Financial planning can often involve some pretty long meetings, simply given the complexity of both the lives of our clients, and the solutions from which they must choose. Unfortunately, though, recent research shows that when we have to stay mentally focused for an extended period of time, it can actually lead directly to less effective decision making. Consequently, asking clients to make important decisions at the end of a long financial planning meeting – even one filled with great information and education – may actually be the worst way to lead the client to a well-thought-out decision, due to mental fatigue! Fortunately, though, there are solutions. Some planners may choose to adjust how meetings are structured, making the meetings shorter and/or presenting decision-making opportunities to clients earlier (before they are so mentally fatigued). Alternatively, it turns out that a remarkably effective solution is to actually refuel the brain, with some carbohydrates/sugars that bring the brain the glucose it needs to refresh itself. But in the end – whether it’s a shorter meeting, a cookie, or some fruit juice – it’s probably time for planners to pay more attention to the client’s state of mind before moving to the decision-making phase of a financial planning meeting!
Archives for April 2012
Enjoy the current installment of "weekend reading for financial planners" – this week’s edition highlights the big industry news: legislation proposing that all investment advisors be regulated by an SRO, with an implication the SRO would be FINRA, although another new SRO (perhaps SROIIA?) could fill the void instead. Continuing the theme, we also look at an article by Don Trone exploring how we might measure just how much of a fiduciary an advisor really is. From there, we have a brief look at the other ‘big’ news this week – the release of Google Drive – and why advisors should steer clear, at least with their client and business files, along with a review of the last article from this month’s Journal of Financial Planning, building on the idea that the best withdrawal strategies should not just defer pre-tax accounts as long as possible but instead should whittle them down bit by bit over time. Next, we look at three practice management articles: one about how firms are increasingly developing talent in-house because the young advisor shortage is putting upward wage pressure on hiring from the outside; how it’s crucial to have compensation conversations upfront to avoid resentment and problems later; and how hiring friends and encourage friendships in the workplace can actually be a good thing, despite the common taboo. We wrap up with three interesting investment articles: the first from Morningstar Advisor about why absolute return funds are failing to deliver; the second about how to change the Sharpe ratio to better account for real world market risk and volatility; and the third by Jeremy Grantham of GMO, highlighting that as money managers try to manage their career risk and avoid getting fired, they create some incredible market volatility and inefficiencies along the way. Enjoy the reading!
The latest release of the 2012 Social Security Trustees Report shows once again that the Social Security trust fund is not only heading for insolvency, but doing so at an increasingly rapid rate, with current projections showing total depletion by 2033. Yet the reality is that the Social Security trust fund is only used to pay Social Security benefits that can’t be funded from Social Security taxes alone – which even by 2033 are projected to cover 75% of payments due! Consequently, for most financial planning clients, who may only rely on Social Security retirement benefits for 25%-50% of total retirement income (or even less in some cases), the impact may not really be very severe at all; a 25% reduction in Social Security payments that are only 25% of retirement income constitutes a 6.25% pay cut, that doesn’t even occur for over 20 years! Are we overstating the impact of Social Security’s fiscal woes for the average financial planning client? Keep Reading
As the financial planning world continues its journey into the digital age, marketing and growing a financial planning practice faces new challenges. Some firms suffer as methods no longer work the way they once did, while others struggle to implement new strategies like blogging and social media without any clear strategy or understanding of how to do it successfully. Yet through it all, recent marketing research on advisory firms has shown a new category of marketing that has quietly emerged as the marketing method with the greatest growth on an absolute and relative basis: online search, where the firm attracts clients through Google, Bing, other search engines, and social media sharing. While the rise of online search is still in a nascent phase, its prospects are bright as the world goes digital. Accordingly, the best firms are beginning to take the key actions now that will be necessary for success, from better defining target clientele, to creating relevant content and distributing it, to beefing up the raw aesthetic quality of their websites so they leave a good impression – so that in the future, they won’t have to find new clients, because the new clients will find them!Keep Reading
Despite a growing body of research suggesting that most retirees would benefit by delaying the onset of Social Security payments, the majority who are eligible still elect to begin receiving them as early as possible. In no small part, this appears to be attributable to a "take the money and run" mentality from retirees, who simply don’t see the value of delaying as being worth the risk of foregoing benefits. And without a doubt, there is a material risk that the retiree will not live to the so-called "breakeven point" where the delay in benefits is worthwhile. However, what most retirees fail to recognize is that while there is a risk to delaying benefits and never fully recovering them, the upside for living past the breakeven point isn’t just that the money is made back; it’s that the retiree can make exponentially more. And in fact, these asymmetric results – where the retiree only risks a little by delaying, but stands to gain far more in the long run – are further magnified in situations where the client lives dramatically past life expectancy, experiences high inflation, and/or gets unfavorable portfolio returns – which are, in fact, three of the greatest risks to almost every retiree. As a result, the reality is that delaying Social Security benefits may actually be one of the best triple-hedges available to any retiree – simultaneously protecting against poor returns, high inflation, and longevity!
