The G.O.O.D. Plan

“The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7, ESV).

“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfil the requirements of God’s law”
(Romans 13:8, NLT)

In my previous article, we talked about the first phase in the personal financial planning process: cashflow management. Now, we will be discussing the second phase, the “D” in the CD-RW process, which is debt management or what we call the “GOOD” plan, which stands for “Getting-Out-Of-Debt.” Nevertheless, remember what I have said before, it is not always necessary to totally eliminate all debts because there are certain debts that are truly indispensable or even good such as debts incurred for business capitalization purposes. What is more important is that debts are reduced to manageable levels.

Unfortunately however, most people, even lawyers, get into the bad kinds of debts, particularly, consumer debts. Consumer debt comes in many forms, the most popular one being credit card debt. Believe me, I’ve been guilty of that as well! For those who are employed, your firm may also offer cooperative loans if you are a member of one. Moreover, as you get older and more successful in your law practice, you will also probably get a car loan or a housing loan, especially when you get married. And yes, having a nice car can definitely help you get more and better clients as it gives them the perception that you are successful and worth your salt.

According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), there are over six million credit cards issued in the Philippines. The BSP reported that the Philippine banking system had P130 billion in credit card receivables as of September 2009, 13% of which were non-performing. Take note, that was 6 years ago. What more today? The problem arises when credit cards and other kinds of consumer loan facilities are abused. Ideally, credit cards should only be used for emergency purposes but if it really can’t be helped, you must at least make sure to pay the whole amount when the bill arrives and not just the minimum required amount. Paying only the minimum just buries you deeper and deeper into debt.

To make things worse, banks make it easier and easier for just about anyone to get a credit card these days. One day, you will just be surprised to find a pre-approved credit card under your name right at your doorstep (or mailbox), if you haven’t already! Verily, unexpectedly receiving those precious little plastic cards will make you feel like you have just won the lottery. But beware, what appears to be a blessing might actually turn out to be a curse!

New York Times best-selling author, wealth coach, and radio host, Dave Ramsey, said, “Personal finance is 80% is behavior and 20% head knowledge.” Daniel Kahneman, in his best-selling psychology book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, proved through experimental exercises that the emotional mind is more powerful than the rational mind. In other words, skill, although indispensable, is only the tip of the iceberg. No matter how skillful a person is, if his behavior or habits are terrible, then all those technical knowledge and skills go out the window. As celebrity wealth coach Chinkee Tan puts it, “It’s all in the attitude, dude!” Although, such a thing is also true for all other endeavors, it is more so for personal finance.

Getting in debt is a lot easier than getting out of it. It is easier to borrow money than pay it back. Debt is like a quicksand that is constantly trying to pull you down. The more you struggle, the harder it is to get out. Likewise, if we refuse to give up some of the comforts in life and change our spending habits, we will sink deeper and deeper into debt. For things to change, we have to change. In his book, Debtermined, personal development and success coach, Jayson Lo, discussed a three-pronged solution brothers Chip and Dan Hearth came up with.

  • Direct the Rider
  • Motivate the Elephant
  • Shape the Path

The Rider represents the rational mind, the elephant, the emotional mind, and the Path is the direction a person wants or needs to go. The Rider holds the reins and seems to be the one in control, but the Rider’s control is unstable because he is so much smaller than the Elephant. The Rider and the Elephant need to come together and shape the Path by creating a detailed image of what the destination would look like once changes are made. Their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, calls it a “destination postcard.”

The tension arises, says Lo, when the Rider and the Elephant pull in different directions. Riders without Elephants produce understanding without motivation. Elephants without Riders produce passion without direction. Riders and Elephants without a clear path produce movement without progress.

According to my friend and internationally-renowned registered financial planner Randell Tiongson, author of No Nonsense Personal Finance, before we buy anything on credit, there are some things we must consider: First is purpose. What is the compelling reason why we need to borrow money? Don’t you have any other source of funds than credit? Is what you are planning to buy with the borrowed money a need or a want? If it is merely a want, wouldn’t it be better to just postpone the purchase until you have saved sufficient money for it? Avoid impulsive buying. There were a lot of times that I really felt that the thing that I wanted to buy was a need but after a good night’s sleep, I realized the following day that I can actually do fine without it.

