Enjoy the current installment of “Weekend Reading For Financial Planners” - this week’s edition kicks off with the news that CFP Board is forming a Competency Standards Commission in 2023 to review and evaluate its competency requirements for Education, Examination, Experience, and CE, which represents an opportunity for CFP Board to adjust its requirements, in alignment with the desires of the CFP community itself, to build confidence among the public that those with the CFP marks really will provide them with a consistently high level of financial planning advice!
Also in industry news this week:
- While the FPA is going full steam ahead on its federal and state lobbying efforts to regulate the title “financial planner”, CFP Board is more focused on increasing recognition of the CFP marks
- A recent survey suggests that Americans who use a financial advisor are less stressed than those who do not, but that the perceived price of advice is a deterrent to many (even those with significant assets)
From there, we have several articles on practice management:
- Why it is important for advisors charging on a fee-for-service basis to regularly reassess their pricing, and best practices for letting current clients know about a fee increase
- How advisors can benefit from reviewing their list of clients and letting go those who are no longer good fits for the firm
- How firms can best leverage their internal data to improve the number of client referrals they receive
We also have a number of articles on retirement planning:
- While weak stock and bond market performance has challenged advisors and their clients this year, these trends have likely increased the ‘safe’ withdrawal rate for new retirees
- How the tontine, a centuries-old financial product has made a comeback this year as a way to mediate longevity risk
- A recent survey indicates that Americans broadly feel like they are behind on their retirement saving, with those closest to retirement age most likely to think they need to catch up
We wrap up with three final articles, all about personal growth:
- The lessons entrepreneurs and investors can take from the life and career of Warren Buffett
- How individuals can best harness their willpower to achieve their biggest goals
- While financial advisors regularly give advice to clients, more care is needed when giving unsolicited advice to friends and family
Enjoy the ‘light’ reading!
CFP Board To Conduct First-Ever Review Of Competency Standards To Be A (Certified) Financial Planner
(Melanie Waddell | ThinkAdvisor)
In order to obtain the CFP certification, an individual must complete what are known as the “Four E’s”: Education, Examination, Experience, and Ethics. And current holders of the CFP marks have a Continuing Education (CE) requirement of at least 30 hours every two years. Together, these requirements are meant to ensure those holding themselves out as CFP professionals have the competency (and hold themselves to certain ethical standards) to provide financial planning advice to the public. From time to time, CFP Board has reviewed these requirements to ensure they are meeting the needs of the organization, its certificants, and the broader public. For instance, CFP Board enacted a new Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct in 2019 that, among other things, for the first time imposed a “fiduciary at all times” obligation on CFP professionals, whether providing comprehensive financial planning, or non-financial-planning financial advice.
And this week, CFP Board announced that it will form a Competency Standards Commission in 2023 to review and evaluate its competency requirements for Education, Examination, Experience, and CE, addressing topics such as the amount of CE credits that CFP professionals should need to earn on an ongoing basis (and what content, from providing pro bono service to taking practice management programs, should qualify), current education requirements to earn the CFP marks in the first place, and the efficacy of the Experience requirement. The Commission will consist of volunteers from financial services firms, educators, certification and credentialing professions, and members of the public, among other stakeholders, who will make the ultimate decision on what the new Standards should be. Along the way, though, CFP professionals and other stakeholders will be given the opportunity to provide feedback to CFP Board on the current standards for CFP certification. Notably, the establishment of the Commission marks a departure from decisions made more unilaterally by CFP Board related to the “Four E’s” in recent years, such as the establishment of a two-year Apprenticeship Path to fulfill the Experience requirement in 2014 that occurred within public comment (as part of a broader cessation of public comment periods regarding changes the four E’s that occurred since 2012).
Of most direct impact to most advicers would be the Commission’s potential to review CE hour requirements for CFP certificants. Because the current requirement of 30 hours every two years is lower than many other professions, the Commission could recommend an increase, perhaps to 40 hours every two years. Though CFP Board does have a potential conflict of interest in this area, as earlier this year it rolled out a new fee for CE sponsors of $1.25 for every CE hour reported for CFP certificants, meaning that increased CE requirements on CFP professionals would also bring in more revenue for CFP Board.
