Fear and loathing ... and preschool

'A former star telecommunications analyst told a friend that his boss, Sanford I. Weill, the chairman of Citigroup, helped secure spots in an exclusive Manhattan nursery school for his twin[s] after he began recommending AT&T stock.'

- The New York Times, Nov. 14, 2002


From: Sanford I. Weill, Citigroup Chairman

To: All Employees

Re: New Customer Service

In today's challenging market environment, no parent should make crucial nursery-school decisions without proper guidance. Indeed, many analysts now realize that an investment in high-yielding preschoolers can provide significant protection from fluctuations in other market sectors. It's not just finger paint and naps anymore - it's social status.

That's why Citigroup is excited to announce TODDLERS™ , an exclusive service from the Smith Barney division. (Note to Marketing: Consider dropping "Smith" to leverage "Barney" name-recognition among the sandbox crowd.) Backed by the strength of our research and trust departments, TODDLERS™ will offer a full range of financial and playground advice for parents as they navigate the complex world of childhood asset management.

Young families with a net worth of $1.5 million or more who seek admission to nursery school for their current or future children will be able to choose from a range of valuable services:

• Personal trainers to help produce the well-toned toddler that discriminating preschools desire.

• Beautician, cosmetician, and sartorial advice to make sure that each little one looks downright scrumptious for his or her first campus visit.

• Psychological consultation, including instruction on effective eye contact, natural hand movements, and appropriate breath control in the admission interview.

• Philanthropic coaching to ensure proper timing of spontaneous donations to target preschools.

• Legal representation, should it be needed, to appeal negative admissions decisions.

More aggressive parents will want to consider investing in Blankies, a new no-load product designed to spread the risk of raising a toddler. The Blankies Fund represents a carefully selected portfolio of preschoolers to provide greater diversification than investing in just a single child - and without the mess!

The fund manager, Miss Bridgette Pittman, is a lovely young woman from the Country Day Nursery School in Danbury, Conn. She and her staff will tirelessly investigate investment opportunities in the nation's most exclusive preschools, discovering who's coloring within the lines, arranging the blocks correctly, and clapping with the tambourine.

(Of course, past performance is no guarantee of admission to Harvard. The value of Blankie shares will fluctuate depending on market conditions - bullies, bed wetting, badly mixed finger paints, etc.)

In today's unpredictable environment, there are bulls and bears, but there are also bunnies and horsies. So let's put our thinking caps on with our gentle hands and, in our best inside voice, give clients the most informed guidance and impartial analysis from Wall Street to Sesame Street.

Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor.

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