Planting trees for the future

CIO Global Blog

06 Nov 2019

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.

Elton Trueblood, "The Life We Prize," 1951

There are versions of this sentiment that show up throughout history. You can find it in the Bible, rabbinic literature, Roman literature, and it is frequently attributed as a Chinese or Greek proverb. Whatever the source, it resonates across generations and cultures.

When we're working, saving money, and investing, there becomes a point at which we are no longer working for ourselves. Our daily activities become planting proverbial trees for others to sit under. Over the last five years, some of the most gratifying moments I've experienced with our clients have been when we were able to clearly show them that turning point through the Liquidity. Longevity. Legacy. framework.

Many of our clients have told me that their perspective changes once they are clearly able to see that their own lifetime needs are taken care of. Sometimes it changes the type of work that they decide to focus on, or they decide to dedicate their time to something other than paid employment or running a business. Other's set new goals, around family and charity, that they are focused on achieving with additional assets.

If nothing else, recognizing that we're working for Legacy extends our sight horizons. It forces us to determine what the hard work is actually for, because ultimately the money will have an impact, for better or worse, on the people or causes that we care about. I find that it’s an optimistic conversation, but one that probably has more complexity than figuring out whether you are saving enough to buy a new car or pay the mortgage.

At the risk of stretching this metaphor too far, I frequently observe trees that were planted too close to homes or sidewalks. The spacing probably looked sufficient when the trees were planted, but the mature trees, years later, are now a burden on the current residents and homeowners. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Author:

Michael Crook, Head Americas Investment Strategy, UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS FS)