Cancelled Flight – Good Pilots Go Well Beyond the Minimum Requirements

financial pilot

As some of you may know, one of my passions is flying. And when I’m not in my office at Keen Wealth or relaxing with my family, you might find me in the cockpit. I’ve logged hundreds of hours as a pilot including many trips with passengers. To be legal and current to fly passengers requires me to make a minimum of three takeoffs and three landings within ninety days of a scheduled flight.

Recently, I was all set to fly to Denver for a meeting with a client. It’s just over a two-and-half hour direct flight (give or take depending on winds and altitude), a relatively easy trip for someone with my experience and ratings. But then the weather changed. Fog and mist with 500 foot ceilings. I’m instrument rated, and legally, I could have still taken that flight. But just as important to me as my legal certifications as a pilot are the limits I’ve set for myself. I would have gone into the clouds and fog 500 feet above ground level (agl) just minutes after takeoff from my home airport of Downtown Kansas City and not “broken out on top” of the clouds until nearly 8,000 feet agl.  The weather in Denver upon arrival wouldn’t have been much better. I have set “personal weather minimums” above the legal minimums that made this flight a self decided no-go. So from a safety standpoint, I didn’t think twice: I booked a last-minute commercial flight.

Good pilots (and the FAA) are focused on currency and proficiency. Currency means meeting FAA recent experience requirements to fly a certain type of aircraft during specific weather conditions. Conventional wisdom within the aviation community is that pilots who had not demonstrated proficiency in instrument flight procedures for more than six months are unsafe in instruunnamed (2)ment flight operations.  Prior research into skill degradation suggests that without regular performance of complex tasks, procedural and motor skills degrade over a fairly short period of time, and procedural knowledge tends to erode more quickly than motor skills.  Current FAA regulations mandate training if more than six months have elapsed without instrument flight since the last instrument proficiency check. I was current and proficient by regulation to pilot that flight to Denver, but by my own self evaluation, made the decision to hold myself to an even higher standard and flew Southwest.  As my aviation mentors have lectured me many times – “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were up, than to be up in the air wishing you were down”.

At Keen Wealth, we’re like flight instructors but on your retirement situation. Some people have “currency” on their finances, but not “proficiency.” For example, you may have your money in a Roth IRA, and understand how the investment works in general: money goes in now, money comes out when you retire. But are you up on the buzz in Washington about changing the Roth? Do you know how the Roth is going to impact your taxes when you retire? What about your health care costs? Do you have enough saved to buy your own health insurance? Will Medicare meet your needs?

Over time, meeting with your financial advisor should be like a training session in a flight simulator. Do you HAVE to spend extra time in a flight simulator to meet currency standards? No. But those extra reps help increase experience and proficiency. A good financial advisor should be able to chart a clear plan for you, show you how to stay on that route, how to understand turbulence, and get you to your destination.

unnamed (1)It’s important to understand that, unlike many advisors, I don’t expect my clients to fly their plane solo. Advisors who only clear the low bar of suitability might look at that tough terminal area forecast, check your certifications, and sign you off to make the flight — hey, legally you can do it, it’s up to you, right? I really believe that it’s the advisor’s responsibility to give advice that is in the client’s best interests, at all times. That’s why at Keen Wealth we adhere to the highest possible fiduciary standards. We also make check-in calls, host events, and post regular blog articles and podcasts to keep our clients up to date on the latest news and potential impacts on their investments and our thinking. We look at these tools as currency, proficiency and emergency training especially for those times when things are difficult.

The reality is that the more proficiency you have over your finances, the more perspective you’ll have on your journey in retirement, and the more capable you will be to stay on course.

Still, sometimes in the middle of a trip that’s been plotted perfectly, the radar picks up big red blotches of trouble. When that happens, it’s best to do what I did on my way to Denver: be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses, avoid danger, and call in the pros. The Keen Wealth team is current and proficient and we take our mission very seriously in all situations.

About Bill

Bill Keen: A good financial advisor should be your co-pilot to a dream retirement destination.

Bill Keen is a Chartered Retirement Planning Consultant® and independent financial advisor with more than 24 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit

Keen Wealth Advisors is a Registered Investment Adviser. Nothing within this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Keen Wealth Advisors manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed here. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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