From the February 2013 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

January 23, 2013

Be the Bulwark

It was common in the immediate aftermath of the horrific Newtown massacre for people to talk about hugging their kids a little tighter. The reaction makes sense. People naturally want to respond in some personal way to an event that has touched our lives. But what can someone do, in a continental nation, in response to an event that may have been thousands of miles away? 

Perhaps one answer might be to accept responsibility—in nothing more than your own sphere of influence—as if to say: “Whatever threat comes my way is not going to happen if I can stop it.”

To be sure, people have free will and we’ll never be able to control that. But lost in the day-to-day vicissitudes of life is a sense that threats to our social order, over which we do have some influence, occur constantly.

Consider: Already two decades ago, Congressional Quarterly compared public school problems in the years 1940 and 1990, noting the following stark deterioration:

In 1940, running in the hallways, chewing gum and talking in class were the three biggest problems in public schools. Fifty years later, pregnancy, VD and drug abuse topped the list. And that was before the surge in school shootings that bloodied the decade of the ’90s. What will the next list look like?

Financial advisors often play a community role, and as such, can be a force for order and stability. Think about what issues matter in your community—whether it is bullying in your kids’ school or incivility on the playing field. Sponsoring a community event to raise awareness and prevent a drift down the moral cliff would promote positive social values and engender good will as well.

For those not disposed to community involvement (and even those who are), you can hold the line against destructive forces right in your office. Whether it is a client facing premature depletion of assets or one with an affinity for imprudent trading, if it’s in your domain, you can do something about it.

Before building a grandiose financial edifice, you need to place a firm foundation beneath which the client can never fall. Certainly, advisors make financial plans and build portfolios—but good advisors understand that an investment plan could vaporize in an instant if not bullet-proofed against catastrophic loss.

In other words, as much thought has to be given to holding the line, defending and preventing loss as to planning, planting and building. 

We don’t like the feeling of helplessness that a Newtown-type massacre induces. But we can dispel that ill feeling among our clients and community at large by assuming responsibility.

If there is something that is unthinkable, unacceptable and unforgivable in the domain where we exercise authority—whatever it is—we can be bulwarks against its occurrence.

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