The last thing I expected to discuss with Ric Edelman was: “Does Batman need life insurance?”
But this, in large part, is what has helped make Edelman one of the most successful financial advisors, ranked by Barron’s in 2009 and 2010 as the nation’s top financial advisor. He makes often intimidating personal finance topics accessible to what he calls an underserved market of America’s middle class.
Edelman has just finished production on the second season of his Telly Award-winning public television series, “The Truth About Money,” which airs on 200 stations across the country. He is also a best-selling author (The Lies About Money is his latest), host of his eponymous radio show, now in its second decade, and a sought-after talk show guest.
Recently he made headlines and history as the first independent financial planner to take his firm, Edelman Financial Services, LLC, private after going public.
“The Truth About Money” is a fast-paced half-hour in which Edelman answers audience questions about a wide range of personal finance topics, interviews guests (look for Elmo and the “Pawn Stars” crew in season two), and dispenses practical advice while sometimes challenging conventional wisdom.
This is not Edelman’s first time fronting a TV show. He hosted a locally produced program in Washington, D.C. for 14 years. He also hosted three public television specials. But “The Truth About Money” fills a void he saw in money and personal finance programming.
For starters, unlike pundits and authors who have become well-known financial gurus, Edelman is an active financial planner. “That sets me apart from everyone else on the air,” he told Millionaire Corner.
“The Truth About Money” was created to reach a broader audience than those served by so-called “Wall Street” shows. “CNBC and Bloomberg,” Edelman observed, “are all about the markets, and that day’s stock market activity and economic events. That’s not appealing to the vast majority of the American population.
“Other shows are equally narrow. They are limited essentially to credit and debt issues and to dealing with those who are in trouble financially. None of the people doing those kinds of shows have actually worked with real people on a long term basis and until you do that you can’t know whether or not the advice you’re giving is practical or effective.”
Edelman estimates up to 10 percent of the population that watches personalities such as Jim Kramer or the networks CBNC and Bloomberg are “hobbyists, who could be gardening or collecting stamps, but they trade stocks. “ Another 10 percent, he figures, watch the debt management programs and specials. “That leaves about 80 percent of the population—mature, responsible adults working hard to save for college and their own retirement, or to care for their aging parents,” he said. “The issues they care about are largely not being covered by the media. That’s the void I wanted to fill.”
“The Truth About Money” was designed to be a conversation-starter. Edelman himself grew up in an upper middle class household where financial literacy was not a priority. “I lived the great suburban American Dream lifestyle,” he said. “I wanted for nothing. But I paid the price when I graduated college and found myself on my own with an annual salary of $14,000. When I began to realize the economics of life for which I was otherwise unprepared. I was achieving rapid career success, but I was not achieving financial success.”
But he did have something to fall back on in building his eventual media brand. His has a degree in communications, a skill that was first nurtured growing up in the Edelman household. “Conversations were always very animated and extensive and they reinforced the importance of quick-thinking and the ability to be persuasive in making a point without being argumentative, brash, or arrogant,” he said.
Especially in this prolonged economic recovery, Americans need to hear the truth about money. Where else are they going to get it? “Most Americans have little or no education about money,” he observed. “It’s not taught in public school systems, provided in the workplace, and certainly mom and dad never talked to us about money. It’s the one remaining taboo in American households. We talk about religion, politics and sex, but we’re still not talking about money.
“We’re taught how to make money. American schools are fabulous at teaching people skills so they can earn money, but we’re not taught how to make money with the money we’ve made. People put off saving for their future because they don’t know they’re not supposed to do that. They finally figure it out on their own when they’re 50 and then lament that they hadn’t started 20 years earlier.”
For many, though, talking about personal finance issues is an intimidating proposition. “Wall Street and the financial sector deliberately try to intimidate consumers about the complexity and danger involved,” he said. “This scares people into inaction. They would rather procrastinate.”
But personal finance need not be an off-putting subject, Edelman countered, and that’s when he asked: “Does Batman need life insurance?” We bandied that around a bit: Batman does not possess super-powers or strength like Superman; he engages in risky behavior; but he is single with no children and he also has Bruce Wayne’s vast wealth.
After a few minutes of this, Edelman interrupted, “We just had a fun conversation about life insurance, and we never talked about you, your death, or your family. This stuff isn’t rocket science. That’s how we effectively talk about personal finance across a broader array of subjects, from taxes and mortgages to paying for weddings.”
Americans are still “scared, confused, angry and traumatized by the 2008 collapse, Edelman said. “They were not emotionally prepared for such calamity,” he said.
And he is seeing an unprecedented shift in the generational mindset. Traditionally, baby boomers have been more conservative in their investments, while Millennials and Gen Xers were less risk averse. “That’s logical,” he said. “Twenty-somethings are immortal and also optimistic because their future is ahead of them so they can afford to take risks.”
But that’s not how they’re investing, Edelman said. Unlike boomers, whose life experiences has taught them “this, too, shall pass,” Millennials have seen only bubble busts, recessions. “They are either not investing or they are investing more conservatively,” he said. “We have to tell them that the decade they’ve been paying attention to is an aberration. We have to get people to move from personal experience and to focus on world experience.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.