Why is Alphabet Soup Important to You?

AWMAWhen I first joined the Detterbeck Wealth Management team, I knew it would not be long until I started my designation pursuit. Three of the most respected designations in the financial services industry are the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), CPA (Certified Public Accountant), and the CFP® (Certified Financial Planner). Each of these designations are considered to be the best of the best in their niche. “The CFA designation is considered the gold standard among financial professionals worldwide (Finance Professional Post, New York Society of Security Analyst); meaning someone who holds this designation is a chartered professional when it comes to portfolio and investment management. If the CFA is considered the gold standard of finance, it is easy to see the CPA has the same importance with respect to accountancy. Where the CFA and CPA focus on portfolio management and accountancy/tax, respectively, the CFP® focuses on comprehensive financial planning as a whole.  Someone who holds a CFP® designation has proven competence in all areas of the financial planning process including: financial statement preparation and analysis, investment planning, income tax planning, education planning, risk management, retirement planning and estate planning. DWM founders, Brett and Les Detterbeck, understand the importance of continuing education and have set the bar high for the rest of the team. Brett holds his CFA, CFP®, and AIF; while Les holds his CPA/PFS, MBA, CFP®, CFA, and AIF®. They understand what it takes to become true financial planning experts and help pave the way for the rest of the DWM team.

The CFP® or CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification is the most respected financial credential for financial planners, financial firms, and those seeking the advice of a financial planner. Therefore, the CFP® is a designation new DWM team members set their sights to obtain, however, there are many other well respected designations in the industry as well. Rather than jumping right into the CFP®, the team and I decided to go after a different designation; one that is specific to our clients and is a great stepping stone to the CFP®. I decided to pursue becoming an Accredited Wealth Management AdvisorSM (AWMA®).

“The AWMA® professional education program is the nation’s original and most well-respected designation for providing financial advice to high net worth clients”. The coursework consists of roughly 2,000 pages of material, 25 hours’ worth of video sessions, and a 4 hour examination that must be taken within 6 months of signing up for the class. DWM team member Grant Maddox is also pursuing the AWMA® and will be sitting for his test later this month.

While the AWMA® is a great program and allows a individual to become specialized in working with high net worth clientele, it is not the only path to becoming a financial planning professional. For example, DWM team member Ginny Wilson took a different path by obtaining the CRPC® or Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠. The CRPC® is the nation’s premier retirement planning credential and someone who holds it is considered to have mastered every step of the retirement process and can create a “roadmap to retirement” for almost any client.

As the entire DWM team knows, it is a bit of an adjustment working during the day and studying at night/mornings/on the weekends, but most of the information is very interesting and gives us the knowledge to help clients on their path to financial freedom. I learn something new every time I sit down to study. While I find investment strategies to be the most interesting coursework topics, I probably benefitted the most from learning all of the different estate planning techniques, as I had zero experience with this aspect of financial planning prior to joining DWM. The most eye-opening part of this entire process is just how complicated financial planning can be. If someone does not have the correct asset allocation funded in the proper kind of account, proper estate planning, or doesn’t fully understand all of the different tax ramifications that can come with financial planning, etc., it is possible they could hamper or damage their plan. Planning for your money must be done thoroughly and correctly.  The entire DWM team has dedicated thousands of hours on continuing education, and we are still all learning every day. Working with an advisor who lacks the proper credentials could end up costing you money.

Even though I am still just starting my wealth management journey, I am thrilled I was able to obtain my first designation, AWMA®, two weeks ago. On top of that, I realize now more than ever how important it is to work with a firm like DWM because the alternative could mean working with someone who is not as qualified, thus, costing the client money, servicing and care.  Continuing education is a valued process at DWM and we recognize its importance to our clients. All designations require continuing education classes, seminars, etc., which we welcome as an opportunity to expand our knowledge and be in a position to provide even greater value to our clients.

