Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Blackest of Black Fridays

Historically the Friday following Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and has often been called Black Friday because that is when many retailers begin to turn profitable.

Black Friday will never have the same meaning to me because this year people showed their lack of humanity in the possible worst way, they trampled a Walmart worker to death and on the whole showed absolute disregard for the event.

People were not lining up for food; they were lining up to buy discounted TVs.
People were not without money; after all they were there to shop and save a hundred dollars or so on a TV.

We are not in a depression and the world is not falling apart. Times are hard for virtually everyone but that does not allow us to become savage.

Imagine that you are on line and eagerly awaiting the store to open. There is a slight delay so you begin pounding and pushing on the glass doors. The collective force of 40 or 50 savage people up front causes the doors to buckle. They are glass, transparent. You see the employee on the other side. Do you rush forward or halt? Do you rush around away from the fallen person or over him? The people at that Valley Stream Walmart decided that the best course was to rush and step on the fallen figure. How do you ignore the screams? Not see the person beneath your feet?

According to reports in various papers people tried to push rescue EMT personnel aside and when told that the store was closing due to the tragedy refused to leave. For them saving a hundred bucks was more than the value of a human life.

Where is the outrage? People are blaming Walmart for being unprepared and yet were any other people trampled at other stores? Any other stores?

I hope that those shoppers in Valley Stream take time to think long and hard about their actions and reactions and have as happy a holiday as the family of the murdered worker.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Potpourri of Scams

I received an email today from a GI in Iraq. He asked for my assistance in moving five million dollars out of that country. I was born in 1950 and not yesterday. Beware of any emails asking for help in moving money out of a country. The most famous one is the Nigerian scam but there are variations. Sadly, people still fall prey to these scams and lose a lot of their hard earned savings.

Another scam coming from Iraq involves the currency. The old Iraqi Dinar had a value of over 2 bucks per Dinar. The new one is like 12 dinars for a penny and it is not convertible. That means in simple language do not fall for a story that says with your help I can buy $1000 of Dinars and ship them to you and they will be worth millions. It doesn’t work and if you have any relatives over there caution them about this. I actually was contacted by a fellow member of NAPFA who had a client that was asked to participate in this. We saved his money for him!

A client sent me an email they had received from the Internal Revenue Service with information about a refund. It looked real except that the IRS does not contact people via email out of the blue. If you ever get an email from the IRS send it to You will make some FBI agent happy, and that’s a good thing.

Recently yours truly received a letter from the Consumers’ Research Council of America advising me that I had been selected for inclusion in their 2008 Edition of “Guide to America’s Top Financial Planners.” Quite an honor and to celebrate and recognize this achievement I was offered the opportunity to purchase various displays for my office so that visitors would be aware of my accomplishment. A mere $169 - $229 is all that one would cost.

Modesty prevents me from stating that I am a top planner, and there is some obnoxious and wordy planner in Florida who thinks I need a remedial course in planning because I disagreed with the position that the Financial Planning Association espoused with regard to the recent stimulus payments. That leaves me probably somewhere above the middle and below the zenith.

That guide contained the name of nearly every CFP in the world, hardly relevant. It is like when I tell people that I was top ranked in tennis; ranked in the top 10 million. I was younger and quicker then; I suspect my ranking has since slipped.

The lessons to be learned is to be wary of emails that appeal to your greed, your need to help others and that ask you for personal information or will lead you to another site. The other lesson to be learned is to think very carefully about any list that some planner tells you that they are on. The odds are good that it is less than meaningful and may have required some sort of payment.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

If Tomorrow Never Comes

On the day it was confirmed that Patrick Swayze, the star of two of my favorite movies, “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost” was being treated for Pancreatic cancer I received a phone call from the inquisitive and inspiring journalist Shira Levine who was working on a story for

She was seeking background on steps that people might take if they were told that they had a limited period of time left. She didn’t laugh when I said that I would listen to Tim McGraw's megahit “Live Like You Were Dying”

This request had a tremendous amount of personal meaning to me. On a Friday evening in February I was having a glass of wine with a friend, discussing nothing of importance when my friend’s eyes welled up and the words “I don’t want to die” struck my ears. It was the first time that anyone has ever said that to me and those are not words that I want to hear again. I was surely as stunned as much as my friend who said them was.

While the tests are not all complete there is a good chance that my friend may not see 2009.

When you have in your mind that your days are limited time indeed becomes “sweet time” as referenced in Tim’s song. That night we spoke about what was important to my friend, what did they want to do if indeed the prognosis is correct.

How would they be remembered? Who should be told about their death? How many things will they be able to accomplish in whatever time was left?

My friend didn’t have to mention anything like estate planning or beneficiary designations; nothing mundane and that is because they have always made sure that their own financial health was in order.

It wasn’t that hard for them to do. They had prepared a Will and knew that they may have to update it when anyone new and important came into their life or when certain laws change.

They also had in place a Living Will or Health Care Proxy which gave someone the authority to make health care decisions for them when they would be unable. They knew that this person would honor their requests. This document should be reviewed periodically and updated perhaps every five years. You would not want it being challenged as being out of date.

