What makes the best be the best? Dedication? Determination? A little bit of good luck?
For the last few weeks, I’ve been traveling – seeking out industry experts to help me learn and grow. My travels brought me to Coronado, California, to attend the Society of Financial Service Professionals (SFSP) Institute.
In addition to a famous hotel and some incredibly good Mexican food, Coronado is also home to the Navy base where they train the Navy Seals. My meeting was literally footsteps away, and I couldn’t help but see the commonality between our two worlds. The individuals training to be Seals are in excellent physical shape. Even though they are the best the Navy has, they are determined to continue to improve. Nothing but perfection will satisfy them.
At the Institute, I saw professionals with the same dedication and determination. They were spending significant time and energy sharpening the saw — getting better at their craft and understanding all the changes happening in the retirement income planning space. They were continuing their education and learning about the massive demographic shifts in the United States. These shifts shouldn’t be a surprise, although the size of them is pretty staggering.
According to LIMRA, today we have about 71 retired baby boomers for each active financial planner. By 2025, it will be 163 per planner. Did you follow that? In five short years, if every boomer had a financial planner, the ratio of clients to planners would be double. That’s a lot of people who need your advice!
So, how do you prepare to serve the market? Dedication. Determination. We need to be in peak condition to be able to serve our market. We must figure out how to increase efficiency and effectiveness. The challenge will be to maintain our customized focus within a much larger client base.
With more and more Americans needing our help, we must be able to focus on our advice and expertise and let automation and technology work for us to make our client relationships more efficient. In a recent post, I talked about the need for automation in marketing. That need is going to be ever more present in the years to come. If you haven’t researched technology vendors and platforms yet, there’s no time like the present. It’s the best chance we have of becoming more repetitive in a scalable business model.
Practice really does make perfect. Repetition is a large part of the Seals’ training. And it’s a big part of what we learned at the Institute.
Transformational Tactic: Prepare now for the shift of the future. Establish a practice of repetitive goals, while maintaining a customized relationship with each client.
Websites. Commercials. Advertising. Mailing lists. All of these are tools used to chase the elusive goal of having exactly the right amount of exactly the right type of client. It’s a challenge every advisor faces.
Few of us have enough clients to feel satisfied with our business. And even if we get the number right, we then shift our focus to duplicating the top 20% while delegating the bottom 20% to a successor. Every business feels this pressure to add new sources of revenue in the form of new clients.
So, what do we do about it? In the past, the answer has been to throw tens of thousands of dollars into anything that sounds like it would work. But there are limits to what we can do with traditional types of advertising, namely:
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Success in marketing starts with a focus on the prospective client and their problem, not with our solution.
Think about the story you want to tell. Is the hero you, or your client? If the answer is you, it’s time to adjust the marketing message. We aren’t marketing our process — it doesn’t attract people. The message needs to be how we improve their lives and make their family situation better. Knowing your audience is important. You want your message to match their definition of success. It may seem difficult. We think we must be innovative, different and unique to attract clients. We don’t.
Crafting the Right Message
It’s actually easier than you think. We know what our prospective clients want. But we aren’t giving them specifics on why they should want to work with us. Here are some examples of general statements about potential pitfalls:
Experience has shown that these types of statements don’t motivate people to meet with us. In fact, I’d argue that they scare people away. Be honest. Would they motivate you?
Instead, we need to think about the emotional and deeper meaning of why clients choose to invest, and what factors contribute to picking a firm. To figure that out, we need to look to the past.
Past Success Leads to Future Success
Consider your five favorite clients. Make a list. What makes them your favorite clients? I’m sure the money they bring to your firm is a factor. But more than that, there is probably positive engagement – you enjoy working with them. And they trust your judgment when it comes to their finances. It’s a perfect situation. These are the people you want to duplicate.
There’s no big mystery to why these clients do business with us. It’s simple. We transformed their lives. We provided solutions to their problems and helped create a secure future.
Let’s conduct a little experiment. Pull your files for these five clients. Then take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side, write down all the adjectives that described the client when you were still trying to earn their business. (This is where the files come in.) Most likely, your adjectives include words like worried, uninformed, lost, lacking confidence or fearful.
On the right side of the paper, list adjectives that describe how the client feels about their finances today. Words like safe, secure, confident, comfortable, aware, in control and satisfied should be on this list.
This transformation is your marketing message. Taking clients from worried to secure. From uninformed to in control. From fearful to confident. Think about a marketing message that focuses on changing their lives. In short, the type of messaging that resonates with people. A message that provides hope. And enables the prospective client to make a significant change – one that affects every member of their family, including the next generation — without using scare tactics.
Transformational Tactic: Look more closely at why your top clients chose you. Those reasons are the key to a marketing message that attracts the right prospects.