For the Education requirement, the Commission could consider whether the current requirement for financial planning education (which currently equates to roughly six undergraduate-level courses) should change, as well as the appropriateness of the requirement that CFP certificants have a bachelor’s degree. The Commission might also explore what types of experiences meet the Experience requirement, as currently positions focused directly on financial planning work (e.g., paraplanner) count for the same number of hours as those within a planning firm but with little engagement on actual financial planning (e.g., sales positions), which unfortunately makes it easier for those who take full-time sales jobs with no real financial planning to meet the experience requirement than those who take part-time paraplanner jobs as career changers even though it provides far more meaningful financial planning experience.
Ultimately, the key point is that CFP Board’s establishment of the Competency Standards Commission is another opportunity to advance the competency standards for the financial planning profession, and the CFP Board does have a long history of slowly but incrementally raising standards. In addition, its openness to feedback will provide current CFP certificants and other interested parties an opportunity to give input on several of the key requirements to become and remain a CFP professional. Which is important, because at a time when the definition of what it means to call oneself a financial planner is up for debate, CFP Board has an opportunity to adjust its requirements, in alignment with the desires of the CFP community itself, to build confidence among the public that those with the CFP marks really will provide them with a consistently high level of financial planning advice!
FPA Calls Title Protection Top Advocacy Priority For Years To Come, But CFP Board Says The Time Isn't Right
(Mark Schoeff | InvestmentNews)
Titles can convey meaningful information to consumers about a professional’s implied competency and trustworthiness. But in the world of financial advice, there so far has been little regulation on advisor titles (unless someone tries to call themselves an “investment counselor”, which ironically is still regulated under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940). This means that anyone can hold themselves out as a “financial advisor” or “financial planner” – regardless of how much advice or planning they actually give, the amount of training or experience they have, or whether they’re even actually in the advice business or the product sales business – creating confusion among consumers as to the qualifications and ethical standards of an advisor (or “advisor”) they meet.
With this in mind, the Financial Planning Association (FPA) announced in July that it was launching a new advocacy initiative with the goal of achieving Title Protection of the term “financial planner” to ensure that “anyone proclaiming to be a financial planner meets minimum standards that protect consumers and advances the financial planning profession”. And speaking this week at the organization’s annual conference, FPA officials reiterated their plans to push for title reform at both the state and federal levels (as regulation of the financial advice industry occurs separately in both state houses and in Congress). Though notably, the FPA must first determine the competency and ethical standards that should distinguish financial planning from the other credentials that exist in the financial services industry; to aid that effort, the FPA will conduct a series of meetings in the first half of 2023 with financial planners and other interested parties to gather feedback about what the competency standards to be a “financial planner” really should be.
But while the FPA is going full steam ahead with title reform, CFP Board leaders appear to be significantly less enthusiastic about the current push. Speaking at the FPA conference, CFP Board Chair Kamila Elliott said state-by-state recognition would create disparate laws around the country governing planners, potentially creating regulatory challenges for firms operating in multiple states. She also cast doubts that a federal planning law could make its way through Congress given current partisan divisions. In addition, CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller suggested that at a time when momentum has grown in state legislatures for eliminating licensing requirements for certain professions, establishing heightened standards could be a tough sell. Ultimately, CFP Board leaders suggested that it is more effective to simply continue promoting the value of the CFP marks among consumers and advisors as the de facto competency standard for financial planners (given that the overwhelming majority of FPA members are already CFP professionals in the first place)… which in turn aligns to CFP Board’s own announcement this week that it is launching a Competency Standards Commission to advance raise competency standards for financial planners itself (without needing to open the door with regulators or legislators as the FPA would).
Given the significant overlap between FPA members and CFP certificants, the two organizations have an interest in raising the standards for those professionals who hold themselves out as financial planners. But it’s notable that the two organizations appear to be taking separate paths to reach this goal, with the FPA pursuing change at the government level with regulators and legislators, and CFP Board simply raising its own standards to set CFP certificants apart from other financial advisors (as financial planners are already increasingly adopting the CFP marks as their ‘voluntary’ competency standard anyway, with the CFP Board seeing near-record highs of new CFP professionals completing the CFP exam this year). Which means the key question moving forward, perhaps, is whether the FPA’s decision to follow its own path will lead to the ultimate goal of improving standards for the planning profession, or whether the FPA aligning in a more united front with other organizations that already advocate for Title Protection and higher standards would be more successful?
