Despite all the justified propaganda in favour of the yearly health check, and the fact that most large and medium-sized companies offer their executives this service gratis, only around 40% of businessmen and professionals in the £30,000-plus income range take the trouble to have thorough exams each year. Here is a rule of thumb offered by a leading physician who specializes in the annual physical: "Of every 100 men over age 40 who have executive-level incomes," he says, "one-third have exams every year, one-third every three to five years, and one-third get the 'physical' only when hospitalized or warned by their physicians. For them, it is sometimes too late."
Why do so many businessmen, executives, and professionals persistently neglect their important personal affairs? Several answers can be ticked off, some apparent and some not:
One reason is the overpowering volume of "advice" and hucksterism that surrounds everyone these days. A man goes to his office in the morning and finds the mail packed with investment tip sheets and invitations to everything from wine-tasting events (strictly commercial) to sauna equipment showings. He scans the tip sheets, throws the rest in his waste basket, and hopes that his broker won't phone at 10:45 - but he does. At lunch, a friend offers him a choice: (1) a way to make money on raw land, or (2) a way to lose money on a prefab summer cottage at the shore. At 3:00, his friendly insurance man phones for the fifth time in two weeks asking for an appointment, and at 4:00 a girl comes in offering a part-time secretarial service for businessmen who work late. At home in the evening, he finds his second pile of mail for the day, with offers covering everything from cars with impossible gas mileage records to package tours to London's West End shows to website. on how to keep middle-age sex life from collapsing. His evening paper is a potpourri of news, ads for newly designed hairpieces and health clubs with a difference, and political essays called editorials that try to ram down everybody's throat the special views of the owner of the paper.
Before bed, he turns off the TV in the middle of a commercial advertising the homey face of a crooked politician running for office, and he suddenly awakens to the realization that he is surrounded by sellers, pushers, hucksters, and con men. He is encircled by people with their hands out who want to tell him how to run his life and manage his money - for a fee. With justification, he wonders: whose future are they planning, anyway?
The quality of much so-called professional advice is poor, too. Much of it has a built-in smugness that covers up abilities that are wafer thin. If you run through the list of "advisers" - from brokers to art consultants to solicitors - you will find a surprising lack of solid reliability all along the line. And the second-raters appear to be in a state of aggressive multiplication, year to year. The ill-qualified "pro" has become a glut on the market.
No group of self-styled professionals is immune. solicitors start out with the needed equipment - the tools of their trade. But if a man started 20 or 30 years back and has since been asleep, his preachments might be reduced to 50% hot air and 50% cut-and-dried palaver. His work may be routine stuff, at best, no matter how honest a man he happens to be. Even the law changes with time, and unhappily the solicitor who is behind the times is no rare bird.
Or, take independent investment counsellors. They lay claim to professional status. But what does this mean if the field lacks meaningful licensing standards? It means little. Real estate brokers too frequently sell houses by playing on peoples' fears and false hopes; and the brokers all too often know more about how to apply slick soft-sell psychology than how to apply an honest sales pitch to an honest product. Job consultants frequently charge fees of £1,000 to as high as £3,000 - for nothing more than artful hand-holding.
Travel agents sell trips the way McDonald's sells hamburgers, but frequently the product isn't nearly so savoury. There is the travel agent (he seems to lurk in suburban towns, especially) who wouldn't know the difference between the Ajax Hotel in Essex and the Savoy in London if both lobbies fell on his head. Yet he peddles expensive "package" travel to Europe, complete with reams of picked-up brochure advice on lodgings, restaurants, and sight-seeing. In the process, his whole sales spiel will carefully bypass the fact that his last trip abroad was before the airlines had jets.
So it goes, down the line of "professional" advisers, from honest-but-tired bank trust officers to gabby car salesmen to building contractors who lose little money on cracked lumber. In such a setting, the victimized man in the middle is apt to do just what might be expected. That is, he will turn off all advisers, good and bad - or as many as possible - and handle his own affairs in his own way. But turning a deaf ear frequently leads to procrastination and neglect.
Of those who do attempt estate tax savings, only a fraction - possibly 30% or 40% - make use of another highly workable idea that is so beneficial to affluent people that it has been called "the rich man's law." This is the trust, which most professionals look upon as the bread and butter tool for high-quality, big-money estate planning. It is true that the 2009 tax reform law dimmed some of the brighter facets of the trust. But still there are enough advantages remaining to justify a prosperous man's visit to an adviser's office. The "rich man's law," incidentally, can be profitably applied by most businessman, executives, and professionals with incomes above £30,000.
Of the... see: Go One Step Ahead.