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On a crisp, spring day in 1982, two friends graduated from dental school. Jim and Bill were their names. They had a lot in common -- both were top in their class, personable, andambitious.
Thirty-two years after graduation, I'm sitting down with these two seasoned dentists answering a few of their financial questions.They are still very much alike! Both are happily married, they have children andgrandchildren, and they each enjoygreat reputations in their community.
Theres just one difference: their retirement plan. Jim is thinking of adding a fifth workday to increase collections. He is actively trying to increase his income and put away essential cash before hes able to retire.
Bill, on the other hand, is in the process of finalizing hisretirement. He is spending fewer days at the practice and more days fishing, traveling, and skiing with his grandkids. Billsassociate is already in place andready to purchase the practice, which will add a little extra cushion to Bill's already substantial retirement nest egg.
So, what made the difference? They both had similar incomes almost every year since graduation. The difference wasnt about having more financial knowledge, more skill, or dedication to their craft. It wasnt even about luck. Jim and Bill were both excellent dentists, and the difference was simple:
Bill had a great financial advisor. Jim didnt.
Is it really that simple?
From myperspective, it was just that simple.And honestly, it's sad for me to watch.
Bill is worth far more money today. He made small, above-average financial decisions during his 30-year career, resulting in a higher personal worth at an earlier age. It wasn't a stroke of luck, a matter of privilege, or rocketscience -- it was financial science.
Where it all went wrong for Jim was when he failed todo his own due diligence when seeking a financial advisor. He defaulted to working with his brother-in-law, primarily because he didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. He made small, below-average financial decisions during his career, never knowing what he was really missing out on.Jim wasted precious years traveling down the wrong road.
Because there is such a low barrier to become a "financial planner," you'll find a wide gap between good and bad advisors who carry all kinds of titles and credentials. Some "advisors have very little financial background and are largely self-proclaimed experts.
My point is this:So what if hes a friend! So what if hes a family member or a nice guy with a fancy car. So what if hes written a book, taken you out for sushi, or bought you tickets to the Denver Broncos game! (Ok, that one might win me over.) Dont get caught up and underestimate the impact these decisions have on your future. None of these said credentials matter when it comes to backing up your financial future and your ability to retire when YOU want. Who are you listening to? Who is shaping your financial outlook and decisions? Who do you trust?
Ill give it to you straight from the horses mouth. Here are questions you need to ask your financial advisor so that you can go to sleep tonight knowing youre working with the best financial advisor for you and your family.
Question #1: Can you describe the types of clients you work with?
As a dentist, it's important to select an advisor who understands your unique career and all of its challenges. The best financial advisors have the ability to anticipate problems you will experience in the future, not just the problems that are currently on your mind. Find someone who has worked with dentists and specialists of varied ages and income levels.
Many financial advisors you meet will have experience in subjects that apply to everyone. Things like retirement planning, investments, insurance, personal budgeting, etc. But the best advisors have experience in subjects that only apply to you--things like equipment and real estate financing, practice transitions, practice profitability analysis, income tax budgeting, corporate and personal retirement plans, staff benefit issues, disability insurance, and liability protection.
Why does someone need a specialist advisor? Because these dentist-specific, practice-related issues affect your retirement in ways the generalist financial planner simply can't see.If your advisor hasn't worked with multiple dentists and specialists at different phases throughout their career, you may not be in the best hands.
Specialist advisors tend to work closely with accounts, attorneys, equipment amp; supply vendors, practice management consultants, tech amp; marketing companies, and other dental industry specialists.These synergies can often help you save money and improve the coordination between your personal and practice finances.
Question #2: How do you make money?
Advisors hold different types of licenses. Most planners are paid through one of the following:
o Commissions for products they sell (commission-based)
o Mostly fees you pay them, plus commissions on products they sell (fee-based)
o Only fees you pay them (fee-only)
I recommend dentists work with a fee-based or fee-only advisor. The best advice comes from independent advisors who are not employed by a company that has a product-sales focus.In other words, work with John -- a fee-only financial planner (flat fee, hourly fee, or % of assets under management), rather than Doug -- a commission-based salesman who works for XYZ insurance,bank, or mutual fund company.
Just because someone is a fee-based or fee-only financial advisor doesn't mean he is a great advisor. And just because someone is a commission-based salesperson, doesn't mean she is a predatory shark. But I would limit your search to someone who is fee-based or fee-only, as I think you'll find this pool of advisors to be some of the most experienced and trustworthy in the industry.
Question #3: How do you invest money for your clients? How do you invest your own money?
Ask the advisor to explain how he invests money for clients. Then follow up by asking what influences (academic and professional) have helped shape his opinions overtime. Everyone has influences--especially as it relates to investing money.
Beware of advisors who claim to be able to forecast the future, especially if they have a sort of smartest-guy-in-the-roommentality. Trying to anticipate future events is not sustainable, and it is very, very risky. Likewise, be cautious if an advisor begins to place too much credibility on his own personal acumen or proprietary models that he has developed. Investments perform well based onforces that are far greater thanthe financial advisor's ability to control or predict.