Americans Without Advisors Are More Stressed. So Why Aren't They Engaging With Financial Professionals?
(Holly Deaton | RIA Intel)
Financial advisors recognize that they add value to their client’s lives in hundreds of ways, from the quantitative (e.g., minimizing taxes) to the qualitative (helping them explore and achieve their goals). But still, advisors only reach a fraction of the broader population (whether as paying clients or on a pro bono basis), raising the question of why more Americans do not seek out the assistance of a financial planner?
To explore this question, RIA Edelman Financial Engines sponsored a survey of 2,011 Americans (half of whom were “affluent”, ranging in age between 45 and 70, with household assets between $500,000 and $3 million). Overall, 52% of respondents without an advisor reported feeling somewhat or very stressed in the past six months, while 39% of those working with an advisor felt the same. Of those who did work with an advisor, 83% said they stress less about finances and money than the would if they didn’t work with a financial professional and 70% said their advisor helps them and their family address difficult and emotional topics related to finances, signaling that the vast majority of individuals who do work with an advisor are getting value out the relationship.
At the same time, only 35% of respondents reported working with a financial advisor. Among those who do not, the perceived cost was the most common reason given (38%), followed by not having enough money (33%), having a financial situation simple enough to handle on their own (27%) and enjoying handling their finances themselves (17%). Notably, the perceived cost was also the top reason given among millionaires surveyed, with 42% citing this as a reason they are not working with an advisor. Among respondents without an advisor, 27% said they would be interested in receiving help on retirement income planning (27%), Social Security and Medicare advice (22%), developing a financial plan (22%), and tax guidance (21%), though notably tax guidance was the top area cited among those with at least $500,000 in assets.
Overall, the survey suggests that while advisors are adding value for their clients, perceived costs remain a barrier for many Americans (even those with significant assets) to engage with a financial advisor. So whether it is considering alternative fee models to reach a wider range of potential clients (and putting these fees on the firm’s website to help eliminate the gap between perceived and actual costs) or better showing how the advisor’s value exceeds the cost of advice, the financial advice industry has several options to reach the large pool of Americans without an advisor!
How To Evaluate And Increase Your Fees As A Fee-For-Service Advisor
(Arlene Moss | XY Planning Network)
Advisory firms that charge clients on an Assets Under Management (AUM) basis can see their per-client fees increase naturally as client portfolios grow due to market gains or additional savings (though weak markets can lead to declining fees). However, advisors charging on a fee-for-service basis, whether using a subscription, hourly, or other model have to increase their fees manually, which is often a source of worry for these firm owners (who are concerned that their current clients will respond poorly to the fee increase). But for these advisors, it Is important to reassess their fees on a regular basis to ensure they reflect the value they are providing to their clients (and to grow the value of the firm, often the owner’s biggest asset).
First, it is important for firm owners to create a regularly scheduled process to reassess fees and communicate them to their clients. This will ensure the firm owner does not ‘forget’ to reassess their fees and will build a sense of routine for the clients. Advisors might want to consider recalculating their fees every year or two, as waiting longer could lead to clients forgetting that increases happen regularly. To help determine an appropriate fee, advisors can then look to various benchmarking studies, which can provide industry-wide fee data, as well as information on specific fee structures and geographic areas that can help a firm owner tailor their fee.
While doing the background work needed to determine an appropriate fee takes time, actually delivering the news about a fee increase is often more challenging for advisors. One way to help ease this burden is to remind clients throughout the year about the value they are receiving from the relationship and the ‘wins’ they have had during the year. And when telling the client about the fee increase, it is important to project confidence and presume they will renew and continue on (and avoid apologizing for the increase). And if a client says no, it might well have been time to ‘graduate’ them anyway so the advisor can work with more clients who are willing to pay a fee commensurate with the value being provided by the advisor (and the number of hours of work they have provided for the client during the year!).
Ultimately, the key point is that fee increases are an important part of building a business for advisors charging on a fee-for-service basis. But by reassessing fees and communicating the advisor’s value and any fee changes to clients on a regular basis, firm owners can feel more confident that a fee increase will be successful!
