Apply Sutton’s Law With Every Client

Willie Sutton was a bank robber who spent more than half his adult life in prison. Despite his unenviable career, he had good ideas that translate into other realms.

One of his famous ideas was an answer to a reporter’s question, “Why do you rob banks?”

Sutton, “Because that’s where the money is.”

The idea in that has become known as Sutton’s Law and it is taught to medical students. Look for the obvious first. If that doesn’t solve it, then look further. This process minimizes the cost of diagnosis. You don’t start with expensive tests that eliminate some one in a million chance.

It is the exact opposite of Finagle’s Fourth Law. “Never make anything simple if you can make it complicated and beautiful.”

When we first got our pug, he would howl and make a fuss with his head. After a couple of days of that, we went to a vet that had been recommended. She looked at her medical books and decided it was some exotic brain issue and they would need to do some tests. I looked at my check book and decided it was something else. A pug forum supplied the answer in minutes. Pugs have a wrinkle and if it is not clean enough it gets itchy. New vet.

As one doctor has said, “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, assume it is a horse and not a zebra.”

Good advice for financial planners and for the people they advise. Don’t look for the complicated way until you find the simple way does not work.

Insurance works. Worry about the kind after you have the coverage dealt with.

Saving works. If you don’t save enough, it will take spectacular management to overcome a lack of capital.

Having a plan with priorities and a time frame works. It will help you because you won’t need to ask whether some apparent opportunity is good for you. It will fit or it will not. Planning helps you sort out the important from the trivia.

As an adviser, when you do start applying yourself to solving the problems, be sure to use the right tools. Willie Sutton carried a machine gun that he later claimed was not loaded, but its effect on the bank employees was likely profound.

Willie’s second law. “You can’t rob a bank on charm and personality.”

So it is with financial planners. Financial plans do not appear with a smile and a clap on the back. Advisers need command of the tools of their trade. Professional development, reading and sharing with others in the business will make your more efficient. Clients like efficient. It costs less in the long run than dealing with amateurs, well meaning as they may be.

Financial planning services are needed and reliable practitioners can add great value.

Bank robbers are not the ideal role model, but you need to be alert for ideas that work no matter from whom. Pay attention. Learn what you can, where you can.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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