Now that we’ve had some time to digest The Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference (WCICON22) and now that some of us (not me, unfortunately) have caught up on work since then, let’s break down some of my favorite moments and scenes from the conference.
It was my first time attending WCICON, and it was a pleasure to be around so many smart people who have such good ideas about everything related to finance. My favorite part? The sense of community that WCIers have with each other. You’d have lunch with somebody and then later wave hi as they floated in the lazy river at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge resort, the site of this year’s conference and the place we’ll be returning to for WCICON23. You’d watch a physician give a fantastic presentation to hundreds of their colleagues in the morning and then hang out with them in the hot tub later that night. You'd strike up a conversation with a doc while grabbing free cookies in the exhibitors’ hall and then partner with them later in the day for pickleball.
If you haven’t been before (or if you’ve only attended virtually), make plans to come in person March 1-4, 2023. I met a ton of people at WCICON22, and as far as I know, not one of them regretted being there.
Favorite Moments from WCICON22
Here were some of my favorite scenes from the week.
Bill Bernstein's Insights on the Word “Guru”
During part of Dr. Bill Bernstein’s keynote speech, he talked about what mania looks and feels like. To illustrate his point, he retold a story once relayed by Jason Zweig in a Wall Street Journal article. One day in 2000, Zweig hailed a cab during rush hour. As the driver was about to pull away from the curb, four well-dressed (and very drunk) men, waving money in their hands, tapped on the car’s windows and told the driver to kick out Zweig and ferry them four blocks down the road for the princely sum of $100.
As Bernstein noted, “You can walk faster—a lot faster—than you can drive four blocks in midtown Manhattan during rush hour.”
The point, Bernstein said, was that these four well-lubricated men, their hands and pockets flush with cash, were willing to hire somebody for a big-money job that was essentially pointless just so they could show off their power in the moment.
“That,” Bernstein said, “is what mania looks like.”
All of this, in Bernstein’s mind, relates to the current state of cryptocurrency and how those who have been indoctrinated into the world of Bitcoin and blockchain have been maniacal in their proselytizing of the product that, for now, is basically speculation.
Here’s a slide that Bernstein showed during his chat.
Does any of that sound familiar to you?
All of that was interesting, but Bernstein had the best line that I heard at the conference when he said this, an utterance befitting a man who’s one of the most well-known voices in the doctor financial space: “The word ‘guru’ is so popular because the word ‘charlatan’ is so hard to spell.”
Michelle Singletary's Little Kid Mortgage Lectures
Michelle Singletary provided a great keynote about “Where Much is Given, Much is Required,” and she spent plenty of time talking about what she learned from her grandmother—who had to raise a horde of grandkids without much money and who inspires Singletary to this day—and what Singletary has imparted to her own children. As she put it to the crowd, you are the best example to show your children how to live a financially responsible life.
To illustrate that, she told a story about when her children were young, small enough for one to still be strapped into a car seat and for another one to sit in a booster seat. Every once in a while, the children would ask to eat fast food, but Singletary would usually explain to them that the family had to pay off their house and that they had to save for college and that they had other, better uses for their money than a buying a non-essential Happy Meal.
One day, one of the youngsters asked if they could go to McDonald’s. Immediately, the other child turned to their sibling and said, “Don’t ask that. We’re going to get another lecture about mortgages.”
That got a big laugh.
I talked to Michelle for about 10 minutes after her session to gather some information for a couple of future columns. She was as enjoyable to chat with in private as she was engaging with the audience while on stage for her keynote.
And when I asked about her McDonald’s/mortgage anecdote, we both cackled and she said, “It’s true. It’s true. It was so funny.”
Panelists Spending Money for Pleasure
Speaking of Bill Bernstein and Michelle Singletary, I caught part of their panel with Jim Dahle and James Lange, another keynote speaker. During the chat, they were asked what they actually spend money on for pleasure.
Bernstein said he likes electronics and excitedly said he had recently purchased a pair of Bluetooth-enabled earbuds. The cost: $19.
Lange said he was more interested in having experiences instead of making material purchases. Though he’s based in Pittsburgh, he’s been renting houses in Tucson this winter to get out of the Pennsylvania freeze and so that he can watch warm winter sunsets over the mountains.
Singletary really struggled to come up with an answer. She said she was grateful to “have met a wonderful man who is as cheap as me” and that “I’m not going to find something to spend money on so I can make people think that I’m not crazy.”
That also got a nice laugh from the audience.
