Saturday, July 08, 2006

Critics "Cull"

At the end of two weeks on the road – the first for our Plan Designs 2006 conference, the latter a chance to spend time with the majority of our family that still lives in the Windy City – and an unplanned day in the office to “catch-up” on the things that don’t follow you via e-mail and voice mail, my kids (for whom the two weeks on the road actually constituted a vacation) were pressing to see the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie (in point of fact, they have been pressing for it ever since the release date was first published a year or so ago).

Now, truth be told, I was predisposed to honor their request. Like many, I hadn’t expected much from the first installment (I hadn’t even realized it was a “first installment”) and, instead, I found myself having a better time at the movies than I had in a long time. Still, in the part of the world that I live, a night at the movies with my family (including that trip to the concession stand) for a prime-time movie viewing costs nearly $100. Consequently, my paternal predispositions were at least tempered by the long list of reviews critical of this latest production – critics who said they had seen it all before, that it was (at least) a half hour too long, that Keira Knightley was too masculine, Johnny Depp too feminine…

Those concerns notwithstanding, I acquiesced – and while I suppose I must admit that it, like most sequels, lacked some of the “magic” of its predecessor (let’s face it, we now have expectations of a character like Captain Jack Sparrow), I’m glad I didn’t let the critics keep me at home. Even if it isn’t likely to be nominated for Best Picture, we had a good time (and may even have gotten our money’s worth). In fact, over time, I have learned that very few movie critics look for the same thing in a film that I do – and thus I take their recommendations (and rejections) with a hefty portion of salt.

The past several years, “critics” of retirement plan savings have had a field day. Oh, they aren’t generally as obvious as those that were chomping at the bit to make “Pirates” walk the metaphorical plank, but like many of those critics, there’s no news like bad news to fill a regular column. First they worried about the downturn in the markets, then there was the drum beat about how you couldn’t count on that employer match…and if that wasn’t enough to keep you up at night fretting about your retirement savings balance, fees remain an omnipresent concern.
Like the movie critic concerns about “Pirates,” all of those issues have a foundation in reality: Markets do, in fact, go down as well as up; that annual employer match IS discretionary (but from what I can tell, seldom treated as such); and, yes, fees can indeed take a heavy toll on that retirement plan balance. Unfortunately, if it bleeds it leads, and the headlines that accompany these pieces all too frequently seek to draw the reader in by painting a picture of looming disaster. The good news is that (apparently like the crowds flocking to see “Pirates” this weekend) most are looking elsewhere for true guidance in whether to save in their workplace retirement savings plan.

It’s perhaps a good thing to remember, as we head back to work today, that surveys continue to suggest that most workers listen to people they trust – friends, family, co-workers - for counsel on their approach to many things - retirement savings and cinematic selections alike. Financial advisors can join that inner circle, of course – but only once they have earned that trust. Generally, that is a function not only of expertise, but also an ability to see things from the perspective of the individual whose trust they endeavor to earn.

- Nevin Adams

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