The Smart Way to Manage Your Sudden Wealth

The Smart Way to Manage Your Sudden Wealth

Getting rich is the dream of many people. When your sudden wealth becomes a reality, you need to be ready for the new responsibilities and challenges. As someone experienced in helping my clients manage their sudden wealth, I want to share some of my experience.

Wealth sources

Your sudden windfall can come from many different sources – receiving an Inheritance, winning the lottery, selling your business or a real estate property, signing a new sport or music contract, royalties from a bestselling book or a hit song, or selling shares after your company finally goes public. Whatever the source is, your life is about to change. Being rich brings a unique level of issues.  Your new wealth can have a variety of financial, legal and core repercussions to your life.

Avoid making any immediate changes to your life

Don’t make big and hasty changes to your lifestyle. I recommend that you wait at least six months. Let the big news sink in your mind.  Let things settle down before quitting your job, moving to another city or making a large purchase. Keep it quiet. The next six month will give you a chance to reassess your life, control your emotions and set your priorities.

Figure out what you own

This is the moment you have been waiting for all your life. You are probably very excited, and you deserve it. There are tons of things you want to do with your money. But before you do anything.  Take a deep breath. Figure out exactly what you own. Gather all necessary information about your assets. Maybe your sudden windfall is in cash. However, your new wealth could be in real estate, land, stocks, art, gold, rare wines, luxury cars and so on. Not always your new fortunate can easily be converted into cash. Each wealth source is unique on its own and has specific legal and financial rules.

Build your team

Your financial life is about to become a lot more complicated. You will need a team of trusted experts who will help you navigate through these changes. Your financial team can help you understand your wealth.   They watch your back and flag any blind spots. Talk to your team and figure what are your options.

Hire a CPA

You are rich. And that’s a great news for the IRS and your state. There is a very good chance you will pay more taxes that you ever imagined. Start assembling your financial team by hiring a reputable CPA who understands your situation and can steer you through the complex world of taxes.  Each source of wealth has unique tax rules. Find out what rules apply to you.

Hire a financial advisor

Look for a trusted fiduciary financial advisor with experience managing sudden wealth. A fiduciary advisor will look after your best interest and guide you in your new journey. Talk to your new advisors about your personal and financial goals and how to reach them with the help of your new wealth.

Have a financial plan

Ask your advisor to craft a financial plan that is tailored to your unique situation, specific needs and financial objectives. Figure out how your sudden wealth can help you reach your goals – retire early, send your kids to college, buy a new house, become self-employed. The list is endless. Talk to your advisor about your risk tolerance. Many of my clients who earned a windfall have a low risk appetite. An important part of our conversation is how to reach their goals without taking on too much risk.

Protect your new wealth

You need to take steps to protect your sudden windfall.  For a starter, try to keep

If your new money is sitting in your checking account, make sure you allocate it among several different banks and account types. Remember that FDIC insurance covers up to 250k per person per bank in each account category.

If you inherited real estate or art or some other type of physical property make sure to have solid Insurance to protect you from unexpected events.  

In case you received stocks or other investments, speak to your financial advisor how to hedge them from market volatility and losing value.

Have an estate plan

No matter how well you plan, life can be unpredictable. Getting a windfall is a great opportunity to update your estate plan or craft a new one. The estate plan will protect your loved ones and ensure your legacy in the face of the unknown. If something happens to you, your fortune will be used and divided per your own wish. The alternative is going through a lengthy and expensive probate process that may not have the same outcome.

Pay off your debts

If you owe money, you have a chance to pay off your debts.  Credit cards debts and any personal loans with high interest should be your priority. Your new wealth can help your live a debt-free life. This is one area where working with a financial advisor will make a big difference in your life.  

Beware that many people who receive sudden windfall end up borrowing more money and sometimes filing for bankruptcy.  Don’t be that person. You still need to live within your means.

