Cops, journalists — even short-order cooks — regularly see characters in the movies portraying their professions, with varying degrees of accuracy. Stereotypes and narrative clichés abound: The cynical newspaper reporter finds a story that melts her stony heart, the rookie cop learns a lesson that shapes his career. What about financial advisors?
Unfortunately, they rarely seem to merit screenplays. “I feel neglected,” says Stephen Lovell, a former film critic whose Walnut Creek, Calif., firm, Forsyth Heritage, is an LPL Financial affiliate. “We’re not represented. Unless we’re the Gordon Gekkos, we don’t get any attention.
“And I’ll tell you why,” Lovell adds. “What we do is not interesting.”
What he means, Lovell explains, is that the long-term relationships advisors try to cultivate with their clients don’t exactly make for the kind of conflict-driven drama that audiences hunger for.
“If you think narrowly about what we do, it’s kind of boring,” agrees Michael Williams, president of RIA Altius Financial in Denver. “If I’m telling someone, ‘You need to save 178 more dollars per month for your child to go to college,’ I don’t know how you make that into an exciting, action-packed Hollywood movie.”
When financial professionals do make it onto the big (or flat) screen, it’s rarely pretty. From the predatory Gekko (“Greed is good”) in Oliver Stone’s 1987 Wall Street to the shady brokers selling worthless stock in the 2000 film Boiler Room, movie characters who move money to make money are generally bad guys.
Of course, serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho is an investment banker, not an advisor. And the club-going codgers who get up each morning ready to chisel the public in Eddie Murphy’s classic comedy Trading Places are commodities brokers. But when advisor types do turn up, they don’t inspire confidence either. Woody Allen’s most recent film, Blue Jasmine, stars Cate Blanchett as the wife of a guy who’s a lot like Bernie Madoff. When he’s hauled away for fraud, poor Cate has to start over and be, well, poor.
“Those kinds of movies are not very favorable,” says Williams, with admirable understatement. “They make the brokerage industry seem like greedy bastards, people who will crawl over glass to get the last dollar out of somebody, and that’s not accurate with regard to the brokers I know.”
Perhaps stretching definitions a bit, Ken Perine, a CFP with Meritage Wealth Advisory in Livermore, Calif., finds elements of his profession in consigliere Tom Hagen, played by Robert Duvall in The Godfather.
“Tom Hagen is the ultimate trusted family advisor,” says Perine. “He was brought in to help with all the tough decisions around the challenges the family faced as they dealt with the transition of the family business to the next generation.”
The Corleones’ succession-planning issues are ones Perine deals with frequently as a financial planner. “It’s very challenging for folks,” he says, adding that The Godfather speaks to him personally as the third-generation owner of a family manufacturing company that he sold in 2008 to become a financial advisor.
Williams thinks Hollywood is missing a good story that could redeem the profession in public perception while making a mint for some prescient studio. A smart screenwriter, mining the intimate advisor-client relationship, could come up with high drama.
“There isn’t anyone who knows my clients as well as I do — all the parts of their lives,” Williams says. “Typically we know our clients better than anyone in their family.”
Financial advisors can look back on one scene that captures, movingly, what they sometimes must endure with difficult clients. That’s in the 1971 comedy A New Leaf, written and directed by Elaine May, when a spendthrift heir, played by Walter Matthau, asks his financial advisor to cash a $6,000 check to pay his club dues.
The advisor tries to explain that Matthau has exhausted not just his income but his capital. “I can’t cover the check,” says the advisor, played by William Redfield, “because the check is for $6,000, and you don’t have $6,000. In other words, you don’t have $60.”
“Come to the point,” says Matthau.
“The point,” says Redfield, “is that you don’t have any money. The capital and the income are exhausted and you no longer have any money. I wish there were some other way I could say it.”