From the May 2017 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Keep It Personal, Please

Bilbo Baggins famously announced that “Alas, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and estimable hobbits!” at his 111th birthday party before vanishing into thin air at the beginning of the “Fellowship of the Ring,” the first book in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (yes, the Peter Jackson movies were great, but read the books by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis’ good pal).

And I tell you that 18 years spent serving such excellent and estimable advisors as yourselves is too few. Yet that is the case: This is my last editor's note for Investment Advisor, which will remain in the fine hands of Janet Levaux, Danielle Andrus, Chris Nicholls, Melanie Waddell and Liana Roberts.

I spell out each of the IA staffer's names because much like the advisory business, the publishing business (or the journalism dodge, as William Safire might say), is all about people. The reader, yes, but also the team that plans and budgets and researches and writes and edits and designs and lays out and proofreads the product you hold in your hands. It includes those on the business side who have to, well, run a business and sell advertising and sponsorships, which keeps the journalists employed and the publications running. And which keeps you informed and exposes you to new ideas. And which challenges you and even occasionally entertains you.

Those feature stories, analyses, articles, columns and departments, and news pieces are written by the best in the business, IMHO. In addition to our staffers, I’m talking about Mark Tibergien, Bob Clark, Angie Herbers, Tom Giachetti, Dan Skiles, Olivia Mellan and Sherry Christie, Fran O’Brien, Cam Marston, Noah Hamman, Cliff Stanton and Matt Osborne. Then there are the freelance writers from within the industry, like Matt Lynch, Ben Warwick, Mike Patton and Dan Kern.

Yes, they and the staff at Investment Advisor and ThinkAdvisor.com cover the waterfront of issues and challenges faced by advisors and advisors’ partners, but they also do it with their own voice, marked by their own cadence, using their unique language to express what they know and feel and predict based on their individual experience and insights.

Over the past 18 years (and three months), there have been many issues faced by advisors that observers tried to turn into a black-or-white issue, with virtue and vice clearly delineated. As I have grown older and I hope wiser, I continue to find the truth of any matter in the gray areas.

Yes, we should take ethical stands. Yes, we should create, and hold ourselves to, the highest standards, especially since you as advisors have the none-higher responsibility of service to your clients.

The problem with the black-and-white, “I’m good, you’re evil” approach is that it eliminates the middle ground. It removes the chances of compromise. It places everyone in a posture of conflict, not shared goals.

It has one other unfortunate effect: It diminishes the value of each individual and blurs the value of the personal. That's a mistake, I believe. It's also antithetical to what advisors do for a living and for a purpose: serve their clients as individuals, not as model portfolios or client segments.

That's what we all want after all, and what you can continue to provide to your clients. Just be sure that you surround yourself with the right people — of different ages, genders, life experiences — so that you can be challenged to be your best while creating a wonderful outcome.

That's what all the people I listed above (and many others over the last almost 20 years) helped me accomplish on your behalf in these pages, in my own small way. Thank you.

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