Plan your taxes

Depending on the source of sudden wealth you may owe taxes to the IRS and your state either immediately or sometime in the near future. Don’t underestimate your tax bill. Your CPA and financial advisor should help you understand and prepare for your current and future tax bills.

Don’t overspend

Many lottery winners and former athletes file for bankruptcy due to poor spending habits, lending money to family and friends and money mismanagement. The fact that you are rich doesn’t mean that you can’t lose your money. You need to be responsible. Talk to your advisor about your monthly budget and what you can afford.  

Be philanthropic

Making a donation is an excellent way to give back to the society and leave a legacy.  If you have a charitable cause close to your heart, you make a difference. Often time, charitable contributions can be tax-deductible and lower your tax bill. Talk to your CPA and financial advisors how you can achieve that.

Conclusion

Sudden Wealth can come in all shapes and forms – cash, real estate, land, ongoing business, royalties, stocks, and many others. Even though it might not be completely unexpected, the way you feel about after the fact might be shocking to you. Don’t let your emotions get the worst of you. Getting windfall is a great life accomplishment. And you should make the best out of it.  Work with your team of trusted professionals and build a long-term plan with milestones and objectives.

Reach out

If you are expecting a windfall or recently received a sudden wealth, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families and successful business owners.

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A financial checklist for young families

A financial checklist for young families

I recently had the chance to work with several young families looking for help to build their wealth and improve their finances. We discussed a broad range of topics from buying a house, saving for retirement, savings for their kids’ college, budgeting and building legacy. As a financial advisor in the early 40s, I have personally gone through many of these questions and was happy to share my experience.

Some of my clients already had young children. Others are expecting a new family member. Being a dad of a nine-month-old boy, I could relate to many of their concerns. My experience helped me guide them through the web of financial and investment questions.  

While each family is unique, there are many common themes amongst all couples. While each topic of them deserves a separate post, I will try to summarize them for you.

Communicate

Successful couples always find a way to communicate effectively. I always advise my clients to discuss their financial priorities and concerns. When partners talk to each other, they often discover that they have entirely different objectives.  Having differences is normal as long as you have common goals. By building a strong partnership you will pursue your common goals while finding a common ground for your differences

Talking to each other will help you address any of the topics in this article.

If it helps, talk to an independent fiduciary financial advisor. We can help you get a more comprehensive and objective view of your finances. We often see blind spots that you haven’t recognized before.

Set your financial goals

Most life coaches will tell you that setting up specific goals is crucial in achieving success in life. It’s the same when it comes to your finances. Set specific short-term and long-term financial goals and stick to them. These milestones will guide you and help you make better financial decisions in the future.

Budget

There is nothing more important to any family wellbeing than budgeting. Many apps can help you budget your income and spending. You can also use an excel spreadsheet or an old fashion piece of paper. You can break down your expenses in various categories and groups similar to what I have below. Balance your budget and live within your means.

Sample budget

Gross Income?????
Taxes???
401k Contributions??
Net Income????
Fixed Expenses
Mortgage?
Property Taxes?
Utilities (Phone, Cable, Gas, Electric)?
Insurance?
Healthcare/Medical?
Car payment?
529 savings?
Daycare?
Non-Discretionary Flexible Expenses
Groceries?
Automotive (Fuel, Parking, Tolls)?
Home Improvement/Maintenance?
Personal Care?
Dues & Subscriptions?
Discretionary Expenses
Restaurants?
General Merchandise?
Travel?
Clothing/Shoes?
Gifts?
Entertainment?
Other Expenses?
Net Savings???

Consolidate your assets

One common issue I see amongst young couples is the dispersion of their assets. It’s very common for spouses to have multiple 401k, IRAs and savings accounts in various financial institutions and former employers. Consolidating your assets will help you get a more comprehensive view of your finances and manage them more efficiently.

Manage your debt

The US consumer debt has grown to record high levels. The relatively low-interest rates, rising real estate prices and the ever-growing college cost have pushed the total value of US household debt to $13.25 trillion. According to the New York Fed, here is how much Americans owe by age group.

