Category Archives: financial advisors

Aunt Jennie’s Talents

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The Parable of the Talents is known to everyone who ever attended Sunday school.  A man prepares for a long journey by entrusting three servants with heavy bags of silver (talents) while he is gone.  In those days coins were weighed and a “talent” was about 75 pounds.  He gave 10 talents to one, five to the second and one talent to the third.  The first two servants invested the silver.  The third, being fearful. dug a hole and hid the money for safekeeping.  When the man returned, the first two gave the man twice what had been entrusted to them.  But the third just gave the man his money back.  For this poor stewardship the third servant was cast out.

I was reminded of this story when a lady came to us after receiving an inheritance from her Aunt Jennie.  After being grateful for her good fortune she wondered what to do.  Banks today are paying a pittance on deposits, so putting it in the bank was not all that much different from digging a hole to hide the money from thieves.  She wanted to be a good steward of her inheritance.

She wanted to honor Aunt Jennie by taking care of her money wisely and not squander it.  Aunt Jennie worked hard for her company, spent a lifetime being frugal and made wise investments.  My future client knew her own limitations. She was not an experienced investor.  She had to decide if she wanted to spend her time learning investing from the ground up.  With all the information out there, which expert or school of thought do you listen to?  Did she want to spend her time reading fine print, studying balance sheets or did she want to continue doing those things she enjoyed by finding an experienced professional she could trust to shepherd the money for her.

She chose us because of our caring professionalism.  We listened carefully to her objectives.  We explained the risks and rewards involved in the investing process.  We explained our investment process with the key focus on risk control and wide diversification.  We believe in wise investing, steady growth, and the assurance that your money will keep working for you. With over 30 years’ experience we have weathered all kinds of markets successfully.  Our knowledge and experience allows our clients to focus on those things they enjoy.  They know that their investments will be there for as long as they need them and beyond to help their children and grandchildren.

Aunt Jennie’s talents have grown and our client is happy.  Aunt Jennie would be proud.

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The most common investment mistake made by financial advisors

Bill Miller beat the S&P 500 index 15 years in a row as portfolio manager of Legg Mason Capital Management Value Trust (1991-2005), a record for diversified mutual fund managers.  He was interviewed by WealthManagement.com about active vs. passive management.

We have written a number of articles about the mistakes individual investors make.  But what about mistakes that financial advisors make?  We are, after all, fallible and make errors of judgment.  And like all mortals we cannot predict the future.

Here’s Bill Miller’s assessment about traps that financial advisors fall into:

One problem is how they deal with risk. There is a lot more action on perceived risks, exposing clients to risks they aren’t aware of. For example, since the financial crisis people have overweighted bonds and underweighted stocks. People react to market prices rather than understanding that’s a bad thing to do.

Most importantly, most advisors are too short-term oriented, because their clients are too short-term oriented. There’s a focus on market timing, and all of that is mostly useless. The equity market is all about time, not timing. It’s about staying at the table.

Think of the equity market like a casino, except you own it: You’re the house. You get an 8-9 percent annual return. Casinos operate on a lower margin than that and make money. Bad periods are to be expected. If anything, that’s when you want more tables.

We agree.  That’s one of the reasons we are choosy about the clients we accept. One of the foremost regrets we have is taking on clients who hired us for the wrong reasons.  One substantial client came to us as the tech market was heating up in the late 1990s.  He asked us to create a portfolio of tech stocks so that he could participate in the growth of that sector.  We accepted that challenge, but it was a mistake.  When the tech bubble burst and his portfolio went down and we lost a client.  But it taught us a valuable lesson: say no to clients who focus strictly on short-term portfolio performance.  Our role is to invest our clients’ serious money for long term goals.

Like Bill Miller, we want to have the odds on our side.  We want to be the “house,” not the gambler.  The first rule of making money is not to lose it.  The second rule is to always observe the first rule.