The last important document is the Durable Power of Attorney which will allow for someone to act on your behalf. Depending on the authority contained in the document that person that you have named may even change beneficiaries for you in retirement plans or insurance policies.

Equally as important as having these documents is the fact that they are accessible. In addition they had in a simple binder a list of all their important contacts, account information and insurance information.

When time becomes your most important currency you want to spend it all on the ones you love.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

One Troubling Aspect of Politicians

When we decide to vote for a candidate we always think about the promises that they make and how they stand on the issues. The following is my reality check!

While walking down the street one day a US senator is tragically hit by a truck and dies.

His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.

"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," says the man.

"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."

"Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the senator.

"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."

And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes
down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself
in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.

Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people.

They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.

Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go.

Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises...

The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.

"Now it's time to visit heaven."

So, 24 hours pass with the senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.

"Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity."

The senator reflects for a minute, then he answers: "Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell."

So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.

Now the doors of the elevator open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage.

He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above.

The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder. "I don't understand," stammers the senator. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?"

The devil looks at him, smiles and says, "Yesterday we were campaigning...... Today you voted."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Don't Be Afraid to Spend It!!

The talk of the town seems to be divided between Britney Spears and what you should be doing with your rebate check from the US Treasury. Since the talented Ms. Spears doesn’t listen to me let’s focus on the check.

By way of history, our economy has slowed down considerably over the last six months. Perhaps it is the years of high oil prices, high food prices and relatively stagnant wages catching up or maybe it is the gloom over the sub-prime mortgage mess coupled with falling house values and the schizophrenic market that is affecting the consumer. Something has and the Government has decided to take action to give a jolt back into the economy, and that jolt is the cumulative effect of taxpayers spending “free money” from the Government. The House of Representatives, the Senate and the President have all agreed that this is the policy that they want to employ. At this point in time the debate is over as to whether it is a good policy or not, it is THE policy and now the goal is to make it work.

That simple belief is one reason why I advocate spending. Now I know that my clients are all fiscally responsible but how about the person who isn’t and is facing foreclosure? The answer is obvious, use the rebate to help keep the house!

I was reading Suze Orman’s column and she advocates that you don’t spend it. Her advice is to pay down debt or invest it. In five years that check could be double! Her column reminds me of an advertisement where the annuity company points out that if you didn’t buy that expensive wrist watch now you could have an extra $323,765 in retirement, give or take. Now I truly regret buying Karen Becker a hamburger and milk shake 48 years ago. While the afternoon was enjoyable, I realize that I was depriving myself of future security. I digress.

Go out and spend the rebate money on something you need or want. Spend CASH. Do as the Government wants. Give their plan a chance of success. If you truly believe that the idea of the rebates is wrong and will not help the economy then void the check and mail it back.

I am not sure how successful the rebate plan will be however I do know that if we just put the money away and not use it for current consumption then the plan will fail.

The time for debate has passed and now let us play the game.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

You Don't Own Me... with apologies to Lesley Gore

On a forum that I participate in there is a wonderful discussion developing which deals with how an investment advisory firm can prevent or make more difficult for an existing client to leave the firm with the intent of becoming a client of another firm/advisor of their choice.

Yes you have read that correctly, a discussion took place on how to place a roadblock on people that should have free choice in their selection of an advisor.

What makes this more interesting and in my opinion perplexing is that it is taking place in the forum of an organization whose leadership advocate full disclosure and fiduciary responsibility.

Allow me to ask this question of you. Would you do business with a firm if they told you up front that should the relationship not meet with your satisfaction that you may be unable to deal with the advisor of your choice in the future?

Now no one is suggesting that a representative of Don Corleone will be paying you a visit or that you may wake up to find the severed head of your favorite pet at the foot of your bed. That happens in Hollywood, what we are talking about happens right here, in Your Town, USA.

The online discussion started with a question on adding non compete clauses into contracts and also how to put a dollar figure on the client which according to some, is the property of the firm. Later upon realizing that ownership of a person is politically incorrect the term was changed to “client relationship”. Yet in reality they are one and the same.

Now we have all read about non-compete / non-solicitation clauses where important people usually cannot enter a similar business or talk to clients after they have left their employer however it is usually associated with expensive manufactured goods; goods that have required extensive research and development dollars to be spent. Industrial companies expect that their employees and the employees of the competition be covered by non-compete clauses. However I know of no instance where Boeing has allowed a salesman to join Airbus for a fee. After all how do you really value the future business of an airline?

It is not being said that non compete clauses are illegal, there has been enough case law to show that they can be enforced. However, when people are advocating full disclosure to potential clients I would hope that on at least an ethical if not moral standard that it would be disclosed to a potential client that they may be waiving some rights in the future.

Some fee only advisors are very critical of investment products that have back end surrender charges. They feel that it is simply wrong to penalize or place obstacles in the way of an investor who wishes to cash out. I cannot think of anything more penalizing than preventing a person the freedom of choice just because they are an ex-client of the firm.

The lesson to be learned is to ask your current advisor if they will place any impediments in your selection of a replacement advisor, and have them put it in writing!