Build Capacity By Pruning Clients
(Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk | InvestmentNews)
When a firm is first getting off of the ground, it can be tempting to take any client who walks in and is willing to pay the advisor’s fee (after all, some revenue is needed to keep the lights on). But as a firm grows, advisors might start to get the sense that some of their clients are not the best fits, whether because of their responsiveness, differentiated planning needs from the firm’s other clients, or are just cannot be served profitably. In these cases, firm owners can consider letting these clients go for the benefit of the firm (and sometimes the client as well).
One method to take stock of a firm’s client base is to consider what the firm’s hypothetical ideal client would look like; such a description could include profitability, responsiveness, the number of referrals produced, and whether firm staff enjoy working with them, among other factors. Once this avatar is created, advisors can then grade their clients based on these criteria, ranging from ‘A’ clients who meet many of the selected characteristics, to ‘D’ clients who meet very few. This can provide a structured way to find the clients who are no longer good fits for the firm and ending the relationship (graciously).
The key point is that firms of a certain size will almost certainly have at least one client with whom the advisor no longer enjoys working and/or can no longer be served profitably. And so, identifying and cutting ties with these clients is an important practice, not only to support the firm’s bottom line, but also to ensure that advisors and staff are working with the clients who they most enjoy serving!
4 Ways To Boost Your Firm's Client Referrals
(Angie Herbers | ThinkAdvisor)
Client referrals are an important source of organic growth for many financial advisory firms. In fact, client referrals are the most commonly used marketing tactic among firms, with 93% of firms surveyed using this tool and 96% of those firms gaining at least one new client from a referral, according to the latest Kitces Research study on How Financial Planners Actually Market Their Services. But while benchmarking surveys can be helpful to see what tactics the ‘average’ firm is using, some firms might not be optimizing the use of their own internal firm data to discover ways to generate more referrals.
The first step for advisory firms is to not focus on the number of client referrals they are receiving, but rather the trendline for these referrals. Because the client referral rate is the top revenue indicator for organic growth for advisory firms, looking at the trajectory of referrals can be a signal of whether a firm is growing, declining, or stagnating. For firms with upward-sloping client referral trendlines who want to see this figure move up faster, adding services to the client value proposition (e.g., tax planning or deeper retirement planning) can be a way to increase client satisfaction and encourage them to be vocal advocates for the firm.
But many firms will find that their client referral rates are flat. In these cases, the best course of action is often to dig further into the data to see when the most referrals coming in. For example, if a firm finds that February and March are their best months for referrals, they can increase the amount of relevant, helpful content they provide their current clients during these months (e.g., tax-related content during the early months of the year) to encourage them to make more referrals. And for firms whose referrals are flat or trending down, one way to get back on an upward trajectory is to make sure every advisor in the firm is aware of the disappointing trendline; often this is enough to encourage advisors (either consciously or unconsciously) to work to generate more client referrals for the good of the overall business.
Ultimately, the key point is that for firms, digging into internal client referral data can help diagnose potentially troubling patterns and identifying possible solutions. Because client referrals are often the lifeblood of a firm’s organic growth, closely tracking this data and making adjustments to referral generation tactics can ensure that a firm remains (or enters on) a solid growth trajectory!
What's A Safe Withdrawal Rate Today?
(Christine Benz and John Rekenthaler | Morningstar)
One of the most common questions advisors receive from prospects and clients nearing or entering retirement is how much they can sustainably afford to spend on an annual basis once they stop working. And while there are myriad factors that go into this calculation (from the client’s risk tolerance to their life expectancy), market and economic conditions play an important role, as portfolio returns in the early years of retirement can play an outsized role in the ultimate sustainability of a client’s retirement income plan (i.e., sequence of return risk).
Each year, research firm Morningstar takes stock of current market conditions to determine what a ‘safe’ withdrawal rate would be for new retirees. In 2021, elevated equity valuations and relatively low bond yields led the researchers to suggest 3.3% as a safe starting point for retirees with a 30-year time horizon, a 50% stock/50% bond asset allocation, and who would like to secure a 90% probability of not outliving their money. But this year, the combination of weak stock market returns and rising bond yields has led to an increased safe starting withdrawal percentage this year of 3.8% (though this withdrawal rate is still below the 4% rule of thumb suggested by other research).
