Advocate by Day and by Night – Raising a Special Needs Child

In this episode of UnNiched, I talk to attorney, Lara Kapalla-Bondi.  Lara is an attorney and the mom of a special needs child.  During our time together Lara share with me a little bit about what it’s like as she navigates all of the special financial planning needs that are an everyday consideration for special needs families.

Episode highlights:

  • Learning to be an advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.
  • Advocating for a special needs child

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Solving for X – It’s About The Relationship, Not the Numbers

In this episode of UnNiched,I had the pleasure of talking to financial adviser, Maddie Parker.  Maddie talks about her transition from high school math teacher to financial adviser, transforming a long-standing practice into a modern business, and dealing with harassment and discrimination both as a teacher and a financial adviser.  She shares her thoughts on cultivating relationships and resources to create a meaningful connection with clients.

Episode highlights:

  • Why math skills should not be a barrier to becoming a financial adviser
  • Relationships matter – Maddie Parker’s thoughts on how we talk to high school boys v. how we talk to high school girls
  • Being young and female in a male dominated industry
  • Working with family. How to interact with your dad when he’s also your boss
  • Revolutionizing and modernizing a long-standing advisory business
  • Responding to sexual harassment on social media
  • Educating the next generation on respect and crossing the line into harassment
  • The importance of surrounding yourself with the right tools and resources to be the type of adviser you want to be.

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Personal Introductions, Fit Process, and Systemization

In this episode of 16 Ways from Sunday, Mark Mersman interviews Duncan MacPherson, Founder and CEO of Pareto Systems, an industry leading business development firm dedicated to the elite professionals and companies with the knowledge-for-profit sector. He has written two best selling books: Breakthrough Business Development and The Advisor Playbook. This episode reveals Duncan’s approach to a fit process, gaining client advocacy, and systemization.

Mersman_Ad-Podcast-Cover_Ep011

 

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The Financial Wellness Gap with Mark Mersman

In this episode of UnNiched, I explore the bold statement that our industry, the financial services industry, has failed women investors. Instead of viewing us a resource of investing knowledge and confidence, many shy away because they don’t feel confident in their knowledge. Discussing this with me is Mark Mersman, Chief Marketing Officer at USA Financial and head of the Financial Wellness Initiative. Mark offers insight in to how women have a gap in financial education and how our industry can help combat that gap. We have a responsibility to create new and more effective ways to reach our female clientele.

Episode highlights:

  • Only 52% of women feel confident about managing investments
  • How can we think differently about the way we’re talking to women investors and how we’re inviting them into the conversation?
  • Consider different ways to communication to your female clients
  • Women are diverse and want to consume information differently
  • There is a feeling that we have to be experts in finance in order to talk to a financial advisor. How do we change that perception?

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Working with Family

In this episode of UnNiched, I interview Teresa and Jim Yent of Golden Years Advisors about working together as a married couple. Joining me is my husband husband, Matt McGrew, to offer his perspective on working with me at USA Financial.  Each couple shares insights and advice about the joys and pitfalls about working with your spouse.

Episode highlights:

  • How their business began
  • Keeping the peace – how Jim and Teresa handle disagreements
  • Benefits of working with a spouse
  • Complimentary approaches – How we handle clients differently
  • What we love and hate about working together
  • Advice to others working with family

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Breast Cancer Awareness

In this episode of UnNiched, I had the opportunity to talk to three different women that have faced or are currently facing a breast cancer diagnosis. Listen to each women describe her battle and how it has affected them both personally and financially. Just like no cancer diagnosis is the same, neither is how we deal with the challenges. Advice is offered to financial advisors on how to approach clients and support them during and after a diagnosis.

Episode highlights:

  • Personal stories on three very different diagnoses
  • Financial implications when facing cancer
  • Thoughts on how a financial advisor can approach and support a client facing a battle with cancer
  • The battle doesn’t end after treatment – long term financial consequences

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A Conversation on Confidence

Join me in the first episode of UnNiched where I interview Confidence Coach Christen Shefchunas.  Coach Christen talks about the challenges women face with confidence, specifically in a male dominated industry. She explores her thoughts on how our brains operate and how this can differ by gender. Identifying and addressing our thoughts and fears is key to building confidence and Coach Christen offers some specific steps to follow.

