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Self-interest: The naked truth

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As I write this column, a major Wall Street bank has been in the news for allegedly defrauding its clients. This might explain a dream I had recently.

I lumber downstairs. “Good morning,” the wife chirps. “What would you like for breakfast?” “How about some scrambled eggs and bacon?” “OK, honey,” she says. But a few minutes later, she slides a bowl of cornflakes in front of me. “But what about . . . ?” “Shhh, I know,” she says, “but I’m late for my spa treatment.”

Disappointed, I eat, get dressed and head out to do errands.
“Hey, Steve,” says Marko, the barber. “What’s your pleasure?” (I’m dreaming, remember?) “Let’s go really short. I like to stay cool in the summer.” “No problem,” he says, clipper humming around my ears. A few minutes later he stops. “All set!” “Wait,” I say. “You hardly took any off!” “I know,” he answers. “See you in a couple days?”

Next I drive to my car dealer. After about 15 minutes, the service manager calls out. “We found a few problems while doing the tune-up.” “Tune-up?” I ask. “I just wanted an oil change.” “I know, but the computer says you need a tune up.” “But I . . .” “Don’t worry about it,” he says. “You’ve got a store credit card, right?”

Now I’m at my favorite caf? for lunch. I order my usual ham and swiss. The waitress returns with an elaborate seafood platter. “We’re fresh out of sandwich bread, so I brought you this instead.” “OK,” I answer glumly, “but I’m really not that hungry.” After I finish, the waitress brings over my check. It was three times my usual bill, with a 50 percent gratuity penciled in.

As I stare at the check in disbelief, the room begins to spin. Now I’m back in bed. “Strange dream,” I mutter. “I never got what I asked for, even though I made my wishes known!”

What about you? Has another advisor or business pursued self-interest at your expense? How did it make you feel? Have you ever done this to a client? How do you think the client felt? Willing to change? Here’s how:

  • Don’t let commissions color your professional judgment. If you do what’s right for clients, you’ll always earn more than enough money.
  • Don’t be a one-trick advisor. Client needs are more sophisticated today. Learn how to address them.
  • If you’re an annuity salesperson, don’t hold yourself out as a financial planner. Do the smart thing and become an RIA rep.
  • Don’t misrepresent your products by concealing negative facts. Full disclosure is always a winning strategy.
  • In short, don’t behave like an investment bank. In the harsh light of day, naked self-interest is an ugly sight, indeed.