By: Jerry Nix (written sometime in 2000)
David Bradley bolted straight upright in his bed. His head was pounding. He could hear the blood rushing through the vessels in his ears. His stomach felt as though it had been ripped from his intestines. He glanced at his bedside clock and saw it was 2:37 AM. It looked as though he would be facing a lot of sleepless nights.
It was then that he realized what woke him was someone screaming in his right ear, “Dammit, Sport, you never asked me.” Tonight, it was a dream – like many more to come. But yesterday, well yesterday it was real.
David dragged himself out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom where he knelt beside the toilet and threw up everything he had eaten the day before, and probably the day before that. Then he laid back against the tub, closed
his eyes and put his head between his knees and began to cry. He cried like he had not done since he was a very young boy. All he could think of, all that was going through his mind was, “Why didn’t I just ask him. I had it in my power. I could have done something. I just didn’t ask.”
David was a financial planner – and had been a very good one, at least he thought, for more than 20 years. He began his career right out of college. He had worked for only one company … one of the largest in the business. During his college days he studied Business Management. But his true love was football, which is probably why he never attained his MBA. He was an all-American Quarterback and was the number 3 draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers right out of college. During his first season, game 3, he had to fill in for the starting quarterback who was out with a temporary injury. In the last minutes of the game, David was hit hard by a defensive end from the Chicago Bears – a player that weighed at least 280 pounds. He heard his knee give way and after three major knee surgeries was dismissed from the team as another player whose career had ended early.
Because he did so well in securities classes in college, David felt a natural career for him would be that of financial planning – and up and coming career field that needed people with strong sales and leadership skills. A position with a leading firm was not hard to find. That was 20 years ago. He started small but was able to obtain is Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation within a few years and the practice really started to grow. Now with more than 1000 clients … two junior partners and a staff of six full time people … he was setting on top of the world, or so he thought – until yesterday.
About two years after getting license to practice his new profession, David ran across and old friend from his college days.
Tom Sullivan was somewhat of a geek in school, and did not get along with many of his fellow students, but he and David had made a pact early on. That was, if Tom would help David with some of the more intricate computer skills needed in his business classes, David would play wing-man for Tom in the area of landing solid dates with good looking women. During those days at college, though they never roomed together, they became the best of friends.
Then after college, like happens so many times, their pathways separated with David moving to San Francisco with the 49ers and Tom moving to New York City to work for a major computer manufacturer.
Eighteen years ago, David was sitting at a restaurant in Las Vegas, where he had set up his practice after attaining his CFP designation, with some of his co-workers having lunch when across the room he heard, “Hey Sport, what are you doing out here in the desert.” He turned to see his old friend, Tom.
“Tom, ya old son-of-gun … I live here. What in the hell brings you out this way?”
“Man, I got tired of New York and the entire hustle and bustle. One day I said, I am out of here. I’m headed west. I came this far, and decided I have something I can offer this town. So here I am,” Tom said.
“What are you doing,” asked David?
“Well, after working in Hotel and Casino Security for the MGM Grand for a year or so, I decided I could do it on my own. So, I recently started a business. I will soon be the number one man in town for computerized security for the major casino’s here in Vegas. If l do well, I may even expand to Reno and Atlantic City. How about you, Sport, what are you doing,” asked Tom?
“Tom, I gotta tell you. I became a financial planner a few years ago and am having the time of my life,” answered David.
“Wow, financial planning! That’s something I can use, Sport. I spend money like it is going out of style and know absolutely nothing about investments. Why don’t you come by my place one day next week and tell me and my new bride all about it. Perhaps we can get some investments going or something.”
That was the day that the relationship between David Bradley and Tom Sullivan was re-born. Through the years, Tom’s business grew as did David’s. Tom became what David referred to as a “financial planners dream client.” Anything that David suggested Tom do, Tom did it. David became a member of Tom’s Board of Directors and Tom set on David’s Client Service Panel. During the first few years of this friendship rebirth, they spent so much time together; you wondered how on earth any business got done by either of them. If they were not at one or the others office … you could usually find them on one of the many golf courses in and around Las Vegas.
Tom, being married, eventually had four children. The oldest was now 17 and the youngest was 12. David was Godfather and adopted uncle to all of them. David, on the other hand, never got married. He felt a wife would slow him down. He had too many dreams and ambitions to fulfill before bringing a wife on board.
Tom’s business in Vegas grew exponentially and he had in-fact expanded operations to Reno. He employed more than 150 people to set and watch gamblers on computer screens for any sign of cheating. As his business grew … so did the assets that David had under management for him. Also, as the business grew, the time David and Tom had to spend together once again became less and less. It was though the pathways were starting to once again separate. Lately, they were seeing each other only once per month very briefly – and that was to review Tom’s holdings and decide on changes that should be made.