Episode highlights:

  • How to gain confidence as women in a male dominated industry
  • As a male advisor, how do you approach your female clients
  • “Fear dominoes” – Coach Christen’s thoughts on how women’s brains operate differently
  • Conquering the “what ifs”
  • Advice to male advisors on how to approach their female clients
  • Our brains: “the boxes” vs. “the ball of wire”
  • Steps to identify our thoughts/fears and address them
  • The importance of giving yourself credit
  • Confidence Nuggets

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The Distribution Problem Part 2 – Sequence of (future) Returns

A few weeks ago, I wrote the first in a series of blogs dedicated to the distribution problem that advisors and retirees are facing today.  Part 1 focused on the clarifying the unique challenge that comes with the distribution stage of investing.  Indeed, as investors begin to start liquidating their accumulated assets as a replacement paycheck after they stop working, the math changes.  Inflation and sequence of returns are two key risks associated with this investor stage.  Today, I am going to zero in on sequence of returns risk and shed some light on how many advisors are inadvertently setting inappropriate expectations for their clients in retirement.

Just in case anyone is wondering how the math changes in the distribution stage, allow me to illustrate.  The first chart that you see shows the growth of $100,000 based on historical returns of the S&P 500 Index (total return) since the beginning of 2000 in blue.  The orange line represents that same $100,000 growing over the last 18 years – except the order of returns have been reversed.  So, although the accumulation path is drastically different, both scenario’s end up with the same exact value today.  In other words, the order of returns does not matter.

Growth of $100k 

Now, take that same scenario but pull out withdrawals of 5% per year (with a 3% cost of living adjustment).  The original order of returns (2000 thru Q2 2018) runs out of money 15 years into the hypothetical.  The reverse order of returns (Q2 2018 – 2000) has a positive balance of $124000 at the end.  The order of returns clearly matters in the distribution stage.  That’s what we mean by sequence of returns risk.

5% Distribution Chart

The primary way that many advisors attempt to mitigate this risk for their clients in the distribution stage is to take some risk off the table and diversify the portfolio.  Here’s what a 60/40 mix of the S&P 500 and the US Aggregate Bond Index would look like in the same distribution scenario:

MS Hypo 60-40 SP500 US Agg 5% Withdrawal

Clearly, the diversification benefits the client in this scenario.  Instead of running out of money 15 years into retirement, the client has a little over $37,000 left after the full 18 years.  The assets won’t last much longer, but at least this is an improvement.  The problem I have with an advisor presenting this as a solution to a client for their income needs is that it’s all based on historical returns.  Yes, I get it – no one knows how stocks will perform over the next 10-20 years, so the next best thing is to use a long historical time period as a reference point.  I don’t have any better idea than the next person as to the performance of stocks going forward.  We could continue to see significant corporate earnings growth and valuation expansion that underpin high returns over the next 10 years,  or we could see a significant downturn due to any number of reasons.

The 40% allocated to fixed income is a different story.  We do have a better understanding of bond returns going forward relative to the past 15-20 years.  Either rates will continue to stay low and bonds will earn the yield they are paying.  On the flip-side, if rates increase that will increase the yield return, but will be partially offset by the decrease in the price of bonds that investors are currently holding.  In either scenario, it’s hard to imagine that the US Aggregrate Bond Index will average the 5% annualized return over the next 18 years that it has since 2000.  A more appropriate rate of return for the 40% fixed income allocation might be 3% going forward.  If we adjust to those expectations for “future” sequence of returns risk, here’s what that impact on the portfolio looks like:

MS Hypo 60-40 SP500 Cash 5% Withdrawal

As you can see, lower interest rates going forward will make it more difficult for portfolios to last through retirement compared to previous generations.  Here’s a quick read from FS Investments that I came across outlining the difficulty of the traditional 60/40 portfolio going forward.

