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 CHAPTER 4: THE RIGHT TEAM ON YOUR SIDE

During our first meeting with prospective clients, we give them the opportunity to broach any concerns that have been
weighing on them as they approach retirement or as they adjust to it. Perhaps they have heard something around the water cooler that seems enticing or frightening, and they want a professional opinion. This is their chance to gauge not only our level of expertise but also whether we click with them in temperament and personality.

On our part, we are trying to determine whether they have grasped how important comprehensive planning is to a successful retirement. Over the years, we have learned that we simply are not a good fit for all. We cannot help everybody. In one recent meeting with a couple, we asked, “So what are you hoping to accomplish today?” They shrugged and told us they just wanted to talk. Then we asked, “As you think about your retirement over the next five years, what concerns do you have?” They glanced at each other and then said, almost in unison, that they had no concerns.

That tells us one of two things: Either they haven’t put much thought into their retirement and are not ready for the process, or all their issues already have been addressed. We cannot fix what is already fixed. We are looking to see whether prospective clients are serious about the process and whether we could be of service to them.

We are confident that once they get to know us, they will see that we have the expertise and pedigree to serve them well and that we are genuine and caring people. If that’s what they need and want, that’s what they will get—but if they are trying to accomplish something that does not fit our expertise, we will be up front about telling them that we are not a good match. Usually, that all becomes apparent in the course of our first meeting.

The goal is to help people identify what they need, where they are going, and what will work for them. Often, when people come to see us, we learn that something has been keeping them up at night. They face an issue that they do not know how to address. Generally, that’s the first thing on the table. We want people to share those issues with us so that they will know right away whether their concern fits within our wheelhouse. If it does not, we certainly could refer them to somebody who might be more appropriate to help them.

But if the issue is one of the many that we have dealt with numerous times, then we will explain how we can help and what the solution might look like.  We emphasize the need to get the right team on their side. We explain that we will work to produce a financial plan that will address their specific situation and reach for their goals in the months, years, and decades ahead.

A CUSTOMIZED APPROACH
A lot of people do not understand the difference between financial planners, such as us, and brokers who represent a company. After all, we dress similarly. And we list a lot of letters after our names. Most people, however, don’t understand the significance of those designations and how they differentiate levels of expertise. People do not necessarily understand the true roles of those who present themselves as financial planners.

On the business card of a broker or representative, you typically will see the logo of the company or firm that they represent. Their primary role is to offer their in-house products that are available to the public. They are functioning as salespeople, trying to get customers to use their packaged products.

By contrast, think of the surgeon who is working with a team of others, each with an area of expertise and service. The surgeon depends upon the anesthesiologist and the nurses.  They need one another. When it comes to financial planning, similar teamwork is necessary to do it right—and you get one shot to get your retirement right.

Together, we have three of the highest designations in our industry, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Chartered Financial Consultant® and Retirement Income Certified Professional®. That is what qualifies us to put together comprehensive retirement plans and give advice holistically.

Americans are likely to enjoy a long retirement, and planning for that period is more complicated than ever before.  Many don’t have pensions to rely on the way their parents did and the strategy of living on fixed income investment earnings just doesn’t work today. Complex and irrevocable decisions about when to retire, how to claim Social Security, and how to plan for the later years of retirement are required and interrelated.

Mistakes in planning can mean running out of resources later in life when it’s too late to do anything about it.

RICPs® work with clients like you to:

  • Build a comprehensive retirement income plan that
    addresses income needs and other financial goals
  • Choose your optimal retirement age
  • Build a comprehensive retirement income plan that addresses income needs and other financial goals
  • Choose your optimal retirement age.
  • Plan for the risks faced in retirement such as the
    uncertainties of life expectancy, infl ation, health
    status, and investment climate.
  • Make claiming decisions that maximize Social
    Security benefits.
  • Obtain health insurance coverage to supplement
    Medicare or provide coverage prior to Medicare
    eligibility.
  • Plan for the consequences of frailty later in life
    including long-term care needs, and other needs due
    to physical and mental decline.
  • Consider ways to improve your plan through tax
    savings plans and other tax considerations

Retirees, and soon-to-be retirees like you, need to pick a well-trained, educated, and qualified financial professional to help develop their retirement income plan. When you find a CFP® or RICP®, you know that he or she has specific education and knowledge that can help you think through all the complexities of making your resources last throughout retirement.

