I recently called my internist here in Fort Myers, Fla., and got the following recorded message: "Thank you for calling the ... Physician Group, providing quality care with respect, compassion and empathy. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911."

This article is not meant to be an indictment of our health-care system and what managed care has done to quality and compassionate health services, though much has and will be written on the subject. This is a column about financial life planning, which implies that those who practice it need to treat their clients with compassion and take into consideration their unique goals and situations. I would define financial life planning as merging your clients' money with their lives. They are now living through what is probably for them the most volatile market they have ever experienced.

Yet I hear some of my colleagues tell me that they are implementing strategies such as these: "I've put 70% of my clients' money in cash." Or, "I've told all my clients to 'stay the course.'" Or, "I have shorted 30% of my clients' portfolios."

My question to these advisors is, "Where's the compassion and empathy?"

Of course, if these advisors are representing themselves as money managers or portfolio managers, I have no quarrel since, as I've written before, their clients are really the portfolios they manage and not the clients who invest in those portfolios.

However, if they represent themselves as financial planners, their responsibilities are to ensure that they are giving advice to each individual client based on that person's unique situation. Vern Hayden, a good friend who practices in New York, is a planner who understands the difference between money management and financial life planning. One day, during the bear market of 2000-2002, I was working at home and listening to CNBC. The host announced that Vern was to be his next guest. Since I know Vern, I listened intently. The commentator introduced him by saying that he was going to discuss his "bunker portfolio."

I know that Vern is an asset allocator, so I was surprised to hear that he was reacting to market volatility. His bunker portfolio consisted, as we would surmise, of high-quality short-term bonds. The host asked him the question I wanted to ask: "Vern, you always told me that you didn't believe in market timing. But isn't that exactly what you are doing?" Vern's answer suggested the ways an advisor can merge clients' money with their lives. He replied, "I don't time the market. I time my clients!"

He went on to explain that the clients he did this for had two things in common. First, their worries about the market were so pervasive that it was affecting their lives. Second, their temporary exit from equities would not have an adverse effect on their ability to reach their goals. While these clients probably missed the early months of the recovery, that was a price they were willing to pay if it meant the end of sleepless nights. And, of course, they had the knowledge (provided by their planner) that it would not affect them in the long run.

I am reminded of a client who obsessed about Y2K (remember that?) in 1999. He instructed me to sell everything that could have an adverse effect if the doom that many were predicting actually occurred. I remember discussing this with another planner and she asked me if I had informed him that doing so would have been dumb. "No," I told her, "I did what he asked." You see, he could have put his money in a safety-deposit box and never earned another dollar and he would have still reached all of his financial goals. Was it worth staying awake at night, just because that would have been the "correct" decision for his portfolio? A money manager certainly would have recommended that. However, I am a financial life planner and need to stay focused on my mission to help my clients free themselves from money worries and reach their goals. And getting out of stocks was the correct decision for this client, if not for his money.

During this volatile market, we have received more calls from our clients than we usually do. I suppose that is true for most, if not all, advisors. However, I would like to review two calls received and how we handled each one. One was from a client who owns a small business that is being run mostly by his children. He is receiving an income that he anticipates will continue for the rest of his life. He has never withdrawn money from his portfolio, nor does he intend to ever do so.

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