Advisor Blog

Illustrating A Client's Risk Of Outliving Their Money

Dr. Craig Israelsen, one of the nation's foremost experts on implementing low-cost potfolios based on Modern Portfolio Theory, has begun contributng his research to advisors through the Advisor Products video library.

The first video uses a new data visulaization method to illustrate the risk of running out of money in retirement. 

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Explaining Modern Portfolio Theory To Advisor Clients In Pictures, Words, And Music

If you manage assets in diversified portfolios, your clients’ portfolios are probably trailing the S&P 500. Since the financial press reports on performance of the S&P 500, clients usually expect your advice to keep pace with the S&P 500, and you may not be meeting their expectations. Prudent financial professionals who rely on Modern Portfolio Theory are vulnerable to advisors peddling far less prudent advice.  

This video is what Advisor Products is doing to help professionals who doing the right thing to communicate about this issue effectively and inexpensively using modern Internet tools.

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An Update On The Financial Advisor Communications System

The entire Advisor Products team is working hard to achieve an ambitious set of goals that will transform the way financial advisors communicate.

Here’s an update on our work at Advisor Products in launching the Financial Advisor Communications System:

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Answers To Roth IRA Conversion Questions

At the Financial Advisor Webinar Series on December 11, Ben Norquist of Convergent Retirement Plan Solutions delivered a presentation that was highly rated by attendees about how advisors can seize the 2010 Roth IRA conversion opportunity.



Norquist showed a simple web-based application he developed that makes it easy for advisors to calculate complex conversion scenarios to show the net benefit of conversion.



The tool's strength is that it allows you to dynamically on-the-fly change variables affecting a client's conversion options. The variables include future tax rates, the amount of cash available to pay income taxes incurred on the withdrawal of assets being converted from traditional IRAs or qualified plans, the monthly withdrawals of the IRA owner for living expenses, what you'll earn on a traditional IRA that's not converted, required minimum distributions on the traditional IRA, and the amount left for beneficiaries.



While the software is a one-trick pony and is only good for Roth IRA conversion calculations, the opportunity to advise on Roth IRA conversions justifies the software’s $600 perpetual license fee. I don't believe any of the financial planning applications can make these dynamic calculations and illustrations on the fly, making it a great app to work with live in front of clients.



To receive CFP CE credit for this session and dozens of other webinars, please join Advisors4Advisors.



You can also see a replay of the session (without getting CE credit) at the Financial Advisor Webinar Series page on Advisor Products’ website.



At Norquist's session, we had more questions from attendees than we could answer. So Norquist sent me answers to some of the questions we did not have time for. Below are four of the 15 questions he sent me answers for. To see the rest of the Q&A, please join Advisors4Advisors.







Q: Does the five-year rule apply to distributions made from Roth Conversions after age 59½?

A: No. The five-year rule that applies specifically to Roth IRA conversion assets is only pertinent in situations where an individual under age 59½ takes a distribution of conversion assets within five years of the conversion transaction.



Q: Can an individual with a 401(k) plan convert even if he is still employed? Must the plan allow for in-service distributions? If allowed, can this be converted directly into a Roth IRA or must it first go into a traditional IRA?

A: A 401(k) participant can potentially take a distribution of 401(k) assets for Roth conversion purposes provided the plan he is covered under contains some type of in-service withdrawal provision. If an individual is able to request an "eligible rollover distribution" from his 401(k) plan, he can elect to roll over (i.e., "convert") the distribution directly to a Roth IRA without first going through a traditional IRA. (If the 401(k) distribution occurred during 2009, the individual would be subject to the $100,000 income restriction on Roth IRA conversions.)



Q: Can you address re-characterization options if the market should go down after the point of conversion?

A: The re-characterization option basically allows you to "rewind" a Roth IRA conversion and treat the transaction as if it never happened. In situations where the market value of your IRA assets declines following a Roth IRA conversion, the re-characterization option can provide you with the opportunity to undo your original conversion, thereby avoiding an income tax liability on the value of the assets at the time of original conversion. It should be noted that you cannot re-convert the same assets until the latter of a) January 1 following the year of original conversion, or b) 30 days following the date of re-characterization.



Q: What about the impact of estate taxes on Roth IRAs as Income in Respect of a Decedent?