We are not out to sell product off the shelf. If you meet an advisor who seems to want to sell you a product at your first meeting, that’s a red flag that you are not dealing with a comprehensive planner. Instead, your initial conversations should be about your concerns and goals. What are you trying to accomplish?

Many of those who come to us have had experiences with other advisors, sometimes several, and a lot of those experiences have been bad. They do not necessarily recognize right away that what we will do for them is different than what those others did. It doesn’t take long, however, for them to distinguish that our practice is structured quite differently than is typical in this industry.

Nobody wants to be sold. They want instead to be educated, particularly when it comes to something as important as their retirement. They want to hear about what is best for them, not what is best for the advisors. Virtually nobody who comes in to see us for the first time has a retirement plan. They have a pile of product. It has been sold to them over the years without any coordination with their goals.

There has been no real direction on how they will use that pile of product throughout the course of their retirement. You might say that we begin helping them clean out the closet. We will keep a pair of shoes and get rid of several others. We’ll toss some shirts and get the wrinkles out of others. We rearrange the financial closet based on how they want to look in their retirement. We add a workable strategy to the products that makes sense as they strive to meet their goals.

We educate along the way, and our clients deeply appreciate that. We explain that they might accomplish their goals in many ways with a variety of products, and we provide recommendations and alternatives from which they can choose. We present the positives and the negatives and ask which ideas resonate and make the most sense to them. They need to feel good about what the plan will do for them. It’s their choice, not ours.

If an advisor comes knocking at your door, you can reasonably presume that he or she is trying to sell you something. You will find a far different approach if you come into our office. Right off our main lobby is a learning center that shows our dedication to education for clients on a continuing basis. It’s clear that people come back more than once to visit with us. One of our promises to families is that we will be there for their whole retirement and will keep them updated and educated on the many changes that are in store. Life will be changing, and we will be there for them when it does. We strive to create a family atmosphere and a long-term relationship.

We recognize that building a relationship means cultivating trust. Our industry has done much damage to trust through lack of transparency about the fees that people pay and how they pay them. Think of your experience when buying a car. Nobody is going to buy a car for the full retail price listed on the window. Instead, you determine a price that you would deem appropriate, and then you negotiate.

However, in the investment world, people do pay the retail price for their investments—they just don’t know it because of all the hidden fees attached to those products. We believe that you should know exactly how much you are paying for what you are getting. You and your advisor need to sign off on it before any transaction takes place. That is how our practice is structured. You know what you are going to pay. You fully understand the services that you will be getting. That is the only way that you can adequately determine whether you are getting your money’s worth. You would expect that from any business, and that is what you should be able to expect from the financial-services industry.

In this Internet-savvy world, some people have considered robo-advisors for their retirement planning. This has become a hot topic. Robo-advisors can be good at using fundamentals and technical analysis and algorithms to manage a portfolio. They can be powerful tools for people just starting out in retirement with limited resources. The technology could be helpful in the early management of a 401(k) or an IRA.

However, a robo-advisor typically will be good only at managing accounts that are at risk. But risk-based solutions are only one part of your retirement plan. You will also need money set aside as emergency savings, and you will need a portion of your money that is guaranteed. In other words, a sound retirement plan requires the customized and holistic approach, and a robo-advisor is not designed to deal with that.

If you are comfortable with the technology and have no qualms about taking advice through the Internet, a roboadvisor could be a good approach for a portion of your portfolio—but not all of it. You cannot take a cookie-cutter approach to your retirement planning and expect that you will be addressing all the concerns that will arise as life changes. Those algorithms can be helpful during the accumulation years, but they cannot account for your retirement dreams and your changing needs. There comes a time when only one-on-one human interaction will serve you well.

RISKY ADVICE
You should be wary as well about basing your retirement planning on what is served to you by the media. The media are highly self-serving instruments for disseminating information. Those twenty-four-hour news channels need to fill up airtime. They need to keep you watching and coming back. You wouldn’t stay tuned if those commentators just told you everything was fine and no worries.

