The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

Damn Shame

06/19/2020

There’s more to investing that mere numbers.  There’s more to accounting than mere debits and credits.  There’s more to financial planning than canned software programs.  Clients are human.  They need fewer numbers and more human advice, even young millennials .

Alexander Kearns was a 20-year-old resident in Illinois.  Like so many, he signed up with a robo-advisor, thinking he could out-smart the stock market.  He promptly got into a risky option strategy and lost a whopping $730,000 in a mere $16,000 account.  That was just before he killed himself, by stepping in front of a train a few days ago, on June 12th.  I hurt for his family and his loved ones.

Of course, a real financial advisor helps with numbers, accounting, and investment strategies.  A robo-advisor does not.  A real financial advisor educates and guides.  A robo-advisor does not.  A real financial advisor actually cares.  A robo-advisor does not.

I have advised clients on divorce settlements, prenuptial agreements, adoption, home purchases and sales, preparing family businesses for sale, employment agreements, and many other things that entangle clients in real life.   Many times, I have advised clients on their estate plans, including disinheriting certain children.  I have consoled both widows and widowers on the death of their spouse and continued to care for them for years after the funeral.  Once, a dying client asked me to explain existentialism to him.  Just ask a robo-advisor for that kind of advice.

If I had been the advisor to young Mr. Kearns, I would have never permitted him to make such a stupid options trade.  If he did it anyway, I would have explained bankruptcy and guided him through it.  If he still felt overwhelmed by shame, I would have guided him into the offices of a qualified psychologist.  If he still wanted to die, I would have insisted on a minimal estate plan at least.  As he walked toward the train tracks, I would have yelled . . . “Alex, this is a damn shame!”

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