To determine client and portfolio risk we use sophisticated analytical programs for insight into prospective clients actual risk tolerance.  That allows us to match our portfolios to a client’s individual risk tolerance.  In times of market exuberance we remind our clients that trees don’t grow to the sky.  And in times of market declines we encourage our clients to stay the course, knowing that time in the market is more important than timing the market.

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At what age are you too old to manage your money?

I was fascinated to read an article with the above title that was published recently.  It was accompanied by a picture of an elderly couple and their caregiver walking with canes.

The article reflects many of our own observations.  We have been managing money for people for over thirty years.  During that time we have seen the effect of age and ill health on the people we work with.

Here’s the good news:

“Most people who don’t suffer from cognitive impairment can continue managing their money in their 70s and 80s, according to a report just published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (CRR). But of course some older Americans, and especially financial novices who take over money management after the death of a spouse, will need help …”

Here’s the bad news:

As we get older our ability to process information slows down.  As a result, the elderly are more likely to be defrauded or abused by financial scams.  They may not open their mail regularly, have problems paying bills and fail to read and understand their financial statements and reports.

If you’ve never made investment decisions, paid the bills, balanced the family checkbook or reviewed the investment accounts you are especially vulnerable.  This if often true of older couples in which the wife managed the household and the husband managed the family finances.

As we get older, there are a few basic things that we should do to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

  1. Have a spending plan for your retirement years.
  2. Make sure that your spouse and your financial advisor knows about the plan and knows where your accounts are so that they can be monitored for fraud or abuse.
  3. At some point you or your spouse should agree to transfer your responsibility for managing your investments, and make sure that both members of a couple should know how to run the household finances.

For guidance on these issues, we suggest ordering a copy of BEFORE I GO and BEFORE I GO WORKBOOK.

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Why do smart people use financial advisors?

What is the real value to hiring a financial advisor, and who uses them?  What is the value proposition?  What makes one car with four doors and wheels worth $300,000 and other $30,000?  Although we might have an answer, the answer differs from person to person.

People use financial advisors for many reasons.  Some use them because they absolutely need them, others because they want them. Paying a fee for advice and guidance to a professional who uses the tools and tactics of a CFP™ (CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™) and an experienced Registered Investment Advisor who is a fiduciary can add meaningful value compared to what the average investor experiences.

Many middle-class investors are anxious about their finances and are not interested in learning the details of managing their money.  This anxiety often results with money left on the sidelines because they don’t know what to do or are afraid of making mistakes. That means earning a fraction of 1% at the bank when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is up over 25% in the last 12 months.

There are others who are interested in learning about investing and may want to hire an advisor to “look over their shoulder.”  They want to hire an “investment coach.”

A third category are people who hire professionals because they are busy doing things that are more important to them: building a career or a business, being with family, or living an active retirement.  They hire an expert to manage their money the same way they hire a lawyer for estate planning, a CPA to prepare their taxes, and a doctor to keep them healthy.

A fourth category is people who were making their own investment decisions but ended up making a huge financial mistake.  This leads me to a story about a really smart, highly paid high tech executive who is very knowledgeable about investing; but he hired an advisor:

It’s not because he lacks the knowledge or interest, obviously. Rather, he figured out he had behavioral blind spots and understood he was at risk of great financial loss. He’s paying someone just to take that risk off his plate.

Determining your goals, controlling risk, managing portfolios well, and knowing your limitations – knowing you have “blind spots” – has led many smart people to hire an advisor.

Vanguard, the hugely successful purveyor or no-load mutual funds (that appeal to do-it-yourselfers) estimates that a financial advisor is worth about 3% net in annual returns.  They attribute this to the seven services that a good advisor provides:

  1. Creating a suitable asset allocation strategy.
  2. Cost-effective implementation.
  3. Rebalancing
  4. Behavioral coaching
  5. Asset location
  6. Spending strategy.
  7. Total return versus income investing.

If you have an advisor but he is not meeting your objectives, ask us for a second opinion.  If you don’t have an advisor but may want one, we offer a free one-hour consultation to see if we are compatible.

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A good Registered Investment Advisor is a “Life Coach.”

