5 ‘Investment Strategies’ Investors Must Avoid

DMM 10-20-15Dear Mr. Market:

The markets continue to take investors on a bumpy ride with dramatic swings to the positive and negative.   Volatility has been here for the last several weeks and it is beginning to have an effect on investors and the decisions they make in regards to their portfolios. Investors are notorious for putting their portfolio on cruise control when the markets are doing well and then becoming hyper-sensitive when negative returns start appearing on their monthly statements.   With the first true market correction (-10% or more) in nearly four years, investors are considering a variety of options with their portfolios, many of them misleading and possibly disastrous. As fear and uncertainty build emotions begin to take control. There are many products and options that prey on investors in these environments…don’t allow yourself to fall for any of the five most common ones we discuss below…

Going to Cash – This is the classic move by investors when they simply can’t take it anymore; throwing their hands up in the air and admitting defeat by selling everything and going to cash. They justify it in their mind, feeling good about it; after all, jumping out and preserving what was left of their portfolio seems like the prudent thing to do. If this is you or you are considering this ‘strategy’ don’t start patting yourself on the back just yet! This could possibly be the worst move an investor could make unless they want to push back their retirement or drastically alter their financial goals. Consider this, every year for the last 35 years the markets have posted negative returns at some point during the year and 87% of the time the markets finished the year positive. Selling everything in your portfolio would be comparable to buying a new car and selling it as soon as you drive it off the lot because you realized that it went down 20% in value! Would you ever do that? We doubt it so don’t do this with your investments! Continue reading

Is Financial Engines right for you?

financial enginesDear Mr. Market:

If you were asked to list two or three of the largest Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firms in the country which ones would come to mind first? You’d definitely hear many of the names associated with Wall Street and the investment industry. Names like: Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab, Fidelity and Wells Fargo – while these are certainly large firms none of them are RIA’s. We’ve written on several occasions what an RIA is and how they are driven by their fiduciary responsibility to their clients. A simple online search of RIA’s will show that the largest firm is nearly 40% larger than any its closest competitor. It specializes in assisting individuals in managing their company retirement accounts and has become a behemoth in the investment industry. Financial Engines, Inc. has risen out of relative obscurity and is quickly becoming a household name.

Financial Engines is based out of Sunnyvale, CA, is publicly traded under the ticker symbol FNGN, and currently manages over $90 billion in assets! To put this in perspective the second largest RIA firm is Fisher Investments with assets under management of just over $50 billion. Fisher Investments is a marketing machine and if you have a portfolio over $500,000 in value, you’ve most likely received one of their post card mailings or solicitation emails.

Financial Engines, on the other hand, is a relatively young company and is the creation of some of the brightest minds in the industry that made their mark in the late 1990’s. The founders of the firm are Nobel Prize winning economist William Sharpe, Stanford Law Professor Joseph Grundfest, Attorney Craig Johnson and Jeff Maggioncalda. While the firm went through some minor growing pains, they have certainly found their target market – working with individuals and managing the investments in their company retirement plans. Continue reading

What is the difference between Fee-Only and Fee-Based advisors?

Compensation #3Dear Mr. Market:

Last week I had lunch with an old colleague of mine. It’s always good to catch up with others in the same profession but sometimes it also truly helps you understand why so many consumers are confused. Here’s a brief background and then a summary of an actual conversation between two financial advisors:

Both financial advisors began their careers working for major wirehouse firms (think Morgan Stanley, Prudential, UBS, Smith Barney, etc…). They each then worked at Charles Schwab as part of the Retail Branch Network and Schwab Private Client (SPC) group. Thereafter, Advisor #1 (who we will call Fee-Based Advisor) left Schwab to join one of the advisors that is in their Schwab Advisor Network program.  This is a network that has made certain firms wildly successful as Charles Schwab branch representatives get compensated to vector investors and Schwab account holders to meet with advisors who pay to be in their program. Advisor #2 (who we will call Fee-Only Advisor) is not part of any network and is not affiliated with any brokerage firm, mutual fund company, or insurance company. “Fee-Only Advisor” is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA).

Fee-Based Advisor: So…how are things out there?

Fee-Only Advisor: Good…I keep plugging away but sometimes it’s frustrating to see how undereducated the general public is about this industry. Continue reading

What’s my number?? – Making sense of Financial Planning

Financial Plan #2Dear Mr. Market:

Let’s be honest… the vast majority of hard working Americans have one question in common – Will I be able to retire?  The circumstances pertaining to each individual are as different and unique as the individual themselves. The one connecting point we all have however, is to know if we are going to be able to reach our goals, whatever they might be.

Have you seen some of the commercials where an actor asks you if you know how much you need to retire? Other commercials have people carrying around a huge cut-out of a random numbers …like $1,456,298 around with them.  What’s your magic retirement number? Where should an individual go to get their many questions answered?  With few guarantees how is anyone to know if they are on track to reach their goals?

There is certainly not a lack of financial planning services and products available to consumers today.  It can actually be a bit overwhelming and frustrating for the average person.  Any Financial Plan should be viewed as a guide or a benchmark, serving as a road map to the ultimate destination.  As with other financial service offerings there are many different elements that need to be taken into consideration. Let’s take a moment to look at some of the more important ones and put it in plain English using some common phrases we are all familiar with….. Continue reading

Why do I own this Annuity and how do I get out of it?

We can’t tell you how many times we have heard investors say something along the lines of, I have this annuity that I was talked into years ago, I don’t really understand it and I haven’t heard from the guy I bought it from since.   annuity pictureAnnuities are one of the most misunderstood and possibly abused financial products in the financial services industry today.  They are layered in promises that are far too often not delivered to the individual that purchased the annuity.  While they look simple in nature they are actually quite complex and it is vital that investors conduct their own due diligence and research before purchasing any annuity product.

The basic structure of an annuity is quite simple; the investor deposits money with an insurance company either in a lump sum or with scheduled periodic payments over several years.  In return the investor will receive a stream of payments either immediately or in the future for a set period of time.  The terms and conditions can vary from company to company and there are many different types of annuities and features that can be added to them.  It is important to always remember that an annuity is a contract between an insurance company and an individual for certain guarantees and that they should never be viewed as investments!  We will attempt to dig in a bit deeper and offer an overview of annuities that will empower investors to make educated and informed decisions. Continue reading