Over the past few years, the Department of Labor has been working to bring transparency of fees and pricing to qualified plans, culminating in new regulations going into effect this year that will require new disclosures of direct and indirect compensation of service providers to the plan and the plan participants. While generally targeted at the segment of qualified plan consultants and advisors who regularly work with qualified plans, the reality is that any financial planner who has even just one qualified plan may be subject to the new rules – a fact that many are unaware of. Yet with the new 408(b)(2) rules set to go into effect in just 2.5 months, financial planners who provide any consulting, investment advisory, or other services have very little time to get up to speed on drafting and preparing the appropriate disclosures, or deciding whether to just walk away from their qualified plan clients. The decision may vary from firm to firm, but inaction is no excuse – especially since if the disclosures aren’t provided in a proper and timely manner, the plan fiduciary will actually be required by the Department of Labor to fire the advisor!Keep Reading
Enjoy the current installment of "weekend reading for financial planners" – this week’s edition highlights two good technical articles; the first is from the Journal of Financial Planning on how the decision to delay Social Security isn’t just about increasing benefits, but extending the overall longevity of the client portfolio as well; and the second is from Morningstar Advisor about the continued growth of alternative investments in portfolios. From there, we look at an interview with the CFP Board’s new Director of Investigations as it steps up enforcement, and a review of the highlights from this week’s Tiburon CEO Summit. We also look at three articles focused on the current state of practices, from the plight of the solo advisor, the changing focus of RIAs, and how to enhance the long-term value of your practice. We wrap up with a great article about how to craft an effective blog for your firm, an interesting perspective on the evolution of the variable annuity business, and a striking article from the Harvard Business Review blog that makes the point that ultimately, the best businesses are defined not by the products or services they sell, but the beliefs that guide the firm, its culture, what it delivers, and how it delivers it. Enjoy the reading! 752NXY7TM54P
Long-term care can be extremely expensive for many clients, with costs that are potentially catastrophic to their financial well being. Accordingly, planners commonly recommend long-term care insurance to help manage the risk. Yet as long-term care insurance costs continue to rise, the insurance itself becomes increasingly difficult to afford, forcing clients to make trade-off decisions about which policy options to select, such as whether to buy a long-thin policy (long benefit duration with small daily benefits) or a short-fat policy (short benefit duration with larger daily benefits). Historically, clients who could afford to do so have leaned in the direction of long-thin policies with lifetime benefits, to address the ever-present fear of an extremely long duration health care event, even though the reality is that most claims only last a few years. More recently, though, the direction has shifted, due to everything from the rise of state partnership programs to the increasingly expensive cost of lifetime benefits. Are short-fat policies now the way to go for long-term care?
For retirees who fear the impact of a market downturn on their spending, an increasingly popular strategy is just to hold several years of cash in a reserve account to accomplish near-term spending goals. As the logic goes, if there are years of spending money already available, the portfolio can avoid selling equities in a down market to raise the required cash, and clients don’t have to sweat where their retirement income distributions will come from while waiting for the markets to recover. Yet the mathematics of rebalancing reveals in the truth, even clients following a standard rebalancing strategy don’t sell equities in down markets, rendering the cash reserve strategy potentially moot. On the other hand, some benefits still remain – although aside from an indirect short-term tactical bet, the most significant impact of a cash reserve strategy may be more mental than real. Nonetheless, is the cash reserve strategy still a viable option for retirees? Or is it just another bucket strategy mirage?Keep Reading
The importance of making a good first impression has long been recognized – often influencing advisors regarding how they look, how they dress, and how they design their offices and conference rooms. Yet in an increasingly digital world, the reality is that by the time a prospective client actually shows up in your office to see it and meet you for the first time, the true first impression has long since been formed… by your website. And recent research shows it takes just seconds for clients viewing your website to form a first impression – one that may impact your relationship with your client, or worse, turn a prospective client away for appearing unprofessional. Yet advisors have generally spent little time and focus on the quality, look, and appeal of their website, and what time is spent is generally spent on the written content, which matters, but only if the website is already visually appealing enough to make a good impression! As a result, it may be time for many advisors to consider a website makeover, in recognition of the fact that looks do matter for first impressions, yet you as the advisor are rarely your client’s first impression, anymore.Keep Reading