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People who are not familiar with Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) too often view them as stock brokers.  They are not; they are held to a higher standard and are focused on the client, not the money.  RIAs are trusted advisors who put their clients ahead of themselves.    They are fiduciaries that are skilled in the art making good financial decisions.

Younger professionals who are building careers would do well to find an RIA as their financial guru, a “Life Coach.”  It takes time, experience and a high level of expertise to manage money well.  The young lack that expertise but have the biggest advantage of all: time.  They are in a perfect position to build wealth with the least amount of effort if they can lean on experts who can show them how to navigate the risky ocean of investing.  Just as important, they need a wise guide who can advise them on managing their income.  Too many people, even those with six figure salaries, live paycheck to paycheck.  Knowing what to spend and how to save is the role of the advisor.

This is very important for the independent professional – the doctor or lawyer.  Focused on building a practice, they need someone to advise them on managing their money wisely.

For the business owner, the entrepreneur, it’s even more important.  There is no career track and the challenge of building a business often results in poor money management.  Excessive debt can lead to bankruptcy, a common result in many industries that depend on debt financing.  A good advisor can help the business owner create a personal portfolio that’s independent of his business.  At the same time he can advise the owner the best way of financing his growth.

Once the business is established the owner needs guidance setting up retirement and benefit plans for himself and his employees.  This all part of the RIA’s skill set. And finally, as the business matures and the owner starts thinking of retirement, the advisor provides the guidance to transition the individual and his family to life beyond work.

That’s the point at which the coach gets the pleasure of knowing he’s done a good job as part of a winning team.

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The Financial Planner as a Healer

Money is a significant source of stress for most people.  In many studies, it ranks above issues such as work, children and family.  Chronic financial stress is often the leading cause of family break-ups.

Chronic stress is also associated with all sorts of health problems, psychological problems, marriage conflicts and behavior issues such as smoking, excessive drinking, depression and overeating.

Men and women under stress have often relied on medical and mental health professionals.  However, financial planners are uniquely positioned to help people address what is likely the number one source of stress in their lives – their relationship with money.  Dealing with these issues head-on with a financial planner can lead to improved emotional and physical health, an improvement of work-related problems and improved relationships with family and friends.

A competent and caring financial planner does a great deal more than manage investments or create a financial roadmap.  He listens and empathizes with the conflicting issues that people face when attempting to manage their personal finances.

Discussing the issues that cause worry with a financial planner can lead to setting realistic goals, analyzing alternatives, prioritizing actions and implementing an easy-to-follow plan.  Just as important, it allows the client and the planner to review progress on a regular basis.

As a result the client gets a sense of personal control over his or her finances.  Someone who is in control of their life has much lower stress than someone who feels that events and outside agents control them.

For a relationship between a client and a financial planner to work well together, they must have shared views and expectations of financial planning, financial markets, investment philosophy, and managing risk.  An initial meeting between a client and a financial planner should establish a comfort level and determine whether the planner is actually interested in the client, or just the client’s money.

The planner’s goal should be to help their clients organize their financial affairs, and to discuss the client’s past, present and future – including death.  The planner should create a level of trust that allows him to keep the client from self-injury, which often results from fear surrounding money.  The financial planner should provide a sort of reality check to the client, reducing both excessive pessimism and irrational optimism.  A client should feel able to discuss money honestly and openly with their planner without a fear of judgment.

In many ways, a financial advisor can be the confidant to whom you can take your financial concerns … and make it all better.

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Who do you trust?

The latest issue of Wealth Management magazine dealt with the upcoming election.

One of the more interesting things about our recent presidential election (and it’s a long list) is that the traditional political battle lines have not only moved, they’ve been decimated—broken into such unrecognizable shapes that the head spins.

What the Editor found interesting is that neither candidate projects warm feelings toward Wall Street for different reasons.

For both parties and their supporters, Wall Street, and by extension financial services, is to be viewed with deep suspicion and skepticism.