Notably, changing the assumptions underlying the calculation can significantly change the safe withdrawal rate available to retirees. For instance, assuming a 15-year retirement would increase the safe withdrawal rate to 6.6%, while a 40-year retirement would imply a 3.2% withdrawal rate. In addition, these calculations assume that retirees will withdraw a fixed amount of their portfolio, adjusted for inflation, each year, while separate research suggests that increases in retiree spending tend to fall short of the inflation rate as retirees move from their “go-go” to their “slow-go” years. In addition, retirees who are willing to be more flexible with their withdrawals (i.e., withdraw less when markets are down) can typically increase their initial safe withdrawal rate; for example, Morningstar found that retirees using the popular Guyton-Klinger Guardrails strategy could have an initial 5.3% withdrawal rate.
In the end, while an advisor might not implement a fixed-withdrawal strategy for their retired clients, understanding what current market dynamics imply for safe withdrawal rates can be instructive when assessing sustainable client spending patterns. And so, advisors can add significant value for their clients by identifying the most appropriate retirement income strategy based on their needs and preferences, and helping them make adjustments as economic and market conditions change!
Tontines Are Making A Comeback
(Gregg Greenberg| InvestmentNews)
One of the primary concerns among retirees (and advisors) today is longevity risk, or the risk that they will spend down their assets before their death. However, there are many ways to mitigate this risk, from delaying Social Security (and receiving larger monthly benefit payments for life) to purchasing a Single Premium Immediate Annuity (SPIA), which, in its most basic form, offers a ‘guaranteed’ monthly payment for the remainder of the annuitant’s life in return for an upfront premium payment. Another option, the tontine, has existed for hundreds of years but has waned in popularity during the past century.
A tontine agreement is a form of pooled investment fund to which the investors contribute a lump sum and, in exchange, receive ongoing payments (or “dividends”) as a return on their investment. Similar to a SPIA, the payments from a tontine are typically made ‘for life’ and end only at death. However, with a tontine, the payments that cease at the death of one investor are redistributed to the other investor participants, increasing their subsequent payouts (until they, too, pass away). But despite its potential to mediate longevity risk, tontines have been relatively unpopular in the United States (and are still banned in South Carolina and Louisiana), in part due to questionable practices in the early 1900s.
But new products with many characteristics of tontines have emerged this year. In September, Canadian asset manager Guardian Capital introduced two tontine products (available only to Canadian investors), and last week U.S.-based Savvly introduced an offering structured as a private placement (open only to accredited investors) that utilizes a pooled equity index fund that benefits those who reach their predetermined payout age (the earliest for men being 70 and for women 75). When a Savvly investor reaches their payout date, their account not only gets access to an amount equal to the index fund’s value of their account, but also their share of the longevity pool created from the forfeitures of the other investors who leave Savvly before their own payout.
Altogether, while the potential revival of tontines and similar products remains in its nascent stages, they could offer an alternative for advisory clients looking to reduce the potential impact of longevity risk!
The Closer People Are To Retirement, The Less Ready They Feel, Survey Finds
(Jessica Hall | MarketWatch)
Most workers dream of one day being able to retire, leaving the toils of the workplace for a life of leisure (although once they reach retirement age, many voluntarily choose to keep working). And while saving for retirement is a lifelong endeavor (whether through taxes paid to fund Social Security or voluntary contributions to retirement accounts), the ultimate amount of money an individual needs in their portfolio to retire can be an amorphous target. This can lead many workers to assume that they are not saving enough for their eventual retirement (when, in reality, they might be on track).
According to a survey by Bankrate, 55% of Americans said their retirement savings were behind where they needed to be. This figure varies by age, with 71% of Baby Boomers reporting that they were behind (and only 7% saying they were ahead!), compared to 65% of Gen X, 46% of Millennial, and 30% of Gen Z respondents. And while those with lower incomes were more likely to report that they were behind in their retirement savings, 46% of those earning more than $100,000 a year said they were behind as well. Elevated inflation was the top reason those surveyed gave for not saving more for retirement this year (cited by 54% of respondents), followed by stagnant or reduced income (24%), having a new expense (24%), debt repayment (23%) and a desire to keep more cash on hand (22%).