  • Under 35: $67,400
  • 35–44: $133,100
  • 45–54: $134,600
  • 55–64: $108,300
  • 65–74: $66,000
  • 75 and up: $34,500

For many young families who are combining their finances, managing their debt becomes a key priority in achieving financial independence.

Manage your credit score

One way to lower your debt is having a high credit score. I always advise my clients to find out how much their credit score is.  The credit score, also known as the FICO score, is a measure between 300 and 850 points. Higher scores indicate lower credit risk and often help you get a lower interest rate on your mortgage or personal loan. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, provides an individual FICO score.  All three companies have a proprietary database, methodology, and scoring system. You can sometimes see substantial differences in your credit score issued by those agencies.

Your FICO score is a sum of 64 different measurements. And each agency calculates it slightly differently. As a rule, your credit score depends mainly on the actual dollar amount of your debt, the debt to credit ratio and your payment history. Being late on or missing your credit card payments, maximizing your credit limits and applying for too many cards at once will hurt your credit score.

Own a house or rent

Owning your first home is a common theme among my clients. However, the price of real estate in the Bay area, where I live, has skyrocketed in the past 10 years. The average home price in San Francisco according to Zillow is $1.3 million. The average home price in Palo Alto is $3.1 million. (Source: https://www.zillow.com/san-francisco-ca/home-values/ ). While not at this magnitude, home prices have risen in all major metropolitan areas around the country. Buying a home has become an impossible dream for many young families. Not surprisingly a recent survey by the Bank of the West has revealed that 46% of millennials have chosen to rent over buying a home, while another 11% are staying with their parents.  

Buying a home in today’s market conditions is a big commitment and a highly personal decision. It depends on a range of factors including how long you are planning to live in the new home, available cash for a downpayment, job prospects, willingness to maintain your property, size of your family and so on.

Maximize your retirement contributions

Did you know that in 2019 you can contribute up to $19,000 in your 401k? If you are in your 50s or older, you can add another $6,000 as a catch-up contribution. Maximizing your retirement savings will help you grow your wealth and build a cushion of solid retirement savings. Not to mention the fact that 401k contributions are tax-deferred and lower your current tax bill.

Unfortunately, many Americans are not saving aggressively for retirement. According to Fidelity, the average person in their 30’s have $42.7k in their 401k plan. people in their 40s own on average 103k.

If your 401k balance is higher than your age group you are already better off than the average American.

Here is how much Americans own in their 401 plan by age group

  • 20 to 29 age: $11,500
  • 30 to 39 age: $42,700
  • 40 to 49 age: $103,500
  • 50 to 59 age: $174,200
  • 60 to 69 age: $192,800

For those serious about their retirement goals, Fidelity recommends having ten times your final salary in savings if you want to retire by age 67. They are also suggesting how to achieve this goal by age group.

  • By the age of 30: Have the equivalent of your starting salary saved
  • 35 years old: Have two times your salary saved
  • 40 years old: Have three times your salary saved
  • 45 years old: Have four times your salary saved
  • 50 years old: Have six times your salary saved
  • 55 years old: Have seven times your salary saved
  • 60 years old: Have eight times your salary saved
  • By age 67: Have 10 times your salary saved

Keep in mind that these are general guidelines. Everybody is different. Your family retirement goal is highly dependent on your individual circumstances, your lifestyle, spending habits, family size and alternative sources of income.

Know your risk tolerance level

One common issue I see with young families is the substantial gap between their risk tolerance and the actual risk they take in their retirement and investment accounts.  Risk tolerance is your emotional ability to accept risk as an investor.

I have seen clients who are conservative by nature but have a very aggressive portfolio. Or the opposite, there are aggressive investors with a large amount of cash or a large bond portfolio. Talking to a fiduciary financial advisor can help you understand your risk tolerance. You will be able to narrow that gap between your emotions and real-life needs and then connect them to your financial goals and milestones.