A: Both traditional IRA assets and Roth IRA assets are included in a decedent's overall estate when assessing potential estate tax liability. Part of the beauty of Roth IRA conversion is that, by paying taxes up front, an individual is able to reduce the overall value of his or her estate, thereby potentially decreasing the amount of estate tax liability. While it is true that the beneficiaries of deceased traditional IRA holders are potentially eligible to take subsequent tax deductions due to Income in Respect of a Decedent (IRD), some financial planning professionals believe it is often more beneficial to reduce the aggregate estate tax liability rather than depending on recouping taxes over a period of years through the IRD deduction.








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5148 Hits

A "W-Shaped" Recession


Last Friday, at the Financial Advisor Webinar Series, economist-turned-money-manager Rob Stein, predicted a "W-shaped" recession.



Forecasts of a W-shaped recession are drawing attention. See the Carlos Lozada commentary in The Washington Post on April 19, FT Columnist John Authers’ on May 17, or economist Nouriel Roubini on July 16
.



Stein, who heads
Astor Financial LLC, predicted that technology will be among the sectors that gain disproportionately from the coming economic rebound. Stein’s also bullish on China.



Stein, who began his career at the Federal Reserve in 1983, believes The Great Recession of 2008-2009 has combined two recessions in one: a traditional V-shaped recession and a credit-bubble recession. While the US economy is now slowly coming out of the traditional recession and economic growth starting up, a second downturn is likely to follow in the next couple of years because of continuing losses from the credit crisis.



Using a macroeconomic approach, Stein actively manages three styles of broadly diversified ETF portfolios: a long/short balanced fund, growth fund, and low-volatility program.








You can view a reply of Stein's presentation, "Actively Managing An ETF Portfolio." It's free, but you need to register. You can also download his slides.



Next week, CFPs will be able to get continuing education credit on replays of the Financial Advisor Webinar Series at advisorsforadvisors.com.



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5219 Hits

What Would FINRA Do?



Investment advisors who have reflexively blasted SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro for saying the government should further regulate RIAs ought to look upon the civil fraud complaint filed against former NAPFA President James Putman as a cautionary tale.



I’m no big fan of FINRA. The Self-Regulatory Organization’s rules often get in the way of communicating with clients and running an honest advisory business. But the SEC’s allegations against Putman are so terribly damning.



Inarguably, additional rules are needed to better protect investors from unscrupulous RIAs. Far less clear, however, is whether being regulated by FINRA would have prevented the fraud Putman is accused of carrying out.



While the case against Putman is but one of a string of SEC enforcement actions targeting RIAs in recent weeks, it’s notable because Putman was a prominent member of the fee-only advisor community and at the moment this once-priestly segment of the advisor world benefits by confronting some ugly realities about the erosion of fidelity within its ranks. With RIAs vociferously protesting SEC Commissioner Schapiro’s stated intention to “harmonize” rules faced by RIAs with those faced by securities salespeople, reps of RIA may be more mindful that something must be done to protect the public’s trust in investment professionals if they understand the facts of the case against Putman.



In reading my summary of the facts stated in the 30-page, nine count SEC civil complaint filed against Putman, his RIA, and his former president and chief investment officer, please think about whether FINRA regulation would have better protected his clients. Leave a comment with your thoughts.



Background

Putman, 57, started Wealth Management LLC, an Appleton, Wis. RIA, in 1985. He served as president of NAPFA in 1996 and 1997. Putman reportedly has not been active in NAPFA in recent years. However, as recently as September 2006, he participated as a panelist at a “NAPFA Cutting Edge Conference,” speaking at a session entitled, “The Search for the (NEW) Investment Paradigm.”



Putman is charged by the SEC with a litany of securities law violations, along with Simone Fevola, 49, who was president and CIO of Wealth Management (WM) from September 2002 to October 2008. The wrongdoing allegedly surrounds six unregistered private limited partnerships created in 2003 by Putman, which significantly changed his firm’s business model. In one of several similarities withthe Madoff fraud, WM took custody of client assets in the pools.



The pooled investments were structured like hedge funds and, as private vehicles, were unburdened by the need to register publicly. Each of the six funds had a specific objective, according to Part II of Wealth Management’s (WM’s) Form ADV ranging on the risk spectrum from capital appreciation to income producing. None was described as speculative. They were to invest in other private funds, funds of funds, debt, real estate partnerships and trusts, and asset-based loans.



As is often the case, the funds wese given an assortment of cryptic names, such as Gryphon, Quetzal, Pantera, and Watch Stone. Putman, who had discretion to invest on behalf of his clients, invested about 47% of his firm’s clients in Watch Stone and 40% of them in Gryphon.



