Why Did I Become a Financial Planner?

on November 2, 2014

I never intended to go into finance.  I was an English professor and a corporate trainer.  I hated math and held a degree in creative writing.  I didn’t own a navy suit.  And yet…

It was spring, 2000, and everyone I knew was making money in the stock market.  My mother was newly retired and needed somewhere to invest the money she had accumulated through her company’s plan.  I introduced her to John, my stockbroker.  John had spiky blonde hair and drove a red convertible.  He was charming and exuded confidence.  Yes, Mom said, $300,000 was all her retirement money.  Yes, she was sixty-four.  Yes, she wanted to make money.

John assured her that in the new dot.com economy, her best way to make money would be to invest in technology.  He recommended a combination of single stocks and technology-based mutual funds diversification.  Although my mother was a Certified Public Accountant with a large oil company in Oklahoma City, she knew almost nothing about investing.  In a time right before investment products became impossibly complicated, her corporate 401(k) offered traditional, boring positions in blended stock funds and bond funds.  Choices were limited and as stuffy as a CPA’s office.  But they had done well for her during her twenty-five years there.  However, John was sure that she needed to participate in the paradigm of the new economy where mandatory corporate profits were a thing of the past, made unnecessary by the limitless horizons of the internet.  Since John was the expert at the large brokerage firm, she took his advice.  And, honestly, he made it seem so exciting and so safe at the same time.  This was the way to invest if you were sophisticated.

For the first month, it was great.  Every day, we would check her account and track the gains.  Then, the account began to drop, and drop, and it just kept dropping.  When I would call John, he assured me that his analysts believed the bottom was near.  However, by early 2001, John quit offering excuses.  Actually, he quit offering anything at all.  He stopped answering or returning my questioning calls, shuttling me off to assistants and colleagues.

The market dropped through 2001, cratering as the United States reeled from internal issues and external terrorist attacks.  By January 2002, Mom and almost almost half of her money and I was frantic.  John’s earlier confidence, “You don’t lose money until you take it out,” was shattered when positions not only dropped but the companies also went under.  When the company is gone, the stock price doesn’t come back.  We didn’t know what to do.  We had obviously waited too late on some of the companies, but should we continue to hold, sell, or pray?  John still wouldn’t talk to us.

Martin Luther King weekend, my husband and I took advantage of the day off from work and went to Florida to visit his friend from college, Walter.  At an early age, Walter sold the family funeral business and went into finance, specifically stock trading.  Now retired, he traded his own account, and looked to have had some success judging by his beautiful home on the intercoastal Waterway.  Drinking amaretto and ice on his beautiful screened-in porch, I asked him how to make money in the stock market.  He offered me several suggestions that day, but honestly, my liberal arts mind was blown.  He was talking about option contracts, expiration dates, in the money, out of the money, underlying positions, and I’m sure several other things I can’t remember now.  It was a foreign language.  Then, he showed me some books that he had read.  He said if I wanted to learn how the stock market worked, I should read the books.  I wrote down the titles and ordered them as soon as we returned home.

The books arrived in a few days, and I began to read.  The more I read, the angrier I became.  What had happened to Mom had been preventable.  Mind you, not the stock market crash, but how to be invested in a way that all of her nest egg was not in one basket.  Everyone lost money in 2000, but not everyone lost it permanently.  I began to talk to my family and friends about what I was learning.  I guess I talked about it a lot.  For a long time.  I didn’t want what had happened to my Mom to happen to anyone else.  Finally, one friend said, “You may want to change careers.”

I told him, “No, Jerry, I would never want the pressure of handling someone’s life savings.”  He pressed the point a little more, and I started to think about it.  And that’s how I went into finance.

I told him, “No, Jerry, I would never want the pressure of handling someone’s life savings.”  He pressed the point a little more, and I started to think about it.  And that’s how I went into finance.

One thought on “Why Did I Become a Financial Planner?”

  1. Betty Dorsey says:

    Very interesting story that I did not know. I am very glad that you did choose to go into financing!

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