Diversify your investments

Diversification is the only free lunch you will get in investing. Diversifying your investments can reduce the overall risk of your portfolio. Without going into detail, owning a mix of uncorrelated assets will lower the long-term risk of your portfolio. I always recommend that you have a portion of your portfolio in US Large Cap Blue Chip Stocks and add some exposure to Small Cap, International, and Emerging Market Stocks, Bonds and Alternative Assets such as Gold and Real Estate.

Invest your idle cash

One common issue I have seen amongst some of my clients is holding a significant amount of cash in their investment and retirement accounts. The way I explain it is that most millennials are conservative investors. Many of them observed their parents’ negative experience during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. As a result, they became more risk-averse than their parents.

However, keeping ample cash in your retirement account in your 30s will not boost your wealth in the long run. You are probably losing money as inflation is deteriorating the purchasing power of your idle cash. Even if you are a very conservative investor, there are ways to invest in your retirement portfolio without taking on too much risk.

Early retirement

I talk about early retirement a lot often than one might imagine. The media and online bloggers have boosted the image of retiring early and made it sound a lot easier than it is. I am not saying that early retirement is an illusion, but it requires a great deal of personal and financial sacrifice. Unless you are born rich or rely on a huge payout, most people who retire early are very frugal and highly resourceful. If your goal is to retire early, you need to pay off your debt now, cut down spending and save, save and save.

Build-in tax diversification

While most of the time we talk about our 401k plans, there are other investment and retirement vehicles out there such as Roth IRA, Traditional IRA and even your brokerage account. They all have their own tax advantages and disadvantages. Even if you save a million bucks in your 401k plan, not all of it is yours. You must pay a cut to the IRS and your state treasury. Not to mention the fact that you can only withdraw your savings penalty-free after reaching 59 ½. Roth IRA and brokerage account do not lower your taxes when you make contributions, but they offer a lot more flexibility, liquidity, and some significant future tax advantages. In the case of Roth IRA, all your withdrawals can be tax-free when you retire. Your brokerage account provides you with immediate liquidity and lower long-term capital gains tax on realized gains.

Plan for child’s expenses

Most parents will do anything for their children. But having kids is expensive. Whether a parent will stay at home and not earn a salary, or you decide to hire a nanny or pay for daycare, children will add an extra burden to your budget. Not to mention the extra money for clothes, food, entertainment (Disneyland) and even another seat on the plane.

Plan for college with a 529 Plan

Many parents want to help their children pay for college or at least cover some of the expenses. 529 plan is a convenient, relatively inexpensive and tax-advantageous way to save for qualified college expenses. Sadly, only 29% of US families are familiar with the plan. Most states have their own state-run 529 plan. Some states even allow state tax deductions for 529 contributions. Most 529 plans have various active, passive and age-based investment options. You can link your checking account to your 529 plan and set-up regular monthly contributions. There are plentiful resources about 529 plans in your state. I am happy to answer questions if you contact me directly.

Protect your legacy

Many young families want to protect their children in case of sudden death or a medical emergency. However, many others don’t want to talk about it at all. I agree it’s not a pleasant conversation. Here in California, unless you have an established estate, in case of your death all your assets will go to probate and will have to be distributed by the court. The probate is a public, lengthy and expensive process. When my son was born my wife and I set up an estate, created our wills and assigned guardians, and trustees to our newly established trust.

The process of protecting your legacy is called estate planning. Like everything else, it’s highly personalized depending on the size of your family, the variety of assets you own, your income sources, your charitable aptitude, and so on. Talking to an experienced estate attorney can help you find the best decision for yourself and your family.

I never sell insurance to my clients. However, if you are in a situation where you are the sole bread earner in the household, it makes a lot of sense to consider term life and disability insurance, which can cover your loved ones if something were to happen to you.