David had 1000 clients with a little over $100,000,000 under management. However, of that amount, $5,000,000 belonged to Tom individually, and another $10,000,000 was in Tom’s pension plan for him and his employees. Clearly, 15% of the assets under management controlled by David was because of one person, Tom. They had to keep meeting at least monthly … and when they did, Tom was always cheerful to ole Sport.
Three weeks ago, tragedy struck. Tom and his family were flying Tom’s private plane to Atlantic City where Tom was going to look at opportunities for phase three of “Sullivan Solid Securities (SSS, Inc.).” Suddenly without warning, weather conditions erupted with severe wind shear and the Sullivan aircraft crashed in a cornfield just outside of Chicago. Everyone but Tom was killed – and Tom would probably not walk the rest of his life.
Yesterday, David was on his way out of the office when the phone rang. “David,” said his assistant Cindy, “It’s Tom on the phone and he is very hard to hear.”
David went into his private office and picked up the phone and held it to his right ear. “Tom,” he said, “I am so sorry to hear about what happened to the family. My heart goes out to you. Is there anything I can do?”
The man on the other end of the line didn’t even sound like Tom. This person sounded old and feeble. “Well Sport, not near as sorry as I am.” Yea, it had to be Tom. He was the only one that called David, Sport. Tom, through tears went on, “I guess we can start by filing a life insurance claim for Nancy and my four babies.” He was really crying now. “Then we will need to file a disability claim for me. The doctors tell me I will never walk again and I can’t very well run a business from a bed. So, please, get the forms needed to take care of this and get out here as soon as you can. I need you … I need someone I know.”
David’s heart stopped beating and his blood ran cold. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. How could he say what he had to say? He guessed he would just have to be up front and forthright.
He proceeded cautiously, “Tom, buddy, we don’t have any life insurance on your wife or children, and we never took out a disability policy on you. Do you have coverage with another firm?”
“What!” Screamed Tom, “Coverage with another firm? Sport, you were my financial planner. I was always loyal to you. No, I did not work with another firm behind your back. I’ll dare you ask me that.”
“Tom, calm down,” pleaded David. “I was not trying to signify you were not loyal; I was simply trying to explain that you did not have life insurance for your family with me nor Disability insurance for yourself. All we have is life insurance for you.”
“What do you mean all we have is Life Insurance for me,” cried Tom. “I did everything you asked me to do for the past 18 years. Now you are telling me that I was not prepared for this tragedy?”
“But, Tom,” said David, “You never told me you wanted insurance on your wife and children. And you never indicated that you needed Disability Income Insurance.”
“No, Sport, don’t put this one on me,” yelled Tom. “The problem is not me. The problem dammit is that You Never Asked!” With that … the phone went dead and David wished he were as dead as the phone.
Now here he sat on the floor in his own bathroom, head between his knees, sobbing like a baby. He didn’t feel like a financial planner, he felt like a fraud–a money hungry bum, trying to make money off the sweat of other people. The central truth is that he shouldn’t have to ask people if they need or want insurance, he’s the planner. He’s the advisor. He should tell his clients that they need it, when they do, and leave the decision up to them. On top of this guilt, David also felt a twinge of fear. He knew Tom was a fighter, he knew his friend would get out of the hospital eventually. The first thing David would do, if he were Tom, is sue his negligent financial advisor for everything he’s got. The sad thing was, David wouldn’t blame him–he felt he deserved it, and more.
Then, a real scary thought hit him, “Damn,” he said out loud as he cried … “I don’t even have Errors and Omissions Insurance because I thought the cost was too high and that I would never need malpractice insurance as long as I did what was appropriate for clients in helping them manage their money.”
With that thought, David through himself over the toilet and started to heave his guts up again.
~~ A word from the Author ~~
The events and people in this short story are all fictional. None of this has actually happened to my knowledge. However, with more than 25 years in the profession of financial planning, the idea behind the story is not far fetched. We as professional financial planners/advisors sometimes get so involved in the fun side of our business, the Money Management Aspect, that we lose sight of the real needs of many, the Risk Management Aspect. Please take this story as a warning. If you are going to call yourself a financial planner, make sure you do total financial and risk management planning. If you are not a financial planner but feel the need to hire one, remember that he/she is trained not only in money management and tax management but also in risk management. If they fail to ask you about your insurance needs, please ask them to help you before tragedy strikes you and your family. It does no good to accumulate a lot of wealth just to lose it to illness, death or potential lawsuits somewhere down the road.