A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Through German Airport Security

Always stay switched on. As a financial professional, you never know when you are going to be put to the test.


In early December, my wife and I were flying from Frankfurt, back home to the US. Dressed well, we approached our airline’s ticket counter to check in. Although we printed out boarding passes at the hotel, we knew they need to check your passports multiple times.

The Ticket Agent Enters the Scene

The fifty something agent behind the counter took our passports, hit a few keys, smiled and started asking some questions, in that relaxed way Peter Falk did on the TV seriesColumbo. He prefaced the process by saying each of us would be asked questions. The unspoken message was: “The person asked is required to answer.” We couldn’t prompt or answer for each other.

My Wife’s Questions

The agent turned to her and asked the purpose of the trip. She explained we were driving around, visiting the Christmas markets. The second question was: “Which markets did you visit?” She named three. The third questions: “At what hotel did you stay?”

My Questions

Now it was my turn. He started by asking if I was still working and what do I do? I explained I train financial advisors in how to get clients and I also write articles.Now it got interesting. I was asked three questions:1. “Assume for the moment I’m in my 20’s and interested in saving for my retirement. What advice would you give me?”I explained you first want a tax deferred vehicle for your investments. Given the long term time horizon, you should focus on equities because the stock market has outperformed other asset classes for about 100 years. You would do this by buying index funds or mutual funds.2. “What is the primary difference between the Dow Jones industrial Average and the German DAX index?”I said the DJIA was composed of 30 US stocks while the DAX is made up of stocks traded in Germany.3. “When talking about the performance of an index, what about dividends?”I explained the total return of an index always assumes reinvestment of the dividends. (Back home I found the YTD performance doesn’t include dividends whereas the total return does.) I think I mentioned a large component of an investment’s return is connected to the dividends being plowed back in. We were handed our boarding passes and headed to the Immigration counters, before the final stage, the “Take off your coat, belt, shoes” screening.

Why Was This Done?

I have no idea why they did what they did. I can hazard a few guesses.

  • Are people who you think they are? Just because the person behind the counter performed the job of a ticket agent doesn’t necessarily confirm they are a ticket agent. They could have been a security officer.
  • Are you who you say you are? Since I said I worked in the financial services industry, it appeared he wanted to confirm I was telling the truth by asking specific technical questions.
  • Words aren’t everything. He was probably looking at how we would react when asked questions, if we would delay or be evasive.
  • Three possibilities presented themselves:
  • It’s legitimate. He has a son, daughter, nephew or niece who is in their 20’s. He’s looking for basic advice to pass along.
  • Human trafficking. They go through this procedure to confirm one of the passengers isn’t traveling against their will. Although our ages made us unlikely candidates, they might ask lots of people to avoid the impression of profiling.
  • They were searching for someone looking like us. You’ve seen it on TV. Person leaving the country, traveling under a false passport. They wanted to confirm we did what we said we did and I knew basic information about the profession I claimed as my own.
  • I guess we’ll never know.

    The Moral of the Story

    As a financial professional, you never know when you will be on stage. Although it’s more likely you will be asked curious questions at a party, you want to be prepared. Dressing well helps.