Plan ahead

I realize that this is a very general, kind of catch-all checkpoint but let me give it a try. No matter what happens in your life right now, I guarantee you a year or two from now things will be different. Life changes all the time – you get a new job, you have a baby, you need to buy a new car, or your company goes public, and your stock options make you a millionaire. Whatever that is, think ahead. Proper planning could save you a lot of money and frustration in the long run.

Conclusion

I realize that this checklist is not complete. Every family is unique. Each one of you has very different circumstances, financial priorities, and life goals. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution for any family out there. If you contact me directly, I will be happy to address your questions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.  To learn more visit our Private Client Services page here. Additionally, we offer Outsourced Chief Investment Officer services to professional advisors (RIAs), family offices, endowments, defined benefit plans, and other institutional clients. To find out more visit our OCIO page here.

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Related Articles:

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation, and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing,

Market Outlook October 2018

Overview

The US stock market was on an absolute tear this summer. S&P 500 went up by 7.65% and completed its best 3rd quarter since 2013. Despite the February correction, the US stocks managed to recover from the 10% drop. All major indices reached a series of record highs at the end of August and September.

IndexQ1 2018Q2 2018Q3 2018YTD 2018
S&P 500 Large-Cap (SPY)-1.00%3.55%7.65%10.37%
S&P 600 Small-Cap (IJR)0.57%8.69%4.87%14.64%
MSCI EAFE (VEA)-0.90%-1.96%1.23%-1.62%
Barclays US Aggregate Bond (AGG)-1.47%-0.18%-0.08%-1.73%
Gold (GLD)1.73%-5.68%-4.96%-8.81%
Source: Morningstar

 

The US Economy remains strong

Markets have largely shrugged off the trade war fears benefiting from a strong economy and high corporate earnings.

US Unemployment remains low at 3.9% in July and August, levels not seen since the late 1960s and 2000.

Consumer sentiment is at a multi-year high. The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index hit 100.1 in September, passing 100 for the third time since the January of 2004.

Business optimism hit another record high in August.  The National Federation of Independent Business’ small business optimism index reached the highest level in the survey’s 45-year history. According to NFIB, small business owners are planning to hire more workers, raise compensation for current employees, add inventory, and spend more on capital investments.

A hypothetical 60/40 portfolio

A hypothetical 60/40 index portfolio consisting of 30% US Large Cap Stocks, 10% US Small Cap Stocks, 20% International Stocks, 33% US Fixed Income and 7% Gold would have returned 3.06% by the end of September.

IndexAllocationReturn
S&P 50030%3.11%
S&P 60010%1.46%
MSCI EAFE20%-0.32%
Barclays USAgg Bond33%-0.57%
Gold7%-0.62%
Hypothetical Performance3.06%

 

US Equity

I expect a strong Q4 of 2018 with a record high holiday consumer and business spending. While stock valuations remain elevated, robust revenue and consumer demand will continue to drive economic growth.

After lagging large-cap stocks in 2017, small-cap stocks are having a comeback in 2018. Many domestically focused publicly traded businesses benefited massively from the recent corporate tax cuts, higher taxes on imported goods and healthy domestic demand.

This year’s rally was primarily driven by Technology, Healthcare and Consumer Discretionary stocks, up 20.8%, 16.7%, and 13.7% respectively. However, other sectors like Materials, Real Estate, Consumer Staples, Financials and Utilities are either flat or negative for the year. Keep in mind of the recent reshuffle in the sector classification where Google, Facebook, Netflix and Twitter along with the old telecommunication stocks were added to a new sector called Communication services.

Sector performance

SectorPerformancePrice perPrice toDividend
YTDEarningsSalesYield
as of 10/3/2018(TTM) (TTM)(%)
Communication Services-1.91%22.6x1.3x4.83%
Consumer Discretionary13.72%16.5x1.0x1.27%
Consumer Staples-5.50%15.1x1.0x2.86%
Energy8.67%14.0x1.2x1.74%
Financials0.29%15.2x2.1x1.91%
Health Care16.71%18.2x1.2x1.86%
Industrials4.73%15.7x1.1x1.85%
Information Technology20.86%14.8x2.1x0.90%
Materials-3.56%13.2x1.1x1.79%
Utilities0.77%17.1x1.3x3.70%
Source: Bloomberg

 

I believe that we are in the last few innings of the longest bull market. However, a wide range of sectors and companies that have largely remained on the sidelines. Some of them could potentially benefit from the continued economic growth and low tax rates.

