Understanding Tail Risk

In the world of finance and investing, the idea of tail risk is becoming more and more significant. It alludes to the potential for extremely rare or uncommon events to occur, which could have a big effect on an investment portfolio. The 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic are just two recent examples of high-profile tail risk events that severely disrupted the financial markets and had far-reaching effects. 

This article will explain everything about tail risk, how it can impact your investments, and what you can do to effectively manage it. Understanding tail risk is crucial for creating a resilient and sustainable investment portfolio, regardless of your level of experience. So let's get started!


What is Tail Risk and How Does it Affect Your Investments?

The concept of "tail risk" in finance refers to the potential for uncommon or extreme events to occur, which could have a big impact on an investment portfolio. This kind of risk is frequently challenging to predict because it involves circumstances that are not typically anticipated or taken into account in investment strategies.

Tail risk can have a variety of effects on your investments: 

  • The main risk is that your portfolio could suffer sizable losses. This is due to the possibility of tail events causing abrupt and dramatic changes in market conditions, which could cause investments' values to fall sharply. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis were both tail events that resulted in severe declines in many investment portfolios due to market volatility and economic disruption.
  • Your investments may be impacted by tail risk by changing the risk-return tradeoff. Investors typically anticipate that greater risk will be rewarded with higher returns. 
  • Even for relatively low-risk investments, tail risk events can upset this relationship by introducing the possibility of catastrophic losses. Investors may therefore need to modify their investment strategies to take into account the potential consequences of tail risk events.

Managing Tail Risk: Strategies and Techniques 

Building a robust and sustainable investment portfolio requires careful management of tail risk. Diversification, hedging, and the use of alternative investments are a few strategies and methods that investors can employ to manage tail risk. 


One of the most common methods for reducing tail risk is diversification. This entails distributing your investments across various asset classes and industries as opposed to putting all of your money into one investment. You can lessen your exposure to the particular risks associated with any one investment by diversifying your portfolio. For instance, if you own stocks in a number of different industries, the positive returns in one industry may more than make up for the negative effects of a tail event in another.


Hedging is another strategy for managing tail risk. Making investments with the goal of reducing your portfolio's potential losses is necessary for this. For instance, you could purchase put options on an index fund, which would pay out if the index's value dropped below a specific threshold. To reduce your exposure to price fluctuations, you could use futures contracts to lock in the price of a specific asset. Hedging can be a good way to control tail risk, but it can also be expensive and hurt portfolio returns in the long run.

Incorporating Alternative Investments

Incorporating alternative investments is another approach to managing tail risk. Alternative investments are investments that are not typically included in traditional portfolios, such as hedge funds, private equity, and real estate investments. These investments might have different risk-return profiles and less correlation to traditional asset classes than traditional investments. They can therefore offer benefits of diversification that can aid in lowering tail risk in a portfolio. Alternative investments, however, may not be suitable for all investors due to their complexity and frequently high fees.

It is crucial to take into account your specific investment objectives and risk tolerance when selecting a tail risk management strategy. While some investors may prioritize capital preservation and seek to reduce risk as much as possible, others may prioritize capital preservation and feel more comfortable taking on higher levels of risk in exchange for the possibility of higher returns. Different approaches might also be better suited to various market conditions. 

Real-World Examples of Tail Risk: Lessons Learned

Extreme market events can have a significant impact on investment portfolios, as demonstrated by real-world examples of tail risk events. Two recent examples of tail risk events include the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

2008 Financial Crisis

Many investors suffered significant losses during the 2008 financial crisis as a result of widespread market volatility and disruptions to the economy. Particularly hard hit were those who had made sizable bets on mortgage-backed securities or other high-risk investments. But even those who had diversified their holdings and put money into low-risk assets were not shielded from the crisis' effects.

One thing that investors can take away from the financial crisis of 2008 is how crucial it is to comprehend the underlying risks involved with their investments. Investors were frequently left vulnerable to the effects of the crisis because they had made investments in complicated financial instruments that they did not fully understand. Investors can potentially reduce the impact of tail events on their portfolios by taking the time to fully understand the risks connected with their investments.

