The last 2 weeks, I’ve been talking about “account minimums” in the financial services industry.
These issues of “account minimums” and who has access to advice have been on my mind for years. They are the main drivers for both the book and the education courses. It was a conversation, about 6 months ago, with a business coach that helped the rest of my platform take shape.
I was lamenting that industry minimums excluded my immediate family and about 95% of my extended family – aunts, uncles, and cousins. It excludes most people who don’t have college degrees (which is about 2/3 of the US population). And, more and more given the student loan crisis, it excludes college graduates who have to focus for a long time on paying down college debt. Accumulating the requisite $500,000 is getting harder and harder… so we were brainstorming other financial service delivery mechanisms.
During our conversation, he mentioned almost in passing that “Services, as opposed to manufactured goods, are delivered in 3 specific ways:
- Done for you
- Done with you
- Do it yourself
Traditional advisory services fit the first category – Done for you. The Education platforms fall into the 3rd category – Do it yourself.
“How,” we wondered, “could a second category – Done With You – service be adapted to a No Account Minimum environment?”
Circle of Competence for Done-For-You Services
After 25 years as a financial advisor serving individuals and families in the Bay Area – battling against managers and coaches pushing me to increase my minimums every step of the way – I have realized that there are two things I provide my one-on-one clients that define my “circle of competence” as an advisor:
Wealth Management clients can get very deep comprehensive cash-flow planning that considers all the different elements of a family’s (often multi-generational) income statement and balance sheet. Advisors do amazing things with tax and estate planning for people who have very complex situations. We also create what-if scenarios that help families pre-experience the long-term outcomes of different choices they make in the short-run, which can help a great deal with family dynamics. Wealthy clients benefit a great deal from #1 – Planning.
But, most people’s financial lives are not overly complex. There is income (maybe from a few sources) and there are expenses. When income is higher than expenses, we have savings and investing. When the opposite is true, we have increasing debt. In the latter case, the first question is about getting to positive cash flow (earning more and/or spending less). When there is savings and investing, the question is accumulating “enough” to enable retirement.
The primary planning need for probably 95% of people (80% who don’t have access to advice AND the 15% who do) is retirement planning.
95% of people are mostly worried about having ENOUGH to make it through their retired years. This number includes many of our clients who, while utilizing our deeper scenario planning resources, are primarily only worried about the retirement planning question. These clients get some benefit from #1 – Planning, but they benefit far more from #2 – Perspective.
For most people, “Perspective” is the most valuable thing an advisor can provide. A plan can tell us when buying the second home will ruin the retirement math, but perspective and the calm communication of that perspective is what moves a client to NOT buy the second home. It is always competing priorities that create problems in the long-term. Ongoing access to a compassionate perspective can help clients navigate priorities.
Perspective becomes even more critical once we engage the unpredictability of markets. Perspective keeps a client from betting the ranch on today’s investment craze (think dot.com before dot bomb; real estate before the Great Recession; and the triple insanity of crypto, NFT, meme stocks today) or going to cash when faced with the either a real or imagined catastrophe of the day (or week, or month, or year). There is always a new craze or a catastrophe right around the corner.
There are always reasons to NOT invest or to sell investments… most are bad reasons. It is a great advisor’s empathetic communication of perspective that keeps clients saving when they would rather spend, invested when they want to sell, and diversified when they want to bet big on a small corner of the investing universe.
Perspective is what is missing in Do-it-yourself (DIY).
If the above is true – if perspective is the most valuable thing an advisor can provide, and if retirement planning is the single most important planning need for 95% of people, then we need a program or a combination of à la carte programs to provide these for a viable Done-With-You service.
This is what we are building at Mindful Money. EP Wealth will always provide an avenue for our clients who need wealth management – for folks who meet the $500,000 minimum and will benefit from more complex planning capabilities.
At Mindful Money, we want to eliminate Account Minimums.
Mindful Money Done-With-You (DWY) Services
Mindful Retirement Review Workshop
No offense to advisors who say otherwise, but “retirement planning” is really quite simple. I can sit down with most people and create a basic retirement plan in under 30 minutes.