Second is cost. Despite the disallowance of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on charging additional fees for credit card purchases, merchants have since come up with cunning ways to circumvent the law. And yes, this includes “zero interest” purchases on installment. Instead of calling it “interest,” merchants would instead say that they will give you a discount if you purchase it using cash. That’s why it may still be wisest to purchase things on cash basis. If you want to learn more how this works and more, attend our Financial Planners’ Training leading to the globally-recognized Associate Financial Planner (AFP) professional certification.

Third is interest. We all know about legal fruits. No, not just the mangoes, bananas, strawberries and the like—although those are included. I am pertaining to civil fruits, industrial fruits, and yes, natural fruits. One of the most ubiquitous civil fruits aside from rent is interest. Interest is what debtors pay their creditors as compensation for the use of their money. The thing is, consumer loans, as opposed to business or corporate loans, often carry with it higher interest because of the risk factor. Most banks charge 3% to 3.5% per month as interests on credit card purchases. That would result in annual nominal interest rates of around 36% to 42%! Take note, we are only talking about banks. Non-institutional lenders such as loan sharks, 5-6, or other private lending companies can charge up to 20% per month! What’s worse is that interest on debts is usually compounded. Compounding interest is simply interest upon the interest upon interest. Many people do not realize the power of compounding interest in relation to time. Compounding interest can work for you or against you depending on which side of the balance sheet you are. The value of your money today, whether you borrowed it or invested it, will not be its value five, ten, or twenty years from now. This is what financial planners refer to as the time value of money.

But what if you are already waist or neck-deep in credit card debt? The first and foremost thing that you should do is to resolve within yourself. Resolve to get out of debt and stay out of debt. Insanity, as defined by Albert Einstein is “Doing the same things over and over again but expecting different results.” So, after resolving to get out of debt, it is time to act on that resolve. Start by making a list or inventory of all your outstanding debts including the balance, start date, and status. Then, using what financial planners call the snowball method, start paying off your debt with the lowest amount. Doing so is more achievable and realistic. After you have paid that off, you can now proceed to the next bigger debt and so on and so forth until you have paid off all your debts. When you see you debts getting paid off one by one, it encourages you to take on the next bigger debt unlike if you start with the largest debt, which might just end up in frustration due to its seeming impossibility.

There may be times of plenty when you will suddenly get to earn big bucks because of a lump sum payment such as an acceptance fee, packaged deal, success fee, or a new regular retainer fee. Other possible sources could be from bonuses, inheritance, awards, or even raffle prizes. Heck, you can even organize a garage sale for those stuff that you don’t actually use anymore and are just gathering dust in your attic or storage room! Be wise, pick your brain. Better yet, if you’re married, pick your spouse’s brain! Such unexpected income can be used to escalate your debt payments thereby accelerating your debt-extinguishment objective.

Be faithful in paying your debt; but more importantly, be faithful to God. Do not forget what we discussed previously. Tithe! God is the source of everything. If you worship him through your finances and acknowledge that the solution to your problem is him and not just money, then God will give you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). This isn’t easy, especially when you are in debt. Nevertheless, Jesus said that if we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33, NIV).

Last but definitely not the least—in fact, this should be the first thing you do—is pray. We cannot do it on our own strength. We need God’s wisdom and grace to help us in this situation. Remember to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV). For God promises that “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God. Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5, NIV).

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
May the LORD turn his face towards you and grant you peace. Amen.

Robert Kiyosaki: From Rich Dad to Bankrupt Dad?

I first heard about Robert Kiyosaki was when I was in high school. My older brother was raving about it during one of our Sunday family gatherings. He was so amazed with the unorthodox ideas that Mr. Kiyosaki shared in his first book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. However, being young and carefree back then, it wasn’t until after several years when I was already in law school that I began reading his books. Indeed, in communicating his point of view on why ‘old’ advice – get a job, save money, get out of debt, invest for the long term, and diversify – is ‘bad’ (both obsolete and flawed) advice, Robert has earned a reputation for straight talk, irreverence and courage. So revolutionary were his teachings that when I shared them with my dad, he simply shot them down for being a bunch of nonsense. Of course, now that I am a licensed attorney and financial planner, I realized that Mr. Kiyosaki’s teachings actually made a lot of sense.

