There she was. In a bathing suit. All 200 pounds of her.
Who needed horror movies for Halloween when I could just look at pictures of Aunt Betty's stockbroker Ida?
"She was at some resort in Florida last week. She sent me a nice thank you note and put in the picture. But you've got it wrong. I'm supposed to be ogling the cabana boy, not her."
"Your stock broker sends you dirty pictures from her vacation?"
"Well, sometimes." She cooed with a combination of auntly innocence and schoolgirl embarrassment. "Like I said, it was a thank-you note."
"What was she thanking you for?" I asked, all the while thinking that Aunt Betty had something to do with that smirking smile on the cabana boy's face.
"I'm never quite sure really. She sends these little notes from places that say 'Isn't it beautiful here? I couldn't have done it without you!' "
Suddenly it became very clear what Ida was being thankful for.
I had worked for a brokerage firm for years. Not as a broker, but in the "purer" world of research. Poor Aunt Betty didn't have a clue.
"Aunt Betty, have you done any business with Ida this month?"
"Well, yes dear. I bought that nice mutual fund with the money from my bonds that matured."
"What nice mutual fund Aunt Betty?" I asked, stabbing at the pumpkin that I was supposed to be carving.
"Oh, you know. The one with the picture of all those smart looking young men in the lab coats on the cover of their magazine. Ida says they're doing groundbreaking work in genetics."
"Did you read the prospectus? Are all of the companies that the fund is investing in doing genetic research?" Visions of screaming "know your customer" at an SEC hearing while Aunt Betty sobbed quietly behind me were swimming in my head.
"Oh sweetheart, I don't know. Ida wouldn't have recommended it to me if it wasn't a good investment."
"Aunt Betty, do you remember the time David Nelson offered to help me change my clothes when he squirted me with the garden hose? And I was all impressed with how sorry he was and how he wanted to help make it better? And what did you tell me? You said 'Honey, boys never do things like that by accident. And don't you ever let them get away with it.'"
"Well, Aunt Betty. Brokers never 'recommend' things to you. They 'sell' them. And while it may be of secondary concern that it's good for you, it's always a primary concern that it's good for them."
"Ida is thanking you because she probably got to go to that resort because you and lots of other people bought that mutual fund from her. It's the way that the fund company was thanking her."
"Really? Isn't that a conflict of interest dear? I mean, isn't that like the mutual fund company is bribing her?"
"It's a cruel world Aunt Betty, and yes, it should be illegal, but it's not.
"I've sat in broker's meetings twice a week for years where the main focus of the meeting was on what was available to sell to the clients, not necessarily was a good investment for the clients. What bonds did we have in inventory? Meaning what bonds did we have available to mark up. What contests were being sponsored by mutual fund companies? Which resort could we go to if we just sold enough?
"Aunt Betty, I've even seen the sales manager walk around with $100 dollar bills in his hand on the Friday before a long weekend bribing people to stay longer. He'd say 'Put in a ticket for $1,000 order and Ben goes home with you.'
"I'm not saying that all brokers are bad Aunty Betty. Many of them are well educated and work hard to care for their clients. But, the bottom line is, they're there for themselves and not you. Caveat emptor... you should have read that prospectus."
"That's really scary sweetheart. I never thought of it like that before." Aunt Betty said, drawing little horns on Ida's head in the picture.
Next: Scary Story: The Maven