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Retirement Planning

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

President and Chief Investment Officer Trevor Forbes

President and Chief Investment Officer Trevor Forbes

With decades of investment experience under his belt — much of it for very large companies on an international scale — Trevor Forbes decided he preferred an approach to portfolio management that emphasizes the individual. He found that model at Renaissance Investment Group, which he joined as president in 2011. Creating a completely personalized portfolio for each client takes work, he said, but it’s worth it because it creates peace of mind — in more ways than one.

It makes sense, Trevor Forbes said, that no two people would forge an identical strategy for their financial future.

“Your financial position is going to be different than someone else’s, and your ideas about what you want when you retire will undoubtedly be different. So how you deal with that retirement will be different,” said Forbes, president and chief investment officer at Lenox-based Renaissance Investment Group.

“You may be a cautious investor; you may be able to tolerate much less in the way of volatility in your investments than someone else, and we take that into account,” he went on. “We have to balance a whole range of different requirements from our clients. A lot of organizations will claim to do that, to an extent, but in most cases, they are not really set up to do it that way — certainly not for the size of clients we typically manage money for.”

Renaissance was launched in 2000 with a vision to provide tailored investment-management and financial-planning advice to individuals who were being sidelined by the centralization of the industry.

“That’s remained very much the ethos of Renaissance ever since,” Forbes said. “I joined in 2011, having had long discussions with the original founders for about 18 months prior to that, at a time when two of the original founders were seeking to retire. They wanted somebody with a similar ethos and a similar approach to investments.”

“The mission has been to provide individualized investment management and financial planning for people who otherwise wouldn’t be getting that.”

Forbes, a native of England, had worked in London for most of his career, mainly for large financial organizations on the investment side. “For example, for most of the ’90s I was the head of global equities for Citibank, which was those days based in London. I had to coordinate the investment approach of seven different locations around the world. They got me very heavily involved in asset allocation for a whole range of different types of clients. Particularly interesting to me, at that stage, was the private client side.”

Forbes left Citibank at the end of the 1990s and went into private-client wealth management; in 2007, he set up a wealth-management business “at probably one of the most inauspicious times in market history.” But over the next several years, he and his team built that enterprise from nothing to a billion dollars under management.

Still, he and his wife were looking for something different when they relocated to the Berkshires — she to open a bed and breakfast, and he to find a wealth-management firm that fit his philosophy — which he found in Renaissance just as it was looking for a successor to run the business.

Just before he came on board, the company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Bank, but it never fit neatly into that’s institution’s mold, he said, so in 2016, he partnered with Ohio-based Stratos Wealth Enterprises, LLC to buy out the firm.

“We’ve been able to regain our independence and maintain what has been the ethos of the company all the way through,” he explained. “The mission has been to provide individualized investment management and financial planning for people who otherwise wouldn’t be getting that. That continues today.”

In most investment-advisory firms of Renaissance’s size, said Chief Operating Officer Christopher Silipigno, “you’re not getting someone to sit down and find out exactly what your situation is, what variables are in play for you, and then looking at the specific equities that best make up a portfolio that matches that. That’s pretty special.”

One thing that attracted him to the firm, he added, is its history of bringing in senior-level talent from very large institutions who now bring that experience to clients outside the ultra-high-net-worth sphere.

“You’re getting someone with Trevor’s background to sit down with you and run through all kinds of things — your investment concerns, retirement concerns, cash flow and how much you need, as well as things like passing this wealth on in a tax-efficient manner, how the funds will go to your children, even real-estate concerns.”

As an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, Silipigno noted, Renaissance has a fiduciary responsibility to clients — a term meaning, essentially, that their interests always come first.

“Most people don’t understand that, in your large broker-dealer houses, that’s not the case. They have a suitability expectation, which means the investment has to be suitable, but it could be that they’re selling you Apple because they own Apple at one price and want to sell it at another. We’re not selling our own stock, so our advice is what’s in your best interest. We’re also not pushing products, which is unique.”

Conscientious Investors

At Renaissance, the investment team is doing all its own research on individual investments, Silipigno said. “You might think that’s the norm, but it’s further and further away from the norm. Typically, research is done somewhere else and being sent into the firm, and then that research is being used to make decisions for you.”

That in-house research, he explained, extends to both national trend tracking, but also the fundamentals of each company being considered for investment. For instance, he noted, in a growing economy, oil might be a promising investment. “But maybe we see a lot of growth coming out of West Texas, and here are the companies in West Texas best poised to grow because they have the capacity to grow.

Chris Silipigno

Chris Silipigno says Renaissance has a fiduciary responsibility to clients, meaning their interests come first, not the firm’s.

“That’s the kind of specific research that’s happening here and can be brought to a client,” he said. “Maybe someone in a $15 million account somewhere can demand that kind of answer. Here, we’re bringing that to clients in much smaller accounts.”

Sometimes, an individual investment strategy will incorporate what’s become known in the industry as social-responsibility investments (SRI), or environmental, social, and governance (ESG) preferences. Take, for example, customers who may not want their money invested in petroleum.

“A lot of those clients might not want that company in West Texas. That’s fine. It’s their wealth, and they have a role to play in how that wealth is invested,” Forbes said. “So we tailor a portfolio to either exclude certain characteristics or include some of the characteristics these individuals are interested in. Then we do research into these kinds of companies.”

In addition to fossil fuels, some customers have an aversion to military spending, guns, alcohol, gambling, pharmaceutical companies, even investment banks, and don’t want their money invested in one or more of those areas, he explained. Conversely, they might have a special interest in water resources, testing equipment for water purity, solar energy, or any number of other mission-driven businesses.