Nevertheless, in late A.D. 2012, news began to spread all over social media that Rich Dad® Robert Kiyosaki is now a bankrupt dad because in August of that year, his company, Rich Global LLC, just filed for bankruptcy. So does this really mean that one of the world’s most famous, if not the most famous, personal finance gurus, the one who was allegedly mentored by his best friend’s rich dad several decades ago as a child, failed and became poor all of a sudden? Before we get to that, let me first give you an idea on what filing for corporate bankruptcy really means.

Title 11, of the United States Code, a.k.a. the United States Bankruptcy Code, is the main source of bankruptcy law in the United States. Chapter 7 thereof governs the process of liquidation and is the most popular and common form of bankruptcy. When a troubled business is badly in debt and unable to service that debt or pay its creditors, it may file for bankruptcy in a federal court under Chapter 7. A Chapter 7 filing means that the business ceases operations unless continued by the Chapter 7 trustee. A trustee is appointed almost immediately, with broad powers to examine the business’s financial affairs. The trustee generally liquidates all the assets and distributes the proceeds to the creditors. In a Chapter 7 case, a corporation or partnership does not receive a bankruptcy discharge—instead, the entity is dissolved. Only an individual can receive a discharge. Once all assets of the corporate or partnership debtor have been fully administered, the case is closed.

Here in the Philippines, our laws refer to bankruptcy proceedings as ‘insolvency’ proceedings. In fact, just five years ago, the Financial Rehabilitation and Insolvency Act of 2010 or FRIA was passed. The new law provides for the substantive and procedural requirements for the rehabilitation or liquidation of financially distressed enterprises and individuals. The FRIA defines “insolvent” as the “financial condition of a debtor that is generally unable to pay its or its liabilities as they fall due in the ordinary course of business or has liabilities that are greater than its or his assets.” Now you may ask, why would a very rich man like Robert Kiyosaki allow the company he built to go bankrupt or insolvent?

It was reported that the founder of Learning Annex, Bill Zanker, sued Rich Global for $24 million. Learning Annex was one of his supporters when he was still starting as a businessman. Actually, Robert Kiyosaki owns many businesses and Rich Global LLC is just one of those corporations. Robert now runs most of his businesses under his other company, Rich Dad Co. In fact, Rich Dad Co. CEO Mike Sullivan informed the New York Post in an interview that Robert Kiyosaki would not be putting any of his personal fortune toward the settlement. Now, that is the beauty of using a corporate entity as a vehicle for one’s business. It provides a layer of protection against asset raiders such as legal plaintiffs. You see, when a company files for bankruptcy or insolvency, its creditors, including its judgment creditors, cannot just simply collect from the company nor seize it assets legally without first complying with the requirements of the law. That is why Robert Kiyosaki is still quite rich even after filing for bankruptcy with an estimated net worth of $80 million. Having his company Rich Global LLC file for bankruptcy was merely a legal strategy in order to protect his personal assets.

Instead of losing his credibility as a personal finance coach and wealth advisor, such a bold move by Robert Kiyosaki just proves that he is indeed financially intelligent. So much so that he is certainly more financially intelligent than most people, especially those who immediately jumped the gun in judgment against him upon reading the news headlines about his company filing for bankruptcy. Although I have my differences with some of his theories, I along with my colleagues in the financial services industry consider his books as indispensable reading in personal finance and entrepreneurship. It is truly undeniable that all of us, in one way or another, were illuminated and inspired by his teachings.

I am so excited about his upcoming event, Robert Kiyosaki Live in Manila: Masters of Wealth, which will be held on November 30, 2015 at the SMX, Mall of Asia. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn not only from the master himself but also from other world class wealth coaches, economists, businessmen and educators. I believe that to be financially successful, the first asset that we should invest in is ourselves.

