So our financial advisor sold us an annuity recently.
He made a very convincing case for it, and since we’ve already entrusted him with our life savings, we figured, why the hell not. After all, if he was going to swindle us, he already had everything he needed to do so. He could even sit opposite us in our quarterly meetings and give us what would sound like a perfectly plausible explanation as to why my wife’s 401k balance was currently at $1.98, and we’d believe him.
Because, financially, we are idiots.
That’s why we have an advisor. You can’t be an expert at everything, after all. Successful people know this, and surround themselves with knowledgeable and trustworthy counselors like Michael Flynn and Kellyanne Conway.
Anyway, getting back to the annuity: my father liked annuities. He bought three of them. My mother still gets monthly checks for $175, $226 and $275 which, when added to her Social Security, doesn’t come close to paying for her assisted living facility. So that worked out well.
But, okay, so we bought the annuity. Then a few weeks later, our financial advisor’s assistant called to say their company wouldn’t allow them to carry the annuity in our regular retirement account so they needed to open a new one just to hold the annuity. I responded the way I usually do when our advisor calls to say he wants to make this or that trade: “Sure, whatever.” I do this because I usually have no idea what he’s talking about. He could be trading baseball cards for all I know.
“In order to do that,” the assistant added, “I have to send you a signature form to sign.”
“Sure,” I replied. “Whatever.”
This would be a good time to mention that, like most people these days, I have fallen into the habit of blindly signing any document that comes my way, whether it’s a cell phone contract, a car lease or an iTunes user agreement. When was the last time you read one of those things? What do they expect you to do, hire a lawyer every time you have to update your software? I mean, I don’t want to download your friggin’ update in the first place; you’re making me. Shouldn’t it be you agreeing not to screw up my device with your download? (“Apple hereby agrees that this new iPhone software will not erase all your apps and contacts, or we will pay a penalty of $100,000. Agree?”)
But I digress.
Our financial advisor’s assistant emailed over the form, with a cover note instructing me to review the document carefully, sign it and return it. I had to initiate a bunch of security procedures just to download the thing, and then a couple more to open it. Below is the first page of the document he wanted me to sign. I direct your attention to the bottom right-hand corner, where I have highlighted something truly horrifying.
Yes, that’s right. Page 1 of 17. And all 17 pages are just like this one. Seventeen triple-columned pages of legal copy.
This is, verbatim, the well-thought-out response I sent to our financial advisor’s assistant:
“Are you kidding me? No, I am not reviewing 17 pages of fine print. If you can’t handle the annuity within the existing accounts, then forget it.”
Of course, within minutes, our actual financial advisor was on the phone, apologizing for his parent company’s stupidity and irrational insistence on having clients sign such documents. He assured me that it was all boilerplate, which is what people always say when they want you to sign something without reading it. I should also point out that our financial advisor’s parent company happens to be Wells Fargo, which does not exactly have a squeaky-clean recent history of acting in its customers’ best interests (although, our financial advisor would be quick to say, that was the banking division).
I drew a line in the sand, which was really a beach filled with very tiny letters. “Even if I was inclined to read this with a magnifying glass,” I said, “we both know, as does Wells Fargo, that there is virtually no chance I would understand any of it.”
Then, in total rebellion to the way we lead our 21st Century lives, I refused to sign.
“Okay,” he replied. “we’ll just keep the annuity in the existing account.”
Wait, what? This was certainly a revelation! If we didn’t really need a new account for the annuity, what was this whole thing about? And do all companies operate this way now? What would happen if everybody just refused to sign user agreements? Would Apple and the like eventually just say, “Oh, all right. Never mind”?
In conclusion, I invite all my readers to stop signing and agreeing to things. And since I don’t have nearly enough readers for any corporation to care about, I encourage all my readers who do have Facebook friends and various followers to tell everyone you know to get on board with this.
I also have one more request: please send me a lot of money. I have a feeling we’re going to be needing it.
See you soon.