“Your view of social responsibility can be much different than someone else’s view of social responsibility. So we have to take into account a very wide range of differing views,” he added, noting that such companies must also be suitable investments from a financial perspective — otherwise, there’s not much point in investing in them.

Tailoring portfolios to match a customer’s ESG preferences, Forbes said, is really just an extension of what Renaissance is already doing for clients, which is research on a client-by-client basis — a task that has become much easier in an era of technology that makes information so readily accessible. “It’s time-consuming; there’s no doubt about that, but anything you do well is going to be time-consuming.”

Forbes first became interested in ESG investing during the 1980s, when he began directing money away from South African companies that supported apartheid. Today, a commitment to ESG investments still makes sense, especially in a socially conscious region like the Berkshires.

“It’s gone from a fringe idea, a few people saying, ‘hey, I want to invest in a way that doesn’t offend my values’ to a global movement,” Silipigno said. “Every year, the growth has been exponential.”

He said many larger firms are making ESG investments, but they’re one-size-fits-all portfolios of companies the advisory firm has decided fit the ESG mold, not crafted individually for each client. “They might decide a petroleum company is OK, because a certain amount of its revenues go back into the environment. But that might not be your decision as a client; you might say, ‘I don’t want anybody that profits from fossil fuels.’”

Indeed, Forbes added, “the way you express your social responsibility will be different than someone else’s. The way we do it is more targeted, and we have the technology to achieve that.”

For people worried that investing their conscience might cost them returns on growth, Renaissance has not found that to be the case, Silipigno added. “We’re seeing that our portfolios that are ESG and SRI are tracking with the major indices. So you don’t have to have a drag on your returns to invest in a way that meets your conscience.”

Smart Approach

Renaissance takes on clients with at least a half-million dollars to invest, although that could include a group of smaller accounts — for example, in one household.

“Our average client size is bigger than that, and basically these are people who worked very hard to get their wealth, and they want that wealth to provide them with some security, particularly as they get into later life,” Forbes said. “In some cases, it’s to provide a second generation with some wealth as well, and sometimes it includes charitable giving.”

Renaissance also manages money for foundations and endowments, he added. A large portion of its client base is in the Berkshires or surrounding regions, but the firm also has many clients on the West Coast, Florida, and other points across the U.S.

“We see ourselves as the center of a team of individuals that may include an attorney, an accountant, and a whole range of people who are important in mapping out your future — and succeeding generations as well. And it has to be done on a client-by-client basis. You have to know your clients. That’s important.”

Silipigno said potential clients will come in for a financial checkup, assessing their current financial standing and where their assets are. He often finds people at one of two extremes. Some are currently exposed to a tremendous amount of risk — with money tied up in just a few stocks that have done well, but could be vulnerable to a market downturn — while others have taken an alarmingly conservative approach to their future.

The firm boasts a broad client base in and around the Berkshires, but also across the U.S.

The firm boasts a broad client base in and around the Berkshires, but also across the U.S.

For example, he recently met with a doctor, married with five kids, who had more than a million dollars, all of it tucked away in a savings account, building almost no growth whatsoever — not exactly the most ambitious retirement plan.

Clients who come on board find there’s a happy medium, he said, a way to both grow and protect their assets through a diversified approach. Forbes was quick to note, however, that he doesn’t take the approach of some houses that clients should have a little bit of everything. For example, he shies away from international investments because they’re naturally a little more volatile.

“Some of those risks may be worth taking, but I’ve got to be satisfied that they are worth taking,” he said. “I’ve never believed that you should have a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit of something else just because it adds extra diversification. All of our portfolios are very diversified. But there’s nothing in the theory that suggests you should have something in emerging markets or something in high-yield debt, for example.”

In addition, he explained, “if you look at the typical way portfolio management is run here, we build everything up from the client level. So if we decide, for example, that today is the right day to buy Google, rather than saying, ‘OK, we’re going to buy 1,000 Google, you’re 0.2% of our client base, so you’re going to get 0.2%,’ we approach it differently. We’ll look at your portfolio, then we’ll look at his portfolio, and we’ll model each individual portfolio until we’ve got an aggregation of the amount of Google we want to buy.”

That’s different from how most investment houses organize their strategy, he went on. “It forces the portfolio manager to take account of your requirements at the time we’re actually trading within the account. I think that is an important factor. It is a differentiating factor between Renaissance and a lot of the industry.”

Another selling point is the firm’s transparency in terms of its fee basis. “We don’t invest in third-party funds,” Forbes said. “When you go to one of the larger investment-management organizations, they buy a mutual fund, and that mutual fund has another layer of fees within it, on top of the investment fees you’re already being charged. So your actual level of cost starts to escalate. We don’t believe in that — all our clients are invested in individual stocks and individual bonds. That provides very transparent fees. We think that’s in our clients’ best interest.”

Getting Personal

All these facets of Renaissance’s ethos — a word Forbes used several times for emphasis — certainly creates more work for the team, especially the individualized aspect of the investment process.

“Most investment managers will probably say it’s not a very cost-effective model, but fortunately, these days, we have a lot of technology at our fingertips, and rather than using that technology to determine what we’re going to invest in, we use it to actually inform our approach to investment management, from a research point of view and also from a day-to-day management point of view.”

It’s an approach that has worked for 18 years now, he said, if only because clients know their portfolio will be personally tailored to their assets, goals, risk tolerance — and, yes, even their conscience.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Retirement Planning

Separating Hype from Reality

By Ann I Weber, Esq.

Ann I Weber, Esq.

Ann I Weber, Esq.

Recent headlines read: “Estate Taxes Repealed for All But Mega Estates!” “Get Your Hot Dogs Here with a Complimentary Will and Trust!” and “Never Need Legal Work Again!”

