Archive for Sunday, September 19, 1999


September 19, 1999


The retired financial planner uses humor and lessons from life to help old-timers handle their money.

Harry Sherer makes a living lecturing older investors on the wisdom of having a certified financial planner in their lives.

The 80-year-old retired financial planner laces his sales pitch with large doses of humor; he comes off half Henny Youngman and half Buddy Hackett. He retired six months ago.

Sherer was in Topeka last week beating the drum for financial planner Greg Fagan. It was Sherer's seventh appearance in Topeka. According to Fagan, Sherer's good for his business.

The old man lives in Palm Beach, Fla., and says most old people have old ideas when it comes to handling their money.

"Many really don't know the difference between lending and investing," he says.

"A lot of people think buying CDs, putting their money in savings accounts or money markets, or buying a fixed annuity is investing. They're actually loaning their money. This enables the savings and loans and banks to invest money in cars, boats and second mortgages.

"Investments either go up or down. CDs and fixed annuities don't. It's vital to know the difference," says Sherer.

Information overload

He delivers his message wearing a light-green shirt, a red and yellow tie, topped with a green sports coat. He calls his outfit a mixture of the Mexican flag and the bird of paradise. He says he doesn't want to appear conservative.

Sherer believes people today are overwhelmed by too much information.

"We open our newspaper and Jane Bryant Quinn tells us the market is too high and advises us to put our money in cash. On page 15 of the same newspaper a columnist tells us the market is going to 20,000. It's confusing. Then there's Money Magazine, Smart Money Magazine and all the rest of them."

Of course the kicker is to turn to your CFP.

He tells the story of a school teacher who, 10 years ago, left Omaha and drove to Kansas in a Mercury Grand Marquis with her life savings of $400,000 in the trunk.

"She bought CDs at a savings and loan at 12 percent interest. Today her money is still in there and she's getting 5.5 percent. If the S&L; charged her to keep her money she'd still leave it there. Old habits die hard."

Safe, guaranteed?

Another Sherer story illustrates the difference between safe and guaranteed investments.

"In 1989 you have $10,000 saved for a new Buick Century. You want to wait awhile to buy it. In the meantime you bury your money in my back yard and I guarantee it will be safe. Last month we dug up your money. You took your $10,000 to the Buick showroom and found you could only buy half a car."

"People have to decide just how much risk they want to take with their investments in order to sleep at night," he said. "Are you OK with 70 percent safe, 30 percent risk? Only you can decide."

He speaks of diversification.

"One lady told me her investments were diversified. She had her CDs in four different banks. Diversification means 50 percent of your investments go up while 50 percent of them go down."

Shererisms and some of his observations:

  • Today, of the 50 largest banks in the world, only five are American.
  • None of the 10 largest banks in the world is American.
  • "Twenty years ago I couldn't say Mitsubishi, and today my daughter drives one."
  • Certified financial planners who work on commission are less expensive than those working on a fee-only basis.
  • Where does the money come from touting all of those no-load funds?
  • A recent article in a Palm Beach paper reported 75 percent of the people over 65 living in Florida help support their children.
  • What other generation (than Sherer's) has spent as much money on drug and alcohol rehabs for their children?
  • Ignore 99 percent of the financial advice you read in newspapers and magazines, see on TV or hear from your neighbor who just made a killing on the Internet.
  • "When my wife and I moved to Florida we told no one. If they hadn't put our pictures on milk cartons our children would never have found us."
  • If everyone in this room took off every piece of their clothing that wasn't made in the United States most of us would be arrested.
  • Everybody is too busy today. Did your mother carry an appointment book when she was our age?
  • Most old-timers have investment ideas that are as old as their religion and politics.

At 80, Sherer still enjoys talking about investing.

"Last week I was in San Diego and Ontario, Calif. Day before yesterday I spoke in Colorado Springs. We got into Topeka at 11 p.m. the night before my first lecture here. I love it."

Sherer is scheduled to lecture in Lawrence on Nov. 8.

-- Bill Snead's phone message number is 832-7196. His e-mail address is

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