Category Archives: Fees

Buying insurance and annuities

Two kinds of insurance products are often sold as investments, and should not be:

  • Life insurance
  • Annuities

There may be a place for both of them in your financial plan.  But they are often bought for the wrong reason because they are often misrepresented by the agent or misunderstood by the buyer.

Insurance products are complex and difficult for a layman to understand.  Let’s first review the basic purpose of these products.

Life insurance – its primary purpose is to replace the income that is lost to a family because of the premature death of the primary earner.  A young family with one or more children should have a life insurance policy on the earners in the family.  Ideally the insurance is will allow the survivors to continue to live in their accustomed style and pay for children’s education.

This usually means that younger families need more insurance.  However, there will be a trade-off between what a young family needs and what they can afford.  To obtain the largest death benefit, I suggest using a “term” policy.   “Whole Life” policies which have some cash value generally do not provide nearly as much death benefit and are less than ideal as investment vehicles.  Whole life policies are often sold using illustrations showing the accumulation of cash value over time.  What most people don’t realize is that illustrations are based on assumptions that the insurance company is not committed to.  This is the point at which an advisor who’s not in the business of selling insurance can prevent people from making mistakes.

Life insurance can also be used for other purposes.  One popular reason was to pay for estate taxes.  However, changes in the estate tax exclusion amount have made this much less attractive except to the very wealthy.

Annuities – useful for providing an income stream that you cannot outlive.  Like life insurance, it comes in a dizzying array of options that the average layman has trouble understanding. It is also one of the most commonly misrepresented insurance products.

Some of the most heavily promoted annuities are sold as investments that allow you to get stock-market rates of return without risk.  That’s one of those “too good to be true” offers that some people simply can’t resist.  The problem is that few people either read, or understand the “small print.”  Insurance companies are really not in the business of giving you all the upside of the stock market and none of the downside.  If they did, they would quickly go out of business.

These products are popular with salespeople because they pay high commissions.  Unfortunately they also come with very high early redemption fees that often last from 7 years to as much as 16 years.

If you have been thinking about buying a life insurance policy or an annuity you should first get some unbiased advice on what to look for.  Most insurance agents are honest, but like most sales people they would like you to buy their product.  It would be wise to get advice from someone who is an expert, but who is not getting paid to sell you a product.  There are a number of financial advisors who will provide guidance.  At Korving & Company we are Certified Financial Planners™ (CFP®) and licensed insurance agents, but we do not sell insurance products.   Since we don’t get paid to sell insurance we can evaluate your situation, advise you, and if life insurance or an annuity is what you need we can refer you to a reputable agent who can get you what you need.

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Pay No Commissions

time to invest

New clients to Korving & Company will pay no commissions on stock and ETF trades when they open an account with us between June 16th and December 31st 2016.

We use Charles Schwab as our custodian and Schwab has made this limited-time promotion to encourage new clients to open accounts with RIA’s like Korving & Company.

The promotion is called “Make the Move” and it’s designed to:
• Give you an opportunity to experience the value and benefits of working with us.
• Execute commission-free trades to offset the cost of realigning assets to one of our portfolios.

Contact us for more information.

Independent Wealth Managers vs. Wirehouses

If you had the choice, would you rather shop at a boutique or a chain store?  You know what you get at a chain store: pre-packaged products on shelves that meet most of your needs but no personal service.  A boutique provides you with a lot more product selection, a high level of personal service and saves you time in meeting your needs.

The reason that so many people go to chain stores for groceries, hardware and clothing is that they usually offer lower prices. The interesting thing about the financial services industry is that the “chain stores” (the industry calls them “wirehouses”) like Merrill Lynch, UBS, Wells Fargo are not cheaper than financial boutiques.

These boutiques go by other names such as “Registered Investment Advisors” (RIAs) or “Independent Wealth Managers.”   But they are all focused on satisfying their customers, not on the sale.  They are true servants to their customers.  While wirehouses give the impression of size, the are limited to selling the products they have on their shelves.  They can’t suggest you shop down the street for a product that’s better for you.  RIAs are fiduciaries, meaning they put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.  They focus on what’s best for the customer rather than the sale.

According to a survey by Cerulli Associates, over half of the ultra-high-net-worth clients still have their assets at wirehouses or bank trust departments.  That is changing as younger investors or the heirs of the older investors seek the kind of personal service that RIAs and Independent Wealth Managers provide.

If you’re looking for boutique service without paying more for it, contact us.

