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Stocks and Steaks

Michael Flack

I WAS OFFERED a “free retirement review” by Carlson Financial a year ago. The review would—among other things—”help me answer the five biggest questions I have about retirement.” I didn’t realize I had only five questions. Still, I decided a financial review might be in order.

I then forwarded an uncomfortable amount of personal information, financial statements and tax returns to a man I’d never met. Scott seemed like a nice enough guy, but hey, “let’s be careful out there.”

When we met, Scott provided a general review of my finances. While it was quite evident that he didn’t want to give away anything for free, he mentioned that I needed to “Rothify” a fair amount of my 401(k) before required minimum distributions increased my income in a few years. He also mentioned that, as my taxable account contained a fair number of individual stocks with a fair amount of unrealized capital gains, he was more interested in managing my 401(k). But given that my 401(k) was invested in low-cost index funds, the feeling wasn’t mutual.

Scott sent me a follow-up email, asking if I was interested in him managing my portfolio for an unmentioned fee. The fee was mentioned at the earlier meeting, but I don’t remember the exact number. I’m thinking it was around 0.75% of assets. I didn’t reply to Scott’s email, which wasn’t cool. I should have, but then waited too long, and then every day that went by it became that much harder until… I felt I’d waited too long and that it was now too late.

Just recently, I received an email from Carl Carlson, the eponymous CEO and founder, offering me an invitation to a “MUST-ATTEND LIVE EVENT” that would touch on “How The World Affairs Affect Your Financial Affairs!”

I wasn’t sure if I should take Carl up on his offer, as I still felt a little guilty after not getting back to Scott. Not replying to a business email just isn’t professional and I was still a little embarrassed. I then realized that his invitation was the perfect opportunity for me to express my apologies—while enjoying a complementary eight-ounce filet mignon. I immediately RSVP’d because “This event may fill up fast—guarantee your reservation now!”

I was then offered the option to bring a guest and select an entree. Since my wife also wanted an opportunity to apologize to Scott for my lack of manners, I included her. We were both offered the option of eight-ounce filet mignons, salmon filet or a roasted chicken. Since there are no half measures in our family, we went with two filet mignons.

When I arrived at the steakhouse, I was interested in learning about the specific world affairs that would affect my financial affairs, if my filet would come with creamed spinach and when Scott would arrive. Unfortunately, no affairs were mentioned, my filet came with mashed potatoes, and Scott had been promoted and was therefore unavailable to accept my apologies. I did, however, chat with Ryan, his younger brother and replacement.

Carl’s daughter was in attendance. She spoke at length about how Carlson would construct a portfolio just for me that was like a house, with a foundation of safe investments like certificates of deposit, walls with dividend stocks and a roof with…. Well, I’m not quite sure how my roof would be constructed, as that’s when my filet mignon arrived.

She also teasingly mentioned that Carlson = Independence + Fiduciary + Transparent Fees. But she never mentioned what the fees actually were.

Ms. Carlson then related an interesting story about a financial review for a married couple. He was age 76, she was 56. At their current spend rate, they would run out of money in 20 years. He was not that concerned, but for some reason she was. Carlson did some analysis and determined that, by shifting their investment mix, they could extend the portfolio’s solvency by at least another 20 years. I find it interesting that financial advisors always seem able to adjust a portfolio to avert catastrophe, so they never have to insist that clients change their spending rate.

After the cheesecake was served, I was asked to if I wanted to schedule a “free retirement review.” I said no, because—after the review—I didn’t want to not get back to Ryan. It was important that I break this insidious cycle.

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