Allegations

According to the SEC complaint, offering documents for Watch Stone and Gryphon, the two largest of Putman’s pools, say their investment objective would be “to achieve a high level of income consistent with the preservation of capital” and the pools would primarily invest in “investment grade debt securities.” However, Putman and Fevola invested in “risky illiquid alternative investments,” the SEC says. It gets much worse.



An April 14, 2009 Form ADV filing by the federally regulated RIA claimed investments in the six pools were worth $102 million and that WM had another $29 million in separately managed accounts. The SEC says nearly 90% of the $102 million in client funds was invested in two of the partnerships, Watch Stone and Gryphon, which respectively had $50 million and $38 million. The SEC says now that the six WM funds “appear to have limited remaining assets.”



The SEC says Putman loaded up Watch Stone and Gryphons with investments in a life-insurance premium financing partnership that was managed by Joseph Aaron. Aaron in 1996 had been the subject of an SEC enforcement action alleging that Aron had committed fraud in selling promissory notes to investors. Moreover, the SEC says, Putman and Fevola knew about Aaron’s disciplinary history by 2004 but they still failed to verify that valuations Aaron placed on his funds were accurate.



Not only did Putman and Fevola fail to disclose Aaron’s shady past to WM’s clients, but the SEC says they also each accepted “undisclosed kickbacks” from him of $1.24 million in 2006.



Thus, even if you believe that Putman and Fevola were victims duped by Aaron, the SEC allegations paint a picture of Putman and Fevola falling in deeper with Aaron instead of blowing the whistle on him and admitting their mistakes to WM’s clients.



Meanwhile, in addition to the disastrous investments in Aaron’s life insurance investment scheme, other investments made by Stone Watch and Gryphon also went bad. Three of Stone Watch and Gryphon’s largest investments beyond Aaron’s partnerships are now in bankruptcy. Two are real estate funds, managed by California-based MKA Advisors, that went bankrupt in April 2009 and another investment is in fund called Sagecrest, a Connecticut partnership investing in asset backed loans that went bankrupt in the summer of 2008. While Putman in December 2008 wrote off 50% of the value of Sagecrest, the SEC says Putman has continued to value MKA’s investments at pre-bankruptcy levels in reports to clients.



The SEC alleges Putman had never fully disclosed the risks of the underlying funds invested in by Stone Watch and Gryphon, saying the funds were investing in investment grade securities when the offering documents for the underlying funds said investments were be risky and speculative, such as oil drilling deals. The SEC complaint cites a 70-year-old retiree with Alzheimer’s disease who had signed an investment policy statement targeting a fund with a 95% allocation to fixed income securities.



The Case Now

In the last 10 months, a majority of WM’s staff resigned or was terminated, the SEC says. To a reporter who has read many such SEC complaints over the last 25 years, it seems likely that WM staff, possibly Fevola, is actively cooperating with the SEC investigation and that the SEC is now targeting Putman.



As of December 30, 2008, the SEC says Putman valued Watch Stone at $47 million and Gryphon at $22 million. But according to notes taken by a staffer of the RIA during a recent client meeting, the SEC says, Putman admitted to the client that its investment in one of Aaron’s deals could be worthless.



One investor, whose statement cites an investment worth $1 million, was recently told by Putman that his investment could be worthless. Another investor, with a reported value of $670,000 on his 2008 year-end statement, told SEC investigators that he was recently informed by Putman that his investment could also be worth nothing. The SEC says Putman has continued to collect his 1.25% management fee on the funds based on the allegedly overstated valuations of the assets.



The government says that in February 2008 Putman wrote to clients saying that he was was limiting redemptions to 2% per quarter of the value of each client’s holdings for liquidity reasons. However, the SEC says he has arbitrarily honored full redemption of some investors.



“Absent immediate relief, it is likely WM and Putman will distribute the remaining assets of the WM Funds to a few investors who submitted redemption requests prior to September 3, 2008 and leave remaining investors with little or no recovery.”



What's It Mean?

The SEC complaint against Putman should serve as a cautionary tale to advisors. Those who knew Jim Putman say he was a straight shooter and cannot imagine what could have led him down such a tragic path. It's unlikely that Putman intended to defraud his clients when he started the partnerships in 2003.





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A good content strategy is focused on developing and distributing consistent, valuable content to engage and retain prospective customers and target audience, via your website. Our content library provides financial advisors with fresh, high-quality financial content that is updated regularly, improving SEO along the way. And our automated e-newsletter and social media tools allow advisors to reach out to clients and prospects in an easy-to-use manner, providing frequent touch points for optimal brand building.

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