The editor finds this troubling.  We’re not so sure.  When you turn your financial affairs over to another there has to be a certain level of trust.  However that trust must be reinforced over time and “Wall Street” has done enough damage to the trust that people have placed in it that it deserves to be viewed with suspicion and skepticism.

Trust is generated when promises made are promises kept.   The problem is that too often the promises that the major Wall Street firms have made were deceptive.  Wall Street firms like to pretend that they have the best interests of their clients in mind.  The truth is that the firms view their clients as customers and their brokers as the sales force.  The object is to generate commissions via the sales of products created to generate profits for the firm.  And if it benefits the client, that’s nice but it’s a by-product of the sales effort.

That’s why the growth of independent Registered Investment Advisory firms has been a good thing for people seeking investment advice that they can trust.  RIAs who charge fees for their services are not compensated for selling Wall Street products.  Because they work for their clients, not for Wall Street firms, they do not have divided loyalties.  They are supposed to be fiduciaries, not salesmen.  Not to say that there are no bad apples in the basket, but the vast majority of them will work to earn your trust.

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Ex-NFL player, Mega Millions winner press $7.8M claims against Morgan Stanley

What do sports super-stars and lottery winners have in common?  Both are in financial danger.

That’s a strange thing to say about people who are often multi-millionaires.

The problem is that neither the talented athlete nor the lottery winner is usually any good at managing money.  That’s a harsh judgment to make but too many star athletes and lottery winners end up broke.  They end up broke for many of the same reasons:

  • They believe that the financial windfall they have received is inexhaustible.
  • They attract too many groupies and hangers-on who are after their money.
  • They spend the money they have received instead of investing it for their old age.
  • The money they do invest is often lost because of poor, or dishonest, advice.

From Financial Planning magazine:

Former NFL cornerback Asante Samuel and Mega Millions lottery winner James Groves are jointly seeking $7.8 million in damages against Morgan Stanley related to investment recommendations made by a now-barred broker, according to regulatory filings….

Samuel and Groves filed their claims in FINRA arbitration in July, according to a copy of Parthemer’s CRD. From 2003 to 2013, Samuel played for several NFL teams, including the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. Groves won $168 million in the Mega Millions lottery in 2009.

In this case, Asante Samuel was persuaded to buy a night club, probably hoping to capitalize on his fame as a football player.  It’s fairly common for professional athletes to open restaurants or night clubs.  The problem is that even for professional restauranteurs, the failure rate is shockingly high, and athletes don’t have the training or time to run these businesses.

The story of many lottery winners is one example of ruined lives after another.   Bud Post’s story is not unusual.

When William “Bud” Post won $16.2 million in a 1988 lottery, one of the first things he did was try to please his family, according to this Bankrate article.

Unfortunately, his kin was of the unfriendly sort. Post’s brother hired a hit man to kill him, hoping to inherit some money. Other family members persuaded him to invest in two businesses that ultimately failed. Post’s ex-girlfriend sued him for some of the winnings. Post himself was thrown in jail for firing a gun at a bill collector.

Over time, Post accumulated so much debt that he had to declare bankruptcy. He now relies on Social Security for income. “Lotteries don’t mean (anything) to me,” he is quoted as saying—after he lost all his money.

Is there no hope for professional athletes and lottery winners?  Yes, but it requires them to know their limitations, which may include hiring professional help before they begin spending their new-found wealth.

If you’re a sports star or lottery winner who would like to retire rich, and you want to have someone to talk to about the way you can fend off the vultures that your wealth and fame attract, contact us.  You don’t want to spend your time in court trying to get back what you lost.

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Getting Financial Help

When people have financial questions, what do they look for?  According to a recent survey most people are looking for someone with experience.  We want to take advice from people who are familiar with the issues we face and know what to do about them.  We all know people with experience, but financial problems, like medical problems, are personal.  Most people we know would rather not go into detail about their personal finances with family or friends.  They are more comfortable sitting down with a financial professional to discuss their finances, their debts, their financial concerns, and their financial goals in both the short and long term. Professionals will provide advice without being judgmental and are required by their code of ethics to keep your information confidential.

