A Sept. 11 Prospectus

Commentary about business and finance.
Oct. 25 2001 12:39 AM

A Sept. 11 Prospectus

The folks at RearGuard tell you how to turn trauma into money.  

 

Investment Advisory From the RearGuard™ Funds

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In uncertain times such as these, we at the RearGuard Funds do not need to remind our clients that homeland security starts with sound financial planning. With the flag- and Cipro-producing industries overbought, many of you have been asking about investment opportunities with the potential to prosper through and beyond the current crisis. Look no further than the grief industry.

An Industry Poised for Dynamic Growth

For centuries, the job of comforting the afflicted has been relegated to the nonprofit sector. Growth potential was limited in that services were not only typically provided by unpaid clergy but also confined to victims of tragedy or their immediate survivors. Even in major disasters such as the World Trade Center attacks, this clientele numbers at most in the tens of thousands, an insufficient market to sustain a vibrant and competitive industry. A market breakthrough occurred in the 1990s when the proliferation of 24/seven cable news and the subsequent burgeoning of the Internet made it technologically possible for closure-providing practitioners to extend their reach far beyond the limited customer base provided by the directly injured or bereaved. With the help provided by President Clinton in his role as empathizer-in-chief, they laid the foundation for a dynamic and lucrative new industry.

Large-scale grief intervention first came into its own with the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. The 1996 crash of TWA 800 off Long Island gave the industry another high-profile opportunity, although airline bungling of next-of-kin handling necessitated direct intervention by the president and his spouse. The following year, however, the industry gained further credibility by negotiating 13 separate contracts with the Commerce Department to soothe employees after the plane crash death of Secretary Ron Brown. By 1997, the year of Princess Diana's death, the Washington Post reported that more than 1,600 grief counselors and services were listed in a new National Directory of Bereavement Support, colleges were offering majors in death and grief, and the 2,000-member Association for Death Education and Counseling welcomed an international crowd at its annual conference.

The year 1999 was a banner one for the industry, encompassing not only the Columbine High massacre and the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., but also the crash of Cairo-bound Egypt Air Flight 990, in which the industry sidestepped a potential PR setback. Both Princess Di and JFK Jr. also provided crucial momentum for the industry's move into cyberspace. While grief-sharing Web sites associated with their deaths were primarily of the chat-room variety, the industry's growing sophistication is evidenced by the subsequent proliferation of professionally sponsored Web sites ready to respond to solace-seekers in the wake of 9/11. (See, for example, Freedom From Fear, the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Alliance [representing four national organizations], the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the Madison Institute of Medicine.) The instability of Web-based enterprises is well known to RearGuard clients, but the fact that these are essentially referral sites to bricks-and-mortar organizations should, in our view, alleviate such concerns.

An Exploding Customer Base

The intensity of media attention to the 9/11 attacks will itself provide huge momentum to the grief industry. EAPs (employee assistance programs) have proliferated in corporations nationwide since the attacks. Moreover, employers expect worker participation to increase even absent further large-scale terrorist atrocities. "The real fallout will happen two or three months down the road [when] everything seems normal," the head of the Washington-based Center for Loss and Grief recently told the Wall StreetJournal.

The tragedy also opened up new targets of opportunity. For example, the Associated Press recently reported that atheists feel neglected in the recent rituals of public mourning. "We are essentially being left out formally of the grieving process simply because we will not let ourselves get emotionally involved with a supernatural cause and effect," said Ron Barrier, national spokesman for American Atheists Inc.

Pet bereavement counseling is also in a nascent stage. Scattered groups, such as Rockville Pet Bereavement in Maryland, offer counseling to owners who have lost a pet. However, as WashingtonPost columnist Bob Levey has noted ("Are Our Pets Reacting to Sept.11?"), scant attention has been paid to the post-traumatic stress transferred to pets by grieving owners.