I went to see the new movie Ben Stein co-wrote, entitled “Expelled.. What does this have to do with my journey to independence, you ask? Quite a lot, actually. Let me explain. The movie is all about the suppression of freedom at large. For instance, whenever university professors attempted to engage in a discussion about a certain subject, they were terminated. As long as they walked the party line and did not upset the applecart, things were fine. But if they attempted to bring up ideas or views which were contrary to the establishment, they suffered consequences. The movie used the Berlin Wall to symbolize the barrier between the establishment and independent thought, or freedom of thought, if you prefer. Whenever intellectual thought is stifled, improvement is deficient and the status quo becomes the static quo, which brings me to my point. There is a similar phenomenon occurring in corporate America today.
When you work for a large publically traded company, there is often an expectation that employees will blindly follow the company directives, no matter what they happen to be. Decisions are made by a select few, usually those who are far away from client contact. Creative thought is unwelcome and a sort of robotic behavior ensues. At my former employer, people use to refer to this as “drinking the Kool-Aid.” In other words, after some time you either follow or you leave.
I believe that every soul longs for freedom to some extent. It was this desire for freedom that ultimately led to my decision to leave the safe, cushy world of a guaranteed paycheck and a gold watch at retirement (metaphorically speaking), and start my own wealth management firm.
There is another point to be made. Freedom without ethics is a recipe for disaster. Because of the greediness and illegalities of a few, the majority suffer. Because a small minority of people decided that they are more important than the client, the regulatory pendulum has swung too far to one side. The RIA environment is like a breath of fresh air in terms of the freedom we have. Freedom, yes, but the standard is also much stricter than it is on the other side of the wall, in the world of the brokerage firms. Freedom cannot coexist without ethics. Perhaps our industry needs our own Hippocratic Oath which states, “Advisor, do no harm.” That’s how I run my business.