An aerial view of trees

Be Present & Live In The Moment

by Ricky Chan

The Dreaded Phone Call

Late Tuesday afternoon, before I left the office for a tag rugby game, I noticed a missed call from a number I didn’t recognise. The voicemail simply said, “Hi, please call me back as soon as possible.”

I was slightly alarmed yet curious, so I decided to stay and return the call. When the caller picked up, I explained that I had received a missed call and was wondering what this was about.

“Sorry, where are you calling from again? Is it the Halifax? I’ve spoken to too many people today I’ve lost track,” he replied.

At this point, two things went through my mind: perhaps I should’ve just called back tomorrow and this must be the worst Account Manager to not remember who he just called. So I reintroduced myself and asked, “How can I help?”

There was a pause before he spoke. He had no idea who I was. Something was up.

“Do you know Matt?* Matthew Cameron,” he blurted out.

“Oh, yes! I know Matt,” I replied.

“He’s my younger brother. My name is Steve. Matthew passed away yesterday in his home, and I’ve been trying to call everyone on his contacts list to find out who can help and whether he left a will.”

Steve told me that the hardest part was breaking the news to his elderly mother, and he almost broke down in tears recalling it.

Matthew

Matt passed away suddenly while lying on his couch. Steve had thought he was just resting when he didn’t respond, before realising a few hours later that that worst had happened. Matt was just 55 years old, a keen long-distance cyclist and tennis player. He was fit and healthy. Statistically he still had many years left in him.

I clearly remember the first time I met Matt about 5 years ago at a business networking event, when he proudly told me that he was a “Salesman” – which is quite rare given the stereotypical views. Before he became a client, I had referred him to a national organisation that was hiring, to which his people skills and salesmanship were well suited.

I caught up with Matt on the phone just 3 weeks before he passed away, so his death was a massive shock to me, not least because I saw him as a friend. We had arranged to meet up in December as it had been a while since we’d met in person, so I was looking forward to catching up. He’d been busy with work since relocating back home outside of London, helping his elderly mother move in a care home and arranging to sell her house.

Helping grieving families is part of the job I least enjoy, but of course it is a necessary one and is something we come across all too often during our careers. I’m more experienced now than I was when I started about a decade ago so I’m able to provide more empathy, reassurance, and guidance.

“Did I do enough to help Matt?”

I found myself asking this question on the car journey after the news broke and a few days later. Sure, I did the technical stuff, helped him organise and plan financially, including completing nomination forms and encouraging him to draft a will. But could I have done more so that he would have had more fulfillment from life while he still had time?

Plan For Tomorrow, Live For Today

 This unfortunate experience hammered home the saying life is not a rehearsal.

We often take life for granted and thus lack urgency. Truth is, we don’t know how long or short life is. Average life expectancy is just that – an average.

As financial planners, we do incredible work helping clients plan financially and achieve their longer-term goals. But it is equally important to inject a sense of urgency and encourage them to live for today as tomorrow is not promised. The important things in life often don’t cost much but can give us rewards that money can’t buy.

Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development , concluded this from a 75-year old study tracking the physical and emotional health of over 700 people over their lifetime:

“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period. When we gathered together everything we knew about them about at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old, it was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

If we’re not already doing it, perhaps we should explore ways in which our clients approaching retirement could build and improve on their relationships, with friends, family, spouse and their local community.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect said persons’ identities.

Ricky Chan headshot

Ricky Chan is the co-founder and Director of IFS Wealth & Pensions, a Chartered Financial Planning Firm based in London, passionate about delivering Lifestyle Financial Planning and using Ethical & Socially Responsible investments to help clients align their goals with their values. He is both a Chartered Financial Planner and Fellow of the Personal Finance Society (PFS), is a panel member of the PFS’ Financial Planning Practitioner Panel, and has featured in CityWire’s NMA “Top 35 Next Generation Advisers.”

The views expressed in this article are that of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Voyant.