Kiyosaki Live

Financial Accounting vs. Tax Accounting

“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Luke 20:25, ESV)

Although roughly only 10% of taxpayers are audited annually, professionals and business owners are in constant fear of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), especially with the spunky Commissioner Kim Jacinto-Henares at its helm. In speaking and interacting with several accountants in a business setting, I have heard them say again and again that no matter how well they prepare a client’s financial statements, the BIR can and will always find a deficiency somewhere. To be sure, this is not only true for small and medium accounting and auditing firms but with big ones as well.

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) use financial accounting principles or what is more commonly known as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS). In the Philippines, we have adopted the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as our Philippine Financial Reporting Standards (PFRS). The problem arises when these audited financial statements (AFS) are submitted to the BIR as attachment to company or individual Income Tax Returns (ITR) for purposes of computing the tax liability. This is due to the fact that the BIR does not use the same accounting principles and standards used in financial accounting but rather that which is provided for by law under the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 (NIRC) or Tax Code for short, along with revenue issuances by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, such as Revenue Regulations (RR), Revenue Memorandum Orders (RMO), and Revenue Audit Memorandum Orders (RAMO), among others.

RR No. 8-2007 provides that “the recording and recognition of business transactions for financial accounting purposes, in a majority of situations, differ from the application of tax rules on the same transactions resulting to disparity of reports for financial accounting vis-à-vis tax accounting.” Moreover, RMC No. 22-2004 states that “It has been observed that the GAAP and GAAS approved and adopted may from time to time be different from the provisions of the Tax Code.” It then provides that “All returns required to be filed by the Tax Code shall be prepared always in conformity with the provisions of the Tax Code. Taxability of income and deductibility of expenses shall be determined strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Tax Code and the rules and regulations issued implementing the said Tax Code. In case of difference between the provisions of the Tax Code and the rules and regulations implementing the Tax Code, on one hand, and the GAAP and GAAS, on the other hand, the provisions of the Tax Code and the rules and regulations issued implementing the Tax Code shall prevail.” In a separate ruling, the BIR held that “Therefore, it is the financial statements which is in conformity with the Tax Code that should be attached in the filing of Income Tax Returns” (BIR Ruling No. M-111-2006).

This is the main reason why the BIR always finds alleged deficiencies in a taxpayer’s tax return and payment. But what if you have already been using financial accounting principles for the longest time in filing your ITR? Don’t worry, all hope is not lost. RR No. 8-2007 further provides that “Hence, there is a need to reconcile the disparity in a systematic and clear manner to avoid irritants between the taxpayer and the tax enforcer. Accordingly, concerned taxpayers are hereby mandated to maintain books and records that would reflect the reconciling items between Financial Statements figures and/or data with those reflected/presented in the filed Income Tax Return (ITR). The recording and presentation of the reconciling items in such books and records shall be done in such a manner that would facilitate the understanding by the examiners/auditors of the Bureau of Internal Revenue tasked to undertake audit/investigation functions, providing in sufficient detail the computation of the differences and the reasons therefore aimed at bringing into agreement the IFRS and ITR figures.”

Surely, such reconciling of records is indeed taxing (pun intended)! So, in order to avoid such a predicament and the headaches that come along with it, it would be better for taxpayers to adopt tax accounting methods and principles as the PFRS from the very beginning instead of the IFRS as their GAAP and GAAS. For more information on tax accounting principles and methods, please refer to RR V-1 for the Bookkeeping Regulations and RAMO 1-2000, which serves as the guidebook of BIR auditors and examiners in implementing the provisions of the Tax Code, or consult a competent tax professional.

Advantages of Investing in Mutual Funds

When it comes to investing in the stock market, financial and investment advisers will always caution potential investors that before they place their hard-earned money therein, they should first be all-SET. This means that they should have the Size of funds, Expertise and Time. However, even though a potential stock market investor may not be all-SET, there is still an alternative paper asset that one can invest in — Mutual Funds. Below are the advantages of investing in mutual funds according to the Philippine Investment Funds Association (PIFA) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) along with my additional comments:

1. Professional Management

One of the main attractions of mutual funds is that it affords its investors, particularly the small ones, the services of full-time professional managers whose job is to analyze the various investment products available in the market and select those that would give the best possible returns to the fund and its shareholders.

