With the explosion of the internet over the past decade, raw access to data and information has exploded for the average individual, made even easier by the effectiveness of search engines like Google to filter through the volume to find the most relevant content. While most of us enjoy having the opportunity to dig into all of this newfound information, it does paint some potentially troubling implications for many professions, including financial planning, that have historically relied on the delivery of expert information as a core value proposition. If access to information explodes further in the next 10 years the way that it has over the past 10, will this force a change in the core value proposition of financial planners? What does it mean to be a financial planning expert if/when the internet makes all the "expert" information accessible to the average person?Read More…
The practice management advice is almost ubiquitous – if you run a financial planning practice, you should eventually carve out a specialized niche for yourself. If you don’t already have one, look through your book of clients for similarities, and use that common thread to expand on a niche you might have unwittingly already started. The ultimate goal: to have carved out some unique space for yourself, whether that’s financial planning for fly-fisherman, working with public school teachers, or having a specialized skillset for doctors running a medical practice. Yet in reality, many (most?) planners seem to resist this advice; “if I specialize, don’t I leave a whole lot of other business on the table?” is the most common objection. But focusing on the clients you won’t get by specializing completely misses the point – which is significant increase in referrals you can generate by clearly defining a niche and conveying it to the clients and affiliated professionals who might refer you.
In the standard framework of portfolio management, changing a client’s exposure to risk is essentially analogous to changing their overall exposure to risk assets. Want conservative growth? Invest in a portfolio with 40% equities and 60% fixed. Want a more moderate growth portfolio? Increase to 60% equities. More aggressive growth? Allocate your portfolio further towards an equity tilt. At its core, the proposition is pretty straightforward: increase your overall portfolio allocation increasingly towards risk assets to increase the overall risk (and hopefully, return) profile of the portfolio. But what if there was another way to increase overall risk? What if, rather than increasing overall risk by adding a little risk to the whole portfolio, the risk was increased by adding a lot of volatility to a very small portion of the money?
It is an experience that almost any financial planner has gone through at some point: a prospective client who is totally disconnected from reality. Unreasonable expectations, completely unrealistic goals, and an obsession with the latest get rich quick investing scheme. Sometimes, the prospect can be guided in a more reasonable direction, but often there’s just no connection to be made, and we show the prospective client the door, acknowledging that some people we just can’t help. We move on to the next prospect, who hopefully won’t be such a “bad” future client.
Yet I have to wonder… given the state of financial literacy – or lack thereof – in the United States, many such prospective clients have totally impossible expectations and goals not because they’re being irrational, but simply due to financial ignorance. And by excluding such prospective client relationships, are financial planners themselves excluding the majority of Americans as potential clients?
Because if that’s the case – that we as financial planners have put ourselves in a position than we can’t help the majority of all Americans – then I also have to wonder if maybe it’s not the the prospective clients who have the problem… maybe WE are the ones with the problem?
Within the financial planning world, there is often little love for popular consumer “personal finance gurus” like Suze Orman, David Bach, and Dave Ramsey. Whether it’s because of their entertainment-style deliver of financial advice (in the case of the former), their bombastic platitudes of overgeneralized advice with little client-specific information (in the case of both), or their controversial views about how to address common problems like debt (in the case of the latter), most financial planners don’t seem to think highly of their consumer-popular counterparts.
Yet the success of those like Orman, Bach, and Ramsey – who, in the end, touch the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions, while the “average” financial planner’s impact may only be measured by a mere few dozen or hundred clients – makes me wonder: Maybe there is something we as financial planners could – and should – learn from the success of those like Orman and Ramsey?
Although we often think of the IRA as simply another account, the tax law generally regards it as a quasi-entity that is separate from the individual who owns it. Both the individual and the IRA have their own separate tax rules that apply; intermingling money is not allowed (due to contribution limits), and even paying each others’ costs can get a client into some hot water. Accordingly, clients must be very careful when they use their own "outside" dollars to pay any form of expenses that are associated with the IRA itself. Fortunately, in a recent private letter ruling, the IRS did (re-)affirm that an IRA’s wrap fee expenses are an acceptable cost to pay on behalf of an IRA with outside dollars, while not running afoul of the IRA rules and limitations.