International Equity

The performance gap between US and foreign stocks continues to grow. After a negative Q1 and Q2, foreign stocks recouped some of the losses in Q3. Furthermore, emerging market stocks are down close to -9% for the year.

Bad economic data coming from Turkey, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and China along with trade war fears put downward pressure on foreign equity markets. Additionally, rising right-wing sentiments in Italy, Austria, Sweden, Hungary, and even Germany puts doubts on the stability of the European Union and its pro-immigration policies.

In my view, the risk that the financial crisis in Turkey, Argentina, and Italy will spread to other countries is somewhat limited. However, the short-term headwinds remain, and we will continue to monitor these markets.

Brexit

Another major headline for European stocks is the progress of the Brexit negotiation. While soft Brexit would benefit both sides, a hard exit could have a higher negative impact on the UK.

I remain cautiously positive on international stocks. According to WSJ, foreign stocks are trading at a 12% discount over US equity on price to earnings basis. This year created value opportunities in several counters. However, the issue with European and Japanese stocks is not so much in valuations but the search for growth catalysts in conservative economies with an aging population.

Fixed Income

Rising Fed rates and higher inflation have driven bond prices lower so far this year. With inflation rate hovering at 2%, strong employment figures, rising commodity cost, and robust GDP growth, the Fed will continue to hike interest rates. I am expecting one more rate hike in December and three additional hikes in 2019.

I will also continue to monitor the spread between 2-year and 10-year treasury. This spread is currently at 0.23%, the lowest level since 2005.  Normally, a negative spread, i..e 2-year treasury rare higher than 10-year is a sign of a troubled economy.

While modest, individual pockets of the fixed-income market are generating positive performance this year. For instance, short duration fixed income products are now yielding in the range of 1.5% to 2%. The higher interest is now a compelling reason for many investors to keep some of their holdings in cash, CDs or short-term instruments.

With 10-year treasury closing above 3% and moving higher, fixed income investors will continue to see soft returns on their portfolio.

Gold

Gold is one of the big market losers this year. The strong dollar and robust US economy have led to the precious metal sell-off.  While the rise cryptocurrency might have reduced some of the popularity of Gold, I still believe that a small position in Gold can offer a buffer and reduce the overall long-term portfolio volatility. The investors tend to shift to Gold during times of uncertainty.

Navigating market highs

With S&P 500, NASDAQ and Dow Jones hitting all-time highs, how should investors manage their portfolio?

Rebalance

End of the year is an excellent opportunity for reconciliation and rebalancing to your target asset allocation. S&P 500 has returned 16.65% in the past five years, and the chance that equities are taking a big chunk of your portfolio is very high. Realizing some long-term gains and reinvesting your proceeds into other asset classes will ensure that your portfolio is reset to your desired risk tolerance level as well as adequately diversified.

Think long-term

In late January and early February, we experienced a market sell-offs while S&P 500 dropped more than 10%. Investors in the index who did not panic and sold at the bottom recouped their losses and ended up with 10% return as of September 30, 2018. Taking a long-term view will help you avoid the stress during market downturns and allow you to have a durable long-term strategy

 

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio or how to start investing for retirement and other financial goals, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit our Insights page where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized wealth management and financial planning services to individuals and families.  To learn more visit our Private Client Services page here. Additionally, we offer Outsourced Chief Investment Officer services to professional advisors (RIAs), family offices, endowments, defined benefit plans, and other institutional clients. To find out more visit our OCIO page here.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing,

10 Questions to ask when choosing your financial advisor

Seeking a financial advice is a major step in achieving your personal and financial goals. Financial advisors have been instrumental in helping clients maintain well balanced, disciplined, long-term focused approach towards their personal finances and retirement planning. Finding a good financial advisor is like finding a personal doctor. The chances are you will stick with that the person for a long time. In this article, we will give you several suggestions how to choose a financial advisor.

