Running a successful planning firm means not only being an effective financial planner, but also having the support of an effective staff. While a good hiring process can help to ensure that the right people are on board, the reality is that providing appropriate compensation with the right incentives can greatly facilitate the success of the firm. Yet there is much disagreement about the best way to provide incentives: should it be based on individual merit, or the revenue of the firm? Many suggest the former, noting that staff can control their individual merit more than they can impact the growth in the firm's revenue. But is it really true that staff - who are not out on the streets trying to find and develop new prospective clients - have so little impact on the revenue of the firm? Recent research suggests otherwise, as firms with revenue-based incentives nearly tripled their revenue growth from the bottom of the markets in 2008, compared to firms with merit-based bonuses. Which means in reality, your staff may impact the planning firm's revenue far more than you realize! Continue Reading...

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Practice Management | 2 Comments

Estimating retirement expenses over the entire duration of a client's retirement years is a fundamental part of retirement planning. Yet there is surprisingly little agreement from planners about the spending behaviors of clients as they go through retirement. Some suggest that retirement spending rises as clients age, due to the accumulating impact of health care expenses. Others suggest that retirement expenditures decrease, as clients reduce their spending in areas like travel and restaurants. Still others suggest that retirement spending is relatively level and simply keeps pace with inflation, as the increases in one category (e.g., health care) offset the decreases in others (e.g., travel and restaurants) - which, notably, is also the implicit assumption of steady inflation-adjusted spending that underlies the research regarding safe withdrawal rates and how much income is sustainable from a portfolio. So which is it? A growing cadre of research suggests that in reality, client spending probably does decrease over time... with some notable exceptions. And if you don't use a proper assumption, you may force clients to save more than is needed, or retire later than is necessary! Continue Reading...

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Retirement Planning | 13 Comments

Over the past two decades, the world has begun its transition into the information/digital age. However, the progression has been uneven, and the world of computers are still far more integrated in some industries and professions than others. The pace of change is accelerating, though, and in the coming decade, it will be time for financial planning to enter the digital age, driven in large part by major demographic shifts, as more and more of Generation Y become the newest clients and newest staff members in firms that will increasingly be led not by baby boomers operating their traditional model, but by the more technology-inclined Generation X. And in this future world, where people are connected by so many means, geography itself is less and less relevant; employees can work for employers, and clients can engage planners, even if they are a thousand miles apart, when it's a digital, virtual world. As the importance of geography declines with the transition to the digital age, three key aspects of financial planning - practice management,  marketing and business development, and the actual delivery of financial planning services - will be dramatically altered.

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Monday, February 27th, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Planning Profession | 18 Comments

Enjoy the current installment of "weekend reading for financial planners" - this week's edition highlights a study from the Journal of Financial Planning suggesting that proactive use of reverse mortgages can actually increase sustainable retirement income, two practice management articles about focusing on organic growth in your business and documenting your office procedures (including the fact that often you, the planner, are the greatest roadblock to that process). We also highlight an interesting piece from the Wall Street Journal suggesting that investors may now be investing so much in index funds that markets really are becoming less efficient and more correlated, a fascinating interview with Woody Brock suggesting that there's a difference between "good deficits" and "bad deficits" for government spending, and an adaptation of the upcoming annual shareholder letter from Warren Buffett in Fortune magazine that highlights why investing in stocks is so much more productive than investing in bonds or gold for the long run. We wrap up with three somewhat offbeat articles, one about how governments could use our behavioral finance irrational tendencies to help be better citizens (and have fun doing it!), a second that questions whether we are all really as busy as we think and claim we are, and a final article that highlights Pinterest, the latest emerging "social network" site that is growing like wildfire (with 73 million users already) and that you'll probably hear more about in the coming year. Enjoy the reading!

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Friday, February 24th, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Weekend Reading | 0 Comments

As social media continues to take the world by storm, advisors are increasingly under pressure to begin using social media in their own practices. Yet the advisory community has generally been slow to adopt, due both to the compliance challenges involved, and a general wariness about whether prospective clients would really make a decision to trust and work with an advisor based on social media marketing. In fact, a recent study by the Aite Group suggested that "the bloom is off the rose" when it comes to advisors adopting social media to bring in new business. Yet at the same time, a new social media trend is emerging - using social media not to develop new clients, but to better communicate and interact with existing clients. And the good news is that this approach to social media potentially has far fewer compliance headaches, too, because it's less about talking, and more about listening.

