When the markets tanked in 2008, I was scared. Really scared. We had clients who were nervous about whether they were going to be OK. Our firm had more than 30 people wondering whether they could keep their jobs. The bulk of my net worth outside our company was invested alongside that of our clients, and we were shedding AUM more quickly than the winner of The Biggest Loser lost weight. With the same number of clients, there much less in fee income to service them.

In March 2009, we called staff together and said that we were not going to have layoffs, but we were freezing salaries. We also said that we had a plan for further cost cutting if the markets continued to decline, but our clients needed us more than ever right now. Putting on a good face didn’t mean I wasn’t nervous. No one was having very much fun. Then something strange happened; the next day, the market hit bottom. It began to turn around. Not in a way that instilled confidence, but in a way that relieved pressure. And you know the rest of the story.

It’s been almost six years since the apocalypse. Our philosophy for clients living off their portfolios was to raise cash in advance of their needs, so while their cash dwindled in ’09, we didn’t have to replace it until 2010 or 2011, meaning today those clients spending 5% of their portfolios have more than they did before the collapse. While clients did not have to take a cut in income, many chose to spend less money. That seemed normal—when you feel poor, you tend to spend less.

2008 to 2014 is a brief period. But it is still instructive. What I learned during that time is that I could have let my greatest fears turn into my greatest mistakes. It also became obvious that no matter how much we may love the data, life gets in the way. Our lives, our staff’s lives and our clients’ lives.

My question to you is, are you getting in the way of helping clients live the lives they are capable of living? By that, I mean are you so obsessed with what could go wrong that you are not paying enough attention to what is going right? The risk isn’t to have too much money, it is running out of money. But whose risk are we protecting—our clients’ or our own?

I have been around long enough to have clients who have died, who have children that have died and who have faced seemingly insurmountable life events. We have had to ask clients to leave our firm when we felt they were being irresponsible and spending more than we thought their portfolios could handle, but we also had some situations where clients died before they could fully do the things they wanted because we needed to be sure they didn’t run out of money. That felt terrible.

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