Retirement can be complicated. You may work parttime or you may not. Relationships shift. You might move. You could become busier than ever, as did 13 percent of respondents in a late-2014 studyof 1,817 preretirees and retireesreleased by MassMutual.
Financial advisors want to help - by adding ancillary services that purport to address emerging and anticipated complications to financial planning and the transition to retirement.Their goal, business growth consultants say, is to grow their practices by adding more specialties and more income streams.
But just because an advisor wants to cross-sell you on a new service doesn't mean you should succumb to the pitch. Here's how to read between the lines and decipher what's best for you and your financial future, not your advisor's ambitions.
First, understand the logic behind the added services.The most logical expansion is certified financial planners adding in-house tax specialists, and certified public accountants adding financial advisory staff, reports Lyle Benson, president and founder of LK Benson amp; Co., a Baltimore CPA firm that advises other CPA firms on growth.
Especially for business owners, tax considerations are key for saving, investing and then tapping those investments in retirement. With so many moving parts, it makes sense to have both sides of the coin collaborating closely in the same office. "You need to figure out how all those pieces come together," Benson says. For example, recent changes to tax policy have forced tax rates up by 15 percent to 20 percent for some high-net-worth retirees. That's a big number," Benson says. Tax planning is so important that he won't take on a new tax client unless the scope of services includes ongoing planning, he adds.
But some advisory services are edging past taxes into other territory. That's when you have a tough call: Should you buy into the convenience of having several related services conveniently under one roof, presumably easing collaboration? Or should you pick your own specialists, believing each is bestinclass, but also take on the chore of quarterbacking the team efforts?
Ron Carson, founder of Omaha-based Peak Advisor Alliance, says he has struggled with this question over the years, even as he has hired in-house experts in tax, estate and insurance specialties."As a consumer, you have to understand who you are hiring. Are you hiring a money manager or a wealth advisor? If you are coordinating all the functions, you're a wealth manager," he says.
The most important thing to understand is who is in charge of the comprehensive plan any team will support, he says. Bear in mind that your experts will collaborate, regardless of whether they are all under the same umbrella.Two considerations can help you sort this out, Carson says.
First, how busy are you? Time-pressed professionals often prefer a one-stop-shopping approach. Retirees may have more time to steer their own plans. If you have a major life transition looming, such as a terminally ill spouse, you may want to ease some of that anticipated stress by going with the in-house team at least for a while.
The other consideration relates to the mechanics of collaboration. Balky software, spotty client notes and inconsistent record keeping can undermine any team, in-house or not.
"Ask to see the client management system, so that you know that notes are updated and available for anyone on the team," Carson says. "Just because they have a computer system doesn't mean they actually use it. Ask how employees are rewarded for keeping notes and for taking the time to support others' requests."
Finally, make sure you check out the credentials, not just of any new specialist you are asked to start working with, but also of new services added by a professional you already work with.
Financial advisors are fond of saying much of their job is therapy, but that doesn't mean they should be positioning themselves as family therapists, points out Frank Murtha, who really is a psychologist, and who is managing partner at New York-based MarketPsych, a firm that examines investor psychology and behavioral finance.
"An important question is, is someone trying to practice outside their competency? That is a legitimate issue," Murtha says.You should feel comfortable saying, 'I need more than one referral and a certification to evaluate your credentials.'"
A "money coach" who claims to take a holistic approach to financial decisions and attitudes may not have actual credentials to give you tactical advice on what funds to choose and other decisions with literal tax and legal consequences. Terms like "holistic" usually "are about understanding your path in life," and are less likely to be about genuine investment insight, Murtha says.
When in doubt, revert to fiduciary responsibility. A fiduciary's standard is what's best for you, currently and over the long term, not what's best for the fiduciary's business or fee income. Put a fiduciary in the center of any network of advisors and specialists, and he or she is obligated to give you the truest advice, and to help you keep others accountable.
you have a good, trusting relationship with an advisor, with someone who has a
fiduciary who puts your needs first, that's a good place to start," Murtha says.