There are really only a few questions that I have to ask. Then we make a few conservative assumptions and apply some basic math and I know whether or not someone is on the path to retirement. In another 30 minutes, I can tell those who are not on the path what they need to do to get on the path.
In early 2023, we will host our first Mindful Retirement Review Workshop. During the workshop, we will walk each attendee through the retirement planning math, and by the end of the day, each attendee will have a complete retirement plan.
They will understand the size of the pool of assets needed to create their sustainable retirement income, and they will also know how much they need to commit to saving in addition to their current savings amounts to build that asset base. They will understand the assumptions and the reasons for those assumptions.
We will show everyone in attendance how to design a mindful retirement portfolio, and give them a list of low-cost investment tools they can use at any custodian (Schwab, Fidelity, etc.) they might engage. (We will charge no commissions and no advisory fees.)
We will teach each attendee how to “manage” their retirement portfolio through any sort of market environment – exciting, scary, or boring – and how to crack their nest egg.
Given the variability of markets and inflation, there are a series of spending rules (simple math) you can use to adjust spending to meet your rising cost of living while always keeping potential longevity in mind. Increasing your spending too much early on will deplete your principal too early in retirement, which can quickly lead to a downward spiral.
Finally, we will discuss three non-financial necessities that will enable you to continue living a happy and fulfilled life without going to work every day.
Once we do the math, which we will do together, then you will know what you need to do. All you have to do is follow the steps we lay out and you will be on the path to a retirement income you cannot outlive.
If you ever need a refresher, you can always use the workbook that you walk away with to redo the math. Or, if you’d like, you can come to the Mindful Retirement Review Workshop again. We will do this event at least annually, so if you need to review your retirement income plan with us, there will always be another event coming soon.
Or, if you would like ongoing perspective on your retirement plan, or anything else, you can try…
Mindful Money Membership
When you have questions about financial decisions in front of you or about the investment landscape, we can provide you with an independent and objective perspective. We won’t try to sell you any products or get you to move any money. Mindful Money is purely a done-with-you group service.
Introducing Mindful Money Membership. This is a subscription service that will provide:
- Access to our Life-Stage financial education courses
- Live Monthly Maintenance instructions – monthly reminders to help you stay on top of your personal finances
- Mindful investor communication (written & live – as needed) – a steady hand on the wheel when markets go crazy
- Live Group Q&A – so that you can get objective answers to your most pressing questions
- Discounts on our Workshops (like the live Mindful Retirement Review Workshop, above)
The education courses have been live for almost 2 years now – thousands of student hours have been logged. You can find snippets from the Mindful Money Monthly Maintenance (M4) on social media. And, the timely mindful investor communications are distilled from 25 years of pro-actively communicating with clients. When the pandemic hit and the market reacted, we hosted weekly informational zoom calls in March and April of 2019 – just to provide a calming influence during the crazy of the day. Before the S&P 500 went into bear market territory in June of 2022, we sent clients a letter explaining what we were thinking and what we were doing. When the market entered Bear territory on June 13th, we had a Zoom meeting scheduled for June 15th.
When things are crazy (which no one can predict or control), everyone benefits from a little perspective… this is greatest service we can offer – to be there when we are needed most.
In a world that is market-focused and performance-driven, our success comes from remaining goal-focused and planning-driven. No one can predict what comes next; the best thing you can do is have an action plan and keep taking your steps – especially when it doesn’t feel good (when it’s scary or when you feel you should be more active).
Mindful Money Members will receive both regular monthly guidance and timely communications when the markets or the economy create questions.
The work I have done with our clients one-on-one for decades has always centered on Planning (“Will I have enough to retire?”) and Perspective (“Given ABC opportunity or XYZ catastrophe, what should I do differently now?”).
These two new “No Account Minimum” offerings – The Mindful Retirement Review Workshop and the Mindful Money Membership – distill the best of our one-on-one guidance into a group setting. By offering these two one-to-many done-with-you programs, we open the door to folks who don’t have access, and we can have a broader impact than we could dream under the traditional one-to-one done-for-you model of financial advice.
I am announcing this here first because I want our long-term readers to have first access to these programs. As we build them, we will ultimately have to cap both attendance and membership to ensure that all attendees get the benefits we intend and the answers they need.