A Punk Rock DJ vs. the Corporate Playlist
The conference started off on Wednesday night with a cocktail reception, and I was told beforehand that I’d be in charge of the music that would play over the PA on the ballroom lawn, where bartenders made prickly pear margaritas and guests munched on deep dish pizza, shrimp and pineapple skewers, and Caprese salad. Which meant that the hundreds of people in attendance would be inundated with all kinds of heavy metal, punk rock, and ska music.
But when Chrislyn, the WCI conference coordinator who seriously seemed to think that making me the DJ was a good idea, and I walked over to the computer before the reception began to monitor the Spotify situation, there was already a playlist queued and ready to go. It was called “corporate playlist.”
Sadly, the playlist contained plenty of clean pop and unobtrusive melodies. There wasn’t even a hint of Iron Maiden. The night turned chilly, and yet, nobody had “Aces High” to warm them up. Somehow, people seemed to still have a good time.
Home Run Behind-the-Scenes Videos
I spent much of my time during the conference running around with WCI Ambassador/Master of Ceremonies Disha Spath, so we could video behind-the-scenes segments a couple of times per day for the virtual attendees.
I’m not sure if those videos exist online—I’m told they’re around somewhere—but my favorite occurred when Jim Dahle shot his beloved T-shirt cannon in the speakers’ green room. I got video from behind of him firing off the CO2-powered blaster, and then, with video camera in hand, I ran about 30 feet across the room to get the frontside view. Jim fired the cannon in my general direction and, because of my extraordinary hand-eye coordination and impressive athleticism, I caught the T-shirt with my left hand as I held the video recorder with my right hand. I caught it all on camera.
I’ve hit game-winning home runs and made jumpshots when they were most needed, but that was one of my proudest athletic achievements.
Lingering Sage Smoke Trauma
The most intense WCICON session I experienced featured Bo Parfet and his talk on “What Does Climbing K2 (World's Toughest Mountain) Teach You About Finance and Investments?” It started with soothing music. The attendees were instructed to light the small bundles of sage that had been left on the tables in front of us, and we observed a silent moment of meditation. Soon enough, all you could hear was the running air conditioning as the small puffs of sage smoke rose all around us.
A few minutes later, we were treated to a highlight-reel film of Parfet’s journey up K2 in Pakistan, complete with quick cuts of people suffering up the mountain, videos of people falling off cliffs, and images of unmoving parka-covered bodies laying in the white snow. It was quite the contrast. It went from serene to ultra-intense in a matter of moments, and it was really something to behold. Especially when Parfet later commented, “If your goals don’t scare the crap out of you, they’re too small.”
I returned to that same room the next day, and you could faintly smell the sage still in the air. That might have been my imagination. Either that, or I had suffered some kind of mental whiplash from the sage, meditation, and images of death.
Jim Dahle and His Imaginary Tesla
People apparently still believe that Jim bought a Tesla last April 1, and during the Q&A portion of his keynote session, he brought it up again. And actually gave an interesting detail that showed he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of eventually buying one.
“I did wire the garage for it. I have the plugs,” Dahle said to laughter. “I just don’t have the Tesla.”
Jet-Lagged But Happy
I ran into Leif Dahleen, aka the Physician on Fire, and he told me he had just returned from Europe with his wife and kids, as they travel the globe while world schooling their children. He said he had spent several weeks in Greece and Italy (you can read about that on his site), and he flew home to Michigan with his family and then, after depositing them there, he journeyed about 12 hours to Phoenix to be a part of WCICON22.
I asked him how he was feeling. “Pretty jet-lagged,” he said.
By the end of the conference, though, he seemed to be feeling much better, as a number of us chatted the night away (and talked trash about each other’s favorite NFL teams) in the resort’s main lobby on the final night of the conference.
Did you miss this year’s WCICON but still want access to all the keynote speakers and financial literacy and mental wellness sessions? Well, you’re in luck. On March 2, WCI will release the CFE 2022 course that will show everything that happened in Phoenix. It’s still a couple of days from release, but you can sign up for the early-bird special now.
What I’m Reading This Week
How Doctors Are Paid Remains the Same
While it’d probably be nice if how doctors got paid moved away from a system of trying to cram as many patients and tests into the work day as possible, the latest news from WebMD shows that this pie-in-the-sky rhetoric has not become a reality.
According to the website, a sample of docs showed that more than 80% of primary care physicians and more than 90% of specialists were compensated via volume-based pay.
“In the years after the Affordable Care Act passed [in 2010], discussion focused on the need for payment based on quality of care, instead of an a la carte system, which would provide a reason for doctors to layer on services, says Frederick Isasi, JD, the executive director of the left-leaning consumer advocacy group Families USA.
Leaders of health systems will often address this theme of value-based payment in their public talks, he says. But work from researchers like [Dr. Rachel O.] Reid and her [study] co-authors shows how little progress has been made in turning this into reality.
