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Post-Lockdown Changes & Predictions

Post-Lockdown Changes & Predictions

It is a rare event that impacts the entire world. COVID-19 has changed our way of life in the short term, with long-lasting ramifications yet to be determined. In the context of our business at Walkner Condon, we have some items that we believe will be permanently affected and some guesses on others.

More Virtual Meetings

We have offered video appointments for a number of years now, and with the exception of Keith (who works with expats across the globe), very few of our meetings have been conducted virtually. We expect this to change, as our clients and prospective clients have increasingly become much more comfortable with Zoom meetings. With the added comfort of our clients, and frankly, the comfort of our advisors as well, we’ve found that we are able to offer a very similar experience to an in-office meeting. We plan on continuing to offer these meetings, and are likely to schedule “home office days” where we conduct our meetings virtually in the future.

Screen sharing allows us to work collaboratively with our clients in many different ways – including administrative tasks where paperwork is involved, as well as sharing financial plans and allocation information. If you haven’t seen us in a while, now might be a great time to schedule that Zoom meeting! Additionally, for those clients that may have been hesitant to recommend us to their friends and family members outside of Dane County, we want to let you know that we are well-equipped to help them as well, and would welcome the introduction.

Increase in Customized Asset Management Offerings

When you are able to take time to work on your business instead of in your business, that’s when we have found unique solutions for client needs. In analyzing feedback from clients and meeting as an investment team, we will be building out customized portfolios using individual equities. Currently, we are looking at developing a few core models, focusing for now on U.S. large cap stocks with strong balance sheets, as well as U.S. small and mid cap stocks. In the future, we anticipate rounding these out with additional models, including a focus on ESG (environmental, social, governance) factors and international stocks.

The barrier to entry on many of these in the past has been “ticket” charges charged by the custodian per trade, as well as fees by outside investment providers for these strategies. Our team, spearheaded by Keith Poniewaz and Mitch DeWitt, have been working on developing these in-house to eliminate those manager fees. Additionally, by  lowering trading commissions down to very low in some cases and zero in others, this strategy becomes significantly more feasible. 

There is much to write about the benefits of these strategies, including the ability to manage taxation, lower or eliminate expense ratios, and offer greater customization. Keith and I discussed “direct indexing” about a year ago on Gimme Some Truth, and will expand on this topic in a future blog post.

Probable: The Death of the Suit

As we’ve all become accustomed to working from home, the dress code has become increasingly relaxed. It’s certainly not uncommon to see people in sweatshirts and hats conducting meetings, and it’s become an anomaly to see someone show up to a Zoom meeting in something as formal as a dress shirt. While a return to the office will likely send us back to business casual, it’s difficult to imagine anyone reaching for a suit anytime soon.

Possible: The Elimination of Handshakes

Certainly a more minor – but still important – interpersonal moment may be coming to a close. With a greater focus on the communication of viruses, could this be the end of the handshake? As we enter a post-lockdown world, it seems like a certainty in the short term that handshakes will be out of fashion, and polite waves or nods will become the preferred greeting. (Though, if elbow-bumps get too popular, we reserve the right to revert back to good ol’ fashioned handshakes!) 

Probs Not: Zoom Happy Hours the New Normal

I’ve been on a few Zoom happy hours, which have been kind of nice to do with people I haven’t been able to see for a while. It’s also brought together family members and friends that live far away. But to think that it will replace your favorite dive bar and those greasy burgers? Doubtful, at least in Wisconsin.

Our In-Person Reopening Plan

Our In-Person Reopening Plan

As the country begins to reopen gradually, here in Dane County it appears that the “safer at home” restrictions will lift after Memorial Day. We have used some guidance from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to assist us in preparing for our return to the office, and are also working on developing written policies to comply with the Forward Dane reopening plan.   

Clients will be allowed to again schedule in-person meetings with us at their convenience. We have moved the seating areas apart to socially distance. We will do our best to refrain from sharing items, such as passing iPads to each other or office supplies, like pens. We also will not be offering water or coffee in our meetings, so we kindly ask that you bring in your own beverages. 

