This article is part three of a three-part series. All names have been changed to protect the innocent— and the not-so-innocent.

In my 20 years+ working as a portfolio manager I’ve seen a lot…especially when it comes to couples and money. What goes on? It’s all over the map. Never a dull moment I tell you…

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city” – George Burns


Susan & George

Susan, a homemaker, and George, an international businessman, had been married for 30 years, they had three successful adult children, and they were a popular couple on the social circuit. I had only met George once and he was what I would describe as charming and sophisticated. After being with my firm about a month or so I received a call from Susan. I’ll never forget what she said,

“Hi it’s Susan Smith. I need to book an appointment with you to discuss our investment portfolio. I’ll be getting a divorce. I just found out that George has a second family in Paris, France…and has for decades. In all these years I had no idea there was anything wrong.”

“The thief, as will become apparent, was a special type of thief. This thief was an artist of theft. Other thieves merely stole everything that was not nailed down, but this thief stole the nails as well.” ― Terry Pratchett


Marlene & Dan

Marlene, a young professional equity trader, and Dan, a young professional bond trader, had enjoyed five years together, albeit with a very hectic lifestyle. Marlene was a superstar at her firm and would be described as a workaholic. Dan did well enough at his job, but he earned about a quarter of Marlene’s annual income. He also was a big spender and loved to lavish his wife with expensive gifts.

When Marlene had accumulated $2 million, he suggested to her that he work from home and use his trading skills to grow her investment portfolio. He would add his savings of $100,000 to her $2 million to make the pot even bigger.

Marlene thought this was a great idea because Dan was known for being a talented trader and, this way, he could be home if they decided to start a family. They set up a joint investment portfolio. Time went on and occasionally Marlene asked Dan how things were going with the portfolio and he always had a good story to tell. The stories made sense to Marlene because she understood the trading lingo having worked in the business. She completely trusted Dan’s judgement and bragged to her close friends on occasion when he shared a particularly stellar trade with her.

Fast forward one year and Marlene got a call from her bank while she was at work. They wanted to know how she was going to pay the $120 annual fee for her investment account. There was less than that left in the account.

Marlene didn’t really have time to pay attention to such a small matter, so she shrugged it off and asked Dan about it when she got home. But Dan wasn’t home when she got home. And she never saw Dan again. Or her dog. It turned out that Dan had a serious drug habit and he had lost their entire portfolio. Her hard-earned money had been spent on cocaine, gambling, and hookers…plus there were the investment losses.

Not only would Marlene never see that money again but in the divorce settlement she ended up having to pay Dan a large (nearly a million dollars) settlement as well as half of the value of their matrimonial home.


Lessons learned:

  • No matter how you feel about your partner, it is an absolute must to be informed about your financial situation. Read and understand your bank and investment statements and pay particular attention to the transaction summaries.

Both of these ugly scenarios are so over-the-top. I’ll defer to the advice of an air traffic controller that I interviewed a couple of years ago. In her words: “Taking on a hugely risky job has taught me a lot about how to minimize risk. My biggest piece of advice about life?

There is an old Russian proverb — Doveryai, no proveryai, which means ‘trust but verify!’

  • If there is smoke, there is a fire somewhere.
  • Communicate well.
  • Call people on it.
  • Confront them.
  • Trust the hairs on the back of your neck.”
Barbara Stewart, CFA is one of the world’s leading researchers on women and finance, focusing on real life financial behaviours and providing global insights into how smart women think and communicate. Barbara is an advocate for women, for diversity, and for financial education. In addition to her Rich Thinking® research, Barbara uses her proprietary research skills to work as an Executive Interviewer on a project basis for global financial institutions seeking to gain a deeper understanding of their key stakeholders, both women and men. Barbara is a frequent interview guest on TV, radio and print, both financial and general interest. She is a contributor to the CFA Institute’s Enterprising Investor website. For more information about Barbara’s research, please see