There are many articles written about what a financial planner does for you and what you should expect from them. But, in my opinion, the best relationships will also focus on what a financial planner expects from YOU. After all, it should be a relationship, not a one-sided street. So, in today’s blog post I will be discussing what is required of you and that if you don’t properly perform your role, you could miss out on extremely important planning opportunities that could significantly impact your wealth!
Whenever we meet a prospective client for the first time, we are often times asked what the client gets for the fee they pay. In other words, they’re asking us, “Why should we pay you?”
It’s a very valid question and to help answer it we created a Client Expectations Agreement to help clients clearly understand what they can expect from us and what we expect from them.
FINANCIAL PLANNING VS. INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT
So, what sort of responsibilities can you expect to have if you work with a financial planner?
While I can’t speak for every firm out there, I can tell you the responsibilities that we expect from our clients. At B.E.S.T. Wealth Management, we hold ourselves out to be experts in the field of financial planning. Too many times, people are used to a “relationship” with an advisor that only involves investment management. But the reality is that investment management is just one component of a person’s financial life. And in reality, that sort of relationship is not really a relationship at all. It’s more of a one-sided transaction whereby the financial advisor is just doing their part to grow your investment portfolio.
I recently met with a prospective client and they were talking to us because their previous advisor had moved out of town. In fact, they stated they really liked their advisor and wouldn’t even be talking to us if their advisor were still in town. However, as we went through our process and discussed that we were a financial planning firm, they soon began to realize that they were missing out on something that they didn’t even know existed. One of the things they discovered was that there was going to be some homework and responsibility on their part.
So, when describing the expectations that financial planners have of their clients, it is done so with a focus on working with a “financial planning” firm, not an “investment management” firm.
With that in mind, following are 5 important responsibilities that you should expect to have when working with a financial planner.
5 IMPORTANT RESPONSIBILITIES WHEN WORKING WITH A FINANCIAL PLANNER
RESPONSIBILITY #1: LEARNING THAT FINANCIAL PLANNING IS AN ONGOING PROCESS, NOT A ONE-TIME EVENT
We guide our clients and prospective clients to understand that financial planning is not a one-time event. Life changes very rapidly as you know. This includes changes in your circumstances, the economy, tax laws, etc… One minute your single and the next your married. Then you’re planning to have children or perhaps send your children to college. Maybe you’ve lost a job or received an inheritance. Even if you have the best laid out plans, life has a way of altering them. As a result, it’s very important to review your financial plan on at least an annual basis.
We had a client that missed their annual review one year. This proved to be fairly detrimental to the client as certain tax strategies are lost if not done in a particular calendar year. For our client, they had an unusually low year of taxable income and missed out on moving investments from a taxable bucket to a tax-free bucket at no cost. This opportunity is lost forever and likely will cause the client to pay thousands of dollars in unnecessary taxes over the course of their lifetime.
You can take advantage of opportunities such as this or possibly avoid potential calamities when treating financial planning as an ongoing process instead of a one-time event.
RESPONSIBILITY #2: RESPONDING TO EMAILS, PHONE CALLS, AND DOCUMENTATION / INFORMATION REQUESTS IN A TIMELY MANNER
Sometimes the recommendations or financial matters that financial planners discuss are time sensitive. And if not addressed right away, you could miss out on the opportunity to save money. Or worse yet, it could cost you significantly.
For example, part of the financial planning process is to help a person figure out how best to pay down their debt. Assume that we reach out to you because interest rates have dropped dramatically and it would be an ideal time to refinance your mortgage. If you didn’t act upon that immediately, the opportunity could pass very quickly causing you to pay more in interest than you needed to.
To illustrate the impact, let’s assume that you have a mortgage of $200,000 and that you can refinance this at 4% or 5% over the next 30 years. You will pay almost $43,000 more in interest with the 5% option compared to the 4% option. Not to mention the fact that your payment would also be $120 / month higher which is valuable money that could be used for other purposes and goals.
Opportunities often times aren’t around for very long, so it’s important to take advantage of them when they are.
RESPONSIBILITY #3: NOTIFYING YOUR FINANCIAL PLANNER OF ANY IMPORTANT FINANCIAL DECISIONS THAT YOU MAY FACE
Any financial decision that is made without your financial planner’s input could potentially undo the plans that have been laid, cause certain planning opportunities to be missed, or result in an unfavorable financial situation.
What may seem like a trivial financial matter could have lasting impacts for the remainder of your life. I’ve told this story before, so forgive me if you’re reading it for the second time. We have a client that came to us right after they retired. Their initial goal was to take Social Security right away at age 63, which is deemed as taking Social Security “early” and as a result their benefit would be reduced for life. Also, by taking Social Security early, this meant that more money would have to be withdrawn from investment accounts to satisfy their standard of living and as a result, we projected that their investments would be depleted by their late 70s. At that point they would then be living solely off of a minimal amount of Social Security (remember that taking this benefit early results in reduced benefits for life) which is not exactly ideal.
But fortunately we were able to work with them prior to making that decision. We were able to implement a unique Social Security claiming strategy that significantly maximized this source of income for them. In fact, we expect that they will receive over $300,000 more in Social Security benefits as a result of this strategy. As a result of that, it is now projected that there investments will last their entire lifetime with approximately $200,000 left over. And their standard of living won’t be sacrificed.
As you can see, had they acted without our input, they would have likely been in a very unfavorable financial situation.
RESPONSIBILITY #4: UNDERSTANDING AND AGREEING WITH THE FINANCIAL PLANNER’S INVESTMENT STRATEGY
In our experience, many people don’t even know what their investment strategy is. Or they are often times told by their advisor that they are diversified (i.e. own multiple investments), but there is more to an investment strategy than that.
Sure diversification is very important and necessary, but essentially investment strategies fall into one of two camps – active or passive. An active strategy is one whereby a financial advisor will move you into or out of the market in an attempt to avoid losses and to maximize gains. And / Or they will attempt to find investments that are undervalued so that you can profit from that. A passive strategy is one that does not try to move into or out of the market. Nor is it intended to find undervalued investments. Instead, it is typically known as a “buy and hold” strategy that is not geared around making predictions.
The most important thing about an investment strategy is simply having one. Do you know what investment strategy your advisor employs? Do you understand it and conceptually agree with it?
RESPONSIBILITY #5: UNDERSTANDING THE “WHAT”, “WHEN”, “HOW” AND “WHERE” OF FEES
I recently wrote about how fees are often times a mystery and that many prospective clients have told us over the years that they don’t even know how their advisor is compensated or what the fee is.
This is very unfortunate as fees should be very transparent. Your advisor should be forthright in telling you “what” fees you are paying, “when” you pay them, “how” they are calculated, and “where” they come from.
Be sure that when working with a financial planner you have a full understanding of the fees you are paying. You have a right to know!
While it’s common that you should have certain expectations of your financial planner, you should also have an idea of what is expected of you. Not many articles have been written about latter, but hopefully now you can see why your role is very important, how it can impact your wealth, and how you can become a much more informed client!
Stay tuned for next week when I’ll be discussing what to expect when you hire a financial planner.
I would love to hear your thoughts on today’s blog topic. Are you surprised to learn that you should have responsibilities when working with a financial planner? Did you know that there was a difference between working with an investment manager vs a financial planner? Please share any thoughts, comments, or questions below.
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