For several years, the beloved PBS British drama series, Downton Abbey, followed the lives of the Crawley family and its servants in their classic Georgian country house. The series began with the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, which leaves Downton Abbey's future in jeopardy since the presumptive heirs of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, perished in the accident. In the ensuing decade-plus since the initial tragedy, the Crawleys—as well as their household servants—experienced some key financial milestones.
Here’s what we can learn about finances from Downton Abbey:
Economies ebb and flow. The main source of income on the Downton Abbey estate was agriculture. Over a 13-year period, the estate saw declining revenues, while experiencing increasing employee costs. As a result, they downsized the business and their staff.
- The take-away: Don’t put your head in the sand. Stay on top of changing economies, work with your financial team and take action. If that means re-adjusting your asset allocations or moving from a very large home where you really only live in a few rooms to something more realistic, then explore your options.
Diversify, diversify, diversify. After a decade, the Crawleys moved from the grain business into pig farming and then into real estate development because that’s where the opportunities were. The same philosophy still holds true in 2016. Don’t be afraid to diversify your investments.
- The take away: While you may have had success in the past investing in one way, there are always other options—equally successful—that you may not be aware of. Talk to your financial team about other strategies to see if they are appropriate for your situation.
Succession planning is key. At Downtown Abbey, the long-term, day-to-day management of the estate took its toll on Lord Grantham in the form of serious health issues. His daughter, Lady Mary and son-in-law Tom Branson, decided to take over the estate to give Lord Grantham a break.
- The take away: No matter what your personal situation is, you need to have succession and estate plans in place. If you run a business, who will step in when you retire, become incapacitated or die? Who in your family will inherit what? How will your assets be distributed? No one likes to think about these things, but they are necessary. A will, trust and various estate planning documents can help ensure that the hard work you’ve done to create a solid financial foundation remains secure.
Do your due diligence. Not all financial advisors are created equal. On Downton Abbey, Mrs. Patmore, the cook, asks Mr. Carson, the butler, for financial advice. He doesn’t have any experience in the area, but to save face he relays some advice about real estate development that he overheard Lord Grantham give. Mrs. Patmore decides to ignore Mr. Carson’s advice and go along with her original plan to open a bed and breakfast.
- The take away: Always make sure any advisor you use is qualified to give you financial advice. Carefully consider his or her recommendations, years of experience and understand the rationale behind the strategies. Never be afraid to ask questions or to walk away. No matter what your financial acumen, your advisor should be able to communicate to you in a straightforward, informative manner.
Manage unrealistic expectations. In Downton Abbey, the butler Carson marries Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper. They both work long hours, yet he still expects her to have dinner on the table every night at six. Who can keep up with those expectations?
- The take away: This is on par with doing due diligence. By understanding the investment process, you can learn how to balance your portfolio between risk and reward. The benefit of setting expectations upfront is that you can make sure that you are on track to achieving your financial goals.
“Adapt and survive.” That seems to have been the motto of the characters in Downton Abbey. Through wars, deaths, illnesses, behind-the-scenes scheming, and financial ups and downs, everyone adjusted to their situations. Some were successful; others were not.
When it comes to your own portfolio, being informed, flexible and realistic seem to be the keys to surviving any economic situation. Take these lessons from Downton Abbey and then talk to your wealth management team about how you can apply them to your portfolio.