History is a useful guide to the future when examining potential market cycles.  However, when it comes to conservative asset classes, advisors and investors should be careful to not expect the next 20 years to look like the previous 20 years.  Next time, in the final installment of this series, I will discuss some of the prevailing distribution strategies and present a viable alternative that income oriented investors should consider.

Growing Client Base? Time to Segment… Here’s How

At some point in your career, if you’ve been doing things right, you will run out of time.  Did you catch that?  You can actually run “out” of time by doing all the right things.  These are things we all focus on daily – marketing, referral generation, asset gathering, running a business, etc.  While many of us are very good at doing these things, and doing them the “right” way, we eventually run into a problem:  We’ve had success, we’ve brought on many new clients.  Now, there are so many families that we serve, that delivering the same level of service to each of them becomes impossible, and actually is something you shouldn’t be doing.

Now there is a big difference between “treating people right” and “doing the right thing” versus delivering the same level of service for everyone.  You can deliver a different client experience or service model for every one of your clients and still treat them right, and do the right thing for them.  The problem (or opportunity as I see it) is that you cannot afford to deliver the same client experience everyone.  Your A clients and some B clients need to be treated to a first class client experience.  It will be impossible and not even close to economical to deliver that same experience to ALL clients.

The first thing you need to do is figure out where your clients stand from a revenue standpoint.  Run a report of every household you work with and determine what the annual” revenue from each household is worth.  For advisors using commissionable products as part of a financial plan, you need to assess what theup front commission is worth on an annual basis.  The easy way to look at it is to divide the commission by a number of years and “amortize” it out.  For instance, if your client holds an annuity with a 10 year surrender charge, and you earned a $30,000 commission on the placement, you could stretch that out over 10 years and figure that it is worth $3,000 of annual revenue to your firm.  However you do it, remain consistent for all households in how you assess their annual worth.

Once you have all of the households and revenue numbers figured out, organize them from the top down, with the client that generates the most annual revenue at the top.  From there, you need to divide the book of business into four chunks like this:

A – Top 20% of revenue

B – Next 30% of revenue

C – Next 30% of revenue

D – Bottom 20% of revenue

You then need to assign each revenue chunk with a label.  To keep it easy, I’ll go with A, B, C, and D (as seen above).  This exercise alone will be quite eye opening.  I actually go through this process regularly with successful advisors across the country, and put the analysis together for them.  The first time they see how many clients make up these different revenue chunks, they are shocked.  The 80/20 rule holds true in so many things, especially this.

Next, you will want to go through and “upgrade” a few of your clients to first class.  Here’s what I mean by that:  Say there are a few C or D clients that you have worked with for years.  They don’t represent much revenue themselves, but maybe they continue to send you a number of quality referrals every year.  That person, in my opinion, has just upgraded themselves to first class and need to be treated like an A client.  Also, that means there could be a couple of A or B clients who represent great revenue to the firm, but you cannot stand them.  You wouldn’t want to clone them, and you avoid ever having them around your most special clients.  Those might need to get “downgraded.”  Either way, go through the process of assigning a true label to every client in your book.

Now  you need to create a different client experience and service model for each segment.  The A and most B clients should have the most elevated client experience possible.  Here is an example of how it could look:

“A” Clients – Quarterly review meetings, annual charitable giving meeting, joint meetings with a tax and/or estate planning professional, private social lunch 2x per year, inclusion in partnership program, invitations to ongoing intimate social events, preferred parking at office, invitation to annual client appreciation event, etc.

“B” Clients – Bi-annual review meetings, annual charitable giving meeting,  oint meeting with a tax professional, private social lunch 1x per year, inclusion in partnership program, invitations to ongoing intimate social events, invitation to annual client appreciation event, etc.

“C” Clients – Annual review meetings, 15-minute phone call with a tax professional, invitations to in-office lunch-n-learn events, invitation to annual client appreciation event, etc.

“D” Clients – Annual review meetings, invitations to in-office lunch-n-learn events, invitation to annual client appreciation event, etc.

It is not uncommon for advisors to ask a junior or associate advisor to handle the delivery of the client experience to C and D clients.  Bottom line is this, YOU, the rainmaker, cannot afford to overspend your time with those clients.  Take good care of them, treat them well, but spend more time with the A’s and B’s.  Make their experience first class and try to attract more families just like them.

