Frequently Asked Questions
The following are the most common questions we receive from clients in search of planning services.
As a Certified Financial Planner professional, I am a fiduciary ethically bound to put your interests first. That’s why I’ve always been independent. I don’t represent a particular bank, brokerage firm or insurance company. My responsibility is to serve you, your family and your causes, starting with a plan that shines an objective light on your financial picture, defining your challenges and clarifying your goals. With thirty years' experience, I’m proud of the technical know-how I work to keep cutting-edge and my firm’s product reach, but it is the wisdom of experience I bring to the process that I value most. As a specialist in retirement and estate planning, I’ve seen tax law, product design and investment trends change repeatedly over the years. And I’ve stood by my clients as they celebrated and endured life’s vicissitudes. My mission is to cut through the noise, smoke and mirrors to guide you through the securities and insurance marketplace—blending their most suitable offerings —to empower you to retire without compromise and endow without sacrifice.
We believe planning is essential. Without a retirement GPS you may be at a disadvantage, adding to the risks of falling short of your goals. Assuming you have a choice, are you prepared to work forever or do you want to retire early? How much money do you need to retire when you want? How much will you need to withdraw from your savings each year to sustain the lifestyle you dream of? How long will you live? How much can you spend without running out of money? Should you count on social security? What about inflation? With increasing longevity and a constantly rising cost of living, especially for health care, retirement portfolios have to produce growing income for a very long time. How can you grow income from year to year without exacerbating depletion risk? How much volatility and market risk do you have to bear to achieve your personal goals? Will portfolio losses mean reduced income and a compromised standard of living? Will you ever recover? A plan clarifies your objectives, surfaces your challenges, and provides benchmarks for making adjustments along the way. Above all, whether referring to capital, risk or return, it can tell us when enough is enough. We stress the importance of basing your plan on realistic expectations, preparing them for the worst market conditions while positioned to participate in the best. Without a map to keep you on path, you can get lost. Without a game plan we don’t know what you need or what to recommend.
The focus of retirement planning is making sure that once you stop earning income you have enough cash flow from all sources to sustain your desired lifestyle, come what may, for as long as you live. Parse that sentence and you discover that it has many moving parts. If you want to leave wealth behind, the calculations get even more challenging. Nobel Prize-winner and world-renowned investment quant William F. Sharpe has been quoted as saying that retirement planning has to be the most complex problem he’s ever attempted to analyze. For sure, the academic research in the field is piling up while financial companies are responding with a wide array of new products designed to serve the retirement community. Your advisor’s job is to keep up with the latest findings, translate them into information you can act on, and guide you in choosing from among companies and products to build a low-cost/tax-sensitive portfolio that captures opportunities while avoiding financial mistakes from which you may find it impossible to recover.
You can try, but the truth is you probably don’t understand what you’re up against. Critical retirement decisions are complicated in the best of times. Even then, retirement planning turns some of our most cherished assumptions about investing upside down, challenges our ingrained financial biases, and necessitates a comprehensive change in our frame of reference. In the income phase, the most successful total-return “accumulator” must shift gears and focus on successful “decumulation” to spend down a lifetime of savings. In this process, managing long-term risks you’ve never faced before—longevity, capital depletion and return sequence—comes to take precedence over maximizing short-term return. Ironically, the more successful you’ve been in accumulating your wealth, the more locked in you may be to what has worked for you in the past, limiting your responses to the very different challenges you now confront. As we age we decline and, with the passing of time, personal circumstances and family dynamics change. None of these adjustments are easy. Your plan needs to look three or four decades into the future and be flexible enough to respond to all kinds of changes; your planner should be there to help you anticipate, pre-empt and prevail.
Running out of money in retirement is not just a factor of how much you start with. That’s why even starting with millions, especially if you’re retiring early, is no guarantee that you will end up with anywhere near what you set out with. Your odds of depletion are calculated based on how much your retirement assets can earn and how much you will need to withdraw from the pool each year. Until recently 4% was a “safe” annual withdrawal rate but today it’s only half that because interest rates are currently so low and stock valuations are historically so high. Pre- and post-retirees whose plans call for withdrawals greater than 2.5%, or who prefer insurance guarantees to the potential returns and corresponding risks of stocks and bonds, are sometimes well advised to consider annuities. Backed by the financial strength of the insurance companies offering them, many annuity contracts are designed to manage longevity risk by guaranteeing income you cannot outlive. Some also offer innovative investment features. We believe that a well-rounded advisor is one who can combine securities and insurance products that complement one another. Using them in tandem often delivers the best results. No matter how much you start with.
Too many retirement plans are built on unrealistic expectations that favorably skew the Monte Carlo probability analysis used by the securities industry to project a plan’s odds of success. Research shows that in the real world, it does not matter how accurate your “average annual return” assumptions may be for your forecast. Instead, what matters most is the sequence of returns that you experience, particularly during the early years of your retirement. The timing of your return sequence is largely a matter of luck. Retiring in 1929 just before the market crash would have been quite unlucky; retiring in 1983 as the greatest bull market in American history was getting underway would have been very lucky indeed. Our method endeavors to remove the luck factor. As for the future, we assume historically low returns and aim to achieve your goals despite them. If the future turns out to be brighter, you will have been positioned to participate.
If you are in or near retirement, the economic upheaval known as the Global Financial Crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time. Making money last for thirty years or more is not easy for individual investors or professional money managers. In this age of financial repression, it’s simply hard to make money on your money, no matter how much you may have. Then there’s volatility and bad timing; losses can knock any portfolio for a loop and send the plan it supports reeling. That’s when an advisor may tell you to tighten your belt until your portfolio recovers, which won’t be easy when you’re living off it. In addition to depressed returns, your retirement coincides with a “new normal” of uncertainty. Who knows what “tail risk” and “black swan” events may disrupt the best-laid plans? The years 2000-2010 proved to be a “lost decade” when many traditional investment strategies failed. So while “financial repression” starves you by driving returns to near zero or even less, risk-on markets may well scare you off. With interest rates at historic lows and equity markets at historic highs, some valuation measures warn of possible danger ahead. We believe retirees and pre-retirees should consider retooling to better prepare for all possible contingencies. Bottom line, ask yourself if you can preserve your retirement assets and still get the performance you need from them to meet your goals? We believe you can. And we invite you to let us show you how.
No matter your age or financial situation, there are steps you can take to improve your personal prospects and benefit the people and causes you care about. Our clients range in age from 40 to 90, some fully retired and some still working. Some of them are focused more on benefitting others while some are focused on protecting themselves to assure that they never become a burden on others. Some are focused on maximizing cash flow, some on maximizing legacy. Many are women, widowed or divorced, who are effectively retired facing long life expectancies. Whatever your age, your assets, your challenges, you will need to bring an open mind. Retirement success starts there. Your best retirement advisor is a good communicator who can articulate the complexities of your personal picture, explain the inner workings of the financial instruments you will want to consider, and demonstrate to your satisfaction the enhanced benefits you can achieve by putting the right ones together. And he needs to care about you and genuinely want to help. Find that advisor and get going. Time is of the essence.