My Moment of Truth

Every February 2nd, I watch the movie Groundhog Day.  If you’ve never seen the movie Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman caught in a time loop where he is doomed to relive February 2nd, Groundhog Day, over and over.  Andie McDowell plays Rita, his love interest, the segment producer for his interview with Punxsutawney Phil. The film does more than play the predicament for laughs, it explores the way an intelligent, but self-absorbed man would react, become despondent, then eventually use the eternity granted to him to transform himself into the kind of man Rita could love.

The audience knows that time is still looping by the clock radio playing Sonny and Cher’s I’ve Got You Babe every morning at six. The old-fashioned clock radio has mechanical digits that flip through the minutes and hours. In the shot the director described as the ‘weight of time,’ the clock radio fills the screen. Each number appears as formidable as the statues on Easter Island.  Then in ultra-slow motion, the plates carrying five-fifty-nine fall forward with a creaking thud to reveal six o’ clock. Cue Sonny and Cher and we are back to beginning of another Groundhog Day. Nothing that happened the previous Groundhog Day will count for anything.

It was while watching Groundhog Day in 2011 that I experienced my own version of the weight of time—my moment of truth. 

Since 2000, I had been working as a financial advisor for a company that offered employer- sponsored retirement plans. I helped employees enroll in the Plan and understand their investments. In the Financial Service Industry, this type of job is sometimes called a captive practice, because the solutions I could offer were limited by my company. By 2011, I had shepherded my clients through the tech bubble burst, 9/11; the Crisis of Confidence in Accounting after Enron collapsed; and finally, the Real Estate and Credit Default Swap Crash of 2008 and 2009.  

That most of my clients had not only made it through the Great Recession but had flourishing accounts because I talked them off the ledge and they had stayed in the market, was irrelevant. This was merely an amusing anecdote that didn’t register on my employer’s sales charts.

Every year, no matter what, I needed to generate so many million dollars of new money. Every year the number of millions increased. On December 31st the number of qualifying sales was totted up, and on January 1st, my magnificent achievement rolled over to seven zeros. I started all over again.

So, on February 2nd, 2011, as I watched the weight of time fall into place, I just knew that I needed to transform my practice from captive to independent. Going independent is not as easy as hanging up a shingle. For starters, my soon-to-be-former-employer required every advisor to sign a non-compete agreement as a condition of employment. I couldn’t tell any of my clients what I was planning to do and couldn’t contact them for a year after I left.

Since every advisor needs to be supervised, I needed to find the right Office of Supervisory Jurisdiction for whichever clients would eventually seek me out. Through serendipity and my natural proclivity to plan for every possible contingency, I opened my own independent practice in January 2012.  Since then, time has had the weight of a butterfly. It flits and flutters just outside my grasp. There is never enough of it.

I shouldn’t have worried that I would not be able to contact my clients. As it turned out, they contacted me. Because my former employer insisted that all advisors get their own cell phones, I owned my phone number.

After ten years as an independent advisor, I may be as much changed as the weatherman in Groundhog Day. Whether assets are old or new is irrelevant. What is relevant is growing the assets that have been entrusted to me, so my clients have choices. In the ten years since I became an independent financial advisor, I learned that the most important word in the term “financial advisor” is “advisor.” Making the best choice at each turning point is the surest way to a happy ending.

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