I just got back from a true “bucket list” fishing expedition to the Brazilian Amazon jungle for peacock bass, and while I was able to put work on the back burner for a week, the successful trip led me to think about just how important a fiduciary relationship can be in every transaction we undertake.
We flew into the Brazilian city of Manaus, where we were greeted by the outfitter’s representative, who took us to our pre-arranged hotel. I don’t speak Portuguese, the local language, so if he hadn’t been waiting for us at the airport, we might’ve eventually made it, but it would’ve been a hassle.
That first night the outfitter took us out to a safe, clean local restaurant. We toasted our upcoming trip and went to bed well-fed. But what if he’d taken us to his brother-in-law’s hole in the wall, where he got a kickback for each guest, and the experience turned out horribly? Or, worse yet, what if we’d gotten sick before heading into the wilderness?
The next morning we hopped onto a tiny float plane to venture to our houseboat home for the week, a hundred miles from the nearest road. We trusted that everything was operational, and that the outfitters knew where they were going, because none of us had the ‘Survivor’ skills to get there on our own.
We brought our own fishing equipment, recommended by the outfitter. We all owned some gear before this, but little of the specialized tackle needed for Brazilian peacock bass. We trusted that their recommendations were optimal, since we were limited in the amount of gear we could bring on the float plane, and also comprehensive, because there’s no Bass Pro Shops in the jungle.
Each day our local guides, who spoke almost no English, took us up winding tributary channels and hacked us into hidden lagoons with machetes, then found their way back to the houseboat’s new location at sunset. If they’d failed to do so, not only might we have gone fishless, but we might’ve spent the night in the jungle with caimans and anacondas and who knows what else?
It was truly the trip of a lifetime, and it went out without a hitch. Even if there had been some slight hiccups it still might’ve been great, but when you’re dealing with life and death situations, hiccups are not acceptable. Are you willing to take those kinds of risks heading into a land where you don’t speak the language and don’t know the customs or laws?
For many people, planning for your family’s financial well-being is like going into a foreign country. You may be very successful and sophisticated, but it doesn’t mean that you know all the backwaters of tax, estate planning, and investment management. You need a truly knowledgeable outfitter and guide to get you safely through those traps and help you buy the right gear.
In short, even without a signed agreement stating as much, I expected the trip leader to function as a fiduciary. And that’s for a fishing trip. If we’d come home fishless, it would’ve been disappointing, but not the end of the world. When it comes to financial planning, however, you can’t take those risks. You have to be certain that your “guide” is always acting in an unconflicted manner and leading you down the path that’s in your best interest. You don’t want your biggest fish of the trip to be some plastic lure from the bait shop – you want it to be the trophy peacock bass you set out to catch.
At PagnatoKarp, the goals of our TrueFiduciary™ Standards and Family Office are to focus on safety of assets, lowering costs, and simplifying your life so you have more time to spend on what matters to you most.
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