optimism

What We Learned at the Big Conference

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I have gone to many conferences over a long period of time. Each has provided some perspective, insight or connection that proved to be quite valuable. Our quest to improve your financial position, being a human endeavor, is always susceptible to improvement. The conferences serve to expose us to ideas, concepts and tools that can help.

LPL Financial’s Focus17 event was perhaps the most consequential ever. The social media and blog presence we started at http://www.228Main.com two years ago has a far greater reach than we realized. We have relationships with top executives at LPL Financial and senior management that we did not know we had. This is turning out to be vitally important to you and to us.

Regulation creates change, and encourages standardization. You know we are contrarian; we dislike conventional wisdom, so we aren’t big on doing what everyone else is doing. As the company sorts out how to get to the future, our voice is in the conversation. Our proposals, the ones that will let us keep serving you as we have been, are being reviewed at the highest levels. If we didn’t have the new media presence, we would still be trying to let the brass know who we are and what we want.

Our communication strategy is to be radically transparent. We share our fundamental beliefs, our strategies, our methods and our views. So when we introduce ourselves to a policy-maker and say “this is what we are about,” the policy-maker says “Oh, I know, I read your blog. What do we need to do?”

Clients, understand, we put this all in place for you, not them. If there were three of me, none of us would have time for ego-stroking with big shots. But the fact is, these good people are going to help us shape the future in a way that might work out for everyone.

The highlight of the program was Bert Jacobs, Chief Executive Optimist of the Life Is Good Company. (You may have seen their T-shirts or coffee cups.) You have to know, the message that ‘life isn’t easy, life isn’t perfect, but life is good” certainly rang my bell. The idea that optimism is a tree trunk from which authenticity and empathy and humor and generosity etc. can branch is very powerful. Bert learned that ‘life is good’ resonated most deeply with people who had big challenges, not those who had easy lives.

I’ll summarize the rest by saying LPL Financial has a great culture carried by incredibly talented people. The firm is paying attention and taking care of business. You and we could not ask for more. Please call or email us with questions or to have a longer conversation.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Progress Beyond Our Dreams

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In the spring of 1902, Brooklyn printers by the name of Sackett & Wilhelms had a problem. It is doubtful whether anyone realized the vast ramifications the solution would bring.

When the humidity changed, the printers found that the paper expanded and contracted, causing their four color printing process to come out misaligned. Wasted days, wasted paper–it was a pretty big problem. Fortunately, a young engineer at the Buffalo Forge had an idea.

The engineer drew plans for a device to control the humidity of the print shop, and the crew from Buffalo Forge installed it. It was the first of its kind. By the end of the summer, the device had been a success.

It took four years for someone else to come up with the name “air conditioning.” Systems spread to other commercial enterprises, and eventually to other businesses, homes, and even to automobiles. As we approach the summer months here in the 21st century, it is hard to imagine life without air conditioning!

The engineer, who was just a year out of college when he drew the plans, later founded and ran his own company. You might have heard of Willis Carrier’s air conditioning company.

Every day, somewhere people are working on solutions to problems the cost us money, time, health, or some other resource. Others are working on things that may improve our lives, or entertain us, or provide some other advantage. Our everyday lives contain scores of things that did not even exist twenty or forty years ago.

For most of history, this is not how things worked. Life was nasty, brutish, and short. Generations came and went, but little changed. Then modernity unleashed human creativity and potential like never before.

This may be the key factor behind the seemingly perpetual upward tendency of the equity markets, all the way back to their origins.

We have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: stock markets are volatile. They go up and down. There are no guarantees. But they may represent a way to invest in human potential. Clients, please call or write if you would like to talk about this.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

What We Learned from You

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One of the privileges of working with you is the opportunity to get to know your life stories. Over the decades, we’ve met a lot of people and heard many stories. We learned a lot about about productive financial habits and instincts from you, our clients.

We have noticed that people who are successful in retirement have some habits that helped them get there. These factors do not guarantee success, of course, but there seems to be a strong correlation. Here are three habits that seem to be key:

1. For all or most of their working careers, they invested regularly—every month, every payday. 401(k) plans, automatic deposits to Roth or other accounts…these put wealth-building on autopilot.

2. They spent less than they made. One client told us, it isn’t how much you make, it is how much you keep. We all know people who make good money and spend all of it–and others who manage to save on modest incomes.

3. They adapted to unexpected surprises without impairing their long term financial planning. Having an emergency fund, realizing that life has uncertainties…these are key to getting back on track through all kinds of times.

The three habits go a long way towards building financial security. In addition to those, some clients were apparently born with helpful investment instincts:

A. A native sense of confidence that the country works through its problems, that economic slowdowns give way to recovery sooner or later. Those who believe that seem to have an easier time waiting for markets to rebound.

B. An aversion to needing to do what everybody else is doing. Fads (or stampedes, as we call them) can be a dangerous way to invest.

We got done at the university a very long time ago. Thanks to you, however, we are always learning. One of the gratifying aspects of our work is the opportunity to pay it forward—to deliver the good news to the next generation. Clients, please email us or call if you would like to discuss this or any other topic.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Can Happiness Buy Money?

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A very long time ago, I attended a convention and heard something worthwhile. In those days, a convention was mostly a rah-rah meeting to crank up insurance salespeople to get out there and sell more. Some of the content was not that great, as you might imagine.