Lately, financial advisors have been under increasing pressure from clients, various regulatory bodies and new fintech competition. Furthermore, many financial advisors are facing questions about fee structure, legal organization, and fiduciary duties.

So how to pick your financial advisor? The financial industry has done a great job confusing the public with various titles and role functions. Financial advisors call themselves investment advisors, wealth advisors, financial coaches, wealth managers, and brokers. Additionally, insurance agents, accountants, and lawyers provide some type of financial advice to their clients.

So let’s breakdown several questions you need to ask yourself and your new financial advisor before you move forward.

1. Business model

There are two main models under which financial advisors offer their services – Registered investment advisor (RIA) and broker-dealers.

RIAs are independent fee-only investment companies that often provide both financial planning and investment management services. They charge a flat fee or a percentage of the client’s assets under management. RIAs are usually boutique companies run by their founders. Moreover, independent advisors have a fiduciary duty to work in their customers’ best interest. Most RIAs provide a holistic goal based financial advice based on their clients’ particular economic circumstances, lifestyle, and risk tolerance. If you prefer to receive personalized fiduciary financial services, then the RIA model is probably the best fit for you.

Brokers offer commission based financial services. They receive compensation based on the number of trades placed in their client accounts. The agents often belong to large banking institutions like Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase. Other times they are independent houses offering a wider range of services including insurance, accounting, tax, and estate planning. Brokers do not have a legal fiduciary duty to work in their clients’ best interest. However, with the new Department of Labor rule, brokers must perform fiduciary duties in retirement accounts like 401k plans and IRA. Nevertheless, the new law does not cover taxable investments accounts. If you favor an established relationship with a large financial institution with access to multiple services, then the broker model might be a better fit for you.

 

2. Education

What is your financial advisor education? Make sure that you are comfortable with your new advisor’s credentials and educational background.  Many financial professionals hold at least bachelor or master degrees in Finance or Accounting. For those that that lack the financial education or work experience, regulators require passing series 65 for RIAs and series 7 and 63 for brokers. Additionally, there are three popular financial certificates – CFA, CFP, and CPA, Advisors that hold any of the certificates have gone through a significant training and learning process.

 

Chartered Financial Analyst

CFA is a professional designation given by the CFA Institute. The exam measures the competence and integrity of financial analysts. Candidates have to pass three levels of exams covering areas such as accounting, economics, ethics, money management and security analysis.

CFA is considered the highest ranked financial certificate and widely recognized across the globe. CFA program takes at least three years and requires passing three level exam. Level 1 exam is offered twice a year in June and December. Level 2 and 3 are offered only once a year in June. Candidates also need to pass strict work requirements regarding their work experience in investment decision-making process.

 

Certified Financial Planner

CFP refers to the certification owned and awarded by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. The CFP designation is awarded to individuals who complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements. Individuals desiring to become a CFP professional must take extensive exams in the areas of financial planning, taxes, insurance, estate planning, and retirement. The exam is computer-based taken over a three-day period.  Attaining the CFP designation takes experience and a substantial amount of work. CFP professionals must also complete continuing education programs each year to maintain their certification status.

 

Certified Public Accountant

CPA is a designation given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants to those who pass an exam and meet work experience requirements. CPA designation ensures that professional standards for the industry are enforced. CPAs are required to get a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance or accounting. They are also required to complete 150 hours of education and have no less than two years of public accounting experience. CPAs must pass a certification exam, and certification requirements vary by state. Additionally, they must complete a specific number of continuing hours of education yearly.