Is all this true, hype, or misinformation?

All three, as it turns out. Yes, only ginormous estates, i.e., those in excess of $11,200,000 for an individual, will be subject to federal estate taxes. Yes, wills and trusts may become less expensive without technical drafting to minimize federal estate taxes. Hype because many people have estates that are subject to state estate taxes. In Massachusetts, any estate over $1 million is taxed from dollar one — and you can’t dodge that bullet by making deathbed gifts.

Hype also because many non-tax situations make an estate plan desirable or even crucial. Misinformation because, as noted below, changes and complications in families, businesses, and relationships are inevitable, and sometimes an estate plan can help your family to navigate through what might otherwise be turbulent times.

A estate plan is important because you still need to say where you want your property to go at your death. Without a will, absent a named beneficiary, your property will go where the Commonwealth says it will go. In many cases, that’s not what you may want. For example:

• You may want your surviving spouse to receive all of your assets. But unless you say so in a will, your estate will be divided among your spouse and your children based on formulas tied to whether some or all children are from your prior marriages, if any, and from the prior marriages, if any, of your current spouse.

• You may have individuals you wish to include who are not your ‘heirs at law.’ Under Massachusetts intestacy statutes, a parent, cousin, nephew, friend, or charity, among others, might not benefit from your estate unless specifically named.

• You may have minor children and want to delay their direct access to your estate. Many people want to defer the benefits that their minor children receive from their estate until the children reach specified ages. The Commonwealth provides only for outright distribution to estate beneficiaries age 18 or older. If such beneficiaries are under the age of 18, the court will appoint a guardian to manage these funds for the child. A will or a revocable living trust can create a trust providing for delayed distributions to the child while still allowing the trustee to use trust assets for the child’s benefit until that time.

• You may have children from a previous marriage. The Commonwealth provides formula benefits to current spouse and children whether from the current or prior marriages, and may not meet the particular needs of your family. A will or trust can tailor distributions to your children and spouse or provide that property allocated to your spouse pass to your children at such spouse’s death.

• You may have a parent you want to benefit. The intestate laws in Massachusetts do not provide benefits for a parent if a spouse or children survive you. A will or trust could include such provisions. If there is a possibility that a parent might require nursing-home care, a specially drafted trust can shelter trust assets from MassHealth claims. At the parent’s death, trust assets will pass according to your directions.

• You may have a special-needs beneficiary. If assets from your estate are distributed outright to a person who otherwise qualifies for state or federal benefits such as MassHealth, Supplemental Security Income, or VA benefits, for example, the receipt of these assets may cause an interruption in or cessation of benefits. Instead, you may want to consider directing these benefits to a special-needs trust which can hold such benefits without adversely impacting needs-based benefits.

• You may want to make gifts to charity. Massachusetts laws of intestacy do not provide for gifts to charities. Such gifts can be made via a will or trust or by naming a charity as a beneficiary of your bank, investment, or retirement account. If a charity is named as a beneficiary of your retirement fund, the gift will pass free of income taxes that would be payable by individual beneficiaries and will also pass free of estate taxes.

• You may want to consider a durable power of attorney to appoint someone to handle your financial affairs in the event of your disability. Durable powers of attorney can take effect immediately or upon your disability and, in the event of your disability, can avoid the need for a court-appointed guardian with all the attendant expense, publicity, and delays — and the choice of who handles your affairs is made by you rather than a judge.

• You may want to specify the type of medical treatment you do or do not want. The Commonwealth provides a standard-form healthcare proxy, available online, that can address these concerns about treatment and end-of-life care. If you have strong opinions regarding the administration (or lack thereof) of particular forms of treatment should you be terminally ill or injured, you may want to consider executing a living will.

Attorney Ann I. Weber is a partner with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C., and concentrates her practice in the areas of estate-tax planning, estate administration, probate, and elder law. She has a particular interest in creative estate planning for authors, artists, farmers, and landowners, and she is a frequent author and speaker on issues regarding estate planning; (413) 737-1131; www.ssfpc.com

Retirement Planning

Life Lessons

Retirees say they are considerably less concerned than pre-retirees about their money lasting throughout retirement, but worry more about the financial and lifestyle implications of declining health, according to new research from MassMutual.

Retirees are confident that their retirement income will last as long as they live and that they will have enough money to meet their retirement lifestyle goals, with nine in 10 retirees saying they feel confident compared to roughly half of pre-retirees, according to the MassMutual Retirement Income Study. Pre-retirees worry most about not having enough money to enjoy themselves, four times more than retirees (28% versus 7%), who are most concerned about healthcare costs (29%).

“While we’re working, many of us think about retirement in terms of our leisure pursuits, a kind of permanent vacation that requires more disposable income,” said Tom Foster Jr., head of Retirement Plans Practice Management with MassMutual. “Retirees’ experience tells us that health concerns become increasingly prominent, especially as many retirees begin experiencing health issues and their subsequent costs.”

Overall, pre-retirees worry more than retirees about not having enough income in retirement (78% versus 51%), changes in Social Security benefits (81% versus 69%), and low interest rates hurting income (69% versus 57%), the study finds. When asked if their retirement income would last as long as they live, 91% of retirees and 56% of pre-retirees answered affirmatively.

Retirees’ confidence may stem from finding they need less income than many pre-retirees anticipate. Overall, 60% of pre-retirees expect to need at least two-thirds or more of their pre-retirement income to live comfortably in retirement, while 44% of retirees find that to be the case, according to the study. More than a third of pre-retirees believe they will need 75% or more of their pre-retirement income in retirement, while one-third of retirees report needing less than 50%.

