September 19, 2009


You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.
--- George W. Bush

We're surrounded by companies and people who want to make money by fooling us. Look anywhere. The fine print taketh away. Restrictions apply. Supplies are limited. Previous investment performance is not indicative of future returns. Object magnified to show the fine detail. Limited time offer. Some terms and conditions apply. See dealer for details. Subject to credit approval. Excludes Hawaii and Alaska. New customers only. Subject to change without notice. May not be as illustrated. Penalties for early termination. Batteries not included.

We respond by becoming skeptical and cynical. We don't believe the claims and we don't know who to believe.

Congratulations! You Won $1,000,000.00
Did you ever receive a letter saying you won a million dollars? The first time, you might have believed. You at least wanted to believe. Did you tell someone excitedly and have them laugh at your gullibility? As you dug deeper, you realized the fine print said that's how a letter to you might look if you won by entering the contest. The fine fine print showed that your chances of winning were basically zero and that the contest was running for months and months. You also noticed the bulk mail stamp.

Won't get fooled again.

One To One
Folks are basically decent
Conventional wisdom would say
But we read about the exceptions
In the papers every day
--- Rush,
Second Nature

Companies likely meet the letter of the law but perhaps not the spirit. You can find countless examples of shocking behaviour in Ellen Roseman's blog and at Consumerist. When you're dealing with an advisor, it's tough to gauge how much they know and if they truly have your best interests at heart.

I see life insurance proposals that are incomplete to the point of being misleading. Or assumptions distort the results. Or apples get compared with mangoes. Or no comparison is made with other options. Or the fine print has been left out.

Your Solution
You're not helpless. Here's what you can do: ask for a copy of the details.

Even if you don't think you'll understand them. Even if you're not planning to get a second opinion.

You're really after the advisor's reaction. Is the advisor willing to comply? If not, what are the "reasons"? How long does the advisor take to reply? Did you really get what you requested? Were pages left out?

Be sure to ask for this information by email along with a copy of what you've already been shown. What the advisor does may delight or disturb you. At least you'll know now.

The fine print taketh away. So does the lack of fine print.

Podcast (3:47)

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