But at this particular meeting, the featured speaker posed a pair of questions that resonated very deeply. Whether the incident changed my life or not would be hard to say. I may have been born this way.

The speaker started off by saying he wanted to ask two questions. “The first one, raise your hand to say yes—do you do more business and make more money when you are happy, as opposed to upset or mad?” Of course, everyone in the crowd raised a hand. Obviously, people dependent on making calls and taking the initiative would be more active when not upset—with an impact on their income.

The second question contained the hook. The speaker said, “No need to raise your hand on this question. Just think about it. Since we have all agreed that we do more business and make more money when we are happy, WHO IS IN CHARGE OF THAT?”

Friends, I cannot tell you where the meeting was, what year it occurred, or anything else about the agenda. But the notion that each of us is in charge of our own happiness is burned indelibly in my brain.

Life is not all puppy dogs and rainbows, of course. Some people are not happy, and none of us is in position to judge anyone else. Each of us has challenges. The pessimists among us are the ones doing the disaster planning, and pulling us back when our thinking goes too high up into the clouds.

We’ve written before about investing with the confidence that things work out even when they look bad. And it is easy to believe that our current challenges are the biggest yet, although history suggests otherwise. Perhaps happiness is a productive state.

We cannot prove that happiness brings money. But I will continue to act as if that is the case, since life is better when I do. Clients, you will each have to make up your own mind, but I will do my best to improve your happiness and your wealth—no guarantees on either. Please write or call with questions.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Niche Market of the Mind

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In every field of human endeavor, it seems that the best of the best are specialized. From the doctor who specializes in one form of cancer to the CPA who works mainly with trucking companies, specialists rule. In business, the short-hand term is ‘niche marketing.’

Financial advisors may work with people of a specific religion, those with shared hobbies or interests, people who work in a particular field or for a certain company, or a wide variety of other traits or characteristics. If you know us, it should not surprise you that we are different.

Our niche market encompasses retirees and workers and truck drivers and executives and nurses and engineers and teachers and accountants and married couples and widows and single people. At first glance, this may seem to be a poorly defined client group.

But our clients represent a very well-defined group. It is a niche market of the mind.

We work hard to qualify clients by productive attitudes toward investing—and we are not afraid to try to train clients if the right attitudes don’t come naturally. A tolerance for volatility and a fundamental confidence, as a society, we stumble our way through our problems are two of the elements we need to have.

The rewards for pursuing this niche have been amazing. While other advisors cope with massive defections from informed strategy when the outlook darkens, our clients tend to stay the course. We avoid the curse of ‘cash on the sidelines,’ waiting and waiting for that comfortable moment to get back in the game after selling out. We never promise stability, so we spend less time apologizing for the inevitable volatility. In short, we can do our best work for people who are in the best position to profit from it over the long haul.

Is it always easy? Is it always fun? Of course not. The market goes up and down, and ‘up’ is a lot more fun than ‘down.’ Pessimism and optimism ebb and flow, and it can be tough to buck the crowd. Any rational person has to scratch their head in the toughest times and wonder whether they are doing the right thing. But together we have tended to make appropriate decisions.

Good information communicated well helps drive effective behavior. Behavior can help determine investment outcomes. Good outcomes can increase account balances. And we get paid on account balances. This is why we are doing what we do.

We don’t care if you engineered the truck, or drive the truck, or own the trucking company…if you have what it takes to invest successfully, we specialize in you. This is why we strive for a niche market of the mind.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

Poverty, Prosperity, Optimism, Pessimism

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“What causes poverty? Nothing. It’s the original state, the default and starting point. The real question is, What causes prosperity?” – Per Bylund, Ph.D.

Some believe that my persistent native sense of optimism must be evidence of a traumatic brain injury in my youth. A more pessimistic person once asked me if I wasn’t reading the papers or watching the news. But one of my aims every day is to see and understand the world as it is around us. So let us dispense with talk of being dropped on one’s head, and ponder the megatrends that shape our part of history.

The World Bank calculates that in 1990, 37% of the population of Earth lived in extreme poverty, with incomes of less than $1.90 per day (2011 dollars). One can imagine the privations that accompany such massive and grinding poverty, from poor sanitation and dirty water to disease and lack of basic health infrastructure.

In twenty-five short years, the population count in extreme poverty declined to less than 10% of the people—down from 37%. These 700 million have all the same challenges and problems of the nearly 2 billion poor back in 1990, and we cannot minimize the gravity of the situation for these people. Yet never in history has so much progress been made in such a short amount of time for so many people—hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of extreme poverty.

Measuring progress another way over a longer time frame, global life expectancies have been calculated to be less than 30 years in 1870, and around 71 years in 2013. Life spans more than doubling in 150 years! In either of these cases, poverty and longevity, it seems unlikely that anyone around at the beginning could have believed the progress that was about to unfold.

One naturally wonders about the factors behind the wonders of modern times. I’d like to think our progress depends on the degree of freedom that each of us has to make the most of our own potential, in societies with the rule of law and respect for the rights of the people. My idealized concept of our economic system is that the surest path to prosperity is being of value and service to others, a sustainable and ever-improving system.
We have challenges, problems, issues, aggravations, and troubles—as always. But my optimism remains based on reality.