Fortunes told and futures sold, but not by a stockbroker
There aren't many things the wife and I disagree about and fortune-tellers are one. She loves them, I think they're all charlatans who target soft-brained people with insecurities and I have proof. Here it is:
Logic. If I could tell the future I'd be a billionaire, not telling fortunes for $20 a pop.
The fact no one ever wants to tell your fortune without getting paid.
The fact that a Buddhist monk fortune-teller once told my first wife that she was going to marry a military man. At the time I was sitting beside her with a US Marine hair cut. ''Holy'' indeed.
In Australia, we once paid for a fortune-teller to ''entertain us'' after dinner. He was incredible. The restaurant owner told us later that his modus operandi was to come in early and earwig his victim's dinner conversation.
You can buy a fortune-teller's ''cold reading'' script. Enough said.
Everybody wants certainty. It's settling. It is comforting. Fortune-telling fills the need.
It's like religion. A hole down which you can throw all your questions and uncertainties and get some form of an answer. We all need that.
But we all know the truth. It's hocus-pocus and my wife isn't stupid, she is just choosing to enjoy the show whereas I choose to bag it. She chooses to believe it, which is very different from actually believing it. And she is the better for it, if only for the entertaining moment she is there with her palm held out and her brain in fantasy land. It's worth it for that alone.
I have also learnt, as a stockbroker, not to push my views about fortune-tellers too far or she attacks me with some indisputable truths, such as, ''What's the difference between a stockbroker and a fortune-teller? You only lose $20 with a fortune-teller,'' and, ''At least fortune-tellers know they're making it up.''
Well dear, stockbroking is actually very different from fortune-telling. Yes, a lot of people think finance professionals are there to tell the future and a lot of young brokers join the industry thinking this is their job, but before we get to predictions there are a lot of other functions we provide first.
The execution of trades, for instance. The administration of share trading. The administration of share holdings. Portfolio advice (standard moron portfolio stuff at this stage). Financial planning and access to products such as cash-management trusts, margin lending and fixed interest.
Then it gets a touch more sophisticated. Next brokers provide access to research, options, futures, IPOs, share placements and sophisticated investor services (excluded offers, placements).
Of course, so far all these things are within the capabilities of a professional functionary, some are offered online and many broking relationships survive simply on this level. There are no wild money-making ideas or ''trust'', just a conduit between what a broking house offers and its clients. A fair bit of value and we still haven't even mentioned the fortune-telling yet.
Now the services get more personal, including the broker's own ideas, listening to your ideas and the beginnings of a relationship.
Brokers have access to a network of ideas and the best ideas come from having someone to bounce them off. You don't get that online.
Then there are two other essential services. One, a hand to hold in times of trouble - your own personal sharemarket shrink. Essential objectivity, which is not, by definition, possible alone. And two, access to someone with sharemarket experience. The sharemarket is all about going through hoops, financial and emotional, and who better to talk to than someone who has been through them all before.
Experience is something that can be very costly to acquire alone.
And finally there comes trust and friendship, things that can endure for a lifetime and become more valuable than the money. And still we haven't mentioned fortune-telling.
Footnote: OK, so my first wife ran off with a marine but it's just that old stockbroking rule at work again. Make enough predictions and even a Buddhist monk will get a couple right.
Marcus Padley is a stockbroker with Patersons Securities and the author of sharemarket newsletter Marcus Today. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of Patersons.