Inherently, the media go to the extremes. They try to evoke emotion. They present matters as worse than they might be—whatever it takes to get your attention. Unfortunately, people react emotionally to that type of information, and it often ends up hurting them. They take short-term maneuvers based on fear or greed, but in the long run they are worse off.

Consider, as well, who is spending the money to get that information out there. So much of the financial media coverage is about mutual funds, for example. You see them on the covers of magazines all the time: this fund, that fund, look at what’s hot! You have to wonder why all those magazines put so much emphasis on what really is just one type of investment vehicle—and one in which people pay those full retail prices because they don’t understand the hidden fees and costs. Who
is paying for all that coverage?

Often we hear stories about people taking advice from friends and family and people at work. “My brother works in a large financial firm,” someone will tell us, “and he says his 401(k) plan has been doing great and here’s what I should be doing . . .” It turns out the brother works in the firm’s IT department.

People are so desperate for information that they are willing to accept it at face value, regardless of the credibility of the source. Financial misinformation abounds, and people are susceptible to making improper decisions based upon it.

The Internet offers a vast amount of information, but where do you begin? How do you evaluate whether those sources are legitimate? How do you wade through it all? You can get information at the click of a button on almost any topic. If you run a search on virtually any investment vehicle, you will get countless hits. You will read about both the good and the bad. In truth, whether an investment or a financial product is good or bad depends on how you are using it. It depends upon you and your specific needs and goals.

Information comes easily. What is hard is to apply it with wisdom. None of those Internet wizards or media pundits knows anything about you. They know nothing about your situation or dreams. They, therefore, cannot possibly know whether any particular product will serve you well.

SUITABLE ISN’T SUFFICIENT
In our educational efforts, we explain the difference between a commission-based advisor, or what we call a representative, and an independent fiduciary advisor. The latter is how our firm is set up.

You can tell a lot from the disclosure at the bottom of a firm’s business cards and the literature that it sends out. If the firm is offering securities through a broker-dealer arrangement, that typically means that the advisor is a representative of that firm. The company usually has proprietary products that they feel should be suitable for a client’s situation.

Therein lies the big difference in our industry. Advisors who represent a fi rm mostly work in the suitability capacity, whereas Investment Advisor Representatives such as ourselves must maintain a fi duciary capacity. What does that mean?

Let’s say you are on a strict diet but ask a butcher what he might suggest. He no doubt will point to the chicken or pork or beef in the display cases, perhaps directing you to what is on sale. That is more or less what a non-fiduciary advisor will do—that is, off er you something out of the company’s own bins. It will fill you up, for now, but you might suffer the consequences later.

If you really want to know what’s best for you, though, you will consult with a dietitian who will consider your health needs and recommend precisely what will be good for you. You won’t simply be sold whatever is available at the meat counter. You will have your choice of the healthiest ingredients throughout the entire store, and the dietitian will direct you to the proper aisles.

The dietitian is acting more in a fiduciary capacity. A fiduciary advisor must put your interests first and direct you to the products and decisions that make the most sense for what you are trying to accomplish. They must not simply be suitable. Sure, a particular product might be suitable for your situation. It also likely will be quite suitable for the advisor’s situation. For example, investing $100,000 in a mutual fund with a 5 percent front-end commission might suit you. It certainly would please the advisor.

It’s okay for advisors operating under the suitability standard to recommend a product that is not the best—just suitable. It might be an investment choice that would put you in the hole by $5,000 from the start because of tax consequences, but that’s on you. The advisor isn’t an accountant. Part of the reason you won’t hear about such consequences is that the advisor simply doesn’t know.

That’s why those professional designations are critical when selecting someone to help you plan your retirement. You should be consulting with whichever is best able to help you. If you needed heart surgery, you wouldn’t go to your general practitioner and say, “Okay, doc, open me up.” You would go to a cardiologist with a support team of specialists.

