A Lesson Learned

It’s ironic. The greatest lesson I learned about the investment business came from a woman who knew nothing about investments, nothing at all. This business isn’t about ‘her money.’ It is about ‘her.’

- Jeff Brown, President & CEO, 18 Asset Management 

It is 1999. I sit across a meeting room table from an elderly lady, prepared to share with my guest how we would look after her money. She is here because she has been told she should invest her deceased husband’s insurance proceeds.

To begin, she says that her husband looked after the finances. She never wrote a cheque while he was alive. The insurance proceeds are her only asset. She lives in an apartment. She has no home equity and no income.  

Sadly, I hear what she is saying but don’t comprehend what she is telling me. 

When it’s my turn to talk, I explain the complexities and sophistication of our quantitative investment process. My guest lets me go on for almost 25 minutes before stopping me, saying:

“Jeff, I haven’t understood anything you’ve said. I don’t know what a stock is or what a bond is. I don’t understand finance, but I do have one question”, she continues.

I prepare myself to provide an investment answer to what I presume will be an investment question.

“Am I going to be okay?” she asks.

What? I thought our objective is to look after her money as best we can. I sit here now realizing the objective is to look after her as best we can.

It’s ironic. The greatest lesson I learned about the investment business came from a woman who knew nothing about investments, nothing at all. This business isn’t about “her money”. It is about “her”.

This client made a point at the end of her annual review in 2005 of telling me: “Do you remember telling me that I was going to be okay? I have been able to pay my bills these past few years and I now have more money than when I started. Thank you. You were right. I am okay.”

After retiring in 2009, I thought about this client. I thought about providing a societal good. I thought about her feedback – “I am okay”. April, 2010, I ended my retirement due to this lady. I had a precise vision for the company I wanted to build; a company that enriches people’s lives by effectively managing the pension plans and endowments that they rely upon; a company that safeguards pension and endowment assets, maximizes the performance of those assets and clearly explains the investment process and results; a company where we never lose sight of the fact that our work is about people – from the investment committee that oversees an organization’s investment portfolio to the retiree who spent 40 years on the factory floor to the single mother who needs financial assistance from a charitable foundation.

I wanted to build a company where through our traditional values and a prudent investment approach, we can make the world a better place.

And we are striving to do that every day.