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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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Carl Book
Carl Book
5 months ago

At my steak dinner/financial seminar, the presenter noted that the annuities he sold incurred no commission. He was, however, paid a commission by the insurance company. I determined that we were getting a free lunch, I mean dinner.

mjflack
mjflack
5 months ago
Reply to  Carl Book

Carl Book, I guess there are actually two ways to get a free lunch on Wall Street. Thanks for the comment.

Chazooo
Chazooo
5 months ago

I appreciate being offered a fine dinner at Capital Grille, but feel rather undervalued when offered a free dinner at Golden Corral. I have found the financial folks very professional in their approach, especially compared to the time share crowd, but I have yet to take the bait.

mjflack
mjflack
5 months ago
Reply to  Chazooo

Chazooo, I agree with you on getting a fine dinner at the Capital Grille.

excel lent
excel lent
5 months ago

This reminded me of my brother speaking about Time Shares. Little do you know when you accept the invite the Gestapo tactics and bright lights you will be subjected to to sign up. My brother considers himself pretty savvy to the tactics but they got him anyway and he has been trying to escape ever since. I refuse to be bribed by my empty stomach. Glad you can resist.

mjflack
mjflack
5 months ago
Reply to  excel lent

excel lent, thanks for your comments. I’ve been to those time share presentations myself – they make you work hard for that free lūʻau. Thankfully there was no hard sell this time around.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
5 months ago

Michael, I always enjoy your articles. I’ve received a lot of the “free steak dinner” invites but have never attended, so glad to read your account.

Having now invested a couple of dinners, I wonder how doggedly they’ll pursue you.

mjflack
mjflack
5 months ago

Andrew Forsythe, thanks for the kind words. Minimal pursual, though Carlson just offered me another filet – though I think I’ll take a pass.

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