keyboard with word Woke on key and other keys say Unaware Traditional fiduciary benchmarkinghas always been objective. But what about the world of woke?(Photo: Shutterstock)

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I missed the 1960s.

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No, I didn't mean to say I "miss" the 1960s, as in, having alonging for them, or a nostalgic reverence for them.

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I literally missed the 1960s.

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And not because I was born too late. I wasn't. It's just that Ispent my elementary school years growing up in an ethnicallydiverse blue-collar community of mostly first-generationimmigrants. It was the 1960s, but the older generation (like mygrandparents) still lived as if we were in the middleof the Depression. The younger adults (like my parents)were a bit more advanced. Imagine Ozzie and Harriet, Father KnowsBest, and Leave It To Beaver.

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I was raised surrounded by the innocent purity of the 1950sethic, with perhaps a dash of Charlie Brown Christmas thrown in asa token deference to the then-current decade of the 1960s. It wasan era where boys were taught to be gentlemen by holding doors openfor girls. Get the picture?

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Then my father got a new job in a different city. We moved to amore affluent (in comparison to where we came from) white-collarsuburb. It was 1970. I was all of 10 years old.

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I remember wanting to make friends with the new kids. I thoughtbeing polite might be the best strategy. So, one morning during oneof the first days at my new school, I held a door open for agirl.

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"Male chauvinist," she snarled. All the boys and girls joinedher in laughing at me.

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I felt like Charlie Brown.

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I was only 10. I was confused. I didn't know what to do. I hadbeen transported from the pleasant serenity of the square 1950sstraight through to the radical activism of the hip 1970s.

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I missed the 1960s.

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Literally.

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Today, oh so many decades later, I recognize what I experiencedthen was a clash of two cultures – the old and the new. Like twoair masses bumping into each other, the front line was fraught withturbulence, uncertainty, and not a little fireworks.

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The same cultural collision is occurring today.

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It's the old hangers-on vs. the new hopelessly woke. And it'snot for the faint of heart, with each side digging its heels in andplenty collateral damage shunted aside like so much highwayroadkill. If you're a fiduciary, you'd better take heed (see"Fiduciary Lessons from Ken Fisher Fallout,"FiduciaryNews.com, October 29, 2019).

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Whether they like it or not, here's the issue fiduciaries arefacing: At what point does the pressure from social norms trumpyour legal obligation?

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On the face of it, the experienced veteran would answer "never."That used to be the consensus.

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Not anymore.

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As the Ken Fisher fiasco shows us, many believe it's acceptableto remove business ties from a firm whose leader said somethingthat upset a very vocal – aggressively vocal, at that – crowd. Yet,most – but definitely not all – recognize Fisher's comments had nobearing on relevant fiduciary benchmarks.

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But I don't want to stir up an already buzzing hornets' nest anyfurther, for the issue of woke appears in other facets of fiduciarymatters.

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Little more than a decade ago, aspiring stock analysts wouldnever be taken seriously if they mentioned anything akin tointroducing socially responsible factors into their analysis. Theold pros would laugh at them; thus, giving them their own CharlieBrown moment.

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Most – but not all – stock analysts and portfolio managers todaycontinue to be reluctant to risk their career betting on subjectiveESG assessments rather than hard and fast accounting numbers.

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Marketers in the industry, however, know better. They sense thedemand among (primarily) younger investors to make a statement withtheir portfolios. And they're seeking to meet that demand, even ifthey have to drag along with them the portfolio managers by theirears.

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Herein lies the fiduciary conundrum. When managing theinvestments of a third party, you must assume the fiduciary mantle.This requires you to always act in your client's best interest.

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The wiggle room is this: What's in your client's best interest?Traditional fiduciary benchmarking has always been objective. Theworld of woke is an ever-changing thick fog of pea soup de jour.You never know what will be the next viral trigger that sets offthe social media channels.

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What's a fiduciary to do? It's confusing. They only haveexisting case law to fall back on.

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I don't have the answers. I left that particular crystal ball inmy other multiverse. I can offer two things, though.

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The first is a prediction. We won't know the full extent ofone's fiduciary liability to "woke" until the next bear market.Bear markets do more than shrink the national treasure, they tendto clarify investing mistakes. And, man, someone's got to pay forthose mistakes.

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The second is the lesson I learned when I was 10 yearsold.

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Yes, being laughed at for behaving like a gentleman confused me– but only for a moment. While many of my peers simply refrainedfrom holding doors open, I refused to concede the ethic from whichI was initially brought up.

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I continued to hold doors open for girls.

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But I also began holding them open for boys, too.

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Christopher Carosa

Chris Carosa has been writing a weekly article and monthly column for BenefitsPRO online and BenefitsPRO Magazine since 2011 and is a nationally recognized award-winning writer, researcher and speaker. He’s written seven books, including From Cradle to Retire: The Child IRA; Hey! What’s My Number? – How to Increase the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort; A Pizza The Action: Everything I Ever Learned About Business I Learned By Working in a Pizza Stand at the Erie County Fair; and the widely acclaimed 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions. Carosa is also Chief Contributing Editor of the authoritative trade journal FiduciaryNews.com and publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper he founded in 1989. Currently serving as President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and with more than 1,000 articles published in various publications, he appears regularly in the national media. A “parallel” entrepreneur, he actively runs a handful of businesses, including a small boutique investment adviser, providing hands-on experience for his writing. A trained astrophysicist, he also holds an MBA and has been designated a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Share your thoughts and story ideas with him through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christophercarosa/)and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ChrisCarosa).