Question #4: What happens to me if something happens to you?
If an advisor were to have an accident and become unable to perform his duties, who would continue to service you and your practice? How much of the advice is documented into a system or format that can be easily understood by the succeeding advisor? Good financial advisors have a process in place for easily transferring all of your information, recommendations and financial planning goals and objectives.
Bewareof advisors who are solo practitioners, working without the support of a team. A team-based service approach allows for your individual needs to be handled, even if something happens to your primary advisor. Some advisors keep too much of your information inside of their head and put your hard-earned money in jeopardy as a consequence. Whether you work with a big or small firm, each advisor should build a process to protect your security by having a good backup plan.
Question #5: What is your educational background?
Advisors often pursue many different professional credentials. Some credentials have rigorous, graduate-level testing requirements that set advisors apart from their peers in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, many credentials are nothing more than a weekend crash course that grants a fancy title.
Some credentials are good baseline measures of competence, due to their overall rigor, time commitment, and ethical standards. If I were looking to hire a financial planner with broad experience, the CFP® would be the most meaningful credential to me. If I were looking to hire an investment advisor or money manager, the CFA® credential would be the most meaningful to me.
No amount of professional credentials or higher education can compensate for a bad business model. But if your financial advisor has no professional credentials, you should ask why. If your financial advisor has a credential I haven't listed, you may want to do some additional research to determine the relative rigor.
Question #6:What is your process for clients? Can you describe how you do your work?
If the advisor is offering to help you reach your financial goals, find out more about the process they follow to help their clients. If someone asked youthis question about your dental practice, you could probably describe in some detail what they would experience. Your advisor should be able to do the same.
The more concrete, proactive, and explicit the process, the more likely you are to be happy with your advisor.
Is the service an a la carte menu or a comprehensive financial planning model?How do they learn about updates to your situation? What information do they track about your finances that helps them have a good picture of your situation? How do theyquantify the progress that you are making? What kind of reporting should you expect? What financial subjects do they address with clients?What things do they not address?
The point of this question is to help you gauge the level of experience and competence of your advisor (or prospective advisor). Qualified advisors will go into great detail about why and how they service their clients a particular way. Not everyone has the same process, but good advisors know why they do things the way they do.
Question #7: Are you a fiduciary?
A fiduciary is a fancy word for an advisor who is legally bound to put client interests before his own. Strange as it may seem, many advisors are not legally bound to operate under the fiduciary standard. Such advisors have licenses that only require them to follow a "suitability standard." In other words, some advisors are held to higher standards than others.
We recommend using a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) because these individuals have a fiduciary duty to act in your best interest and are legally bound to invest funds accordingly. Stockbrokers and insurance agents do not have this higher fiduciary duty.Advisors held to a fiduciary standard have higher legal requirementsand are generally morecautious and measured about their advice.
Dentists need good financial advisors they can trust. Today's financial landscape is as exciting as ever but very complex. Your advisor will either become a great asset or a heavy burden to your finances, and you deserve the best service available.
The right advisor provides unbiased education, unparalleled insight into your career and finances, and has the confidence to make tough decisions during difficult times. The wrong advisor will employ manipulative sales practices,lack transparency, and cast a cloud of doubt over your future. Selecting the right advisor helps you become smarter and more prepared for the challenges you'll face as a business owner. Selecting the wrong advisor can put you in the dark for decades and make decisions that hurt you and your family's ability to be self-reliant and independent.
Take the time to inquire before you hire.
Reese Harper is the founder of Aquire Wealth Advisors, an independent financial planning firm that helps successful dentists amp; specialists make smart decisions with their money. He writes regularly about personal finance and teaches financial literacy among the dental community through events and speaking engagements. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife and four kids where he enjoys hiking, skiing, and biking. Connect with him on LinkedIn!
Also by Reese Harper: Top 10 mistakes dentists make on their way to retirement.
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Taxation rose to the highest level in six years, with the governments of Denmark and France extracting the most from their economies, a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed.
Tax receipts collected by OECD countries jumped to 34.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 from 33.7 percent the year before, marking the fourth straight annual increase, the organization said in a report published in Paris today. The ratio reached 34.3 percent in 2000.
The figures underline how governments around the world have used tax increases to narrow their budget deficits in the wake of the financial crisis that triggered the worst recession in more than half a century.
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After a delay, student leaders and Student Financial Services are taking steps to finalize the student financial advisory board proposed last December in order to bridge relations between the student body and SFS.
Student leaders gathered Monday evening in the Office of Student Registration and Financial Services to celebrate the inauguration of the Student Financial Services Advisory Board. The Undergraduate Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and representatives from the 5B groups, Penn's main cultural umbrella organizations, were all in attendance.
The board's objectives are two-fold: first, to work with SFS to generate policies and content that help students and second, to communicate information more effectively to the student body.