It’s pretty common to be distracted by the next big thing – that shiny new object that everyone’s talking about. For me, it’s technology. If it’s newer, faster, more exciting, it’s for me. Sometimes the next big thing is worth our time and attention. And sometimes it’s just smoke and mirrors. The trick is to distinguish between them and focus on the industry changes that really can impact your clients and your business. And right now, the big topic for discussion — today’s shiny new object — is The SECURE Act.
So, is The SECURE Act worth your attention? The answer is an emphatic yes. We wouldn’t be able to advise our clients if we were not up to speed on the current legislation affecting qualified funds. And every columnist and professional in our industry agree that this is the most significant piece of legislation since the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA).
Of course, there is still room to be distracted within The SECURE Act, especially if you look at each change separately instead of as a big picture. We don’t want to be the dog that spots the new squirrel in the neighborhood and chases after it until he gets tired. Or until he sees another squirrel.
We need to take each new piece of retirement legislation and stack it on top of the last, building on what we know and increasing our total understanding with each new piece. Think of it like building the ultimate Lego tower. It’s only possible with a good base – and a good amount of patience.
And while The SECURE Act builds on the Pension Protection Act, it also made significant changes to the way we help our clients plan. We have a lot of resources to help you wade through the important aspects of retirement income planning, arguably the single most complex problem you will face with your clients.
Focusing on both the Pension Protection Act and The SECURE Act as a cohesive pair is one of the most important things you can do to give your clients a higher probability of success in retirement.
Part of what makes retirement planning so tricky is the unknown. Think about the details you are missing:
A lot of those variables are out of our control. But even though we can’t control them, we can teach our clients the behaviors needed to mitigate some of these risks, including:
Building a Cohesive Plan
By focusing on the big picture, we can stack the valuable benefits of the Pension Protection Act as a foundation for long-term care and income planning. There is a high probability of one spouse having a care event during retirement, but the need gets pushed aside for more exciting conversations about managing money and creating income. Today, more than $1 trillion rest on insurance carriers’ books inside non-qualified annuities1. Given the recent continued bull market, many of those annuities dependent upon equity investments and/or indices have seen considerable growth.
In its current format, the distribution of non-qualified annuities is interest first, or taxable until you reach your basis. This creates more taxable problems under Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) calculations when it comes to other means-tested benefits.
Under the Pension Protection Act, clients can take those embedded gains from the old contracts and move them to a PPA compliant product. If used for qualifying long-term care expenses, the distribution is tax-free – not tax-deferred. Tax-free. You have moved the buildup of the tax-deferred growth from tax-deferred in the deferred annuity to tax-free under the Pension Protection Act.
This strategy mitigates a significant cash flow crunch to many families when they need it the most. By eliminating the tax on long-term care distributions, it is as if you have increased the distribution by the assumed tax rate. And, you have provided relief from the increased distributions on an already pressured assets-under-management systematic withdrawal strategy.
It takes planning. It takes having the conversation. It means that you understand the needs of your clients. And, by protecting the family’s wealth, you become valuable to the next generation.
1LIMRA 2019 Fact Book
Transformational Tactic: Don’t chase the shiny new legislation. Coordinate the benefit of all the pieces of legislation to create the most holistic and comprehensive plans possible.
In every industry, professionals look to thought leaders and seasoned veterans to help them understand how to succeed. It’s human nature to emulate and learn from others for our own growth. Finding a mentor that is fully invested in your success can help build your reputation, your business and your knowledge base.
As times change, though, it’s important to identify which ideas are still relevant, and which ones have served their purpose. Practices that were revolutionary only 10 years ago might be considered antiquated today.
As the SECURE Act was put into effect, it drastically changed the way we help our clients plan for a secure retirement. Since that time, the ramifications seem to keep cropping up. The message, though, remains the same. We need to rethink how to best transfer wealth from one generation to the next. And, for our clients, the best way is most likely an option that minimizes taxes.
Specifically, the SECURE Act is causing us to pay more attention to beneficiary designations, as some recent trends may not be as appropriate as they were before the Act. As I travel around the country and meet with different advisors, I see how easy it is to name a trust as the beneficiary and just allow the document to dictate the beneficiaries and their payouts.
But post-SECURE Act, it’s the government who’s going to dictate those accelerated payouts. Now more than ever before, it’s important to keep an open mind to techniques and strategies we didn’t consider previously.
The SECURE Act forces us to look at alternatives that our mentors and parents never had to contend with when transferring assets to the next generation through our spouses.
The simplest and most common beneficiary designation is to name the spouse. No surprise there. Almost every client wants to protect their spouse when they pass away. And I’m not suggesting that we sway clients away from naming their loved one as a beneficiary of our qualified accounts. But I do believe this new legislation offers us the chance to have better, more thoughtful conversations around income planning – and to begin those conversations earlier in the lives of our clients.