2. Low Capital Requirement

Direct investments usually require substantial capital. The minimum investment amounts for Treasury Bills and Commercial paper, for instance, range from P100,000 to P1,000,000 depending on the bank or investment house you are dealing with. This also holds true for stock because while you may be able to buy one “lot” (shares are sold in board lots ranging from 10 shares to 1 million shares depending on the price at which these shares are traded) for as low as P1,000 or P5,000, you may not be able to buy the stock that you really want, especially the blue chip and growth stocks.

3. Diversification

There is a saying that goes, “Do not put all your eggs in one basket.” This adage is especially true in the world of investments which is full of uncertainties. In fact, even King Solomon, the wisest king who has ever lived, said, “But divide your investments among many places, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead (Ecclesiastes 11:2, NLT). There is no such thing as a “sure” thing. An important investment principle that requires holding several securities to reduce the risks associated with investing in individual securities is called diversification. When you invest in a mutual fund, you achieve instant diversification because the fund is required by law to be invested in a wide array of issues and/or securities.

4. Liquidity

Liquidity is the ability to readily convert investments into cash. Other investment products require you to find  buyer so that you can liquidate your investments. That is not the case with mutual fund shares because the fund itself stands ready to buy back these shares at the prevailing Net Asset Value Per Share. While the law provides that redemption proceeds must be given within seven (7) banking days from the date of the redemption request, most funds are able to pay the redemption proceeds within the next day. Mutual Funds are, therefore, considered very liquid investments.

5. Safety

Safety is a very important consideration for most investors. Mutual funds are highly regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission under the Investment Company Act and its Implementing Rules and Regulations. Mutual funds are prohibited from investing in particular investment products and engaging in certain transactions. They also have to  submit regular reports to  the SEC as well as to their shareholders.

6. Potentially Higher Returns

Because a mutual fund is managed as a single portfolio, it is able to take advantage of certain economies of scale. For instance, with its millions of pesos (or other currency) under management, it can negotiate for lower stockbrokerage fees or higher interest rates on fixed-income instruments. In the end, however, it is still the investment company adviser who really makes the big difference when an individual is faced with this decision — “Will I make direct investments by myself or will I invest in a mutual fund?” Because very few individual investors can match the experience and skill of full-time professional fund managers, the investing public is well advised to invest in a mutual fund instead.

7. Convenience

Mutual funds are purchased directly through SEC-licensed Certified Investment Solicitors (CIS) only. These CIS are usually connected to banks, insurance companies, investment companies, or brokerage firms and normally provide personal, tailor-fit service. Some fund companies have even set up retail centers for investors. Many have payroll deduction plans and some funds, with proper authorization, will deduct and invest on a regular basis a specified amount from the shareholder’s bank account.

Funds offer a variety of services, including preparing monthly or quarterly account statements, automatically debiting additional investments from, or crediting redemption proceeds to, the investors’ bank account; or allowing transfers from one fund to another. Most major mutual fund companies offer extensive record-keeping services to help investors track their transactions and follow their funds’ performance via phone, text message, or the internet.

8. Transparency

Investment company advisers (such as Philam Asset Management, Inc.) provide investors with updated information pertaining to the fund. All material facts are disclosed to investors as required by the SEC.

9.  Flexibility

Investors are allowed to modify investment strategies over time by transferring or moving from one fund to another within a mutual fund family.

Guest Blog: Defending Your Fee in an Angry Marketplace

When clients average 9% a year, it’s easy to pay a 1% fee. When they lose money, those fees become harder to stomach. Here’s a four-part action plan for reestablishing your worth and protecting clients from further damage.

It’s not easy being a financial advisor these days. For some, you’re about as popular as members of Congress or the Bush administration. Within the last few weeks, millions of investment clients received third-quarter statements. Those who dared open the envelope found portfolios hammered by the recent market free fall. Trillions of dollars have evaporated from the markets.

Will clients stick with you?

A study released this month by Prince and Associates was not encouraging—at least, not for the wealthiest sectors of the financial services industry. The survey showed that an alarming 81% of investors with at least $1 million in discretionary assets at private banks were planning to pull at least some of their money from their advisors in the wake of Black September and Blacker October. Nearly half said they planned to change advisors and warn others about that professional.