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Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 2 Comments

With two market "crashes" in the past decade, prospective baby boomer retirees have grown increasingly afraid of the risk that the next market crash could topple their retirement if it comes at the wrong time. This fear has been exacerbated by the recent stream of research on safe withdrawal rates, that highlights how an unfavorable sequence of returns in the early years of retirement can derail a retirement plan. Yet the reality is that failure is dictated not simply by the magnitude of the market decline, but the speed at which it recovers. As a result, while clients are increasingly obsessed about the risk of a sharp decline in the markets (or a so-called "black swan event"), the true danger is actually an extended period of "merely mediocre" results that are uncommon but not rare, not a black swan market crash!

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Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Retirement Planning | 11 Comments

On October 3, 2008, then-President Bush signed into law the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. Although it was widely known as the "bailout" bill - it was the legislation that authorized the Treasury Secretary to use $700 billion under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) - the legislation also contained a number of measures to help bring in additional revenue to the Federal government. Amongst those provisions was the establishment of a new requirement for financial intermediaries to track and report cost basis on securities transactions to the IRS on an updated Form 1099-B, to better ensure that taxpayers properly their gains and losses on investments and pay taxes as appropriate, and the new rules took effect for stocks that were purchased in 2011. Over the long run, the new rules will make it easier for clients to track the cost basis for most of their investments, simplifying reporting and preparing returns during tax season. However, in the near term, the introduction of cost basis reporting brings new complexities and challenges to manage. To help support taxpayers through this process, the IRS has revamped Schedule D, and introduced the new Form 8949 - which may have to be done three times for many individuals! - for reporting capital gains and losses for the 2011 tax year.

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Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Taxes | 4 Comments

The long-term impact of inflation is a fundamental risk for retirees; a 60-year-old retired couple loses 50% of their purchasing power by age 85 at a mere 3% inflation rate. To plan for this, retirement projections typically assume an annual inflation adjustment, as does the research on safe withdrawal rates and sustainable retirement income. Yet many planners are quick to point out that no clients called the office on January 1st, 2012 to request their monthly distributions be adjusted from $3,000/month to $3,090/month to reflect the 3.0% increase in CPI in 2012. In fact, most clients rarely request to adjust their ongoing portfolio distributions more than once every several years. Does that mean retired clients don't really experience ongoing annual inflation? Or is the reality that they just handle it some other way? Continue Reading...

Monday, February 20th, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Retirement Planning | 3 Comments

Enjoy the current installment of "weekend reading for financial planners" - this week's edition highlights an interesting discussion by Morningstar about the challenges of evaluating tactical investment managers, an article by Bob Veres with tips on resources when starting a practice and outsourcing solutions, and an article by Joel Bruckenstein about a new integrated cloud solution for advisory firms. We also highlight some compliance-related articles for RIAs tying to the slew of new rules and regulations impacting investment advisors this year thanks to Dodd-Frank, a summary of the Rydex|SGI AdvisorBenchmarking study, and some tips to deal with the tax treatment of client investments in gold. We wrap up with Mauldin's weekly investment article - this week continuing his discussion of the decisions facing the US and how much impact the president and elections do or don't have on the outcome, an intriguing look from Oaktree Capital chairman Howard Marks at the challenging realities of assessing performance records, and a piece by Moshe Milevsky about "Gompertz' Law" and the mathematics of mortality assumptions. Enjoy the reading!

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Friday, February 17th, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Weekend Reading | 0 Comments

Once upon a time, the purpose of a client vault was to use it like a vault. It would store important client documents to be accessible if/when needed. It was designed to be the digital equivalent of a safety deposit box in your local bank's vault. But at some point over the past several years, we began to shift, and the client vault became not only the place we store the files we access rarely, but the ones we access regularly. Advisors increasingly made it the centerpiece of their efforts to securely share files and collaborate with clients. Yet in reality, this is quite impractical. Just as you don't regularly go to your local bank vault to constantly move things in-and-out of your safety deposit box, so too do we need to stop using our digital data vault like a collaborate file sharing tool. Just as going regularly to your bank every time you need to check on something would be a huge hassle and a negative experience, so too is using the data vault as a collaboration tool a negative client experience. It's time for a better alternative.

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Thursday, February 16th, 2012 Posted by Michael Kitces in Client Trust & Communication | 13 Comments

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