Watching Others, Watching You, Watching Out

© Can Stock Photo / Bepsimage

You know the classic Catch-22 pun: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Here are a few items I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on lately. As an evidence-based investment advisor, you may want to take a look at them too.

Say Hello To the SEC’s SALI

Given the usual deluge of headline-grabbing alerts, you may not have noticed this May 2nd SEC press release, introducing its SEC Action Lookup for Individuals (SALI). SALI is super easy to use, and reports on “individuals” (typically, advisors) who have SEC actions against them “against whom a court has entered a judgment or the Commission has issued an order.” For now, the database covers October 2014 through March 2018, but it’s expected to expand in both directions over time.

SALI could come in handy for your own general research or due diligence on, say, a prospective hire or anyone whose credentials seem suspect. Depending on how you feel about SALI, you may also want to share the link with your investor network. Plus, try entering your own surname and make sure nothing too surprising comes up – especially if you’ve got a common name like Smith or Jones.

Boondoggle Brigade Busted

Admittedly, I’m pretty naïve. Having worked for reputable advisors and fund managers for as long as I have, I sometimes forget that outlandish fees, conflicts of interest and unprincipled practices persist among the wider financial community.

Thankfully, there are columnists like The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Zweig to remind me. Did you catch his recent “Intelligent Investor” exposé, “The Free Trips Your Financial Advisor Takes Could Cost You”? As Zweig observes of advisors who accept free trips from others, “Wining and dining with money managers for free under tropical skies could cloud his or her judgment.”

To say the least! Personally, I can’t even imagine a universe in which any reputable financial advisor would let someone else foot the bill for an all-expense-paid “due diligence conference” held at the Ritz Carlton at Marina Del Ray or the Four Seasons in Mexico City. I love that Zweig includes direct links to these and a couple of other actual, upcoming events, to show that he’s not just making this stuff up.

GDPR … It’s Growing on Me

GD-what? It’s not your fault if you’ve not even heard of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Set to go live May 25th, it’s a big deal in Europe, but I might not have heard of it either if I didn’t have a number of colleagues and clients based there. Even then, it only dawned on me a few weeks ago that I may need to comply with portions of it too, as described in this Forbes article.

If you are not collecting, processing or storing any personal information on anyone in the EU, you can probably remain blissfully ignorant about the details. But, I wanted to bring it to your attention anyway because I’m intrigued by its parallels to our would-be fiduciary standards. Think of the GDPR as having a similar mission, but it’s meant to protect people’s personal data instead of their financial well-being.

Both seem well worth protecting, and the GDPR seems to be authentically leading the charge on this important front. If it works as hoped for, we may have the opportunity to learn from and emulate its successes as we seek to advance universal fiduciary standards of care and improve on financial best practices around the globe.

I think I’ll hit pause for now, to keep this post short and sweet. But I hope to revisit the subject soon … so keep a watchful eye on my blog. Or subscribe below to receive these straight to your inbox.

Mitch Anthony’s Startlingly Brave Call to Action

© Can Stock Photo / ionutparvu

Coming out on a Monday as it did, you may have missed this little bombshell of a Financial Advisor piece authored by “The New Retirementality” author Mitch Anthony: “Harsh Lessons in Modern Con Art.” In it, Mitch shared how he – and his mother! – were conned out of $1 million by an unscrupulous real estate wheeler-dealer.

I don’t think Mitch will mind if I share his opening and a few other key excerpts:

“As I sit down to write this article, I know it will likely be the most difficult composition of my writing career—difficult because it dredges up a miasma of regret, embarrassment, sadness and anger like nothing else I’ve experienced in life. I was conned out of almost a million dollars.”

You can read the rest here, plus check out Financial Advisor’s op-ed about the piece, “Why Mitch Anthony Displays Courage.”

If you’ve never read Mitch’s larger body of work, I encourage you to do so. You may also consider using it as a resource for your clients who are pondering the practical and emotional aspects of their work/life balances. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you my early encounters with Retirementality directly influenced the path I took with my own career. As much as I enjoyed my corporate day job at the time, his insights expanded my thinking, readying me to seek even more out of life by moving to Oregon and going freelance with my work (on the eve of the Great Recession, no less).

But first, read his breaking – and heart-breaking – “Harsh Lessons” article. Imagine how tough it must have been for him to describe to us, his own community, how he had fallen victim to the very sort of swindlers that fiduciary advisors are constantly warning their clients to avoid.

What separates the mice from the Mitch, however, was his willingness to share his learning experience despite the risks, focusing on the greater goal of advancing an important call to action we are well-advised to heed.

Specifically, as awful as the experience was, Mitch describes how it was aggravated by a federal five-year statute of limitations on prosecuting the perpetrator for his flagrant financial crimes. The problem is, five years isn’t always enough time to catch a financial thief. Mitch explains:

“Once you discover you have been defrauded, very likely two to three years have passed. Legal proceedings will chew up a year or two. By the time prosecutors decide there is merit in proceeding, the time has almost run out, and they will cease their efforts knowing they are up against the statute. This was our exact experience. By the time I brought the fraud to the attention of the FBI, they informed me that the perpetrator was already ‘on their radar’—but at this point, there wasn’t enough time left to do anything, and they couldn’t afford the time and resources to waste their efforts.”

So, rightfully so, Mitch has asked for our help. Based on his conversation with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Charles Grassley’s office, here’s what we can do (emphasis mine):

“[Grassley’s] staff have informed me this is an important matter, but that for the law to change, we will need to speak up about it. This means having our various associations express their concern to the committee and to law enforcement as well. … If you want to voice your concern directly to the Senate Judiciary Committee, you can do so directly by contacting Richard_DiZinno@judiciary-rep.senate.gov.”

For Mitch’s sake, for your sake and, most of all, for your clients’ sake, go to it … and spread the word. As soon as I hit publish on this piece, I will be doing the same.

Financial Security and Modern-Day Pirates

© Can Stock Photo / AlienCat

Pirates may be jolly when they’re Johnny Depp in a costume, but the real renditions aren’t amusing at all … as the world is being reminded of recently in the form of a global Microsoft ransomware outbreak. If you’ve not yet seen the news, all you have to do is Google “ransomware attack 2017” and you’ll get caught up pretty quickly. You might want to have a paper bag handy, to breathe into.

Bottom line, to help shore up the security of your virtual ship, there’s one important step you and your clients should be taking if you’ve not yet done so: Make sure all updates and patches to your Windows operating system have been completed – like, yesterday. (As in, stop whatever else you’re doing, and do that now.)

By the way, I’ve just added a short email to the Content-Sharing Library, which you can use to reach out to your clients about this simple but important step. And, as incredibly excellent timing would have it, just last Friday, I also happened to load a quick-reference guide and a longer report on the subject of protecting against financial fraud and identity theft (U.S. and Canadian versions of the same).

If my timing were always this impeccable, I’d become an active investor! It’s not, and I won’t.

As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, let’s be careful out there.