Robo-advisors: The Latest “Inexpensive” Product

RoboadvisorWhen Brett was little, he worked, saved his money, and bought a three wheel ATV. He needed a helmet to keep his head safe while he was riding merrily through the neighborhood. We investigated and settled on a Bell Helmet since it was the best. Their slogan said it all: “If you have a $10 head… buy a $10 helmet.” In my opinion, the same applies to your financial future. If your financial future isn’t worth much to you, use a robo-advisor. It’s like the $10 helmet: it’s cheap, better than nothing, yet provides little value.

Robo-advisors are making the news. They are a low-cost, computerized asset-allocation software application. Folks like Betterment, Wealthfront, Vanguard, and now Schwab have been getting into the game. Users are asked to provide a number of inputs such as:

  • How much are you investing?
  • What is your risk tolerance?
  • What is your goal?
  • How long do you have to invest?

Then proprietary algorithms process the inputs and provide a “tailored” investment plan. The provider implements that plan using their recommended funds.

Here’s what people who use robo-advisors are generally not getting:

  • Appropriate diversification. Use of all three asset classes: equities, fixed income, and liquid alternatives is generally not available with the robo-advisors. Studies have shown that adding non-correlated assets, aka alternatives, to a portfolio can improve return and reduce volatility.
  • Wide fund selection. Robo-advisors not only get their asset management fee from customers, they typically also receive all or part of the operating expenses of the funds for the funds they recommend. Lack of independence in fund selection is a key point here since the robo-advisor’s overall income is impacted by the funds they recommend. Hence, while the asset allocation percentages may be appropriate, the specific investment choices may not be, which can lead to underperformance.
  • Monitoring. Investment management is a process. “Set it and forget it” doesn’t work, particularly in the current investment environment.Regular monitoring and periodic rebalancing is required in order to continue to adapt and improve portfolios.
  • Commitment to protecting your money. Let’s face it, the robo-advisors were developed and exist to collect assets and make money for their company. If there is a big market swing, like we had in 2008, don’t expect the robo-advisor to cushion the downfall. A firm like DWM is focused on your money, not ours.We’re here to help protect first and then grow your assets. Our clients are familiar with what we did in 2008 to contain their losses by reducing equity exposure and the use of alternatives.
  • Guidance. Some robo-advisors do include some assistance with financial decisions in their service. Most of the advice will be generated automatically by the firm’s computers and delivered online. Compare that with a firm like DWM. Brett and I have over 60 years’ experience helping clients. In addition, as you know, we’re CFP® practitioners, CFA charterholders, and I am also a CPA. You want a sounding board that is experienced, competent, thoughtful, and sensitive to your particular personal situation, not a robot simply doing calculations and spitting out answers.
  • Fiduciary care. Robo-advisors don’t sign an oath, as Brett and I have, to always put the client’s interest first. We are also Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF®) certificants. Robo-advisors are the latest “fad” for collecting assets and have no legal responsibility to put their client’s interests first. Their principal goal is to make as much money for their company as they can.
  • Proactive advice. Don’t expect that from your robo-advisor. DWM clients know that we believe “Wealth Management is a Process, not a Product.”We have processes in place to review and monitor on a regular basis and review with our clients such important topics as financial independence, education funding, income taxes, estate planning, insurance and other matters. We have saved families hundreds, thousands, and millions of dollars by providing proactive suggestions for them in many different ways. In addition, we have collaborated with their other advisers to implement changes to help secure and protect them.

Ultimately, it’s all about what price you put on your financial future. If you want a seemingly inexpensive product (a computerized calculation of an asset allocation) and you believe that will provide you and your family future financial success, then a robo-advisor may be for you. If, on the other hand, your family’s financial future is of key importance to you and you wish to have financial “peace of mind” with an independent, competent, experienced, proactive financial advocate that employs processes in both investment and financial planning areas devoted to helping you and your family and is committed to protecting and growing your net worth and legacy, then I suggest you do your due diligence and opt for the best, not the cheapest.