Once people find someone who has a track record of giving good, professional advice, they want personalized advice and “holistic” planning.

No two people have exactly the same problems.  A good financial advisor listens attentively to learn the goals, the concerns and personal history of the people who come to him for advice.

People have specific issues and questions.  For example: a couple, aged 39, is seeking advice about their path to retirement.  They give their financial advisor a laundry list of their assets, their investments, their savings rate, their debts, and the ages of their children and ask if they should be doing something different or are they on the right path.  That’s a very specific question and the advisor’s response is going to be personalized for them.

The plan that the advisor comes up with is going to involve much more than money.  It’s going to take their personal characteristics into account.  This includes personal experience with investing, their risk tolerance, and their closely held beliefs and ethical values.  This is what is referred to as “holistic” planning; taking personal characteristics into consideration.

There is a fairly big difference in the advice sought by

  • “Millennials” (those born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the current century),
  • “Generation X” (the children of the Baby Boomers) and the
  • “Baby Boomers” (children of the soldiers returning from World War 2)

“Millenials” say that among their top three concerns are saving for a large expense such as a car or a wedding.  Too many are saddled by debt acquired to pay for higher education and are finding that their degrees are not necessarily an entry into high paying professional jobs.  Their next largest concerns are saving for their kids’ education and putting money aside for retirement.

“Generation X” is primarily focused on saving for retirement.  They are married, own their own home and may have children in college.  Concerns two and three are tax reduction and paying for their children’s education.

“Baby Boomers” have finally reached retirement age.  More than a quarter million turn 65 each month.  As a group they are a large and wealthy generation, but a vast number have not saved enough for a comfortable retirement.  Many are forced to continue to work to supplement Social Security income.  Their number one concern is the cost of health care.  Concerns two and three are protecting their assets and having enough income for retirement.  The three concerns for Baby Boomers are inter-connected.  For many Boomers, Medicare helps them with the costs associated with most medical issues.  However, as people live longer, there comes a time when they are unable to care for themselves and live independently.  Long-term-care insurance was once believed to be the answer but insurance companies found that costs were much greater than anticipated.  The result is that many insurers have stopped offering the policies and those remaining have hiked premiums beyond the ability of many to pay.  The cost of long term care is so high that many Boomers are afraid that their savings will soon be exhausted if they are forced into assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

Each generation has its own problems and at a time when the world has gotten much more complicated.  Getting experienced, personalized and holistic financial advice is more important than ever.

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Is bigger really better?

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Everyone wants to see their business grow.  That’s true whether you own a small restaurant or an investment firm.  Some investors look at the size of the firm as an indication of the quality of the advice they will get, assuming that bigger is better.

But that is often the opposite of what they will experience.  Most people are aware that some of the best restaurants are small, with just a few tables, catering to a select clientele.  For the same reason, small investment firms are often better for their clients than large firms.

Large firms are the training ground for smaller firms.  Large firms recruit people who have no experience as investment managers and train them in selling their company’s products.  Once a financial advisor gains experience, he sees ways that his clients can be served better.  That’s the point at which he forms his own small firm where clients get the benefit of his knowledge and experience.

Clients who do business with small firms typically deal directly with the owners, who work for them, rather than employees who work for a paycheck.  As everyone knows, it makes a lot of difference when you’re dealing with the owner of a business rather than an employee.

Small firms are more flexible in meeting the needs of individuals.  Everyone is not the same.  Everyone has a different set of experiences, a different array of needs, and seeks a different level of service.  Large firms create policies and procedures that stack people in silos and try to impose uniform rules on everyone.  The larger the organization, the greater the need for uniformity and the less the business cares about any one individual.

If you have an investment portfolio worth a million dollars, an investment firm with assets-under-management (AUM) of $100 million will care about you and do its best to address your needs.  A firm with  AUM of $1 billion dollars will not care about you as an individual, you’re a statistic.

Korving & Company is growing Registered Investment Firm (RIA), but doing so in a way that makes sure that we always know our clients, care about them as individuals, and go out of our way to meet their individual needs.

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