By timestaff
April 9, 2009

How bad is it for financial advisers nowadays? So bad that this week’s issue of The New Yorker contains a cartoon making light of killing them. Move over, lawyers–you’ve got company in the easy-butt-of-jokes department.

Not to discount the humor of the cartoon (which did in fact make me smile), there’s actually a serious side to the whole death-to-advisers mood in the air: The market collapse of the past few months appears to have been a contributing factor in the suicides of some financial advisers, according to different reports. A civil complaint filed last fall by longtime clients of a now-dead broker, for example, contains a copy of what the plaintiffs allege is a suicide note from that adviser, one in which he expresses sorrow for suggesting they put millions of dollars in what turned out to be a disastrous, money-losing investment. (That loss, which the plaintiffs are trying to recoup, is the subject of the lawsuit.) “(S)ome of the investment recommendations that I chose did not work out the way that I anticipated,” reads the note in part. “I regret that very much.”

Separately, the editor of the financial-adviser trade magazine InvestmentNews wrote recently that an adviser acquaintance of his called late last year to tell him that he knew of at least four financial advisers in the New York metropolitan area who had committed suicide since October “because of the financial meltdown and the effect on their clients.”

I don’t presume to say I know exactly why each of these people may have committed suicide. If in fact the InvestmentNews anecdote is accurate, for example, you can’t draw a straight line between losing your own or someone else’s money and taking your life. There may be other things at issue, such as a diagnosis of depression and who knows what else is going on in a person’s life. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that this market has been stressful for advisers, not just investors like you. In early March, InvestmentNews reported the results of a reader poll in which 70% of participating financial advisers said their physical and/or emotional health had suffered because of the economic downturn and how it had hurt their clients. In the course of my work, I’ve spoken with advisers who feel terrible about their clients’ losses, even if they think they have given those clients good advice.

My point: Financial advisers, as a rule, aren’t the enemy. Even if you think a particular one isn’t particularly talented, he or she isn’t evil. From nearly all the advisers I’ve gotten to meet in the course of my work, I’ve gotten the sense that they genuinely care about their clients’ fate. They’re feeling bad the market is down, and not simply because they may have lost money, and not simply because they’re afraid unhappy clients will fire them. They’re feeling rotten because they want their clients to prosper, and most aren’t prospering right now. I can’t help pointing out, for example, that the suicide note presented in the lawsuit includes the deceased adviser’s suggestion that his clients get in touch with his own attorney “for possible redress.” He considerately includes the lawyer’s contact information. “I love you as a friend and would do anything to help you,” reads the note. “Unfortunately, I cannot survive this financially or otherwise but want to do whatever is possible to aid you.” In that, I infer not only a genuine sense of guilt, but a sense of duty as well.