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.
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.
True story from a friend who has a daughter and son, ages about 4 and 7. This December, they each wrote a letter to Santa Claus. I don’t know what they said, but my friend liked them so much she wanted to keep them. Hoping the letters would find their way back home, she sneakily left off the postage, provided a vague mailing address, and made sure the return address was crystal clear.
Her daughter had other plans. “But, Mommy,” she observed. “It doesn’t say ‘Santa’ on it.”
Busted. My friend still managed to omit the postage, but she had to add an address – “To Santa” – and off they went.
As hoped for, the postal service did return the letters … although not in the “Return to Sender” format you’d expect. Instead, both letters had been removed from their original envelopes and inserted into a single new envelope addressed to the household. Along with the letters was a new one – from Santa!
Santa encouraged my friend’s daughter to be kind, and offered up some advice for her son as well, who cautiously observed, “Well, I didn’t used to believe, but I might have to now.” As you can imagine, the four-year-old was blown away by the personal reply; she will no doubt think twice the next time she’s choosing between naughty or nice.
What has this got to do with your role as an investment advisor? Call me Scrooge, but I still don’t believe in Santa Claus. I’m more inclined to believe there’s one or more wonderful postal workers – or maybe community volunteers – who take the time to respond to this sort of correspondence. To me, that’s even more miraculous. These anonymous, but very real individuals are surely touching lives in so many positive ways they will never know about. They must act on faith that what they’re doing matters.
There’s the connection for you. As we press on the accelerator to another busy year filled with market swings, global turmoil, and personal challenges alike, take a refreshing moment to realize this:
Every act of kindness you extend is important to someone.
Each piece of solid advice you offer contributes to everyone’s well-being.
Each time you need to be brave, and make the right choice instead of the easy one in your personal and professional life, your decision counts.
So, as “Santa” said, let’s be kind instead of careless. Let’s be honest, even when others seem to get ahead with a lie. Let’s be fiduciary, not because it’s the law, but because it matters. More than you are ever likely to know.
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.”
Have you heard the news? First there was that little Wells Fargo dust-up down here in the states. Now, ALL of Canada’s big banks – or at least some 1,000 of their employees – have reportedly been deluging CBC News investigative reporter Erica Johnson’s inbox, anxious to talk about the pressures they’ve felt to place customers’ best interests second.
The story broke in early March with a bank teller confessing, “I will do anything I can to make my goal.” I wonder if Johnson had any notion that this chink in the wall was soon to be split wide open with a flood of “me too” mea culpas sent her way. She reported on them in this incredible, mid-March follow-up piece, “We are all doing it.”
Incredible to me, anyway. Usually, the popular press loves nothing more than a juicy financial scandal. Except, apparently, if it’s going down up in Canada. What, have we got too many of our own to report on? Unless I’ve missed it, I haven’t seen a peep in the major U.S. media outlets.
While the Department of Labor’s fiduciary ruling is not any sort of death knell (unless, perhaps, you’ve been peddling some seriously toxic investment products), you might think it was, given last week’s glut of headlines in the financial press. I’ve seen all five of Kübler-Ross’ famed stages of grief on exhibit: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, ultimately, acceptance.
I have experienced these myself. For some time, I doubted that the DOL would ever achieve a ruling. When they actually did, I was angered by some of the last-minute holes that were blown into what could otherwise have been a more solid fiduciary stronghold. While I am in no position to bargain with the DOL, I debated with myself, mulling over shifting moods on whether the ruling was a good or bad thing for investors.
In the end, I have accepted that we should think of the ruling as a modest victory for investors and that, by and large, you should communicate it as such to your community.