Be Better Than Me in 2023

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.  -General George S. Patton

I really should have taken my advice to heart when I wrote about Expect[ing] the Unexpected in March of last year. In my defense, it focused on Alt investing – not life, in general. In hindsight, however, expanding the scope of the article could have saved my family a lot of emotional impacts, wasted time, and unknowable future grief. Here’s why I say that and, hopefully, how you can learn from my mistakes. While this may be the least-Alts-focused Alt Blend to date, it should have some practical application for managing risk in the year ahead. Here we go!

We were robbed!

I’m not talking about the usual figurative use of this phrase – for example, when this Jesse James’ (tight-end for the Steelers) touchdown was called back in December of 2017 with only 28 seconds to play, thereby completely changing the outcome of the Steelers-Patriots game. It was such an atrocious bit of officiating that the NFL changed the rule, then allowing refs to judge obvious completions as completions. Why wasn’t a completed pass allowed to be ruled a catch before that game? The world will never know. But I digress…

What I mean is that our house was, quite literally, robbed. In early November, we went for an early dinner across the street to celebrate my sister-in-law’s birthday. When we came home at 7:41 pm (per our Ring doorbell cam, which clearly did no good in this instance), I walked in the front door, only to immediately notice that the side door of our house was wide open.

“That’s strange,” I thought.

We started looking around, and nothing appeared to be out of place – not the laptops, iPads, guitars (the first thing I checked, of course), car keys, or even my wife’s purse, which was sitting right next to the front door with cash in it. But, when I went to our bedroom, things felt strange, and then I saw it: our safe had vanished. I eventually discovered that our basement window had been entirely removed and that my wife’s jewelry box was lying safely inside her pillowcase on the side of our house – as if we frightened the burglars, and they dropped everything else to run away with the safe.

I imagine the thieves were excited to celebrate with all the stolen loot. And I hope it took a lot of work for them to crack open the safe, only to have been sorely disappointed to find that it didn’t have anything of value inside. Nope – the “valuables” were only a little bit of cash, a couple of silver coins, and about 30 Don Mattingly baseball cards I’ve had saved since I was in 5th grade (I don’t have a good explanation for that, but it sure feels like a lot of wasted effort now!). The intention of the safe was mainly for fireproofing essential documents. Thus, we lost our passports, social security cards, birth certificates, insurance policies, auxiliary credit cards, marriage license, and a hard drive with the aggregated data from every computer we’ve ever owned. Cool stuff.

I’ll spare you the details, but – to add insult to injury – I was pick-pocketed less than one week later, and my wallet had the only remaining items I had to my name: IDs, credit cards, and my debit card. Because of a strange feeling that washed over me just before the incident occurred, this was during the one minute of my life when I was being vigilant about NOT being pick-pocketed. Yet, I still failed miserably in preventing it from happening.

Picking up the Pieces

We spent many hours over many days rebuilding our inventory. It turns out that it’s straightforward to freeze your credit and cancel/reissue credit cards. Replacement Social Security cards can be mailed to you with a few clicks on the SSA website. Birth certificates, marriage licenses, and insurance policies are not too arduous to obtain, but that varies based on birth location or insurance company. Passports are among the worst of the bunch, as they require other documents (e.g., birth certificates) to be acquired prior to the reapplication process. Fortunately, we had no international travel on the immediate horizon. The worst part of the recovery experience was related to banking, namely a) dealing with the implications of getting new bank account numbers and b) attempting to get a new debit card (more on this below).

What we learned

We live in a lovely, friendly, safe town. However, a vital piece of information we’ve learned (the hard way) is that the thieves most likely weren’t from our area and perhaps not even from the US. Some criminals from other countries intentionally target well-to-do suburbs of major US cities precisely because they are…wait for it…easy targets! It made so much sense once the police enlightened us to this notion. Here are some other lessons we learned, some of which may be opportunities for improvement (with the full disclosure that I am not a home-security expert):

  • As General Patton urges: stop procrastinating on the measures you’ve been planning to take already! We had been “planning” to buy a security system for years. Now we have one, but it’s too late to prevent the burglary or provide any leads for those who may have done it.
  • If you own a safe, lock it down. And if you do have a safe, it’s likely in your master bedroom closet, and thieves know to look there first. So perhaps that’s an excellent location for a “decoy” safe?
  • Use motion lights if you already have them. Install them if you don’t. They are a deterrent to intruders. We had them but didn’t use them. Now we do. And, if you leave your home when it’s light out but won’t be back until after dark, turn lights on ahead of time.
  • Ensure you have electronic backups of your essential documents in the cloud (our clients are encouraged to use their Client Portal Vault for this purpose); this is one thing we did well. It made the recovery process much easier since we knew passport and social security numbers for ourselves and our children, had copies of identification we could reference, etc.
  • Consider getting Clear (retinal scanning identification system at many major airports). I could still fly home after the pick-pocketing incident, even though I had no physical ID.
  • Keep at least one form of payment in Apple Pay or G-Pay on your phone. As soon as I canceled my Amex card, the new one was immediately available for use in these apps. Vital for travel!
  • If you have younger children, double-check that the blood type listed on their birth certificates is correct. This is seemingly out of left field, but we found (via the document recovery process) that one of ours was not. It’s also not an enjoyable process to correct, but better to do it proactively. Another takeaway was that the at-home blood typing tests are pretty cool.
  • If you have a fence with locking gates, lock the gates. We, of course, have them but never used to lock the ones burglars would use (in the back of the yard). Not that they couldn’t just hop the fence, but we should have at least made it more difficult to walk into our yard unnoticed.
  • Double-check that your address on financial accounts/statements includes a zip code. Unbelievably, no zip code was included on our bank account for (apparently) more than three years. I only figured this out when attempting to update payments with our new bank account information. And, because I added our zip code (deemed an “address update,” even though it was still the same address) following the burglary, I had to wait 30 days to get a new debit card after the pick-pocketing situation. No one in the JP Morgan Chase organization – not even Jamie Dimon himself – could override that security mechanism. I spent many hours on phones and in bank branches, and Chase employees spent many hours trying to help me, but to no avail. I’d seriously change banks if I weren’t exhausted from having already endured the above.

And, related to Alts, it’s a good reminder that basic due diligence isn’t exciting but should never be overlooked. While operational due diligence (ODD) processes will typically just “check boxes” without incident, they will also raise vital red flags if something is awry (check out the Madoff documentary currently running on Netflix as an example; he was running an illegal operation from day one that wouldn’t have come close to passing ODD).

So, as I said, this edition of Alt Blend isn’t necessarily Alts focused, but ideally, there are a couple of items above that you may not otherwise have thought about that you can use to be better (than me) in 2023.

Until next time, this is the end of alt.Blend.

Thanks for reading,

Steve

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About the Author

Steven Tresnan, CAIA®, CFP®

Private Wealth Advisor

Steve is a Certified Financial Planner as well as a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst®. He is also an Accredited Investment Fiduciary, which helps him offer guidance to clients with fiduciary responsibilities, such as board members of trusts, foundations, and endowments. Steve earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from Penn State University.

Steve serves on the board and finance committee of New Music USA – a national nonprofit devoted to the development and appreciation of new music in the U.S. – and volunteers as the Treasurer for Campus Fun & Learn, a child development center on the campus of Rockland Community College in New York.