Unfortunately, in our industry, it’s unlikely that an advisor with whom you have been working throughout your accumulation years will send you somewhere else for specialized care as you prepare to retire. Many advisors try to play both roles. A lot of people dabble in financial planning. They get a securities license or an insurance license and do it part-time.

You don’t want them to be practicing on you. You only get one shot at retirement, and you need to do it right. The advisor on your team should have a level of designation that clearly indicates dedication to higher education and particularly to financial planning. The kind of comprehensive planning that we do requires years to master the necessary skills. We have designations that you cannot obtain in just one exam. When choosing an advisor, look for a planning designation such as CFP® or ChFC®. If the advisor doesn’t have a planning designation, then you know that person is in the product business, not the planning business.

QUALITIES OF A GOOD ADVISOR
It’s always good to get at least three interviews with three advisors who have the appropriate planning designation. As a precaution, you might go to the website brokercheck.finra.org to see whether there has been any public discipline. And then trust your gut feelings. You might try to get the advisors you are interviewing outside their offi ce environment. Perhaps you could take each of them to lunch. It might cost you $30, but the information that you gather will be well worth it. Are
they polite to the waiter or waitress? Observe whether they treat others respectfully. You will learn much about how they likely would be treating you.

Above all, your advisor should be a good listener. In our industry there are a lot of type A personalities who like to talk a lot. They seem more interested in spouting out what is on their minds than finding out what is on your mind. You need an advisor who likes to listen and who knows the precise questions that will lead you to the right decisions. You need an advisor who can gather information, interpret it in a meaningful
way, and use it in putting together your plan.

Pay attention to your gut feeling when you are talking to a prospective advisor. Does this person seem to genuinely care about you? Do you feel a rapport? Since so much depends upon the advisor’s understanding of your specific situation, if you don’t sense that depth of communication, something is wrong. The relationship is unlikely to be productive.

A good listener will be able to assimilate all your conversations over the course of several meetings and produce a document that will reassure you that you have been heard. You will see in writing what you have said you are trying to accomplish, your specific concerns, your timeline for retirement, and your projected spending. Th is will ensure that you both are on the same page. Th at is the nature of a true financial plan. It’s not just some product that you have been sold.

In our planning process, we deliver what we call an income payout sheet. Let’s say that you are sixty-two today, want to retire at sixty-six, and are spending $5,000 a month. We take into consideration your expected sources of income, including Social Security; figure in the inflation factor; and project the likely course of your retirement all the way to age one hundred. You can see that scenario on a single page. As one part of your plan to simplify all the different outputs and scenarios that we ran with the sub chapters of the comprehensive
plan.

That’s quite a contrast to the thirty- or forty-page document that many financial planners will produce with statistical data and algorithms that mean little to their clients because it’s not a picture of their personal situation. It’s just a collection of outputs and averages and past performances from financial instruments and tools. Amid the clutter, the clients cannot see much that encourages them to pursue their goals.

We focus on providing the important information needed for critical decisions. We aim to empower, not overwhelm. In working with us, you can think of yourself as the owner of the team, while we play the role of head coach. We work for you. Over the course of your retirement, we will be guiding you on a number of important decisions. Generally, there will be multiple ways that you could try to accomplish your goals.  We narrow those down to a few that are most likely to work for you. We explain the positives and negatives and find out how you feel about them.

In short, we get to know each other very well. We are together through the ups and downs, the good and the bad, the joys and the sadness in life. We keep a box of tissues in our office because tears are not uncommon. Often the tears fall when a loved one has passed, but sometimes they come as a couple discusses, perhaps for the first time, issues that have been weighing heavily on their hearts. What was it all about?
What was the purpose behind all of those years of working
and saving? Sometimes we feel as if we are counselors as we
witness such discussions unfold.

At times, when a couple is dealing with difficult issues, we have suggested that the whole family come in so that we can talk collectively about those concerns. When appropriate, we want the children to be fully aware of the decisions that might be coming up within a few years. Sometimes there is an elephant in the room. We help the family to see it. We help them to think through any issues rationally without letting emotions get in the way.

As you can see, what we do involves so much more than peddling product. We are dealing with human beings and family issues. And it’s only when we understand the people that we can even begin to think about the right product to serve them.

 

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