What Does a Ford Pinto Have to Do with Your Retirement Account? More Than You Might Think.

What Does a Ford Pinto Have to Do with Your Retirement Account? More Than You Might Think.

Periodically over the years, you’ve probably seen chatter on whether the federal government should mandate advisors to maintain a fiduciary responsibility toward their clients.

I’ve been around the block a bit, and the fiduciary conversation reminds me of the saga of the Ford Pinto.

When the Pinto debuted in 1971, it had some things going for it. The economy in the 1970s was bad, and Pintos were designed to be affordable. The car’s good gas mileage also made the Pinto cheap to drive, and that was important because the United States experienced wide-scale fuel shortages during the decade.

Unfortunately, the Pinto did have one big drawback:

It was poorly designed, and the car tended to catch fire and explode when rear-ended.

If people know or remember the story of the Ford Pinto at all, they tend to think the fires were the result of Ford’s attempt to skirt the law.

That wasn’t the case.

The Ford Pinto demonstrates how government efforts to regulate something don’t necessarily ensure the public is better off.

In 1974, the federal government found that despite three deaths, there was not enough evidence to warrant a defect investigation. In other words, even though people were dying, Ford was compliant with the law and regulatory requirements of the time.

The Ford Pinto demonstrates how government efforts to regulate something don’t necessarily ensure the public is better off.

The government’s heart is in the right place. The dialogue around the fiduciary requirement is trying to ensure—through regulations—a level of safety for consumers who’ve entrusted their financial security to a retirement advisor.

However, there is no regulatory framework that can prevent a company from putting profits before customers if that’s the path they choose. I’ve worked in financial services for my entire adult life, and I can tell you financial advisors with staying power always put customers first, and we don’t do that because of a regulatory requirement.

We do that because we believe our profession is here to make our clients more financially secure. We do that because we believe our work makes a difference in the lives of our clients and their families. We do that because we want to be around for the long-term.

We hold ourselves to the industry’s highest regulatory, legal, and ethical requirements—but those requirements are just the beginning.

Our business grows when our clients recommend our firm to their friends, colleagues, and family members. That wouldn’t happen if our approach to creating a retirement strategy focused on meeting minimum regulatory requirements. If we had waited for the government to create a regulation before we put the financial security of our clients first, we would have gone out of business a long time ago.

When you go into your doctor’s office, you trust that he or she is giving you the best medical advice based on your health needs, not the minimum standards of a regulatory requirement.

At Trinity, we take your retirement as seriously as your doctor takes your health.

We strictly adhere to regulatory requirements and the highest industry standards, but we ground our relationships with customers on our values and our beliefs. Most financial advisors say that, but we are a small firm, without a big brand.

We have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Forty years ago, Ford built a legally compliant car that tended to burst into flames. Ford had a trusted brand, and no one ever thought the company would cut corners and risk customer safety.

In any business—including financial services—government policies and a big, well-known brand are no replacement for a company with values that holds itself to standards no government regulation could ever match.

You can’t look a government regulation in the eye or shake its hand.

And a “brand” is just a collection of emotions and perceptions.

Ultimately, building a retirement strategy that works for you depends on sitting across the table from an advisor you can trust to put your needs first. When that happens, you’ll start creating the financial security you need for the big second act waiting for you in retirement.

James Matush, Jr., CFP®, MBA

James Matush, Jr., CFP®, MBA

James "Jim" Matush, CFP®, MBA, is the CEO and Founding Partner of Trinity Wealth Advisors, a leading wealth advisory firm serving affluent families in the St. Louis area. With 40+ years of experience in financial services, he offers his clients actionable plans to help them achieve their goals.