"The investment in transparency is really the biggest piece of the board," University Director of Financial Aid Joel Carstens said. "We want to be able to learn from students about how we can be better at what we do."
Although planning for the advisory board is currently in its final stages, students shied away from discussing the specifics of what the advisory board would work on. Student groups are currently drafting the Advisory Board's constitution, Tariq said.
Now a year after its initial proposal, the idea for the student advisory board came out of a December 2013 meeting between the 5B groups and SFS staff.
"We were talking with SFS about how interactions between students and SFS are more difficult for the students we represent," said UMOJA Planning and Facilitating Co-Chair Abrina Hyatt. "We wanted to bridge the relationship between students and SFS and guide future efforts."
Over the last year, student groups across campus have jumped on board.
"This is exciting because students use SFS so much and now we get to communicate our concerns to a board that has the power to change policies," UA representative and College sophomore Taha Tariq said. "We get to make an impact on other students we represent."
Some groups have been more involved than others. "We don't know where we tie into it yet," School of Design graduate student and GAPSA representative Taylor Knoche said. "We didn't really have any issues other than loans not being reimbursed right away."
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A NEW framework for financial advisers provides for improved customer service and enhanced competition that will undoubtedly boost the performance and sustainability of the financial services sector.
South Africa has a good, well-regulated financial services sector, and the much-anticipated, much-discussed Retail Distribution Review (RDR) discussion paper recently released by the Financial Services Board (FSB) has outlined some important changes and opportunities for us. The RDR is substantially based on that of the UK, but adapted for our market.
Chiefly, the RDR aims to deal with inherent conflicts of interest in the relationship between product providers and financial advisers (or intermediaries). It seeks to clarify the services that intermediaries provide using an activity-based approach. Activities are to be separated into three categories services provided to customers (advice), services provided to product suppliers (outsourced services) and services provided to connect product suppliers and customers (intermediation). It then proposes a further review of financial advisers’ charging and remuneration models and their transparency.
A primary outcome of the framework will be to obviate the incentives offered to financial advisers that introduce a conflict of interest to their relationship with customers. In some cases this has, in the past, led advisers to offer the products most lucrative to themselves (with commission earnings) rather than those most beneficial to customers.
At the heart of the move from commission-based towards fee-based remuneration lies a desire to promote appropriate, affordable and fair advice and services. It also aims to support a sustainable business model for financial advisers as a business with continuing fees is more sustainable than one that relies mostly on upfront commission.
This is very encouraging: the international experience, especially in the UK and Australia, is that such regulatory shifts benefit all. It promotes the important role of sound financial advice by qualified advisers which, in turn, means that customers stand to benefit from enhanced professionalism in the industry.
In South Africa, we face a huge task to encourage individuals to become more financially savvy and improve the country’s savings culture.
The recently updated Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor (Omsim) found that most South Africans were aware of the importance of planning for their future (80 percent of working metropolitan respondents want to learn how to save), but many haven’t translated their awareness into action yet: about 30 percent haven’t seen a financial adviser and as many as 33 percent have made no formal provision for retirement.
It’s painfully clear that many Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) face hard times and that their families will bear the brunt of that. Almost half (46 percent) of Baby Boomers believe their children should care for them, and 63 percent of respondents (70 percent in black households) expect to support family members in the future. These statistics alone should indicate just how important providing advice is. It is equally important that consumer confidence in the advice process is high.
The international experience, both in the UK and Australia, is of an upward curve of standards and expectations and we anticipate that the proposed review by the FSB will help to drive that trend here.
There is no doubt that some step-changes are required: in the short term, adviser firms that don’t have a healthy proportion of annuity income from customers may face cash flow challenges as less upfront commission will be payable under the new framework.
But there is probably sufficient time to prepare and adjust for this. Advisers will need to examine their business mix and ratio of upfront-versus-trail income, and to manage the transition to earning more annuity income in the form of advice fees.
Advisers will also need to assess very carefully their value offering to customers, and analyse their competitive advantages in a fee-based environment.
Adviser firms will need to establish whether they want to offer tiered service-levels at different price points. Those that opt to do so will need to offer customers attractive choices and articulate those choices clearly.
From experience in the UK, we have learnt that one outcome of the review is that consumers will be more aware of financial advice as a service in its own right, rather than as something that appears free because it is attached to a product purchase. Therefore, financial advisers need to offer long-term benefits and adapt the way they promote services to ensure the value they deliver to customers is clear. All in all, this means that financial advice is now recognised as a valuable service worth paying for.
Adjusting to the new environment will provide a competitive advantage for professionals and an increase in demand for their services. Again, the international experience is instructive: in Australia, financial advisers are the most respected professionals after doctors and dentists (source: The Association of Financial Advisers in Australia). We could achieve the same level of credibility in our country.
Whatever the final format of RDR, the major changes ahead for the financial services industry will have long-term benefits for the sector and all its stakeholders. For individual advisers the challenge is to embrace the change and turn it into an advantage.
Iain Williamson is managing director of Old Mutual’s Retail Affluent division