Harold “Skip” Briggs, partner and managing director of Bentley Wealth Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor and tax-centric wealth management firm that is partnered with DiSanto, Priest & Co., and Wealth Management Solutions in Rhode Island, was recently interviewed about his wealth management practice and what he is doing to help his clients retire with dignity.
Skip has been a tax professional for more than 29 years and has been offering wealth management since 2002. He estimates that more than half of his firm’s clients are older than 50, and those clients need help navigating the retirement income crisis they face. This crisis has created an opportunity for Skip’s firm to serve more clients better and more completely.
Q: What led to your decision to focus your energy toward wealth management when you started Bentley Wealth Advisors in 2002?
Our clients have forever been asking us for help in wealth management and we always did everything we could from a planning perspective, but we were never able to carry them from start to finish to make sure that the plan was coordinated and implemented. Wealth management really afforded us the opportunity to take care of our clients. We always planned and we still do, but now we can make sure it gets done correctly every step of the way.
Our driving goal when we started Bentley Wealth Advisors was to really help clients develop an integrated financial plan and to implement that plan.
Q: How have your client conversations changed over the last several years?
Today’s clients are very similar to the clients of 20 years ago when I was with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Our clients are small-business owners, professionals and executives, most of whom are between 50- and 65-years-old. Historically, clients’ questions focused on returns, and they wanted to know why they were not getting a 30 to 40 percent return in their portfolios each year. Today, especially with the economic calamity in the last three years, clients are asking different questions. They are asking, “I would like to retire, but can I retire?” and, “Is Social Security solvent?” One good thing to come out of the recent economic and market downturn is that it has forced clients to rethink their future, including retirement. They know that they worked hard to save as much as they could, but they are now asking, “What just happened to my dreams in retirement?” We find ourselves playing the role of a doctor. If a patient goes to a doctor with “pain,” the doctor will address the “pain,” but he will also want to see the patient on a regular basis to determine if the “pain” is the problem or a symptom of a deeper problem. If a client wants to talk to us because he or she is concerned about poor portfolio performance, we will look at the portfolio but we will also engage the client to help determine if the concern is really about poor portfolio performance or if it is something deeper, such as a concern about retirement income, and if the client’s real question is, “Will I have enough money to retire?”
Q: How do your clients define risks to their retirement?
Clients are confused about risk. They are bombarded every day with information from the media about Social Security troubles, health insurance coverage and more, but they don’t really believe that these benefits won’t be there for them. Our state and municipal employee clients, such as teachers and firefighters, don’t really believe that their pensions may not have a 3 percent COLA adjustment each year for the rest of their lives. Our business-owner clients are still hopeful that they can rely upon their businesses to support their retirement, but no one has been able to pull it together for them and analyze the risks that they will be subject to. Everyone is exposed to risks differently. For some it may be market risk, and for others it may be the risk of living into their 90s, but none of them are thinking about how inflation will impact their retirement.
Q: Since clients do not understand how different risks can impact their income plan, how are you engaging clients in this conversation?
I tend to ask very short, open-ended questions like, “How is your cash flow?” or, “How comfortable are you that your income plan will provide you the income you need in retirement?” and then let them respond. Some of these clients I know well and others are tax clients who I do not know at all, but you can tell that most of them are not prepared for their retirement.
Q: When did Bentley Wealth Advisors realize that clients need help to maximize their income in retirement?
We knew that this was a big issue when we listened to the questions our clients asked us about their retirement and saw their net worth being depleted by a combination of market volatility and their distributions from retirement savings. We had been helping clients with their income plans but there was nothing formalized. Our wealth management services partner helped us formalize a retirement income solutions process into something that we can clearly discuss with our clients. The competition is selling products. They are selling guarantees on annuities, but they are not dealing with the issue of why clients are worried about their accounts going down. Clients are not so much worried about their assets going down as they are about not having enough income to last the rest of their lives.
Q: What is your plan to reach out to more clients?
There are approximately 25 members of the management team (partners, principals and managers) in the CPA firm who are the eyes and ears of our client base and who are talking to clients all the time. I first wanted to educate the management team about the retirement income initiative we are going to implement. I wanted to make sure that they were aware of the issues our clients are facing, educate them on the tools we have and discuss what we are going to do about it. We send out a monthly newsletter to all staff and all of our clients. We recently sent an article titled, “Is Your Retirement at Risk?” and we also send constant communications that help our clients in forming questions about their own retirement. We have devoted a whole section of our Web site to Sustainable Income Solutions, and we will soon reach out to more clients with a radio ad about the five-step process. In addition, we will present public seminars on Sustainable Income Solutions and have a piece running on the local TV station. I will also continue to meet with the firm’s management team to put together internal seminars for existing clients. The internal education helps the management team identify clients who may be good candidates for the Sustainable Income Solutions process.
Q: What kind of impact do you think Sustainable Income Solutions will have on your practice?
This is the perfect time, perfect platform and perfect issue to help our clients with. It is something that is really needed, not only by our clients, but by most people preparing for retirement. We now have a formalized process that allows us to help our clients identify risks and plan for the choices they need to make in retirement. At the end of the day, I want to be known as the person and the place to come for retirement income planning. When someone in this community thinks about retirement planning, I want them to think about us. They will come here because they know that it is not just someone trying to sell them a product. This is an advice-based process that allows us to develop and implement tangible solutions. Sustainable Income Solutions helps the reputation of our firm and it aids us in helping our clients. It allows us to be able to see a client take that breath and really go and enjoy themselves in retirement, and it allows us to stay engaged in this process.
For more information about the Sustainable Income Solutions process, please download the free whitepaper titled, The Period of One’s Life Formerly Called “Retirement”: Sustainable Income Solutions and the Ideal of Choice, a Modern Framework by clicking here
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