COVID-19 Pandemic

Another tailed event that significantly affected investment portfolios was the COVID-19 pandemic. Global markets were extremely volatile in the early stages of the pandemic as investors struggled with the ambiguity of the situation. The value of many investors' portfolios rapidly dropped, resulting in significant losses for many of them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the value of keeping a long-term perspective, which is one thing investors can take away. The pandemic had a negative immediate impact, but as governments and central banks took steps to stabilize the economy, many markets have since recovered. Investors may be able to lessen the effect of tail events on their portfolios by maintaining their attention on their long-term investment objectives rather than reacting to short-term market fluctuations.

Key Takeaways

  • The possibility of unusual or extreme events happening in investments, which could result in sizable losses, is known as tail risk.
  • Even for low-risk investments, tail risk can change the risk-return tradeoff by introducing the possibility of catastrophic losses.
  • The use of alternative investments, hedging, and diversification are a few tactics for controlling tail risk.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis are two instances of tail risk events that had a big impact on investment portfolios. 
  • To lessen the impact of tail events on their portfolios, investors must understand the underlying risks involved with their investments and keep a long-term perspective.

To summarise

The risk of extreme or unexpected events that lie outside the bounds of typical market expectations is referred to in finance as "tail risk." These occurrences, also known as "black swans," could result in sizable losses for investors.

Investors are constantly searching for tactics that will lessen their exposure to tail risk. Diversification is one such tactic, which involves distributing investments among various asset classes to lessen the impact of a single event. A different strategy is to invest in non-traditional assets that have little correlation to traditional stocks and bonds, such as commodities or real estate.

Assetmonk, a top real estate alternative investments platform, provides a variety of real estate investment options that can assist investors in reducing tail risk and diversifying their portfolios. Assetmonk enables passive real estate investing in pre-vetted, income-generating properties across various geographies and asset classes, giving investors exposure to a variety of real estate assets without the need for in-depth analysis or active management.

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Q1.How do you mitigate tail risk? 

Diversification, hedging, and the application of tail risk hedging strategies are just a few ways to reduce tail risk. Spreading investments across various asset classes and industries lowers the risk of losses resulting from a single event or industry. Hedging involves taking positions to offset potential losses in the event of negative market movements. Options and other derivatives are used in tail risk hedging strategies to guard against irrational market movements.

Q2.What is normal distribution in tail risk?

A statistical concept known as a "normal distribution" describes the probability distribution of a set of values. When discussing tail risk, the term "normal distribution" refers to the notion that asset returns generally follow a bell-shaped distribution, with few returns significantly deviating from the average and the majority clustering around it. However, in reality, financial markets often exhibit "fat tails," meaning that extreme events occur more frequently than would be predicted by a normal distribution.

Q3.How is tail risk measured? 

Several metrics, such as value at risk (VaR) and expected shortfall (ES), can be used to calculate tail risk. VaR is a statistical tool that calculates the largest possible loss that could occur to a portfolio over a given time period and with a given level of confidence. ES, also referred to as conditional VaR, gauges expected loss in the distribution's tail above the VaR threshold. Skewness and kurtosis, which describe the form and weight of the distribution's tails, are two additional metrics used to gauge tail risk.

Q4.Why is tail risk important? 

Since extreme market movements have the potential to cause sizable losses for investors, tail risk is significant. Even though such occurrences are uncommon, they can have a big impact on portfolios and the entire financial system. Investors should therefore be aware of the possibility of tail risk and take precautions to lessen its effects.

Q5.What are tail risk positions? 

Investments known as "tail risk positions" are intended to profit from extreme market fluctuations, such as a sharp drop in stock prices or an increase in volatility. Options, futures, and other derivatives that are designed to pay off in the event of a significant market event can be included in these positions. It is crucial to keep in mind, though, that these positions could also incur losses if the anticipated outcome does not materialize or if the market moves against them.