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Personal Touch

Andrew Forsythe, 4:02 am ET

I’M 69 YEARS OLD and so have spent most of my life dealing with people—and businesses—in person. That said, I’ve loved and greatly benefited from the internet revolution and appreciate its marvels in a way that only a person who lived in the “before” period can. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and about how important it is—or isn’t—to have face-to-face relationships with the people I do business with.

For many years, I’ve split our investments between Charles Schwab and Vanguard Group, and think highly of both outfits. But Schwab has always had a more personal touch. I’ve long had a representative there with whom I’ve occasionally met in person, made possible by the fact that Schwab has branch offices in my city, as it does all over the country. Even though it’s now been several years since I sat down with my Schwab rep, when I interact with him by phone or email, I can put a face with the name and I feel like I know him a little. With Vanguard, there are no branch offices. My relationship with whatever rep is currently assigned to me has been much more superficial and impersonal.

Recently, fellow HumbleDollar contributor Dennis Friedman wrote about his Vanguard financial advisor. He was generally happy with his advisor, and Vanguard’s comparatively low fees for this service are obviously a big plus. I asked Dennis if the impossibility of face-to-face meetings was an issue for him and he said not at all.

That made me think of a recent experience I had with an insurance broker. The broker assisted my wife and me with Medigap insurance and Part D prescription drug plans. I had set out to find a broker with a local office whom I could meet in person. But I was so impressed with an insurance broker located in Dallas—200 miles away—and with whom I only interacted by email, phone and Zoom, that I went with him. So far, it’s been a smooth and entirely satisfactory relationship.

Despite that, with a fulltime financial advisor—if and when I get to the point of hiring one—I confess to still having doubts. This may be a vestige of my pre-internet self. But when it comes to the person handling my family’s entire assets, I’d still like to be able to look ’em in the eye.

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Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
2 months ago

There is a certain sense of security that comes with having a designated expert that you can interact with in person. I think that’s most true for the oldest generations, and less so with the youngest… but to some extent it depends on personality type too.

James McGlynn CFA RICP®
James McGlynn CFA RICP®
2 months ago

Fortunately “Chuck” has a huge HQ office nearby in Texas now. I don’t care about face-to-face so much as being able to have my problems solved by them if I go into the office versus doing paperwork at home and hoping it is done right. Verizon used to have a local branch and eventually closed it down because instead of generating sales customers would come in due to the horrendous hold times. Companies with branches can’t hide behind 30 minute wait times.

parkslope
parkslope
2 months ago

Your comment about being able to “look ’em in the eye” made me think of Bush’s comment that he had looked Putin straight in the eye and had found him trustworthy. My point is that while face-to-face contact can be a good way to judge others it can also provide a false sense of security.

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