The following article was reproduced in part from our Quarterly Investor's Magazine – Q1 2021, a quarterly print publication produced by People's United Advisors.
This quarter we sat down with four of our wealth advisors across our footprint to discuss what they’re talking to clients about and how technology is impacting their jobs as advisors.
What's one piece of advice when entering a new year and a new presidency?
Veronica Ferro: As I think about going into 2021, we’re in a heated political environment and a continuing pandemic. So what should you do now? Will Biden revitalize the economy or, as the Trump camp claims, crash the stock market with higher taxes? The fact is, the average annualized return of the S&P and its predecessors since 1900 has been about 10% (including dividends) regardless of which political party was in office. It’s the economic fundamentals that matter. My advice is to plan for the long-term and for the things you can control, like your asset allocation and your strategy for saving. Spell out your goals, your risk tolerance, your investment horizon. And don’t try to time the market: People who stay invested usually come out ahead.
John Lescure: Talk to your Advisor. Presidents may not have long-term effects on the market, but they do have the ability to set the agenda. So, things like budgets, government spending, federal programs, and taxes can shift. Speak with your Advisor about keeping you prepared.
Christopher Meeske: This is the perfect opportunity to revisit your portfolio strategy, your asset allocation, and your liquidity. Last year was very abnormal: Some clients built up significant cash reserves because their expenses dropped, while others suffered with unemployment and diminished income. Making sure that we’re being thoughtful about alternatives— adding long-term risk where appropriate and securing cash flow where needed—is critical work for both clients and Advisors in their discussions.
Charles Olson: Sadly, the world has witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime tragedy. I am grateful for our health-care workers and other front-line responders who have tirelessly given of themselves to care for us. On the dawn of a new year and a new presidency, I offer the following advice to our clients and ourselves: Be patient and kind, as everyone is doing their best. Give more and ask for less; there’s no greater gift we can receive. Say thank-you often, and really mean it. Give the new Administration in Washington a chance to find ways to unite us. The pandemic taught us that “we’re all in this together.” Perhaps we can keep this philosophy going forward.
What's the most overlooked topic you've found in working with your clients?
Veronica Ferro: There’s more than one. But I would say the most important is overlooking the need to have a comprehensive financial plan. Too many clients think about things in a vacuum: They may know that they need growth in their portfolios, but not think about how things are interrelated—about how their investments affect their tax situations, for instance, or how their savings rates today can have an enormous impact on their retirement income.
They may not plan for the unexpected, such as helping protect their wealth in the event of illness or disability. It’s critical for people to consider their wealth-management issues collectively rather than singly to protect what they have and leave the legacy they desire.
John Lescure: A lot of people talk about investment planning or financial planning, but what I mean starts with holistic listening. When an Advisor knows their clients and their families well, the act of listening allows them to draw a roadmap that addresses what’s important.
Christopher Meeske: One easily-missed planning topic for clients is taking advantage of the volatility we experienced in 2020, which had a number of tax implications. Stocks bought anywhere near the bottom of the market have often appreciated significantly since then and have large short-term gains. These are prime assets to potentially gift to charity or to family.
The powerful tax benefits of gifting are too often overlooked. And having losses banked from the downturn in first-quarter can be extremely valuable if applied to gains (in either this year or future tax years).
Charles Olson: The most overlooked topic I find in working with high-net-worth clients is the cost associated with health care. While many clients know about the importance of allocating their assets appropriately and living within their means, they seldom think about what would happen to their savings if they experienced a catastrophic health event in retirement.
Medicare is a good safety net, but not for extended care and rehabilitation. The “golden years” may come with setbacks, and so we should speak with clients about purchasing long-term-care insurance and other strategies that may help protect their nest eggs and prevent them from being burdens on their families.
How has technology impacted your job as an advisor?
Veronica Ferro: In the past 12 months technology has become one of the most important aspects of how we work as Advisors. While we have been using technology for years, we’ve relied on it much more in the pandemic as face-to-face meetings became untenable. We’ve had to become well-versed in Zoom, Skype, Microsoft, and sometimes FaceTime in order to keep the lines of communication open—and to walk our clients through our own software to see their account information. On our end, we’ve had systems challenges from time to time at home. And our work and home lives have blurred—perhaps more than we’re comfortable with. Still, technology has been a life-saver for us.
John Lescure: Technology has changed everything, and will continue to do so. COVID has accelerated its adoption in ways we couldn’t have predicted, for us and for our clients—many of whom have been pushed into using technology they resisted for years. Now, I suspect they won’t give it up, just as it will always be part of our value proposition going forward. This includes everything from how we meet clients to how we service them. Innovative technology has raised the bar for us.
Christopher Meeske: By far the best use of technology for us is complementing the human relationships we’ve built with our clients. Knowing our clients on a deep, personal level is irreplaceable, but technology can help leverage our expertise and make sure that bringing them our best thinking is handled smoothly.
Charles Olson: Technology continues to improve productivity across a number of our wealth-management platforms. As a result of these improvements, we have watched trading costs go to zero across the money-management industry and online account access become available on Smart phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and Smart TVs.
Technology has also worked hand-in-glove with the explosive growth in passive/index investing; the consolidation of investment managers, banks, and custodians; and the proliferation of new investment offerings like ETFs, SPACs, specialty mutual funds, and cryptocurrency. Tech has helped us become more proactive in offering advisory services like some of those and building long-lasting personal relationships. In the end, as always, it’s up to us to bring value to our client relationships.