“While many retirees can manage their expenses to lower income levels in retirement, the rising cost of care may steadily reduce their lifestyles as they age,” Foster said. “Once you’re older, it may be impossible to make up for any increasing income needs by simply tightening your belt. It’s far better to err on the side of having more rather than less income than you anticipate needing, especially as costs for care continue to escalate.”

The average 65-year-old couple could pay almost $490,000 in total health-related costs throughout retirement, according to HealthView Services, a software company that projects healthcare costs.

On the spending side of the ledger, 70% of pre-retirees anticipate spending less in retirement than they did in their working years, a proposition that does not always work out, the study finds. While half of retirees say they spend less, the rest find they spend about the same (41%) or more (8%).

Pre-retirees also are more inclined than retirees to say they wish they had started saving for retirement sooner. Eighty-four percent of pre-retirees would have started saving sooner compared to 55% of retirees, according to the study. Those sentiments were more likely to be expressed by those with assets of less than $250,000 or respondents who had siphoned money from their 401(k) or other retirement savings plan before retirement through a loan or withdrawal, or who suspended contributions.

The internet-based study was conducted on behalf of MassMutual by Greenwald & Associates and polled 801 retirees who have been retired for no more than 15 years and 804 pre-retirees within 15 years of retirement. Pre-retirees were required to have household incomes of at least $40,000, and retired respondents had at least $100,000 in investable assets and participated in making household financial decisions. The research was conducted in January 2018.

Retirement Planning Sections

Taking a Long View

Siobhan Matty

Siobhan Matty says Millennials understand their financial challenges, from a shaky job market to high college debt to uncertainty about Social Security, and are planning for the future accordingly.

Older generations hold quite a few negative stereotypes about the youngest cohort in the workforce. If surveys and statistics are to be believed, however, Millennials may be doing better than their predecessors at getting an early start on retirement savings. Much of this is simply a response to a barrage of anxieties thrown their way, from skyrocketing college debt and a sluggish job market to the disappearance of pensions and uncertainty about Social Security. Increasingly, young professionals understand that building a secure retirement is their responsibility — and the sooner they start, the better.

“They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

David Bowie’s famous observation about young people from “Changes,” illuminating the generation gap he observed, is still applicable 45 years after the song was written.

Take, for example, the issue of saving for retirement. If the older generations have an image of Millennials — the generation now between ages 16 and 36, and numbering more than 75 million — as flighty and irresponsible with their financial strategy, the raw numbers tell a different story.

According to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, in its 2016 survey titled “Perspectives on Retirement: Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials,” today’s Millennials started saving for retirement at a median age of 22, and 72% are currently saving through a company-sponsored 401(k) or similar plan, or a plan outside the workplace.

Perhaps more strikingly, 40% of Millennials actually increased their contribution to a 401(k) or similar plan in the prior 12 months, compared to 30% of Gen-Xers.

The numbers don’t surprise Siobhan Matty, a Millennial herself who works with numerous clients in her peer group as a relationship manager at St. Germain Investments in Springfield. She says young professionals are anxious about the solvency of Social Security — according to the Transamerica Center survey, 81% of Millennials believe the entitlement will not be there where they retire — as well as a difficult job market, the near-disappearance of company pensions, and what happened to their parents’ savings in the financial crash of 2008.

Quite aware, indeed.

A keen interest in retirement savings, Matty said, “goes hand in hand with the anxiety about not having a pension or the Social Security income their parents or grandparents may have gotten. They understand they can’t necessarily rely on the government to secure that kind of funding in retirement.”

Jean Deliso, principal at Deliso Financial and Insurance Services in Agawam, said it helps to understand the unique burdens Millennials are strapped with.

“The job market is terrible,” she said. “They’ve got crazy educational costs; they’re coming out of college with more debt than ever. It’s like a mortgage. And that puts more pressure on them to wait on housing. I feel bad for them.”

Deliso also noted the issue of Social Security, and the prospect of it not being available to today’s young workers when they retire decades from now. But there’s a silver lining to this cynicism because it forces Millennials to think more deeply about what they need to do to secure their own future.

Millennials get a bad reputation for being slackers, for not particularly having a good work ethic. But they came out of college into a weak job market, and they understand the importance of establishing savings, or at least working toward that goal.”

“They say, ‘I need to think more about myself because Social Security is not going to be stable,’” she explained. “Plus, the companies their grandparents worked for, and maybe their parents, had pensions; they worked for 35 years, then got a pension, plus Social Security, and they were safe. But a pension is hard to come by anymore. Millennials have some real challenges. So, what should they do about it?”

To help answer that question, several investment experts spoke with BusinessWest about what a 20- and 30-somethings should be considering as they ponder a retirement that isn’t as far away as it may seem.

Savings First

Matty’s simplest advice is to save as much as possible. But that takes discipline, and is easier said than done.

The stock market may be prone to short-term volatility, she said, but young people can feel confident of the longer-term view when considering whether to invest.

“The other thing would just be contributing to whatever plan you have at work,” she said. “We don’t usually have pension plans available to us, so if you can do anything in your workplace to contribute to a plan, that’s important to establishing that savings habit. If you have a habit in place, it’s a lot easier to continue doing it.”

One benefit of automatic deductions is psychological, she noted. “If you don’t see it, you can’t touch it. Then, you can look at what you need to pay your debts. After that, work on what else you can safely put away, and make a budget for what you can spend. Luxuries are great, but that’s what they are, luxuries; they’re not necessities.”

Jean Deliso

Jean Deliso says a key savings strategy — not just for Millennials, but for everyone — is to “pay yourself first.”

Deliso said any financial plan for young people — or anyone, really — begins with one basic step: “pay yourself first.” In other words, savings should be the first expense to come out of one’s earnings.

