I just did not trust the water.
That is not a problem unless you were learning to swim. And that was my problem as I stood next to a pool at summer camp watching other kids doing laps in swim class.
I could not even get on a foam board and kick my way across. It had been a few weeks and the counselors had given up on me. Eye rolls had replaced the usual encouraging words they greeted me with as I crept to the pool.
“I am lame,” I told my 11-year-old self, pushing me into spiraling self-doubt.
“Why do I need to swim?” I reasoned. “I live on land.”
But I experienced a minor miracle in a neighbor’s pool during a weekend. It wasn’t much of a pool — one of those circular above-ground numbers that were popular in (and the screaming bane of) neighborhoods in the 1970s.
All you could really do in those pools was chase after each other in circles, which I was doing on a foam board while attempting to run in the water. Soon, running turned into kicking and I realized I was swimming.
At that moment, I was amazed at how easy it was. The water held me. I could leap and it would catch me.
I tossed the board and dog-paddled around, eventually turning it into a crawl.
Now, instead of dreading Monday, I couldn’t wait. The counselors dropped their eye rolls — and their jaws — as I swam back and forth. I left on Friday terrified of water and on Monday I was lapping the pool.
So, that was lesson No. 1 for me: If other people can do it, so can I.
Leaps Of Faith
I was contemplating leaps of faith as we were putting this month’s magazine together. From beginning to end, it is full of change.
The InFront tells how some states are toughening their suitability and fiduciary standards in the wake of what they see as federal inaction. The LIMRA column at the end of this issue confronts disruption head on, as does the Paul Feldman interview with Peter Sheahan, who says disruption should be our new comfort zone.
The key is not being scared of the leap. But that is easy to say. I am certain that one or more of those camp counselors tried to tell me that I was safe in the water. After all, it was a shallow pool and plenty of people were available to rescue me.
But I had told myself I did not even need to learn how to swim. I did not care if I ever swam. But once I let the water catch me, I realized the thrill of swimming. Without that, I would have never experienced floating on my back in the warm, calm Gulf of Mexico while gazing at a royal blue sky.
In this month’s main feature, AdvisorNews Managing Editor Cassie Miller profiles some advisors who decided to step away, at least partially, from commissions and assets under management to a fee-only practice, including one who left the life insurance world to do it.
I am not suggesting that advisors cannot accept commissions and fees on assets. In fact, I think those agents and advisors serve the many millions of people who cannot afford fees for service.
These advisors in the feature are also uncomfortable with how many Americans cannot afford fees and are left on their own without help. They are looking at different ways to help, including pro bono work.
They could easily copy what many others do and constantly look for ways of going up market, where the bigger bucks live. That is a key reason that even though fewer families are covered by life insurance than any time since World War II, overall premium grows.
Everybody In The Pool
No one is knocking success. Insurance and financial advising are ways to make good money while helping other people improve their financial lives.
But here is the thing: We are in a retirement crisis. What we have all done has not worked. Yes, some people are rocketing from well-off to WOW! They probably have advisors who helped get them there and insurance agents to protect them on the way there and beyond.
Nearly half of workers, 45 percent, say they have less than $25,000 in savings and investments; 26 percent say they have less than $1,000, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. More than three-quarters, 76 percent, expect to work into retirement. But, according to federal labor statistics, only 12 percent of those over 65 are working full-time.
Also, according to EBRI, having a retirement plan (IRA, defined benefit or contribution plan) makes a considerable difference. Of people who did not have any retirement plan, 69 percent had less than $1,000 in savings. Not only are these folks unprepared for the medical and living expenses of retirement, they are also one big bill away from poverty.
Why you? Why should you help?
Because I suspect that the number of struggling Americans bothers you, too. Many of the insurance agents and financial advisors I have known have been driven by service. I have teared up listening to agents describing the first time they brought a benefit check to a widow.
It is easy to do the eye roll at all these people who have not prepared for retirement. You can look at all the markers of bad decision-making and shake your head.
But are you in the business of judgment or helping? Doctors don’t look at someone whose lifestyle choices led to a disease and just say, “Oh well, sucks to be you!”
You are the professional America needs now. Try a little bit, a toe in the water. Maybe a pro bono case here and there or perhaps helping a community group. You might find it leads to more fulfillment that the big cases ever brought.
Maybe you will develop the courage to take the leap and see where the water takes you.
Steven A. Morelli