When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, my grandfather was there to serve as a Captain in the Army. During the Vietnam War, my father also served in the Army and was sent overseas to be a stockade prison guard in nearby Thailand. Then there's me. A man who did not carry the family tradition of serving one's country. I felt unworthy.
I wanted to join the US Foreign Service to help America in a more diplomatic way, but I felt too stupid to pass the Foreign Service Exam, so I did not try. One of the duties my father had while serving at the State Department in Washington D.C. was to be an oral exam examiner. He shared with me stories of the difficulties in making it through.
I've discussed a lot about having money guilt in the past, and I think part of my guilt comes from not being able to serve our country as my father and grandfather have done. A part of me is driven to make up for my lack of contribution by helping people with their personal finances. Money is a means to a better life, and I hope to make some sort of difference.
It's an atrocity that there are homeless veterans in America. The government needs to do more to make sure that every single veteran finds a job when they come home. The private sector has to take the lead as well. If there are veterans out there who would like to share their story or become a writer for Financial Samurai, shoot me an e-mail.
INVEST WITH INVESTORS YOU RESPECT AND TRUST
If there's one financial services company I respect and trust more than any other, it's USAA. I've been a USAA member for the past 20 years thanks to my father's and grandfather's service in the military. USAA was founded in 1922 by a group of U.S. Army officers to self-insure each other when they were unable to secure auto insurance due to the perception that they were a high-risk group.
USAA is extremely customer focused and I have never once had a bad experience with them over the phone. I've got multiple accounts open with USAA, including: CDs, home insurance, renters insurance, personal property insurance, life insurance and an umbrella policy. When I lost my watch on the beach several years ago, they made it extremely painless for me to receive my insurance claim. They also pay out dividends to members every year and have some of the best rates in town.
When I found out USAA was one of the leading investors in Personal Capital's $50 million Series D round of funding I was ecstatic! For those of you who don't know, I've been consulting for 25 hours a week at Personal Capital in San Francisco since January, 2014. I am the Managing Editor for their blog, which I think has turned into the #1 corporate blog on the web.
I've been contemplating a lot on what to do for the next year as I always do in 4Q. This year I failed to visit my parents once, so I'm making up for that this week by flying to Hawaii on Veteran's Day for 10 days. I also failed to visit a new country as I've done every year since college I believe. I also haven't produced a new book, worked on my guitar and singing, pushed forward on a new invention I've been contemplating for a year, or experienced another “Eat, Pray, Love” moment. The adventurous life is slipping away.
This site's traffic and revenue have continued to grow as I mentioned in my newsletter and I was seriously thinking about reverting back to my vagabond days of 10+ weeks of travel and just living a 100% carefree lifestyle between 3/2012 to 1/2014. But I also realize everything could go away one day and it's probably best to make the most of any opportunity now.
Given that I respect USAA so much, I've decided to continue consulting with Personal Capital in 2015. They are seriously one of the key variables that helped push me towards more work rather than more fun. USAA is one of the pioneers of direct marketing given most of its clients are military people around the world. They've conducted business over snail mail, the phone, and now the Internet. Personal Capital's business model is similar because they don't have offices all around the country. Instead, their financial advisors speak to their clients over the phone or through co-browsing over the Internet. Virtual services reduce costs and make for a more scaleable business model. It's good to have USAA on the board.
I'm not entirely familiar with USAA's private investing acumen, just their history and superior service. But, I also don't have a $1 million dollars or more like USAA and the venture capitalists to be able to directly invest in Personal Capital. Hence, the next best way to invest is by earning stock options through consulting. A reader highlighted the grim realities of stock options in the past, but I've got to believe in something. I have a feeling that 2015 is going to be the year where I make the most out of both work and play.
For those of you who want to invest in super companies who are private like Uber, AirBnB, and Theranos, I'd strongly consider joining them now to gain some options. These three companies clearly look like they're going to grow even larger over the next five years.
MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS IN THE END
If you know nothing about investing, a simple solution may be to buy Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway stock, or invest in funds managed by people with a consistent track record for outperformance. But overall, active fund managers consistently underperform the index as a whole. Investing in a pure index fund or ETF like SPY and managing your asset allocation is probably best for 98% of us out there.
Investing in a startup or private equity like USAA has done is a much different animal than investing in public equity, so let's recognize the apples to oranges comparison. We never know what will hit, which is why diversification is always important. By earning stock options at Personal Capital, I'm further diversifying my investment portfolio, which contains assets in stocks, bonds, structured notes, Bulldog Gin, a venture debt fund, and now a private digital wealth management company.
Update 2020: PC manages over $11 billion in client assets under management and is still growing steadily.