“Get into an employer-sponsored plan as soon as possible,” she said, “and if there’s a match, get that match, so you’re not losing free money.” Another option would be to open an IRA, preferably with a Roth component ensuring that withdrawals later in life aren’t taxed.

Millennials understand the importance of these vehicles; according to the Transamerica Center survey, 55% of them expect such self-funded accounts to be their primary source of retirement income, and 75% would like more information from their employers on how to achieve their retirement goals.

Deliso noted that people don’t keep one job anymore, but may hold seven, 10, or even more over a lifetime, and it’s important to keep rolling employer-sponsored plans into new plans as they change jobs.

The next step, after contributing to retirement savings, is to determine what bills must be paid each month and what expenses can be trimmed, and that takes budgeting and self-control, she went on. “The bottom line, and the most important thing for Milliennials or anyone else, is to live within your means. Don’t take an apartment that takes 75% of your income. You want to have positive cash flow, because that allows you to have savings, and that brings financial success.”


List of Financial Services/Brokerage Firms in Western Mass.


Positive cash flow can begin with the simplest of steps, Deliso added, such as not spending $4 on coffee four times a week. “Put that $15 in your 401(k) plan. Put it in right from your paycheck, and you’ll never miss it. Say, ‘I’m going to pay for my future first.’ Many people’s greatest fear is that they’ll run out of money. You don’t know how long you’re going to live. But you can push that fear away if you plan accordingly.”

It shouldn’t be a hard sell, said Kate Kane, managing director and wealth management advisor with Northwestern Mutual, who cited research showing that 25- to 34-year-olds are cautious, yet confident, and, more importantly, future-focused and resourceful. So while investment professionals need to take into account their short-term goals and the challenges of their current financial situation — which often include significant college debt — they also need to demonstrate how solid planning can positively impact their life both now and years in the future.

A starting point, she noted, addresses how saving and planning begins with a budget and eliminating debt. Then, moving forward, they can address mid- and long-term goals.

“Since most Millennials came of age or began their careers at the time of the Great Recession,” Kane added, “they tend to be more financially risk-averse than previous generations and are very connected to the idea of planning as a means to manage risk.”

The debt issue is a key one, she added. According to Bankrate, just 40% of Americans age 18-29 pay off their entire credit-card bill each month, compared with 53% of those 30 and up. Some of that may be chalked up to experience: a survey by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority reveals that only 30% of older Millennials (ages 27 to 34) and just 18% of younger ones (ages 18 to 26) have an understanding of basic financial concepts, including how to manage their saving and spending.

Running Out of Time

To be sure, retirement savings are not a Millennial issue; they’re a problem for everyone. And ‘problem’ is the right word. According to a recent Economic Policy Institute survey, the median total retirement savings among the 56-61 age group is just $17,000. For the 50-55 group, it’s less than half that, $8,000. Americans simply aren’t saving enough — not even close. Millennials have a chance to start earlier and do a better job.

“Moreso than prior generations, Millennials experience more pressure to save,” Matty said. “Obviously, corporate pension plans don’t exist anymore, and there are questions as to whether Social Security will exist, or at what ages they’ll be able to take from it or how long they’ll need to work for it.”

But Millennials were also jolted by the crash of 2008, which occurred, for many of them, during their teen years. It was sobering for them, even though they weren’t yet in the work world, and established a foundation of mistrust in the entire economic system.

As a result, she said, Millennials are more likely than past generations to continue living at home into their mid- to late 20s — not because they’re lazy, but because they want to build a base of savings instead of piling more debt on top of their exorbitant college loans.

“It’s an interesting change,” Matty said. “Millennials get a bad reputation for being slackers, for not particularly having a good work ethic. But they came out of college into a weak job market, and they understand the importance of establishing savings, or at least working toward that goal.”

According to the Transamerica Center report, 22% of Millennials say they “frequently” discuss saving and planning for retirement with family and friends, compared with just 10% of Generation X and Baby Boomers — a counterintuitive statistic, to be sure. Indeed, starting the conversation too late has put many a 40-something worker — by now dealing with mortgages and college expenses for their own children — well behind the savings they need to achieve.

In this new world, Matty said, there’s no replacement for making — and sticking to — a plan.

“People don’t necessarily have the same career for 40 years anymore, and they don’t have the same pension they once had,” she reiterated. “In your mid-20s, you have 40 to 50 years to retirement. Start planning while time is on your side.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]sswest.com

Retirement Planning Sections

Hard Lesson

T. Rowe Price’s 2016 Parents, Kids & Money Survey, which sampled 1,086 parents nationally and their 8- to 14-year old children, found that many kids (62%) expect their parents to cover the cost of “whatever college I want to go to.” Yet, most parents (65%) will only be able to contribute some to the cost of college.

The results also suggest that student loans can lead to increased anxiety and financial stress. Parents with their own student loans are more likely to lose sleep over college costs (49% vs. 40%) and are significantly more likely to have credit-card debt (67% vs. 54%) and payday loans (19% vs. 7%).

There are positive findings, however, as most parents are indeed saving for their kids’ college (58%) and recognize the need to begin saving when their kids are young, with 68% saying under age 10, including 47% who say under age 5. And while some parents may not be using the most appropriate type of account to save for college, which include low-interest savings accounts (42%) and retirement accounts that penalize savers for withdrawing money before retirement (27%), a significant percentage of the parents who are saving are getting it right by using a tax-advantaged 529 plan (37%) to save for their kids’ college.

 

Preparing for college entails more than studying for the SATs and should begin before kids have even started kindergarten. It starts with saving for college in a 529 account and having regular money conversations at a young age, so they’ll later be able to conceptualize the financial tradeoffs involved in selecting a college.”

