Brian the Incredible Shrinking Violet

WARNING: the below is an insight into my admitted weakness involving confrontation, set in the context of a discussion on the merits & risks of financial advisory services. After reading, do not operate heavy machinery (including an “adding machine”). Please call for a fund prospectus. FDIC insured up to 10,000 blog posts.

So R and I have had an official relationship (read: contracted, paid for) with a financial advisor for the last year. Our contract is up. This wonderfully jovial, line-backer-looking, former debt collector/bail bondsman waits until we have about 10 days left on this contract to call and “remind” us that it’s coming due and that he’d like to renew us for another year, yadda yadda. I guess it creates a lot of back-office hullabaloo for him if we lapse in services – meaning, if he doesn’t have us signed up for a new contract by Wednesday, and we sign up in, say, a month, it means more work for him, so he’s reminding me every few days, the latest one being last night.

What a poor, unfortunate soul. For the last year, we’ve met with him probably 5 or 6 times, and have significantly added to the dollar value under his control. Each time we’ve met with him, it’s been him and me and R. But whenever there’s any transaction, such as a contract renewal or a form to sign or a check to fork over, I’m the guy he calls. Why, you ask, in this modern age does the financial guy come to the (soon-to-be!) husband to manage the portfolio? Because R is allergic to the idea of risk when it comes to dollars, and because they both intimidate each other. (Without deflating my ego too much, I’ll go ahead and observe that neither of them are intimidated by me. Pause. I’ll chalk that up to the fact that I’m such a funny/nice guy.) So he calls me to get renewed because he thinks that I’ll keep the pants on and just sign right up and tell my pretty wife not to worry her pretty little head. This is why he’s a poor soul. And I’m being hyperbolic – I’m sure that’s not REALLY how this guy thinks, though he repeatedly admits to being Cro-Magnon about life. If this IS how he thinks, he’s much poorer than I thought.

R wants us to have officially combed through his activities and his performance over the last year to prove that the “nominal” fee that he’s earned from us over the last year has done something for us; that is to say that she needs to know she couldn’t have done almost as good with our money by shoveling out of one CD and right into another one. This poor guy thinks he can call us 10 days before the contract expires (and three weeks before our wedding) and get us signed up for another fee, I mean, year. And when I say “call us”, I mean, “call me.”

Why? Intimidations aside, because this guy knows I’m WAY less worried than R is about the basis points he’s earning for managing our money. Why? Because I’ve had an advisor for the last six years, I’ve drawn off the interest and done lots of great things with it. AND I don’t really pay a lot of attention to the reports we get.

R, on the other hand, looked at last month’s report, saw a negative dollar figure that would’ve kept us in expensive shoes for 6 months, and is now doubting that risk in our money can EVER be positive. So she’s operating under the distinct impression that our advisor has officially cost us more money over the last year than he’s brought in. I told her I’d cut a big slit in a secret corner of the mattress this weekend & we’d buy an extra fire extinguisher, a gun, and a large dog. (Ironically, over the course of a year, however, those three things would cost a fair chunk more than our advisor’s fee.)

In my opinion, without knowing the numbers for sure, he HAS made more for us than he’s cost us, and even after costs his return, I think, will prove greater than the 5-6% we would’ve gotten from CDs. Also in my opinion, this guy is trustworthy enough, and his advice/experience he brings to the table is well worth the fee, even though we may not be fully utilizing it yet (he’s good at the tax breaks, and he knows when things are selling at a discount, and he’s only asked for referrals once or twice). AND finally, my opinion says that we can’t freak out over one month, one quarter, or even one year of results – we’re both Finance people and we both have to recognize that measured risk (which is what I believe our advisor is taking on our behalf) will pay off over time.

So in any case, mattress comments aside, R’s main request, and damned if it isn’t a reasonable one, is that we get as much information as possible out of him, and prove whether or not he’s been worth his salt, before we sign up for another year/fee. AND that we be a little more hands-on about his hands being all over our investments. That’s all.

But, once again I’m playing intermediary between two personalities that, in circumstances like these, are fairly stronger than mine but are diametrically opposed to each other. (Believe me, I know there’s some literary/Greek/Laguna Beach reference I could make here to look REALLY erudite, but I’ll just settle for using the word “erudite.”) So what do I do? I call our advisor, leave him a voice mail at 7:30 in the morning, and hope that he’s being lazy for the next 24 hours and won’t call me back. And even if he does, there’s a chance I won’t answer the phone.

AH-HA! You’re saying, “Dude, what’s your deal? You’re here venting about stronger personalities being intimidated by each other – but do you really think being non-confrontational with this advisor guy is the right way to go? Until you deal with him, he’s got your money. Don’t you think dealing with him appropriately, as it sounds like R wants to, should be a priority? And don’t you think she’s busy enough with wedding stuff that she should be able to lean on you a bit to do this?” Yes, yes I do. And I did make it clear in the voicemail that we aren’t prepared to sign up for a new contract. And I acknowledge that I avoid conflict between people I like; I want everyone that I like to just get along and not doubt each other, not feel cheated, not feel disappointed… and boy I really don’t want them expressing their discontent while I’m around, because shucks, that’s not fun.

Yes, dear reader, you are absolutely correct. Dealing with him appropriately, and taking a more protective stance over our investment, is certainly the right thing to do. Ain’t gonna be comfortable for me, and R would do a much better job at it, but she’s delightfully busy, y’know, planning our wedding, so how ’bout I just sack up and make the quite reasonable demands we need to make. Fine, consider it done.

Sometimes all you need to do is write it out.