If the ultimate goal is to protect the spouse and then pass the remainder of the wealth to the next generation, creative planning is necessary to minimize the tax impact. The SECURE Act changed the rules when it comes to non-spouse beneficiaries, which requires them to take the money in 10 years or less.
Typically, children receive this inheritance at their peak earning years. If we stick to traditional planning, the amount of tax to be paid is accelerated and increased. But there are ways to help further stretch the income to the next generation and not affect the spouse’s income probabilities. How? It starts with some creative planning and an income discussion before the death of the spouse.
First, think about naming two beneficiaries as the primary. One is the spouse. The other is the child/children. If sufficient income distributions are coming to the surviving spouse, the spouse can defer the tax and distribution until their required minimum distributions. The children can immediately defer the tax over 10 years with the new distribution rules. At the death of the surviving spouse, the children will have another 10 years of deferral. Therefore, you have essentially doubled the distributions for the children on the first parent’s death. When you think of the massive tax acceleration and increased tax rates that are in effect, this small tactic can make a world of difference to the next generation.
In addition to providing a much-needed service to our clients and their children, we also make ourselves more valuable to the next generation. They are less likely to move to another advisor after their parents are gone if we’ve proven our ability to meet, and exceed, their expectations.
Securing generational assets may be the most valuable asset-gathering strategy a financial professional can deploy over the next 25 years. During that time, $30 trillion of assets will likely transition from one generation to the next.
If we want to grow our business and revenue, it’s essential to think about how to protect it during generational transitions.
Focusing on the next generation and guiding them through the impact of The SECURE Act is vital when it comes to retaining clients and keeping assets with your practice.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that as individuals, most planners hate change, yet we work in an industry notorious for it. And make no mistake—the Secure Act has changed the game. But, despite the changes it’s brought, success is still possible. We just need to be more purposeful in our planning, and more diligent in our conversations with our clients.
While the new legislation brings guaranteed income to the front of mind, there are several pitfalls that are harmful to our clients. These can’t be ignored and must be addressed for our clients to have success in retirement and legacy planning. Several questions need to be asked during each and every client interaction – regardless of whether it’s a new client or someone you’ve been working with for years.
By always asking these three important questions, you’ll make sure to steer your clients clear of the hidden traps within the Secure Act.
The answer to this question probable hasn’t changed with the passage of the Secure Act. The path travelled to pass assets to heirs, however, probably should. With the modifications to the stretch provisions, there are reasons to name additional beneficiaries in certain situations. Naming a trust as beneficiary to complete your clients’ legacy wishes needs to be reviewed, especially for those trusts requiring required minimum distributions to be disbursed to spendthrift individuals.
Understanding the “why” behind these beneficiaries is helpful when advising clients on the proper path. The more your clients understand, the more confidence they’ll have in you and in their financial plan. Too often, we just add a person on the beneficiary line without explaining the rationale behind the decision.
When discussing changes brought about by The Secure Act, this is a big one. If the goal was to just let the client’s family receive a lump sum, there is probably no need to change. But many people have specific income plans to either distribute or inherit family wealth, and a lump sum isn’t going to meet their needs.
The Secure Act provides a new angle to the sandwich generation. How you receive an inheritance and pass your assets to your heirs is affected by the new legislation.
Your clients are stuck in the middle of $30 trillion of wealth transfer over the next quarter century. The assets they receive and give away are greatly affected.
Your clients need to understand the ramifications of the new qualified plan payout rules from every perspective – control of the asset, taxation and family wealth transfer. As their advisor, you have an opportunity to provide them with the information they need to retire securely. You’ll be strengthening your relationship at the same time.
Granted, for the most part, tax still needs to be paid. The Secure Act accelerates the taxation on qualified dollars to pay for some of the other benefits of the act. Many clients have set a target amount, after tax, that they hope to be able to transfer to the next generation.
Many tax levers create a complicated system. Due to the acceleration of the payout, it’s easy to pull a lever that triggers unexpected taxation if you’re not careful. Business owners taking advantage of the Qualified Business Income, for example, might forfeit that benefit due to an inappropriately planned inheritance. Means testing and other taxes tied to income thresholds like Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) will be pierced, causing additional taxation on inheritance.
Given the massive amount of wealth scheduled to transfer in the next 25 years, this simple acceleration of the payout will likely increase overall tax revenue. Clients don’t need the surprise of additional taxes, especially those high-wage earners that are using the Tax Cut and Jobs Act to control taxation.
How to Help Your Clients Navigate the Changes
Once you have answers to these important questions, you have what you need to start creating solutions. There are many ways to simulate the previous stretch provisions and control taxation of the inheritance.
Some things to discuss with clients after understanding the above three questions:
Sit down with every client and review these three important questions. Then help them understand the solutions that will help them achieve their goals.
© 2018 Ash Brokerage LLC.