The Day The World Changed

September 14, 2001

Sometimes, world events change all of our lives and dwarf what happens in the financial services business. This week was one of those times.

After the most devastating attack on this nation in its history, it‚s not surprising that words are coming up short for all of us. Like many of my friends on Tuesday, September 11, I succumbed to the temptation to join with cable TV talking heads and armchair warriors and call for massive retaliation. By the time you read this, wiser, more level heads than ours most likely will have devised a more appropriate response.

As someone who lives in New York, I found the events of September 11 particularly painful. But the progress of the 20th century left America a much smaller place, and millions of us will end up knowing victims of the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century.

Three days after the tragedy, it‚s not too early to try to search for some perspective on events we are only starting to comprehend, even if one feels like a boy trying to cut down a cherry tree with a jackknife. From its inception, America has always shined the brightest when facing the most severe challenges. This nation faces trials and tribulations like no other. That‚s why young Chinese protesters in Tiananmen Square raised a miniature Statue of Liberty 12 years ago and why the world always looks to us in crisis.

Most of us who have ever lost a loved one who was too young to die achieve a measure of closure by trying to take the worst event of our lives and turn it into something positive. Again and again throughout our history, the more terrible the crisis, the higher America rises to the occasion. One doesn‚t have to look beyond the policemen and firefighters of New York, Washington, D.C., and Virginia for evidence of this.

As David McCullough wrote in his recent biography of John Adams, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were very confident they would be executed 225 years ago after they put their names on a document that changed the world. It‚s a measure of how far we‚ve come that yesterday, The Star-Spangled Banner was played outside of Buckingham Palace with members of Britain‚s royal family standing at attention. Civilized people recognize better ways of life, even if they quibble over the details, as they should. Despite disaster, despite evil in the world, history moves forward and civilization advances.

The last time our nation was challenged in this manner was 60 years ago on December 7, 1941. Look at how we responded then. This time won‚t be any different in the quality of the response, even if the nature of the attack requires another approach.

For financial advisors, times like these reinforce their importance in clients‚ eyes. Given their role, advisors will have to explain the difference between the social and human impact and the financial ramifications of this week‚s events. Financially, the fact that five years from now this horrible attack may appear as a blip on an Ibbotson chart shouldn‚t trivialize the magnitude of the tragedy.

At times like this, the mere mention of money seems to be in poor taste. But it‚s a part of everything today, whether it‚s aid from the Red Cross or funds for reconstruction or money for charitable foundations being established to help families of victims. So advisors need to convey that as well. As the Financial Planning Association‚s executive director, Janet McCallen, told me minutes ago, what clients will want from you are comfort, confidence and a connection.

Evan Simonoff