‘There's lots of beautiful rhetoric, but this study shows that, 12 years later, we’re still stuck in the same place,’ Isasi says.”
Elon Musk and DAFs
Elon Musk is reportedly worth about $246 billion, and he got some nice publicity earlier this month when it was revealed that he donated about $5.7 billion to charity in 2021. Sure, it’s only about 2.3% of his wealth, but hey, it’s almost assuredly much, much more than you gave away last year.
Interestingly, Forbes writes that Musk donated that money, via 5 million shares of Tesla, to his donor advised fund (DAF) which allows him to avoid publicly declaring where that money is going and allows him to hold the funds for as long as he wants even though he can get his tax deduction immediately (the author speculates that Musk is mostly doing this to lower his taxes, anyway). Forbes also estimated that of the $280 million Musk has reportedly given to charity in his life, about 20% came from a DAF.
It's great that Musk is giving more to charity, and it’s smart to use a DAF for that purpose. Let’s just remind each other not to be a jerks when we use them.
The ‘Doomer Doctors’ Online
I used to work with Miles Klee, and I think he’s a fantastic (and a hilarious) writer. As a quick aside, the funniest story I ever saw when working at the Daily Dot was this story, titled, “You’ll never guess which word just made it into the dictionary.”
Go ahead and click this link and read it. I’ll wait here.
. . .
Pretty great, right?
Anyway, he’s now working for Mel Magazine, and he had an interesting story on “doomer doctors.” As Klee writes:
“Back in early 2020, it was easy to amass a huge audience with an ‘MD' in your display name and some technical analysis of the early data we had on COVID. These were the health professionals who calmly explained how long it should take to wash your hands, the relative efficacy of various masks and why it was imperative to limit personal contact. Although they had grim predictions, they were just as often reassuring, or at least tempered their warnings with appeals to common sense. These days, however, the web-celeb doctors in your feed are given to apocalyptic speculation, either because they’ve lost their faith that humanity can meet this challenge, or, arguably more frightening, they’ve realized that the extreme commentary is what drives engagement. They paint pictures of societal collapse, too melodramatic to be any help.”
The kicker to Klee’s story is also pretty clever, so make sure to check it out, even if you don’t necessarily agree with his sentiments.
Money Song of the Week
I’ve gone back and forth all week about whether I should write about this song and the breakup of one of my favorite bands, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (MMB). You might remember MMB from its 1997 hit “The Impression That I Get” during the brief height of the ska boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But I loved the Bosstones before the ska-core legends made it big, and I’ve loved MMB ever since.
The band officially broke up earlier this month, and the major reason seems to be the anti-vaxx stance of lead singer Dicky Barrett. Which is strange to me since the band has always taken a more progressive stance in its work. But that’s neither here nor there, and I don’t really want to get into a discussion about separating the art from the artist.
MMB has written songs about money, and that’s what I’ll introduce you to today. The song is called “A Dollar and a Dream,” and perhaps early-career WCIers can relate to it knowing that, though they may fantasize about financial independence, they, because of student loan debt, still have many more miles to go before they can sleep.
Especially with lyrics like, “A million more is just a star in the sky/Tip of the iceberg but we've all got to try/Our work's cut out and there's work to be done/A dollar and a dream is step number, step number one.”
I saw MMB live three times, and the shows were all so much fun and filled with so much energy. You can get a taste of that with this live performance of another money-related song, “Hope I Never Lose My Wallet.”
RIP to MMB. Skanks for all the memories.
Tweet(s) of the Week
This seems . . . unideal.
Client put $6,000 into a Roth IRA with a big-name broker. They invested her in a – wait for it – $5,000 municipal bond.
Can't say I've never seen anything like that before.
The rest of the $1,000? Sitting in cash. pic.twitter.com/5vzcQI4tJ5
— Jon Luskin, CFP® (@JonLuskin) February 14, 2022
I know a lot about standup comedy and about the history of that art form. But I don’t think I knew that Richard Pryor could sing like this.
Stock Market Blues
Richard Pryor (1966) pic.twitter.com/oCLgnSyi3b
— Rɪᴘᴘʏ🔻🔺️ (@StocksThatRips) February 12, 2022
What were your favorite moments from WCICON22? Do you agree with Bernstein's take on the so-called cryptocurrency mania? Was the ska boom of the late 1990s entirely too short? Comment below!
[Editor's Note: Josh Katzowitz is the Content Director for The White Coat Investor, and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and CBSSports.com. A longtime sports writer, he covers boxing for Forbes, and his work has been cited twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series. For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email him at [email protected]]