If there’s one thing that you maybe haven’t noticed about most financial advisors, it’s that we are arrogant pricks. Please note that I said “we are” – not “they are” – as I include myself in that statement.
We all have firms that provide the most superior customer service. We all have investment strategies that either outpace the market or have the lowest internal expense.
Face it, as financial advisors, we have this attitude that we can’t do wrong and if we DO something wrong, it’s easy to cast the blame and point our finger at the stock market.
I’m here to tell you that I’m not perfect.
While I wish I could sit here and tell you that I provide all of my clients with exceptional customer service and that my investment strategies mirror Wall Street’s investment gurus – the truth is that I’m far from it. There have been many times that I have failed as a financial advisor; but there is one instance that still haunts me to this day.
An Unexpected Referral
It was 2007 and my dad, who typically wasn’t one for finding me new clients, stumbled across a gentleman that was just laid off. He was a factory worker and when his employer’s plant closed down, he now had access to a pension and a small 401(k) that he could roll over. He was still five years away from reaching retirement at his determined retirement age, so he wanted to invest the money and let it grow.
He didn’t have much experience with the market other than his 401(k) that he had been in for about seven years. After walking him through various investment strategies, we had decided upon a portfolio of roughly 55% stocks and 45% bonds, mostly invested in mutual funds. For the first year and a half, things worked out great. In his mind, he was making a little bit of money and from my side, I had a client that was content with the gains he saw.
Everything seemed fine until October of 2008. For those of you who had money invested in the market at that time- I’m sure I don’t need to rehash old wounds and remind you of how bad that time was. For my client, it was worse than any flashbacks from Vietnam! He didn’t know what hit him and frankly, like most other financial advisors, I was a bit shell shocked myself.
I like to say that thankfully, we are only 55% in the stock market and that we “only lost” a certain percentage, and yes, it could have been worse – but try telling that to someone who had never been through such a steep market decline. Even though everyone else was going through the same situation, there was little comfort for my client that he wasn’t alone in losing a large percentage of his investments.
He confided in me and trusted me and asked me for my advice. Like I did for many other clients, I echoed the advice:
“We’ve got to stick it out.”
I explained that he couldn’t sell now, because if he did, he’ll never get the money back, especially if he took the proceeds and transferred it to the bank and put it into a CD.
I can’t remember the exact percentage, but I am fairly certain we were down about 25% from the high and about 20% down from his initial investment. At the time, banks were paying between 2% and 3%, so it would take him many years to get his money back.
Depending on my advice, he stayed put. Into the new year, we saw some improvement and many of us hoped that the market was on its road to recovery – but like any big wave, the down current was just getting ready to suck us all back in.
Bad Market, Round 2
Enter March of 2009. I’ll never forget the day. The Dow was down again having dropped over 1,700 points since the beginning of February. It finally hit the bottom on March 9th, 2009 but obviously no one knew that.
What I do remember about that day because my client called me and he had enough. He was ready to cash out completely. I tried one last attempt to encourage him to stay put, but he wasn’t having it. As I did with all of my clients, I said,
“I feel like I’m letting you down by letting you cash out, but at the end of the day, it’s your money and you’re in charge and I’ll do what you want me to do”.
He didn’t take much time to think about it and he gave me the instructions to liquidate. I can’t tell you what it feels like knowing that in your heart a person is doing the wrong thing, and no matter what you say or any information or research that you provide to support your reasoning, they’re still going to act upon that wrong decision.
That day, I felt like a failure.
That day, I was a failure.
With hindsight and 20/20, we all know now that the market has recovered and had the client left the money right where it was, he would have been made whole and then some by now.
What adds insult to injury is that the very next day, literally the day after he cashed out, the market was up big. And over the next seven days, he would have recouped just under 11% of what he lost.
And yes, I know that 11% would not have recovered all of his losses, it would still have put several thousand dollars back into his pocket.
I hate losing my client’s money.
I could take my retirement, cash it out, bet it on black on a roulette table, and lose it all at a casino and it wouldn’t stress me out as much as watching someone do what this guy did.
This isn’t a news flash for most of you, financial advisors are not perfect, but let me maybe be one of the first to admit it, I’m definitely far from it.