Financial Planning: What to Expect
Financial Planning: What to Expect?
After we decide to work together, what happens next? Financial planning can be difficult to picture if you’ve never experienced it before. The following is a brief description of my comprehensive financial planning process to help you understand what to expect.
Before Starting the Full Process - Answer urgent question(s)
Most people don’t wake up one day and spontaneously decide to hire a financial planner. There’s usually a trigger - some burning (or nagging) question or concern.
My first priority is to reduce your stress by working through whatever is keeping you up at night. Once this is done, we can move through the rest of the financial planning process.
Getting Organized - Where are you today?
We’ll work together on understanding where you are today. Depending on the complexity of your situation, we may be able to finish this in one meeting, or it may take a few meetings to get there. The end result of this first phase of the process is a Net Worth statement, which has all of your assets and liabilities laid out in one page. We’ll track your Net Worth over time, as I think it’s the best measure of financial progress.
Goals - Where do you want to go?
It’s tempting to jump right into making changes, and we’ll get there. But first, we’ll spend some time talking about what your ideal life looks like. If you have multiple goals, we’ll talk about which are more or less important to you. We’ll also talk about what is realistic and unrealistic given your current situation. This allows us to make appropriate tradeoffs when developing your financial plan.
Analysis - Crunching the numbers…
I use a few different tools to analyze your situation and develop recommendations. Most of these tools are interactive, and if you’re interested we can play around with the numbers and model different “what if” scenarios. If you’re not interested in seeing the behind-the-scenes number crunching, then I can distill this part of the process down to my recommendations based on what you’ve told me about your goals.
Once we’re all comfortable with the plan, I will document our decisions in a relatively short, jargon-free document. You won’t see a 50-page “Financial Plan” with pages and pages of charts and tables (unless you’re really interested in this level of detail). Most people don’t want to read this kind of thing.
Action - How do we get there?
I think it’s basic human nature that if presented with a long list of tasks, most people will feel overwhelmed and not do anything. Because of this, I’ve found it works best to put together a short list of “next steps” in order to keep forward momentum. Once these are done, I’ll update the list with another few steps. This way, you’ll always know what you need to do next.
Monitor and Replan - What if things change?
Life happens, and your situation and goals might change. Even if your life doesn’t change, the world will change. There are too many unknown variables for financial planning to be an exact science in the first place. It’s best if you don’t expect a straight line path from “today” to “your goals”. The path will zig-zag depending on lots of factors, many of which are outside of our control. When this happens, we’ll reassess and figure out the next steps to take to keep you moving towards your goals.
It is easier and cheaper to avoid mistakes rather than fixing them after the fact, and this is one of the big benefits of having an ongoing relationship with a financial planner. Once we get through the first phase of implementing your plan, we’ll no longer need to meet as frequently. However, whenever something comes up, I’m available to talk through the situation with you to help you weigh your options. I look forward to a long and mutually rewarding relationship with you!
Portfolio Management: What to Expect?
The Portfolio Management service is available for clients who would like to delegate the day-to-day work of managing investments to me. Before I can manage your investments for you, you’ll need to complete a few administrative steps to set this up.
First, depending on where your accounts are now, you may need to transfer your accounts from your current custodian. I can manage assets held in most types of Vanguard or TIAA accounts, and some employer plans. If your accounts are currently at another custodian, then the first step will be to choose which custodian to use. I’ll help you decide which option makes the most sense for you based on the available investment options and fees for each custodian. Then, I’ll get you in touch with a transfer specialist who can work with you to make the transfer process as smooth as possible.
Next, we’ll need give me trading authority over your accounts. To do this at Vanguard, we’ll execute what’s known as a “Limited Power of Attorney” (LPOA), which allows me to view your accounts, submit transactions, and transfer money to your bank account. There is a long list of account-related activities that I won’t be allowed to do, such as change your address, transfer money between accounts with different owners, or transfer money to a new bank account. The purpose of these limitations is to protect you and give you peace of mind, but it also means that you’ll need to take care of a few account administration tasks yourself (such as linking your bank account). I can walk you through how to do all of this when we meet. For most types of Vanguard accounts, this account access can be granted online. Paper forms are required in a few cases.
Before making any changes to your investments, we’ll spend some time understanding your financial goals, risk tolerance, and other preferences. I’ll prepare a detailed Investment Plan which we’ll review together. After we’re both satisfied with the plan, I will take care of initiating any transactions needed in your accounts to implement your plan.
If you’re in the accumulation phase, you’ll be adding to your portfolio periodically. Whenever it’s time to add cash to your portfolio, I’ll check your account to see which asset class is currently below its target, and add the new contribution to this asset class. This allows you to “buy low”.
If you’re in the decumulation phase, I’ll manage the portfolio to provide you with a steady stream of income, which will be transferred automatically to your bank account (usually monthly). When investments need to be sold to raise cash, I’ll sell from the asset class that is above target. This allows you to “sell high”.
Monitoring and Rebalancing
After the portfolio is constructed, different investments will experience different returns in any given year. Rebalancing is the process by which additional funds are added to the underperforming investment in order to get back to the desired asset allocation. Rebalancing can be done using new investments (if in the accumulation phase), using distributions such as dividends and interest, or by selling an outperforming investment. There are many different strategies for rebalancing. I use a strategy called “opportunistic rebalancing” which is based on a research paper by Gobind Daryanani from 2008, and has been further validated with subsequent research.
I’ll monitor your portfolio regularly and rebalance as needed.
Many households have a portion of their portfolio in accounts that I can’t manage directly, such as a 401(k) or a 529 plan. Because I construct and rebalance each portfolio at the household level, I’ll need to be able to keep track of what’s going on in the accounts that I can’t access directly. We’ll get those accounts set up with my aggregation software so that I can keep tabs on your “held-away” accounts and let you know when we need to make an adjustment. This allows you to fully delegate the monitoring of your portfolio to me. You’ll still need to login to those accounts from time to time to make an adjustment. We can do this together in one of our meetings, if you like.