, my name is Austin Pryor and the zip is 40241. To log in initially, I would sign in with:
- User Name: pryor40241 (all lower case)
- Password: pass40241 (all lower case)
After you log-in, you’ll be asked to change your temporary username and password to reflect your preference.
What our web-only subscribers need to know
You’ve been paying $9.95/month for a total cost of $119.40/year. If you elect a basic membership, which gives you access to our Fund Upgrading and Just-the-Basics strategies, and if you choose the annual payment option, your yearly cost will actually drop to $99.50. That $20 savings comes courtesy of new software that enables us to offer annual web memberships for the first time. This discount for those choosing the annual option reflects our commitment to keeping SMI affordable for as many as possible. Or, you can continue with your pay-as-you-go/cancel-anytime monthly plan and your yearly cost will remain unchanged.
Access to our Dynamic Asset Allocation, Sector Rotation, Optional Inflation Hedges, and Enhanced Just-the-Basics strategies now requires a premium membership. (You will be granted a complimentary premium membership for 10 days or until your next bill date, whichever comes later.) The price will be $14.95/month for pay-as-you-go members or $149.50 for an annual membership. While the price of a premium membership does reflect an increase over what you are now paying, we believe the strong downside protection offered by DAA as well as the outstanding performance generated by our Sector Rotation recommendations make a premium membership well worth an additional few dollars a month.
To some, it may seem strange that we intend to send our print publication to those who have chosen to read our content online. We view this as necessary for two reasons. First, we are absolutely convinced that having access to both our print and web resources is best for our new readers. It provides both a basic learning path (print) as well as access to a better “getting started” experience, valuable tools such as the Tracker, and more advanced content (web). We want to be especially attuned to the needs of our newest readers to help them quickly grow in their understanding of the SMI framework.
But it’s not only new readers who can be helped by having the print issue in hand. There is some evidence that learning from print leads to better comprehension and retention than when reading the same material on a screen. This seems to be especially true when distinguishing between reading for pleasure (where an e-reader may be fine) and reading for learning and comprehension (where having a newsletter or book seems better). Accordingly, we want every SMI subscriber to have access to the print version. Unfortunately, we cannot mail to addresses outside the U.S.
Having said that, if you prefer not to receive the print version, we’ve provided an “opt-out” box on the My Accounts page where you can tell us to not send the monthly issues by mail. Checking this box will not affect your web access or subscription cost.
What our combo subscribers need to know
You are accustomed to having web access as well as receiving the print issue through the mail, so in that sense nothing is changing. For that, you’ve been paying a total annual cost of $138.40. That’s $59.40 for your discounted web membership and $79 for your print issues. Going forward, you will be paying as little as $99.50 (saving almost $40 if you go with a basic membership) or as much as $149.50 for a premium membership ($11 more than you’re now paying). This assumes you continue to pay annually as you have been doing for your print subscription.
As with our print-only subscribers, we are extending to you a complimentary premium membership for the duration of your print subscription. During that time, you will continue to be charged the discounted $4.95/month fee you have paid in the past.
What our charter subscribers need to know
Having been original members of the SMI family 25 years ago, you have proven yourselves to be extremely loyal subscribers. We appreciate you! The general information in the foregoing sections can be applied to your situation except for the cost structure. When you log in to the new site, you will find special pricing options available to charter subscribers only. Note that your subscription will auto-renew each year. This saves you from the need to always renew promptly, a condition that is necessary in order to continue receiving the charter rate.
Moved in but not all unpacked
The design and construction of the new SMI website has been underway for more than a year. It has involved creating and coding an entirely new design as well as transferring and reformatting hundreds of articles and blog posts from the old site. We’ve tried hard to locate and repair any bugs, omissions, broken links, etc. I’d like to think we attained perfection in carrying out this complex task, but I know that’s unlikely.
I’ve come to think of this process as being like moving into a new home. The house is ready for occupancy, and the moving company has transported and unpacked most of our belongings. But there is still work to be done. The house may need a few minor repairs, a few things may be missing, and a few boxes still need to be unpacked. We could use your help in finishing the task. I’ve set up a special, temporary email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for our readers to report directly to our webmaster anything on the new site that doesn’t seem to be functioning correctly. This is not for general comments or questions but is intended primarily to help us identify (and fix!) any remaining issues at our new site.
Also, let me offer a word of encouragement to long-time web members. I understand it will take a little time to find your way around the new site. Things won’t be where you’re used to finding them. I just wanted to say I’m sorry for the inconvenience. Hopefully though, you’ll grow to appreciate the new capabilities and find that climbing the learning curve was worth it.
Adapting to change can be difficult for some, and as you now know, a lot is changing. But be encouraged! Here’s what is not changing. We are writing from the same biblical foundation. Our articles are researched and written by the same experienced SMI staff. We are continuing to offer the same proven strategies, and are always in research mode considering new ones. And, we have the same desire to help you have more so you can give more. As always, we’re committed to offering you “financial wisdom for living well.”
! Attention Former Web-Only Members
If you have been a web-only SMI subscriber (i.e., you have not been receiving the print newsletter in the mail), please take a moment to check/update your mailing address in the My Account section.
The mailing addresses we have on file for many web-only members are out of date and inaccurate. So, in our effort to make sure you get the print editions of the newsletter that are now part of your subscription, we need those addresses to be updated as soon as possible. If you prefer to not receive the print newsletter by mail, please go into your online account and mark the opt-out box. Thank you for your help with this bit of housekeeping!