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Questions to ask when interviewing a financial advisor

A previous post referred to an excellent article on CNBC about financial advisors .  You first have to consider what kind of financial advice you want or need.

Once you determine the kind of advice you’re looking for, here are some key questions to ask when interviewing the financial advisor.

  • What are the services I am hiring you to perform?

  • What are your conflicts of interest?

  • Identify for me all of the ways you or your firm are compensated by me or by any other party in connection with services rendered to me or my assets.

  • Do you have a fiduciary duty to act in my best interests?

  • Describe your insurance coverage.

We’ll add a few more of our own:

  • What is your investment philosophy?
  • Do you do your own investing or do you use outside firms?
  • What kind of experience do you have?
  • Are your other clients similar to me?

If you don’t get straight-forward answers to these questions, go on to your next candidate.

Feel free to ask us questions.

 

Active vs. passive managers

Amateur investors continue to move money into passively managed funds.  However, according to Ignites Research, elite professionals are largely using actively managed funds, favoring active managers by a ratio of 4 to 1.

What explains this contrarian approach? The answer is risk control. Passively managed funds don’t have the ability to use judgment, being required to continue to match an index no matter what. And as the markets have become increasingly volatile, passive funds are at the mercy of traders who don’t care about fundamental values.

When markets are going up consistently, a case can be made for passive index investing. However, when the market is roiled by rumor and headlines that have little to do with economic fundamentals, passive funds are at the mercy of short term traders. Actively managed funds can take advantage by shopping for bargains. Active managers can raise cash to ride out temporary storms, something that passive funds don’t do.

Amateur investors are attracted to passive investing after years of being sold on low fees and performance claims. However, low fees – measured as fractions of a percent – do little to help the investor watching his or her investments drop by 10, 15, or 20% during bear markets.

And those performance claims assume that the alternative to an index fund is the average of all actively managed funds. This is simply not the case. One leading portfolio manager puts it this way:

“It’s a myth that you can’t find outperforming active managers who can beat their benchmarks over time. So for us, sorting out and tracking the best active fund managers is a worthwhile pursuit and helps add value for our clients.”

We agree. At a time of increased volatility and lowered expectations it’s a good time to get a professional review of your portfolio.

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Are fees really the enemy?

The popular press puts a great deal of emphasis on the costs and expenses of mutual funds and investment advice. I am price conscious and shop around for many things. All things being equal, I prefer to pay less rather than more. However, all things are rarely equal. Hamburger is not steak. A Cadillac is not the same as a used Yugo.

The disadvantage facing most investors is that today’s investment market is not your father’s market. Those words are not even mine; they come from a doctor I was speaking to recently who uses an investment firm to manage his money. His portfolio represents his retirement, and it is very important to him. He knows his limitations and knows when to consult a professional. It’s not that he isn’t smart; it’s that he’s smart enough to realize that he doesn’t have the expertise or the time to do the job as well as an investment professional.

As Registered Investment Advisors, we are fiduciaries; we have the legal responsibility to abide by the prudence rule (as opposed to brokers, who only have to abide by a suitability rule). Some interpret our responsibility as meaning that we should choose investments that cost as little as possible, going for the cheapest option. But do you always purchase something exclusively on the lowest cost without taking features, quality, or your personal preferences into consideration?

As I drive to work each day, I pass an auto dealership featuring a new car with a price tag of $9,999 prominently displayed. I’m never tempted to stop in and buy this car, despite its low price. It does not meet my needs nor does it have the features that I’m looking for in a new car. Why would an investment be any different? Too many investors believe that there is no difference between various stocks, mutual funds or investment advisors. They focus exclusively on price and ignore risk, diversification, asset allocation and quality. People who go to great lengths to check out the features on the cars they buy often don’t know what’s in the mutual funds they own. Yet these are the things that often determine how well they will live in retirement. It’s this knowledge that professional investment managers bring to the table.

People who would never diagnose their own illness or write their own will are too often persuaded to roll the dice on their retirement. Don’t make that same mistake with your investments.

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Merrill Lynch to Clients: Join “One” or Pay Commissions (via Financial Advisor Online)

The largest investment firms are moving their clients to their fee-based platforms.  Most of the other firms are doing the same.

There is nothing wrong with fees rather than commissions.  In fact, we believe that fees are preferable for most investors.

But they are not always the right, or the lowest cost, option for some.

For clients who have less than $1 million, the fees with “One” are often higher than they can get elsewhere.

If you are a customer at one of the “Big Box” stores and want to shop around to see if you can get better service and perhaps a better price.  Check us out.

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