 

“Preparing for college entails more than studying for the SATs and should begin before kids have even started kindergarten,” said Judith Ward, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price and mother of two college graduates. “It starts with saving for college in a 529 account and having regular money conversations at a young age, so they’ll later be able to conceptualize the financial tradeoffs involved in selecting a college.

“The benefits of a college education can become overshadowed by the burden of debt if parents haven’t saved towards a college education and had money conversations with their kids to manage expectations of how much of their college costs they can cover,” she added. “It’s surprising that most kids expect their parents to cover whatever college they want to go to — and presents a real opportunity to discuss family finances and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

T. Rowe Price encourages parents to invest in their kids’ futures by talking to them about money matters weekly and saving for their college. The survey found that parents who discuss financial topics with their kids at least once a week are nearly twice as likely to have kids who say they are smart about money (68% versus 36%). To help, the firm created MoneyConfidentKids.com, which provides free online games for kids and tips for parents that are focused on financial concepts such as goal setting, spending versus saving, inflation, asset allocation, and investment diversification, as well as lessons for educators.

Among the other survey results:

• Some kids think their parents are saving for their college when they are not: 67% of kids say their parents are saving for their college. But, nearly a quarter of those (23%) have parents who said that they actually are not saving for their college.
• That makes many parents feel guilty: 63% of parents agree with the statement, “I feel guilty that I won’t be able to pay more for their college.”
• Parents are willing to work more to cover college costs: 76% of parents would be willing to delay their retirement and 68% would be willing to get a second or part-time job to pay for their kids’ college education.
• Parents tend to underestimate college costs. While the total cost of a four-year education at an in-state university is currently about $80,000 on average, according to the College Board, only 35% of parents think that the total cost of a four-year education at an in-state university is $80,000 or more.
• Some parents are willing to take on considerable student-loan debt: 57% of parents are willing to take on $25,000 or more in debt to pay for their kids’ college education, with 19% willing to borrow $100,000 or more.
• They are also willing to let their kids take student loans: nearly half (47%) are willing to let their kids borrow $25,000 or more, with 14% willing to let their kids take out $100,000 or more in student debt.
• Parents who have their own student debt are more willing to take on higher levels of debt. Parents who are paying back their own student loans are more willing to borrow $100,000 or more themselves to pay for their kids’ college (24% vs. 18%).
• More parents have money saved for their kids’ college than their own retirement. While 58% of parents said they had money saved for their kids’ college education, only 54% indicated they had money saved for their retirement.

The eighth annual T. Rowe Price Parents, Kids & Money Survey, conducted by MetrixLab Inc., aimed to understand the basic financial knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of both parents of children ages 8 to 14 and their kids. The survey was fielded in February 2016, with a sample size of 1,086 parents and 1,086 kids. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.

Founded in 1937, Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price Group Inc. is a global investment management organization with $776.6 billion in assets under management as of June 30, 2016.

Retirement Planning Sections

By the Book

Charlie Epstein

Charlie Epstein

Charlie Epstein, president of the 401(k) Coach, LLC, says his new book, Save America, Save! The Secrets of a Successful 401(k) Plan, could not be considered a sequel to his first offering, Paychecks for Life, published in 2012. The latter was intended for employees, while the former was written for plan fiduciaries (employers) who face a long list of responsibilities. And failure to live up to them can have consequences, as a recent Supreme Court ruling shows.

Charlie Epstein calls them “blind squirrels” and “two-plan Tonys.”

These are just some of the colorful names he has for individuals and firms who don’t handle a lot of retirement plans — hence it’s a ‘two-plan Tony’ — but can still manage to sell themselves and their services to employers looking to save a few bucks, cut a few corners, or do a favor for an old friend.

“They have a couple of retirement plans, they’re overcharging fees, there’s bad investments … there’s no process in place for monitoring anybody; nobody’s sitting with the employees and helping them, guiding them,” Epstein, president of Holyoke-based 401(k) Coach, LLC, told BusinessWest. “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while, but…”

He didn’t finish that sentence, but didn’t really have to; the implication was clear. Most of the time, the blind squirrel doesn’t find the acorn.

That’s why employers large and small looking for someone to manage the retirement plan they’ve created for their workers should look upon two-plan Tonys with a very wary eye, said Epstein, adding that this isn’t just his opinion or what most would consider sage advice.

Instead, it’s what he called a “duty” that employers share, and, even more importantly, it’s the law, as a number of recent court cases have shown.

It’s all spelled out on page 51 of Epstein’s relatively new book (it came out several months ago) titled Save America, Save! The Secrets of a Successful 401(k) Plan. It’s a how-to book of sorts, and while writing it, Epstein probably broke the ‘m’ key on his computer while repeatedly typing out the word ‘must.’

“If you’re an employer and you sponsor a 401(k) plan, you have a fiduciary responsibility to do what’s in the best interests of your employees,” he writes in a chapter titled “Your Role as a Fiduciary.” “Employers must remember that a 401(k) plan is established under ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and their beneficiaries.

“As a plan fiduciary, you have a duty of loyalty and a duty of prudence,” he went on. “You must be loyal to your participants and their beneficiaries, and avoid any conflicts of interest or prohibited transactions. You must act prudently in managing the plan and the plan’s investments. That means you must have a repeatable process to monitor the plan’s investments, and to fire and hire the managers if they are not performing to certain metrics.”

He explains those metrics in great detail in a book that is his second on the broad subject of the 401(k) but would not be considered a sequel. In fact, Epstein calls them “bookends.”