Prince attributed this loss of confidence to the uncertainty caused by the credit crisis, the banking bailout, the market collapse, and the election. The good news in that? Factors such as the personal style and service approach of an advisor and the reputation of the advisory firm can greatly help shape an investor’s attitude. And their willingness to keep paying you, Prince said.

Advisor Beth Blecker, CEO of Eastern Planning in Pearl River, New York underscores the importance of steady service in this rough market: “I am not having any trouble defending my fee with 95% of my clients, but service is the key,” she notes. “I see my best clients every quarter, and I host special volatility-education events and appreciation events. I tell clients this is the time that I really have to earn my fees by keeping them long-term-goal-oriented. We do not believe in timing the market, so it is up to me to keep them invested.”

Taking charge of your message

What can you do now to keep clients happy, defend your fees, and attract new clients? Here’s an action plan for tough economic times.

Go back to the investment policy. When you initially establish an investment policy statement, it can be used to remind clients of potential losses they agreed to accept. This is especially valuable in a down market. An investment policy statement might include a statement like this: “Client X could accept losing 15% in any single year. Over a five-year period, she could tolerably lose 3% annualized.”

When the market falters, you can point back to the risk range outlined in the investment policy statement, as well as to the benchmarks chosen to help put the client’s investment performance into perspective. “It puts in plain English what risks they were willing to take,” said one advisor about his IPS. “It also provides a measurable standard by which we can reasonably be evaluated in a down market.”

Action step: Review clients’ investment policy statements. If you don’t have an IPS process, consider developing one to formally outline your approach.

Host an education summit. Perhaps no time would be more appropriate than now to gather your clients together at your home or office for a special “volatility event” to educate them about your market outlook and how you plan to address the current crisis. An education workshop should include the following elements:

  • A small number of attendees. Unlike a mass-marketed seminar, a client education workshop involves only a select group of your best clients—15 to 30 at the most.
  • Shared interests. When inviting clients to attend your exclusive workshop, choose those who share common interests and concerns. Your knowledge of their unique needs and issues will create a more effective event.
  • Educational purpose. Your education summit should not be tied to a product push. Clients should be able to ask questions and speak their minds. “Since this crisis hit, we have hosted special volatility events with my son, who is a certified financial analyst,” explains Blecker of Eastern Planning. “Clients were very happy that they could ask him whatever they wanted related to the market downturn.” You could bring in your own expert.

Action step: Determine which of your clients to invite. Consider hosting a series over several weeks for small client groups. Saturday mornings often work well. Limit attendance to 30 at the most. Find a guest speaker, if possible, but be sure you remain in charge of the message.

Remind clients about the benefits of fees. Clients don’t pay you a fee just for market performance. And while paying a fee in a down market can be frustrating, clients need to remember all the advantages of fees. Here are a few benefits you can remind them about:

  • Risk management. In a down market, your job is still to manage client risk and optimize their long-term strategic portfolio planning. This service becomes even more important when the market goes down as client confidence is low.
  • Portfolio flexibility. In declining markets, slight modifications to a portfolio can help your clients manage risk. A fee arrangement allows you to fine-tune their holdings without worrying about costs.
  • Constant advice. Paying a fee does not assure a positive return any more than paying for a doctor’s services guarantees the treatment will be successful. Clients pay for the process and the constant attention you give them. As one advisor notes, “Markets go down. This fact cannot be confused with the failure of the consultant.”
  • Excellent service. Clients rely on your service team to answer their questions and handle their requests promptly. Remind clients about the excellent service you strive to provide, that you have the best in the business handling their day-to-day financial needs. Point out that they can reach a member of your team at any time, and emphasize the level of personal service that distinguishes your practice.
  • Tax management. You play an important role in minimizing your clients’ tax bill. Making portfolio adjustments for tax purposes is more easily done under a fee arrangement because you don’t have to worry about transaction costs. Sometimes the tax savings can pay for a year’s worth of fees. A client can also write off your advisory fee, while mutual fund expenses are not deductible.
  • Shared economic interest. Remind your clients that as a result of your fee-based relationship, you’re feeling the pain along with them. One advisor told me his client assets were down 13% last quarter, meaning he just took a 13% pay cut. Your goal is to increase your clients’ wealth, and you share in their success and have every motivation to help them reach their goals.

