Our ongoing search for the best financial advice

Some of you have been wondering: What’s the deal with the recent parade of personal finance columnists in the American-Statesman’s Sunday Business section?

It’s a fair question, so here’s a deeper explanation for what are we doing with our Sunday Business section, why we are doing it — and what we are trying to accomplish.

First, some background. Scott Burns, our longtime personal finance columnist, retired in January after decades as one of the nation’s best personal finance writers. Burns was a syndicated columnist, which means that — although he lives in Dripping Springs — he didn’t work directly for the Statesman, but for a provider of syndicated content.

At Burns’ recommendation and with his endorsement, his syndicate transferred the personal finance column to Laurence Kotlikoff. As a Boston University economist and co-author of a number of books on personal finance, Kotlikoff has strong credentials. With that in mind, we decided to pick up his column for the Statesman, at least in the short-term, and see how our readers liked him.

After more than two months of publishing Kotlikoff’s work, the response from our readers has been mixed. I’ve received hundreds of emails, and the breakdown has been almost dead even between “Keep Kotlikoff” and “Anybody but Kotlikoff.”

That mixed response tells us we should at least consider some additional personal finance columnists, and we are continuing our tryout below, with columns from Kotlikoff, Liz Weston and Jill Schlesinger.

Some of ours readers’ biggest concerns about Kotlikoff came from his Feb. 13 column, when he advised readers to get out of the stock market “until the dust settles.” As one reader put it in a note to me: “This seems like incredibly rash advice to me… It’s one thing to tell people to take some profits and reduce their allocation to stocks, which they definitely should do, but advising people to get out altogether is almost malpractice.”

Of course, on the other side of the ledger I’ve heard from a number of readers who like what they’ve seen from Kotlikoff, and – based in no small part on an endorsement from Scott Burns – have urged us to stick with Kotlikoff as our main personal finance columnist.

Voicing the sentiment of many, one reader wrote: “I like (Kotlikoff’s) honesty and independence. I have great respect for Scott Burns, and this was his recommendation as a successor finance columnist.”

Setting aside the rhetoric, the ultimate goal for the Statesman is to provide our readers a personal finance columnist – or multiple columnists, perhaps – with the vision to know what aspects of personal finance are most relevant to our readers, the expertise to address those issues, and the ability to write in a clear, engaging style that both informs and entertains.

As we continue that search, we’ll continue to ask for your feedback. Email me at bharrell@statesman.com and share your thoughts, and we’ll do everything we can to make the right choice.

And no, before you ask: That choice won’t be trying to talk Scott Burns into resuming his column. The man has earned the right to enjoy his retirement.

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