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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Moment of Truth

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In trying times, when heroes are in such short supply, Americans have rallied around US Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, who safely landed a jet in the Hudson River after a collision with geese caused the jet’s engines to fail. Captain Sullenberger had just two minutes to collect himself, determine what needed to be done and to coolly implement his plan, which involved keeping the wings of the plane even, keeping the rate of descent “survivable” and keeping the plane’s nose slightly up.

Many have noted that the career commercial pilot, and former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, saved the lives of all 155 people aboard the aircraft; but it bears adding that many more lives and property in densely populated New York City were spared because Captain Sullenberger made all the right decisions.

Clearly adding to the affection his countrymen feel for Sully is the obviously sincere modesty in his words and demeanor, his claim that he and his crew “were simply doing the jobs we were trained to do.”

In February, in the first interviews with the press since the incident, he told CBS’ Katie Couric that, in retrospect, all the training and experience he had over his lifetime — he had also been an accident investigator and studied the psychology of crew performance in a crisis — seemed tailor-made for the crash landing of Flight 1549 in the frigid waters of the Hudson:

“I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training,” he told Couric. “On January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a sudden, large withdrawal.”

Financial advisors and others in business often talk about having a mission statement or “elevator speech.” But could there be a more striking example of someone seemingly fulfilling his life’s purpose than this? Captain Sullenberger seems to have met his destiny.

And we can legitimately ask if we are meeting ours. After all, Flight 1549′s engines are not the only failures of late in need of a heroic response. There’s the catastrophic collapse of our markets that has ravaged the portfolios of individual investors. Is it not for just such a time as this that all your education, training and experience were made?

Today’s situation is a rare moment of truth for financial advisors (as it is for politicians and policymakers, who so far do not seem to merit any Profiles in Courage). Like Captain Sullenberger, financial advisors need to keep a cool head, offer calm reassurance and skillfully guide their clients to financial security.

Of course, financial advisors are also hurting right now. Nevertheless, there are times when we must look past our discomfort, even when we have something to cry about. Advisors can either wallow over their misfortune, as many are now doing, or take charge of the cockpit. The time to be your clients’ hero is now.

Gil Weinreich


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