Action step: If you encounter concerns about your management fee, make it your priority to listen first. Once you have understood and acknowledged the client’s objection, you can respond appropriately with the above advantages of fee-based advisory relationships.

Consider new hedging strategies. Finally, however well you defend your fees, it may be time to take a new investment approach. While focusing on long-term goals and staying invested has long been a mantra for financial advisors, a growing subset of advisors are embracing alternative risk management strategies and hedging to reduce short-term portfolio volatility. They’re basically saying, Forget the long run; we gotta stop the pain now.

“In order to justify your fee, you must bring something new to the table,” argues Otto Federen, an independent registered investment advisor in Lexington, Ky. “Buy and hold equals ‘hope and hold’—and hope is not a strategy.”

Federen completely revamped his investment approach after the 2002 bear market, when he saw fundamentally sound companies and managers beaten down by the market. “We recognized that we had to have downside protection.” He has had his clients in Treasury money funds since February, and he uses some managers who use short strategies.

Thomas Norris, president of NFI Advisors, manages risk with structured accounts comprised of Treasury bonds and call options on the S&P 500 Index to participate in upward swings. His clients have not lost money during the downturn. “If you don’t lose, you don’t have to make it up. I’m not in the market. We’ve protected them on the downside.”

Norris sees his no-risk strategy as the only approach during what may be a rough time ahead. “The average investor has been told to just stay invested, that the market will recover. But look at 1973-74. The market lost 50% of its value. People and advisors were devastated. And over 10 years during the ’70s, the market died slowly.”

And some advisors, recognizing the flat market over the last decade worry about another decade with little forward progress. David Hoelke, CFP, of Focus Financial in St. Paul, Minn. explains: “It’s not the wild swings up and down that concern me. I’m more concerned about a longer-term stagnant period, where clients might only make 2-3% because of a deflationary recession. If all asset classes perform poorly, 2-3% could be strong compared to inflation. “But if I’m taking one of those points as my fee, it might not sit well. I don’t worry about my clients becoming angry, but rather that they become pragmatic and learn that CDs might a safer alternative. And while that’s shortsighted on their part, some clients are frazzled enough that they might not care.”

Action step: Investigate alternative investment approaches on Horsesmouth and elsewhere. Explore the costs and potential advantages of these absolute return strategies.

Senior Editor Nicole Coulter specializes in helping financial advisors manage their businesses more effectively. She has previously written about practice management issues for publications such as Registered Representative and Bank Investment Representative. She holds an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

What is a VUL and Why is It a Good Investment?

I have read some blogs of certain financial experts advising people not to buy or invest in a VUL insurance because of the high charges that can eat up their account value (No. of units x NAVPU) and that people should instead buy a term insurance, which is significantly cheaper, and invest the difference in stocks, mutual funds, UITFs or ETFs. Other arguments against VULs is that it is only for those who are lazy to learn about investing themselves and that people who reach a ripe old age no longer have any young children or dependents to worry about when the call of death arrives.

While these seem like valid objections, however, there are some very important things about VUL insurance products that these writers have failed to consider. But before I proceed to address these issues, let me first define what a VUL is. VUL stands for Variable Unit-Linked/Variable Universal Life. According to Investopedia, a VUL is “A form of cash-value life insurance that offers both a death benefit and an investment feature. The premium amount for variable universal life insurance (VUL) is flexible and may be changed by the consumer as needed, though these changes can result in a change in the coverage amount. The investment feature usually includes sub-accounts  (pooled funds) which function very similar to mutual funds and can provide exposure to stocks and bonds. This exposure offers the possibility of an increased rate of return over a normal universal life or permanent insurance policy.” As Mr. Rienzie Biolena, RFP, puts it: “It is an investment and life insurance product in one. The difference between a VUL and other forms of life insurance is that part of the premiums is invested in pooled funds which, in time, are expected to grow in value.

