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5 financial lessons from Game of Thrones

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Enter the world of Westeros, Essos, Sothoryos and Ulthos, where dragons and magic exist, and you’re in the HBO series Game of Thrones (GoT), based on the fantasy and science fiction books A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. Learning about how hard life was back then — the gruesome battles, the everyday perils — definitely teaches one how to survive past age 20.

It’s likely that insurance exists in this fairytale land, because insurance has existed since the times of the Romans. Not to mention that all those marriages for power, alliances and money demand complex life insurance policies and estate plans. And so, here are some industry lessons that we can infer from GoT.

(Disclaimer: If you are not caught up on your GoT seasons, do not keep reading, for there are many spoilers coming up. Read at your own risk! Winter is coming.)

King Robert Baratheon

1. Make sure your estate plan is in legal order.

Love him or despise him, King Robert Baratheon rules over all of the Seven Kingdoms. After a mysterious accident involving alcohol and a boar leaves him on his deathbed — one in which Queen Cersei is involved indirectly — Lord Stark sends a message to Robert’s two younger brothers, Stannis and Renly. The message states that Robert is not the real father of his kids and that they are the product of incest between Cersei and her twin brother, Jaime. (I know. Eww.)

In the end, even though King Robert signed a letter seconds before dying that would grant temporary custody of the throne to Lord Stark until his oldest son Joffrey came of age (allowing Stark to sort out the whole succession thing), there were no witnesses and the only man present was Stark. Thus, the succession plan is not valid, according to the Queen (who obviously wanted to have her child sit on the throne).

The Lesson? Make sure your estate plans are in legal order and update them as needed because one never knows when a power-hungry queen might plan for alcohol and boars to come together at an unexpected time. (Photo: King Robert Baratheon/HBO.)

Brienne of Tarth Jamie Lannister

2. Disability insurance is a critical protection product for just about every worker.

While everything was falling apart in King’s Landing with Robert’s death, the Lannisters were at war with the Starks. During one of these battles, Jaime is captured by the Starks. Lady Stark ultimately releases him, and tasks Brienne of Tarth, a woman knight, to escort him back to King’s Landing in exchange for Sansa and Arya. 

On their way to King’s Landing, Brienne and Jaime are intercepted and captured by another lord’s men. The leader of the men gets tired of listening to Jaime pitch bribes in exchange for freedom, and ultimately cuts off Jaime’s right hand, his “sword” hand. Jaime was one of the greatest swordsmen in all the Seven Kingdoms and was the head of the Kingsguard. Losing his hand means that he no longer knows how to swordfight, posing a threat to his job.

The Lesson? Even though Jaime was a far superior knight to Brienne, there was nothing either could do to prevent him losing a hand (except maybe shutting up?). However, had Jaime purchased a disability insurance policy, he wouldn’t have to worry about getting laid off from his job as head of the Kingsguard, or be forced to follow his father’s wishes in retiring to their home at Casterly Rock. The fact that the Lannisters lost a lot of money during the wars doesn’t help him either; his previous security net has been tossed out the window. (Photo: AP/Peter Morrison; Brienne of Tarth poster and Jaime’s prop hand are part of the HBO and Time Warner Cable GoT exhibition in 2013 in New York.)

Game of Thrones Dragon Eggs

3. Whether it’s a financial nest egg or a dragon, you need investments you can count on. 

Viserys Targaryen plots to invade Westeros and reclaim his crown as the rightful heir of the Seven Kingdoms. But he lacks all possible resources (armies, boats, money, wit, etc.), so he “sells” his younger sister, Daenerys, in marriage to Khal Drogo. During the wedding ceremony, Daenerys receives a lot of gifts, among them three dragon eggs that have supposedly turned to stone by the passage of time. 

Daenerys feels a strange connection to these “rocky” eggs: something draws her in and she takes care of them. It’s not until later that she builds a pyre for her dead husband, that she places the dragon eggs on the pyre and enters the fire. When the fire dies in the morning, she is alive and has three baby dragons around her.

Daenerys and Drogon

The Lesson? Just like your nest egg will hatch when the time is right (and hopefully when no one’s husband has died or any fires are lit), Daenerys’ dragon eggs hatched, as her intuition told her they would. In addition to intuition, we have talented retirement advisors that will coax your golden egg to hatch into a beautifully crafted retirement fund (dragons not included). Daenerys had to do a lot of adjusting to help keep those dragons, just like one does in order to make sure that the retirement fund lasts as long as possible. (Top photo: AP/Evan Agostini; Petrified dragon eggs and other props, part of the HBO and Time Warner Cable GoT exhibition in 2013 in New York. Above: Daenerys and her biggest teenage dragon, Drogon/HBO.)

Daenerys and the Unsullied 

4. The best financial partnerships are based on trust. 

In her position as a type of foreign queen to the Dothraki, Daenerys learns their culture, customs and language. She fights for the rights of the women, while trying to defend the prisoners they take as slaves when they attack other villages. This resonates with some Dothraki, although most are not in favor of compassion, believing it to be a sign of weakness.

Fast forward to season three, when Daenerys is finally able to purchase a ship and decides to go to another city to acquire slave warriors called the Unsullied. She’s disgusted at the fact that they are slaves, and identifies with them because she was sold in marriage as a slave by her now defunct brother.

Through cunning negotiations — and, to be fair, cheating — Daenerys gains control of the Unsullied warriors and sets them free. The freed warriors don’t know how to react to or what to do, but having an army of slaves goes against her very nature, so she invites them to either leave or join her as “free men” in her army, and they all do.

The Lesson? Know your audience, learn their way of thinking, empathize with their culture and traditions (and possibly speak their language), and be genuine with them. What do they want? What do they need? What are they worried about? Your prospects can tell when you have a genuine interest in them. The fear of the unknown — say, how insurance works — will dissipate with information, giving way for respect and friendship to flourish. This establishes a very strong foundation for lasting relationships with your clients.

And, just like a ruler, it is your duty to serve your loyal subjects …err, clients. However, unlike Daenerys, we don’t condone violence, war or burning by dragons. (You can watch the video of Daenerys taking over her army here, but be warned that it is very graphic and has stong language. Photo: Screenshot of the HBO episode.)

Sansa Stark and Joffrey

5. Not having a trusted advisor is too big a risk to take. 

Where to begin with Sansa Stark? After going to King’s Landing with her father and loving life in the big city, Sansa starts picking up bad manners from the people at court, mainly Queen Cersei. However, after Lord Stark is beheaded, both the Queen and the recently crowned Joffrey beat, manipulate, torture and humiliate poor Sansa. She just sits there in silence and takes it.

Why does she do this? Because she has no one else to come to her aid and she can’t trust anyone. And what’s a teenage girl with no present parents, guardians or purse full of gold to do if she can’t bribe or pay her way out of the city? Sit there and take it, until a glimmer of hope comes.

It finally does, not because she planned it, but because of someone else who had set his eyes on her. And even though she unknowingly participated in the plot, she eventually gets the golden opportunity to take charge of her future. We’ll see if that road leads to something good.

The Lesson? OK, you might be thinking that it’s a little farfetched for me to make a comparison between a helpless teenage girl and financial planning, but here is my attempt: if Sansa had trusted advisors, spies, some sort of security net, and/or a Visa credit card for emergencies only, she could’ve escaped her terrible situation sooner, on her own terms, and not by being manipulated by others. Having a financial plan in place before you need it is essential. If you control your financial future, you can do whatever you please. If you don’t have any control of your finances, they’ll control you — or, you know, you’re their “Sansa.” (Photo: HBO.)