 

The Conundrum of Socially Responsible Investing

Target Readers:

  1. Investors confused by socially responsible investing.
  2. Advisors considering additional emphasis on socially responsible investing.
  3. Advisors struggling to gain traction with socially responsible investing.

Talking Points:

  1. Is socially responsible investing as popular as the media promotes?
  2. Will millennials finally bring socially responsible investing mainstream?
  3. Should investors consider adding socially responsible investing into their portfolios?

Here’s the Skinny,

Socially responsible investing is great in theory, but lacks in real life traction.

Sad but true.

People talk a good game, but as I’ve always said, “If you really want to know what people think or believe, study their actions, not just their words.”

Nuveen just released a detailed study titled, “Investor interest in responsible investing soars.”  The study/survey includes great detail within its 9-pages of results, but one graphic including the core questions really caught my attention…

I do not question the validity of the verbal responses from those surveyed.  However, in answering questions number 2, 4, 6, 7, and 9…  I can’t help but wonder, do their “actions” really support their “words” in real life?

For example:

  • In questions 2 and 4, would the respondent actually be willing to take a pay cut to work for such an employer, or do they mean they would expect the same pay, but prefer such an employer?
  • In question 6, would the respondent be willing to pay more for a similar quality product, or do they mean given the same price and quality they would prefer such a product?
  • In question 7, I would propose a similar scenario, but then question 9 seems to cut straight to the point, unless they interpreted it as meaning given equal returns, which would you feel better about?

Human nature is tricky.

In real life, our asset management firm, USA Financial Portformulas, offers 30+ investment model strategies, and one of our least popular models (according to assets invested) is our socially responsible model based upon the S&P 500 universe.  Interestingly, investors seem to love knowing that we have such a model even though they may not invest in it themselves.  I find that predictable, but still intriguing.

Similarly, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, yet over 13% of adults age 18-24 still smoke and almost 18% of adults age 25-44 continue to smoke.  In the United States, over 70% of adults age 18+ drank alcohol in the past year (and that’s including ages 18-20, when age 21+ is drinking age).  With a growing trend toward marijuana legalization, 22% of adults admit to current usage (even more than cigarettes).  I believe it’s safe to say, most adults know these things are not good for their health and most would steer their children away from such things…  Yet these industries are all thriving.

Does investing work similarly?

I think, all things being equal, investors prefer the idea of socially responsible portfolios.  But if the socially responsible portfolio does not live up to its “less socially responsible peers” and/or it costs more to return the same or less, then investors generally tend to revert back toward traditional portfolio allocations.  And financial advisors know this, so many do not broach the subject unless the investor makes such a request.

Do I sound cynical or am I just a realist?

I love the idea of socially responsible investing.  And speaking as asset manager, it’s not that difficult to add socially responsible screening mechanisms in order to de-select the socially irresponsible stocks.  But until market demand supports the effort, the effort isn’t worth the price of mass deployment (at least not yet).  Like I said, we promote a socially responsible investment model, yet it is one of the least utilized models we provide.

Additionally, socially responsible investing can become a bit murky.  When does an investment cross the line?  If you wish to invest with social responsibility, but you enjoy craft beer or a nice glass of wine, do you re-include the alcohol industry even though it would normally be excluded?  Or what about a tech firm that has poor data security and/or outright sells data you would deem private – include or exclude?

I’ve read that the socially responsible investing category under professional management is currently as high as 22%, but again, that math is a bit murky as it does not include passive management (only active or professional management).

In the end, many lay claim to millennials being the force behind the ultimate push toward socially responsible investing.  And in many ways that argument makes perfect sense, yet millennials are also credited with the push toward marijuana legalization…  And it may be difficult for those two things to coexist.  Not all that different from previous generations wrestling with ways for socially responsible investing to coexist with the popularity of alcohol.

It’s an emotional subject and a trend to watch closely.  But I contend the trend is probably further off in “action” than it is in “words.”

That’s the Skinny,