This, believe it or not, is the 200th issue of Inside Information, going back to 1991, when the world was a very different place, and the financial planning profession was unrecognizably different from what it is today. At the time of this newsletter's founding, the raging controversies revolved around sales vs. asset management, around selling a canned financial plan vs. ongoing planning services, around modern portfolio theory vs. the old reliable investment pyramid.
In every one of those debates, and those that came after, there was always an influential core of the planning profession who instinctively resisted any kind of change, and took one side of the debate seemingly because it was more familiar. I remember a prominent broker-dealer executive, now deceased, telling me that the financial planning profession would always be about sales, and any fancy-dancy thing I said about becoming a profession like accounting or medicine was misguided and hopelessly out of touch. People told me that modern portfolio theory was just another investment fad, and the resistance to charging fees for planning advice was bitter, protracted, and ultimately unhelpful to those who stubbornly continued to sell 8% commission mutual funds that became 5.25% commission mutual funds, and then 4.75% commission mutual funds, and then 25 basis point trail mutual funds–the handwriting on the wall looked like regular updates, lop-ping off big chunks of their income as they continued to look for their cheese in corridor number three.
As I look back on those 200 issues, and some of the anger that they stirred up, it seems to me that a big picture theme emerges. You and I don't know exactly what the future will bring, but we do know it will bring changes, probably big dramatic ones, as we discover new ideas, new services, as we are buffeted by new regulations and ever-changing markets. The ability to adapt to those changes, and make something positive out of them, will be, and always has been, the best predictor of success in this profession. Those who clung stubbornly to the old ways of doing things became irrelevant. Those who embraced change, who saw the market meltdown as a time to branch out into a new level of client communication and in-timacy, who now look for the new way to define the distinction between salespeople and professionals–THEY will thrive no matter what comes their way.
This newsletter has been fundamentally about change from its inception. We regard the financial services profession as an enormous experimental laboratory of practice management innovations, and we report on as many new ideas as we can find. There seems to be a reevaluation of what we know and believe about investing, and client services have evolved from selling a canned financial plan and a bunch of tax shelters to a sophisticated service that integrates money with meaning with life with wisdom in ways that simply would have defied imagination (certainly mine) 200 issues ago.
I'm proud that Inside Information was the first information service to talk openly (How brave it seemed back then!) about a fee-only planning engagement, to explore modern-portfolio theory, Monte Carlo projections and the whole gamut of life planning services–and more other innovations than you have time to think about. The publication you are now reading has lived at the forefront of the profession since inception, and our readers are more aware of the trends and the direction of the wind than anybody. We are obviously not the only resource; every time you attend a conference, hire a coach, or talk to a peer, you are tapping into the same pool of wisdom that we drink from.
The point of this is not to pat myself on the back, because what we do here is ultimately irrelevant without you, and without the actions that you take to adapt, grow and improve. The real achievement is not outlining all these innovations; it is creating those innovations, making those changes, evolving from something that may not have been totally helpful to offering services that can transform peoples' lives. The planning profession has come a long way, farther than any of us, peering at the horizon back in 1991, could have predicted. And I think you can look back at your own life and recognize that it was always a struggle, always a lot of work to ride the high winds and waves and occasional storms between then and now.
There are more storms coming. The brokerage business model appears to me to be endangered, and I know from experience that a cornered animal, facing its demise, is far more dangerous than a complacent one that is unaware of its impending mortality. Congress is about to enact legislation which will allow the SEC and possibly FINRA to tilt the competitive balance against the fiduciary RIA advisor, to raise your compliance costs and hamper your ability to work with clients. Meanwhile, the markets appear to be fragile, and there exists the real possibility that the investment banks will get away scot free from their recent greedfest, and that means they will probably do it again, and once again endanger the economy and the markets.
In other words, the hard work isn't over. Through the tribulations to come, we'll be a steady resource of ideas and suggestions for change and improvement, an advocate for the best and most idealistic members of the planning world, an ally as you fight against the dinosaurs who will not go gently into extinction. I fully expect that through it all, you and the rest of the planning profession will continue to grow, improve, become more relevant, more important to the lives of your clients and the community at large. There will be voices who stubbornly resist change, and you will recognize the same song they have always sung, and continue the journey without hesitation.
In fact, the next 20 years could see even more change than the past two decades. Once again, I'm not enough of a visionary to stand on top of a rock and see that far over the horizon. But I can extrapolate the trend, and the trend has been steady through it all: the real advisors, who care about your clients, are going to survive, and get better, and your future will constantly burn brighter than your past. You are the future of financial services, and I'm proud beyond words to be your trusted ally as we take the first step into the next 200 issues of tumult, change and triumph.