This article originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 17 August 2013.
If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you may remember how the imminent arrival of our first baby a few years ago was the catalyst for a search for a new car. The old Landcruiser ute didn’t have the features that made a car ‘baby-friendly’, such as air-conditioning or shock absorbers that actually absorbed shocks. Rather than sell the ute however, I managed to convince Liz that it would come in handy one day when we hopefully ended up on a small hobby farm outside town. Liz relented and the Cruiser was temporarily pensioned off to an empty paddock at my mother-in-law’s property outside Armidale.
A few weeks ago I was up at Armidale, helping cut up and load some firewood lying around the paddock. It was a perfect opportunity to give the ute a little run, so I climbed in through the passenger window (there being a small issue with the driver’s door lock, another character flaw which apparently didn’t help in the ‘baby-friendly’ stakes) and fired her up. As I turned the key in the ignition however, the starter motor made a screeching noise, the chassis shuddered and a big puff of smoke drifted out the front of the bonnet, accompanied by a loud bang. Now I don’t know much about cars, but even I knew that something was wrong. To cut a long story short, the next day a local mechanic arrived to check it out. He peered into the engine bay, tugged on a few cables and turned to me and said “Mate, it looks like there’s a multiple disaggregation breakdown with the holgen-quench geiger tube, probably due to a shortage of hafnium in the short-time dispersion UTA.” At least, that’s what it sounded like to me. I nodded gravely and putting on my best I-know-what-I’m-talking-about voice, replied “Yes well, that’s a common issue with this model, isn’t it?” He wasn’t fooled for a second, he looked me up and down and said “Yeah yeah, she’ll need a new amplitude analyser and BER closed ventilation circuit, and judging by the look of your shoes I’m sure I’m going to be able to squeeze an extra couple hundred dollars out of you somewhere.” I just nodded, handed him my credit card and rang the bank to tell them to double my credit limit.
In some ways the financial advice industry adopts a similar approach to its clients – bamboozle them with buzzwords and technical terms, giving the appearance of knowledge and expertise, then hit them with a big bill. The job of an investment adviser should be to distil the noise and nonsense out there, and present strategies and options in a language which is clear and understandable. If your adviser sounds like a Latin-speaking rocket scientist trying to impress, perhaps it’s time to find one who isn’t.