I recently completed a Q&A with Brian Thorp of Wealthtender as part of an article about "Financial Advisors Specializing in Female-Led Households."
You can find the full post from Wealthtender here.
The full text of the Q&A (with some minor edits) follows:
We asked Phoenix, Maryland-based financial advisor Phil Weiss to answer questions about financial planning useful to women and couples in female-led households based on his more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry.
Q: What is a common financial planning challenge unique to women in their fifties who are head of their household that you frequently encounter? How do you work with them to overcome this challenge?
Under the traditional model, the husband often manages the family finances. This means he takes primary responsibility for determining how much to save for retirement and how the funds should be invested. In many cases – but not all – he will pay the bills, too. The driver of this approach is that the wife takes the lead role in caring for the children. Sometimes, she helps care for her parents, too. This leaves her a bit removed from the details of the family’s finances. As the kids get older and/or retirement approaches, she starts to ask her spouse questions like the following:
- Have we saved enough for retirement?
- Can we pay for our children’s education?
- What will we be able to do in retirement?
He can’t answer those questions, so she wants to start looking for someone like me who can help. Apprise’s process is called the “Pathway to an Informed Retirement.” (See this video for a brief overview.) During this process, I always remind couples that they should both answer my questions. I want to make sure that their financial plan reflects what they both want. It should not only reflect the ideas of one or the other. I also endeavor to find out what matters most. We don’t just discuss financial matters. At the end of the financial planning process, each client gets a one-page financial plan. This states, “Your Most Important Thing.” It also lists “Your Family Priorities.” You work hard. You save money for your future. As a result, you want to make sure how you spend your money reflects what matters to you.
During the financial planning process, I also remind couples of the importance of making joint decisions around such things as when to start claiming Social Security benefits. Statistically, a woman is more likely to be a surviving spouse than her husband. As a result, I also remind couples of the benefits that properly timed Roth conversions can provide to a surviving spouse – and even your heirs if there is money left after you’re both gone.
Fortunately, when I talk to younger clients, I find that we are moving away from the traditional model. Women are becoming more actively involved in the family’s finances. I hope this trend continues.
Q: For women who are the head of the household and unsure whether or not they should hire a financial advisor at the current point in their lives, what guidance can you provide to help them make a more informed and educated decision?
Oftentimes women face financial challenges that men don’t. Women tend to earn less. On average, women live longer than men. Women typically have more caregiving responsibilities than men, too. This can put them behind when it comes to saving for the future.
For most of our professional lives, we do what we can to save for the future. We have a basic understanding of the tax costs and benefits related to asset accumulation. For example, we know we don’t pay taxes on money that goes into an account like an IRA or a workplace retirement account like a 401(k). We also know that we should save for our retirement. But we don’t know how much to save or what we can do with what we save. A financial advisor can help with those issues.
In addition, as you approach and enter retirement, the rules change. You switch from asset accumulation to asset decumulation. You must decide when to start collecting Social Security benefits – a decision that should be coordinated with your spouse’s decision. Tax planning strategies can help reduce the tax cost of withdrawing your retirement assets from any tax-deferred accounts. These strategies can benefit a married couple, a surviving spouse, and even your heirs.
Working with a financial professional can help you make more informed and better-educated decisions. This can leave you with more money to spend in your retirement years. There’s no reason to pay more than you have to. An advisor can help you optimize the value of your retirement assets.
Q: How do the services you offer women who are the primary breadwinner in their household distinguish your firm from other advisory firms?
We don’t believe that your primary goal should be to beat the market or strive to earn the maximum return on your money. Trying to beat the market can also increase the risk associated with your portfolio. This means you could fare even worse during a down market. Performing worse than the market could jeopardize your future, especially if that happens when you are close to – or in – your retirement years.
Instead, we believe the primary goal should be to live your desired life in retirement. We ask a series of life planning and other philosophical questions that help us understand what matters most to you. We work to help you spend your money on what matters most to you.
Q: When you first speak with a woman in a female-led household, what questions do you like to ask to better understand their unique circumstances and determine how you can best help them achieve their goals?
Here are some of my favorite questions:
- As we get started, I’m wondering what made you decide to invest your time to speak with me today?
- When you think about financial planning – or your personal finances – what is the biggest challenge you face? Is there anything that keeps you up at night?
- What’s important about money to you?
- When it comes to working with a fiduciary advisor, what expectations do you have in terms of what services will be performed?
- If you had to paint a picture for me, what does your desired future look like?
- Let’s say we decide to work together. If we were meeting three years from today, what would have had to happen personally and professionally for this relationship to have been a success?
If we agree to work together, my favorite questions come during our first meeting. I refer to it as a life planning meeting. This series of questions gives me an opportunity to start to get to know you better and understand what matters most to you.
Q: What questions do you recommend women in a female-led relationship ask financial advisors they’re considering hiring to help them decide if they’re a good fit?
- How are you set up to do business, and are you a fiduciary 100% of the time?
- How do you get paid?
- What areas of financial planning do you provide advice on beyond managing my investments, and how often will you update my financial plan?
- Do you take a holistic approach to financial planning that goes beyond managing my investment portfolio and understanding what is most important to me?
- Which professional credentials or designations do you have, and what are their requirements?
Q: Is there a particularly memorable experience or a moment in your life when you first decided to specialize in serving women in female-led relationships was an area of financial planning you wanted to specialize in?
Working with women in female-led relationships happened naturally. I hadn’t even realized how many female-led households I work with until a friend suggested that I should work with more women. Her question led me to look at my client base more closely. I discovered that this applied to about two-thirds of my client relationships.
That led me to start thinking more about how that came to pass. As described in my “Confessions of a Financial Advisor” blog, I trace it back to the struggles I saw my mother go through before her untimely passing at the age of 53. We didn’t realize the full scope of the problems until she was diagnosed with breast cancer. My parents had to sell their home. Their finances were a mess. My mom asked me to help. I did what I could, but, unfortunately, she passed away a little more than two years later.
I want to help keep other women from experiencing what my mother did. When I help my female clients, part of me feels like I’m still helping my mom.
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