Indeed, while Paychecks for Life: How to Turn Your 401(k) into a Paycheck Manufacturing Company, published in 2012, was, as that title implies, intended for the employee, Save America, Save! was written for the employer, spelling out those obligations and ‘musts.’

It differs from Paychecks for Life in a few other respects as well. Epstein’s first book took him three and a half years and two ghostwriters to complete — he says he wound up rewriting 90% of their contributions — while the second was penned over a weekend, by his estimation. And while the former was intended for sale ($22.99 is the listed price) and has sold more than 15,000 copies, the latter is essentially being given away to all who want and need to read it.

What’s more, Epstein is committed to helping financial advisors like him across the country to write their own version of the same book.

“I’m now in the author business, and I’m helping advisors across the country become authors,” he explained, adding that he’s partnering with his publisher, Advantage Media Group, to put similar works in print and thus add another element to his coaching activities.

He admits that this strategy seems nonsensical to the casual observer, but to him it makes all the sense in the world, because his ultimate goal is not only to have employees commit themselves to creating paychecks for life, but also to help employers make sure the job gets done. And that means sharing the wealth, or, in their case, the insight, into not only 401(k) management, but how to write the definitive book on that subject.

For this issue and its focus on retirement planning, BusinessWest talked at length with Epstein about his book, but especially the larger issue of effective plan management and how it doesn’t happen by accident.

Saving Grace

As he talked about his book, why he wrote it, and the growing sense of urgency attached to the matter of the responsibilities incurred by plan fiduciaries, Epstein borrowed the famous quote attributed to the prolific bank robber Willie Sutton.

Only, he didn’t know it was Sutton who, according to lore, when asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, said, “because that’s where the money is.”

Epstein deployed the line as he explained the importance of the case known as Tibble v. Edison, in which the Supreme Court ruled that fiduciaries have a continuing duty to monitor the investments in a retirement plan, the service providers, the fees, and more — and why he believes there will be many more suits like it in the years to come. (Actually, others are already winding their way through the courts.)

“There have been numerous ERISA lawsuits, and there will be a lot more,” he explained. “Why? Simply stated, the lawyers sued the tobacco industry, they sued the pharmaceutical industry, they sued the asbestos industry, and now that we have $4 trillion or $5 trillion in retirement-plan assets, the lawyers are licking their chops.”

Charlie Epstein says his new book

Charlie Epstein says his new book is designed to help business owners with the task of enabling employees to do as the cover suggests.

Edison International, a holding company for a number of electric utilities and other energy interests, provided a 401(k) plan serving 20,000 employees that was valued at $3.8 billion during the litigation. Epstein said his book wasn’t really written for those kinds of companies — although he admits that maybe their top executives should read it anyway — but was intended for employers dealing with plans involving two or three fewer zeroes.

Such companies don’t have large departments handling their 401(k) plans, and, more to the point, the entrepreneurs behind them need to be more focused on running their venture than on administering a retirement plan.

“A plan sponsor fiduciary’s roles and responsibilities are very clearly spelled out under ERISA,” he noted, “but in the small and mid-sized workplace, business owners are not professional fiduciaries — they’re running businesses; they’re making widgets.”

But, as he said, regardless of the size of the company, the basic responsibilities with regard to managing a plan are the same, as are the many forms of trouble a company can run into if those responsibilities are not met, as evidenced by what happened to another, now much-better-known energy company.

“Along came Enron a few years back, which woke everyone up and had people thinking, ‘what is a fiduciary?’” he told BusinessWest. “Enron taught us all the bad things that bad people can do as fiduciaries to their participants, and that set in motion where we are today.”

And by ‘today,’ he meant, among other things, the Supreme Court ruling in Tibble v. Edison. The corporation tried to argue that the statute of limitations had run out and it didn’t have to continue monitoring certain investments (those initiated more than six years earlier, to be specific).

“But the judges said ‘au contraire,’” noted Epstein, “because the laws used in a retirement plan are trust laws, and under trust laws, a fiduciary’s duty never ceases.”

Chapter and Verse

So what does the court’s ruling mean? “It means people need to read this book,” said Epstein with a laugh, noting that its 130-odd pages comprise “a compilation of everything that I have taught and preached for the last 30 years — but in simple terms.”

He said he wrote it because there are, indeed, two parts to the equation when it comes to whether employees can effectively save enough for retirement, and both are equally important. Actually, the employer’s role is more so.

“Even if the employee does everything I say in this book,” said Epstein, holding up Paychecks for Life, “if the employer screws it up…”

The book has five parts, each with its own set of ‘action steps.’

Part one is titled “Our Savings Crisis,” which, as those words suggest, outlines why there is a crisis when it comes to retirement savings and how it can be stemmed. It includes sections on the very uncertain future of Social Security and the emergence of the 401(k) as the “best place to save.”

Part two, meanwhile, is called the “Power of Auto5,” and deals with, among other things, the five automatic features in a plan — enrollment, QDIA (qualified default investment account), escalation, re-enrollment, and something called the ‘stretch match,’ designed to incentivize employees to save a greater percentage of their pay.

While there are detailed references to these automatic features in Paychecks for Life, Epstein said he revisits them here to drive home the point that employers need to be proactive when it comes to helping their employees save.

“Employees, left to their own demise, won’t get it done,” he explained, “so there are some things that I think employers need to do automatically with their retirement plan, such as automatically enroll and automatically increase the contribution.”

Part three is titled “Your Role as a Fiduciary,” and goes into great detail about all those ‘musts’ listed earlier. Part four is called “Creating Smart Savers,” and the concluding section is titled “Measuring Employees’ Success.”

Throughout, there are formal industry terms such as ‘safe-harbor match,’ and far-less-formal phraseology, such as ‘the green-bathrobe effect,’ an anecdote designed to show the folly of taking unnecessary risks with OPM (other people’s money). It would take too long to explain in this space (there’s another reason to get the book).

