The Trouble with Optionality

by Mihir Desai

The language of finance can be insidious. Words like leverage and concepts like diversification can morph from narrow financial terms into much more general ways of understanding the world. For students that go into finance or business, the idea of “optionality” is particularly pliable—and taken too far, it can be downright dangerous.

I’ve lost count of the number of students who, when describing their career goals, talk about their desire to “maximize optionality.” They’re referring to financial instruments known as options that confer the right to do something rather than an obligation to do something.