Now, for my observations: First, you cannot make withdrawals from your term insurance because it does not have cash value unlike Whole Life and VULs which have cash/account value and can therefore also serve as your savings “account” in the case of the latter. Hence, the only way for an insured to enjoy his purchase is that if he or she dies during the term of the policy, which, in this case it is not really the insured who enjoys it but the beneficiaries. Second, according to Mr. Randell Tiongson, RFP:  “It is interesting to note that less than 20 percent of term insurance policies are still in force when the insured dies and, therefore, never pay a claim.” Third and most important of all, since the death benefits of a VUL, which include the amount invested in the pooled funds, is still classified as insurance, the proceeds thereof are excluded from the computation of gross income [Section 32(B)(1), National Internal Revenue Code of 1997] and gross estate [Section 85(E), Ibid] thereby exempting it in effect from taxation, provided, that the assignment of beneficiaries is irrevocable. Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for gains derived from investing in mutual funds, stocks, unit investment trust funds, or exchange traded funds, because in case of the death of the investor, such gains, if any, including the principal amount shall still form part of the gross estate and therefore subject to estate tax. And the worst part is, once the bank or financial institution finds out about the death of their depositor or investor, such funds are mandated by law to be frozen until payment of estate taxes is completed. That is why, as discussed in one of my previous blogs, life insurance, particularly VULs, is an indispensable tool in estate planning.

As a side note, there are VUL products, such as Philam Life’s Money Tree, that while providing minimal guaranteed life insurance coverage, has virtually the same rates of return as mutual fund investing. Maybe the writers criticizing VULs as a whole were not aware of the existence of VUL products such as the Money Tree or were greatly misinformed. As I conclude, remember that prior to investing, it is important to know your needs and goals before handing in your hard-earned money and diversify! As the wise teacher said: “Invest what you have in several different things. You don’t know what bad things might happen on earth.” (Ecclesiastes 11:2, ERV)

Joseph the Dreamer

joseph-the-dreamer

“Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” (Genesis 41:34-36, ESV)

Just a few hours after writing my previous article about the importance of life insurance in estate planning, I came across the above-quoted passage during my devotions. Maybe God intentionally led me to this passage of Scripture, which totally drives home my point in all my recent posts since last month, and that is: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

In the Old Testament account of Joseph, we can read how he was the most favored son of his father, Jacob (Israel). He was so obviously the favorite that his brothers plotted to kill him in jealousy. Fortunately, one of them convinced the others that killing their own flesh and blood is wrong and that they should just instead leave him in the pit where he was trapped. Nevertheless, when Bedouin caravan merchants came by, the brothers instead sold Joseph to them as a slave. Then they in turn sold Joseph at the public market who was bought by an Egyptian official named Potiphar. After many successes and tragedies in his life, Joseph finally gained favor in the eyes of Pharaoh who made him ruler of all Egypt second only to the king due to his God-given ability to interpret dreams and leadership capabilities. As a severe famine was about to strike the land of Egypt and its neighboring nations, Joseph came up with a plan to dampen, if not eradicate, the effects of the imminent famine. This story of Joseph is very famous that it was made by Walt Disney™ into an animated full-length feature film entitled “Joseph the Dreamer.”

This biblical story clearly illustrates the importance of planning ahead of any undesirable circumstance that may come our way. While Egypt’s neighboring countries suffered due to the ravaging effects of the famine, Egypt remained prosperous and plentiful. For us living in the 21st century, these undesirable circumstances may take the form of loss of employment; natural calamities such as earthquakes, typhoons and inundation; conflagration; sickness; or even death. This is where sound risk management, together with effective financial planning is a must. As with everything else, financial security starts with a plan. According to Rienzie Biolena, a Registered Financial Planner, “A comprehensive financial plan is a document that outlines the goals of a person, assesses his/her financial status, and gives concrete recommendations on how to achieve those goals. Each plan is different as every person has unique status, needs and aspirations. Yet all comprehensive financial plans cover each aspect of a person’s finances – cash flow, debt management, investments, insurance, tax and estate, and retirement.”

So when is the best time to start planning for your and your children’s future in order to protect yourself from life’s uncertainties? The answer is: YESTERDAY. Remember, failing to plan is planning to fail. So what are you waiting for? Contact your legal and financial adviser before it’s too late!