Overall, the book is designed to create a world of better-informed fiduciaries, said Epstein, adding that, with that knowledge, plan managers can help foster an appetite for more — and more effective — retirement-savings activities, and avoid common mistakes, such as hiring blind squirrels, not monitoring investments, and failing to benchmark those investments.

And that brings him back to that new wrinkle — helping other financial advisors write their own book on the subject.

Already, three advisors he’s working with — in Idaho, New Jersey, and Colorado — are writing their own versions, he told BusinessWest, and there are roughly eight more in the pipeline.

Bottom Line

On the inside of the book jacket for Save America, Save! Epstein writes, “are you doing everything you can to ensure your employees feel confident that they will have enough money to retire and pay for all they desire to do someday? Save America Save! reveals the ‘secret strategies’ that will significantly impact retirement-outcome results for you and your employees.”

By publishing the book, Epstein is making sure those strategies are no longer secret, and that’s exactly what he wants.

Instead, he wants them to be common knowledge. If that goal can be reached, fiduciaries can stay clear of trouble, and, far more importantly, this country can retire that word ‘crisis’ when it comes to retirement savings.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Retirement Planning Sections

For the Long Haul

By KATE KANE

Kate Kane

Kate Kane

Some people have a clear idea of how they want to live once they stop working. For many others, however, retirement is a step into the great unknown. The problem is, without a road map for turning your savings into a sustainable stream of income, it’s difficult to create the type of lifestyle you want for the future.

Planning for retirement is a lifelong process that should begin as soon as you start working and continue throughout your retirement years. Whether you are five years from retiring or 30, the following steps can help you achieve financial security for when the big day finally comes.

1. Practice Retirement

Like most people, you may spend years fantasizing about the day when you can finally stop working. But what will your retirement look like? Financial experts recommend that you think about what you want to do when you retire and then ‘practice’ some of it first.

For example, if you’d like to move to a warmer climate, try vacationing there several times to get a sense of what it might cost and how it feels not just in the winter, but in the heat of summer. Or, if you plan to watch your grandkids full time, take a week or two to do a test run. The goal is to try out your plans, determine whether you truly enjoy and can afford them, and make needed adjustments before you commit.

2. Match Your Expenses and Income

As you think about your lifestyle in retirement, your expenses will fall into two groups: essential expenses (your needs) and discretionary expenses (your wants). Within discretionary expenses, you also may have one-time expenditures, such as funding a grandchild’s education or adding a sunporch to your home. Whether you make a spreadsheet on your computer or simply list your expenses on a pad of paper, the goal is to create a retirement budget that captures as many anticipated costs as possible.

Next, consider the money you’ll have coming in. Typically, retirees draw from three categories of income in retirement: guaranteed sources of income (such as Social Security, pensions, and lifetime income annuities), savings and investments, and any employment income.

Once you know what you’re likely to have coming in, pair your income and expenses based on their priority, matching your needs with your guaranteed income sources first. If the predictable income you expect won’t cover all your essential expenses, you may want to either adjust your plans or consider converting a portion of your savings into a regular stream of income. Conversely, if you have a surplus, you can use the extra money to cover any discretionary expenses.

3. Decide Which Account to Tap First

One way to maximize the amount of money you may have in retirement is by planning the order in which you spend your different investment accounts. The starting point is to consider whether you plan to use your assets for ongoing expenses in retirement or to pass them along to your heirs or charities.

For many, it makes sense to draw from taxable accounts first in order to keep the assets in retirement accounts growing tax-deferred for as long as possible. Tax-exempt accounts, such as Roth IRAs, should be spent last. However, there is no rule of thumb when it comes to the order in which you should liquidate your assets.

If you plan to pass your assets along to your heirs or charities, you may want to spend tax-deferred assets with the intention of bequeathing taxable assets, which receive more favorable tax treatment when inherited.

The order in which you withdraw your retirement savings is an important decision that becomes even more complex once you reach age 70½. That’s when you must begin taking annual required minimum distributions from your IRAs and retirement plans.

Because each person’s situation is unique, you should include both your financial professional and tax advisor in these discussions.

4. Protect Your Savings

Consider putting enough money into a savings or liquid money-market account to cover your withdrawal needs for at least two years. This can help prevent taking money out of your investments when the market and share prices are trending downward.

If you haven’t already, consider funding a long-term-care (LTC) plan as well. LTC funding can help protect your retirement nest egg from the financial impact of the costs of extended care either at a facility or in your home.

5. Fine-tune Along the Way

Spending retirement assets can be even more complex than building them. Your retirement savings need to provide reliable income to meet your ongoing expenses for the rest of your life. Reviewing your plan annually and keeping it current is vital to making this happen.

Consider just some of the things that can change in a year: your marital or health status could change, your investment returns and inflation rate could fluctuate, and your employment status and expected retirement date might shift. Each of these can have a profound impact on the amount of money you may have to spend in retirement.

That’s why it’s important to work with a financial professional who understands that retirement planning is an ongoing process — someone who knows what it takes to accumulate assets for retirement, mitigate the risks that can affect your retirement years, and turn your funds into a distribution plan designed to generate sufficient income to meet your lifestyle needs for as long as you need it to.

This article was prepared by Northwestern Mutual with the cooperation of Kate Kane. Kane is a wealth management advisor with Northwestern Mutual, the marketing name for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. (NM), Milwaukee, Wis., and its subsidiaries. Kane is an agent of NM based in Springfield; (413) 748-8700; [email protected]; springfield-ma.nm.com. This information is not intended as legal or tax advice.