As a teenager when I was about to leave the house by myself or with friends, my father as a part of his goodbyes would say, “Just remember parental reminder numbers 4, 36, and 42.” He’d wave and smile with a sarcastic gleam in his eye.
The first few times he did this, my brother and I would say, “What are those? Are they…?” and we’d guess. Drive slowly. You can call us if you want us to pick you up; no questions. Watch for deer. You can always say no.
In truth, he didn’t have anything in mind. It was my father’s way of saying that he loved us, was worried about us just because he loved us, and wanted us to stay safe out there. It was a “Remember what I’ve taught you, even if I can’t remember what piece of advice to tell you now.”
This style of goodbye taught us something more important than random parental advice though. It taught us, through humor and sarcasm, that how to be good cannot be itemized. Life advice cannot be itemized. The fiduciary standard cannot be itemized.
Think of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. We cannot define a set of golden-rule-approved behavior and a set of golden-rule-rejected behavior. Each situation calls for a slightly different response and the high moral principle of the standard must guide you.
“Don’t push your sister,” may work in 99% of cases as an interpretation of the golden rule, but when the TV is falling on your sister, the golden rule would have you push her out of the way. In this manner, you can see how a principle-based standard creates better behavior than a rules-based set of regulations.
Sadly, a rules-based standard guides the majority of so-called financial advisors. It is only those who accept the fiduciary standard (like we do) who are required by law to act in your best interest (like the golden rule) whatever your best interest might be.
A fiduciary is “an individual in whom another has placed the utmost trust and confidence to manage and protect property or money. The relationship wherein one person has an obligation to act for another’s benefit.” A fiduciary has a legal obligation to act in a client’s best interests.
While the rules-based standard of broker dealers can be itemized into numbered admonitions, trying to numerate the fiduciary standard is as silly as trying to numerate parental advice. There is too much advice; there would be too many rules to itemize.
“Parental Reminder #42” reminds us that goodness is something bigger than we can articulate but, even though we cannot express it fully, it is very important.
Photo by Steven Pahel on Unsplash