 

While receiving a degree in Finance, Accounting or Economics or passing a test doesn’t always guarantee that the person has the right set of skills to be an advisor, the lack of any of these credentials should be a warning sign for you.

There are many professionals with engineering, medical, legal or other degrees that pursue a financial career. Many of them build relationships with clients from their particular field. If this is something that you are comfortable with, at least make sure your advisor works with people who have solid financial credentials.

 

3. Experience

If you are planning to give your retirement savings in the hands of a financial advisor, make sure that this person has prior financial experience. Some of you may remember the commercial with the DJ who was imposing as a financial advisor. Would you want to work with this guy? He might be a great person, but it’s your money after all. Do your due-diligence before you meet them for the first time? LinkedIn is a great place to start your search.

 

4. Investment Style

Do you know your advisor’s investment style? Does your advisor regularly trade in your account or is more conservative and rebalance once or twice a year? It is important to understand your advisor’s investment style. Frequent trading can increase your trading cost substantially. On the other hand, not trading at all will bring your portfolio away from your target allocation and risk tolerance.

 

5. Investment options

What are the investment options provided by your financial advisor? Some advisors prefer to work only with ETFs. Others like using actively managed mutual funds. A third group favors trading single name stocks and bonds. All strategies have their benefits and shortcomings. ETFs come with lower fees and broad diversification. Active mutual funds seek to beat their benchmark and lower risk. However, they may lack tax-efficiency if sitting in investment accounts. Finally,  trading single name stocks provides very high upside but also a large downside.

  

6. Custodian

Who is your advisor’s custodian? Custodians are the financial companies that actually hold your assets. Most RIAs will use a custodian like Pershing, Fidelity, TD, Schwab or Interactive Brokers. Your advisor’s custodian to a large extent will determine (or limit) the selection of ETFs and funds available for investing. Additionally, custodians may have different rules, document requirements, technology platform and transaction fees.

 

7. Size

How large is the company that your advisor works for?

Some advisors are one-man-shop. They consist of their founder and potentially one or two assistants or paraplanners. Other advisors including RIAs could be a part of much larger regional or national network. Smaller companies have more flexibility but less capacity. Bigger companies have more bureaucracy but may have more resources.

 

8. Coaching

What have you learned from your advisor in the past few years or even at the last meeting?

Advisor’s role is not only to manage investments but also to coach and educate clients about best financial practices, tax changes, market developments, estate planning, college savings and such.

Additionally, many advisors offer workshops to clients and prospect where they talk about the economy, retirement planning, tax strategies and other financial topics.

 

9. Communication and customer service

How is your financial advisor communicating to you? Is your advisor responsive? Communication is an essential part of the advisor-client relationship. Good advisors always stay in touch with their clients. Remember what I said earlier, advisors are like doctors. You need to meet them at least once a year. So during your meeting, talk to them about your progress to achieving your goals. Also get updates on your portfolio performance. And finally, update them regarding any changes in your life.

Also, financial advisors have a duty to protect their clients’ privacy. Make sure your advisor uses secured channels to send and receive sensitive information.

How is your advisor handling client queries? Can you speak to your advisor personally if you have an urgent question or unexpected life event? Or do you need to call 1-800 number and wait for your turn in line?

 

10. Technology

Is your financial advisor tech savvy or old school? The current environment of constant tech innovations provides a broad range of tools and services to financial advisors and their clients.

New sophisticated financial planning software lets advisors change plan inputs just with one click of the mouse. This software allows clients to have access to their personal financial plans to amend their financial goals and personal information. Therefore, clients can see in real-time the progress of their financial plans and make better financial decisions.

Account aggregation tools allow clients to pull different accounts from various financial providers under one view. The aggregated view helps both advisors and customers to see a comprehensive picture of the client’s finances with only one login.

Additionally, services like DocuSign and LazerApp let financial advisors go completely paperless. Thus clients can receive and sign documents online.

 

About the author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing.Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_olegdudko’>olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo</a>