Overall, the survey paints a picture of Americans, particularly those near retirement, concerned that they are behind in their retirement savings. This could present an opportunity for advisors to add value for clients not only by showing them whether they actually are behind on their retirement savings, but by helping them explore what their retirement goals and needs might be in the first place!
The Hustler: Lessons From A Young Warren Buffett
(Frederik Gieschen | Neckar’s Minds And Markets)
Warren Buffett is one of the most recognized names in the world of finance, due in large part to his tens of billions of wealth gained leading the conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway. And while he grew up at a different time under different circumstances, investors and aspiring business leaders can take several lessons from his life.
One common thread throughout Buffett’s business career (which started at age 6 selling gum and soda) is an intense curiosity. This took him from selling newspapers to creating a horse racing tip sheet to reading every investing publication he could find as a student. Further, he sought out the wisdom of others, whether they were dead (as he devoured biographies) or alive (as he applied to Columbia to learn under famed investment analyst Benjamin Graham, who taught Buffett the principles of value investing that would guide his future investing career). He also dug deep into a particular area of business—insurance—to try to gain an information edge on other investors. And while Buffett was naturally gifted in math, he was initially scared of public speaking. But he faced his fears, taking multiple classes that allowed him to become a teacher, and eventually speak in front of thousands of individuals in his role as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
Of course, a given individual is not likely to end up in Buffett’s position by modeling their career on his (and might not want to!), but the key principles that guided his life—curiosity, persistence, deep expertise, and a willingness to share what he learned—are likely to remain timeless for those pursuing success in business and investing.
Strategic Willpower: How To Keep Going When Life Gets Hard
We are presented with tests of our willpower daily, whether it is deciding between a piece of fruit and a candy bar or focusing on an easy task at work rather than the one that is most important. While we sometimes make these decisions consciously, these choices are often made based on inertia (e.g. picking the food item that is closest to you at the moment).
Foroux defines willpower as your ability to follow through on all of your little and big goals. Notably, your willpower can vary during the day; this means that identifying periods when you have more or less willpower and creating routines accordingly can help boost productivity and maintain consistency. For instance, an early riser might want to exercise first thing in the morning before they get drained by their other responsibilities, while a night owl might reserve time at night when they have more energy to study for an upcoming exam. And in the professional world, because working on your most challenging goals can often take willpower (when there are easier tasks that could be completed), scheduling time to take on the big goal (preferably when you know your willpower will be stronger!) can help ensure you actually follow through and take on the challenge.
Ultimately, the key point is that because willpower can wax and wane over time, it is important to be aware of what triggers changes in your willpower (either strengthening or weakening it) and to create routines to ensure you can perform consistently in your personal and professional life. Because the proverbial chocolate chip cookie will always be available, finding ways to best harness your willpower can help you resist temptation and make it more likely that you will achieve your goals!
Some Unsolicited Advice On Unsolicited Advice
(Rob Henderson’s Newsletter)
Financial advisors are (by name) in the business of giving advice. But typically, they give advice to individuals who solicit it by approaching the advisor and becoming clients. And not only does this relationship add value for the client, but can also be gratifying for the advisor as well (perhaps why financial advisors score so high as a profession in terms of overall wellbeing!).
On the other hand, receiving unsolicited advice can often be uncomfortable or, worse, annoying, as it can feel like the advice-giver is trying to show off their expertise or impose their preferences on you (because you didn’t ask for it in the first place!). And it can be particularly awkward when the unsolicited advice is coming from a loved one, as it is harder to brush off advice from them (as you don’t want to make them feel unheard) compared to unsolicited advice from a stranger.
The key, then, before giving unsolicited advice (about personal finance or other topics) is to first think about the reason why you are giving the advice and then put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. While you might think you have their best interests at heart, might they view you saying they ‘should’ do something as being arrogant or trying to constrain their options?
Ultimately, the key point is that while being a gracious provider of advice when it is solicited is a great way to help build connections with others (and grow a business!), it can pay to think twice before giving unsolicited advice to avoid potentially damaging your relationship with the intended recipient!
We hope you enjoyed the reading! Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts, or make a suggestion of any articles you think we should highlight in a future column!
In the meantime, if you're interested in more news and information regarding advisor technology, we'd highly recommend checking out Craig Iskowitz's "Wealth Management Today" blog, as well as Gavin Spitzner's "Wealth Management Weekly" blog.