From the May 2009 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

May 1, 2009

Over My Dead Body

Way back in 1982, when I graduated from Western Illinois University -- home of the Fighting Leathernecks -- I rejoiced in the fact that I would never have to take another test in my life. One of my friends tried to rain on my parade, betting me that there would come a day when I would have to take another test about something. "Over my dead body," I loudly proclaimed. Two years later, my very much alive self was sitting in a hotel ballroom enduring a cram session on the eve of taking the mother of all tests, the Series 7 securities test.

When I sat for that six-hour exam on a cold Saturday morning, I couldn't help but think of the na?ve proclamation I'd made a couple of years earlier. Alone with my No. 2 pencil, I feverishly filled in the appropriate ovals (obviously, this was before Bill Gates and computers), taking some solace in the fact that this would be the last test I would ever take in my life. As you may have guessed, I hadn't gotten any smarter in the two years since college.

Somehow, I passed. And then, much to my dismay, I soon found out that there was a state exam I would have to pass as well. Later on, I learned I needed to take another test to sell insurance. Then yet another for variable contracts. Whoa! That's a lot of "over my dead bodies." Pretty soon, I was likening myself to the proverbial nine-lived cat.

As I put more years between myself and college, I learned that life is one big test. There are continuing education tests, advisory tests, principal tests, and, more recently, the dreaded prostate test.

After several years of my "live on the razor's edge" career, I decided to leave the much-tested financial industry and try something else. Imagine how elated I was, knowing now I would definitely never have to take another test in my life.

I spent a number of years of trying to find myself, before giving up and deciding to get back into the financial industry. When I was hired as a wholesaler, I soon learned an interesting fact: Much like the love of a good woman, securities licenses eventually expire if not properly maintained and nourished.

As I contemplated suicide, my boss talked me off the ledge. He thankfully informed me I would only need my Series 6 and not the dreaded 7. I passed that with flying colors and got on with my life. I dodged the 7 another time or two and felt pretty good about my nimbleness.

This all changed recently when I discovered that I needed my Series 7 if I wanted to earn any commissions. With a puny salary being a puny salary, I knew what I had to do. It was time to stare down the beast, again.

How tough could it be? After all, I had passed it once already. But as I opened the five-inch-thick study guide, I felt what I was sure was the beginning of a brain tumor deep inside my skull. Straddles, spreads, syndicates, tax-equivalent yields, P/E ratios, settlement dates . . . Arrrggghhhhh!!!

After the initial panic, I dusted the cobwebs off my brain and buckled down. It's amazing how much you can forget over a mere 20 years. Slowly but surely, though, it is starting to come back. I was shocked to find out that I actually picked the correct answer for a sample question on how many days of accrued interest would be owed for someone purchasing a T-bond with a trade date of March 17. Maybe I'll get my MBA after this.

As of this writing, I have no sad or happy ending. My test is scheduled for tomorrow morning. I only know my hopes of a good weekend depend on my understanding of a balance sheet . . . or was that an income statement?

Author's note... I passed. Finally, no more tests for the rest of my life!

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Once a mildly amusing comedian, Bill Miller now works as a recruiter for a top independent broker-dealer; reach him at writingbill@mac.com.

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