We will not be shaking hands or hugging clients (as much as it pains us!). Clients will not be required to wear masks, but they may wear them if they choose. We will disinfect chairs and wipe down surfaces after each meeting, and our staff will communicate with each other to avoid back-to-back meetings in conference rooms. Additionally, we will attempt to keep clients from having contact with other clients in waiting areas by utilizing both office spaces inside our building.

Our staff will be responsible for disinfecting their workstations as well as washing their hands after any meeting and throughout the day. We will also be encouraging our staff to work remotely from home offices on days where we don’t have in-person meetings scheduled. We will attempt to keep a six foot distance between workstations, as well.

If you are concerned at all about coming in for an in-person meeting, we recommend that you schedule a video conference (“Zoom meeting”) instead. As COVID-19 made us “safer at home”, we all have lots of practice on video conferencing! We believe that with screen sharing and video, we can help give you a virtual experience that is similar to an in-person one, without the drive time or worry. It is our intention to continue to offer 1-2 dedicated days of video conference meetings per week.

As we all continue to navigate through this pandemic, we assure you that we will continue to try to keep you as safe as possible when meeting at our office. For those of you who choose to use a virtual meeting structure, we pledge to you to make your experience as equal to an in-person one as possible. In the end, it’s about giving you choices and meeting your needs. We welcome your feedback and wish you all good health.

 

The Walkner Condon Team

Are You Using All of Our Technology Tools?

Are You Using All of Our Technology Tools?

As part of our onboarding process, we make sure that our new clients get access to our technology tools. We realize that this can be overwhelming in the beginning, since this initial process could have involved multiple meetings, an introduction to your financial plan, data gathering, risk questionnaire completion, and paperwork. So whether you are a client that’s been with us since the beginning or brand new, here’s a quick review of our technology suite and how you may benefit by using these tools.

Blueleaf

Performance tracking and reporting account information in one place is provided to us by Blueleaf. The software produces a weekly summary of the change in balance, sent to the email address on file. You may run a report out of this software for just about any timeframe on your accounts and also set up data feeds for items outside our management, such as bank accounts and 401(k) plans. If for any reason you cannot get into Blueleaf, first try clicking on the “forgot password link” or message us at [email protected], and we will help you get access.

RightCapital

The heart of what we do is financial planning. RightCapital provides the software to help us make the complex calculations and “what if” scenarios that assist us in making financial decisions with you. Your balances are also updated daily, allowing you to experience more of a real time financial planning experience than a printed plan can provide. We encourage our clients to play with the software and stress test their specific situations. We set up a login for all of our clients, so if you need help just send us an email at [email protected], and we can make sure you have access. RightCapital is also one of the only financial planning software vendors that has a native app. You may find that on the App Store from Apple or at Google Play for free.  

Risk Software

How much risk you are comfortable taking and how can we help manage that in your portfolio are keys for us in portfolio design. To help identify how much risk you are willing to take we send you a brief questionnaire to complete. Presently, we use a company called Riskalyze to perform this analysis, though we are also testing new providers. We generally send this to clients in their initial onboarding period, but it is good to check it periodically, as risk tolerance may change over time. Send us an email if you would like to recheck your number or be part of our beta test for new software options.

Virtual Meetings

We know our clients are busy people, whether it be those that are enjoying that work-optional lifestyle or those putting in long hours as they ascend in their careers. While we prefer in-person meetings, we also offer the ability through Zoom to do video conferencing. This offers us the ability to retain some of the human element in our conversations, as well as the ability to share documents via screen share.

At Walkner Condon we strive to provide our clients with technology tools that are easy to use and provide meaningful data back to you. If you are not using any of these solutions, please consider trying them out. We are happy to walk you through any of the tools.

 Clint Walkner

5 Financial Things You Should Do Before the End of the Year

5 Financial Things You Should Do Before the End of the Year

As we approach the end of 2019, here are five financial housekeeping items you (or your financial advisor) should make sure is checked off your list:

Max Out Your 401k Contributions

In 2019, the maximum contribution into 401(k) and 403(b) plans increased from $18,500 to $19,000 per year. If you have a flat dollar amount coming out of your paycheck, you may not have adjusted for this increase. Check with your HR or payroll department to assure that you are indeed on track to max out your contributions if you can afford it.

 

Spend Down FSA Dollars 

If you have money in a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) with your employer you may only carry over $500 into the next year. Make sure that you have spent down this money and you don’t end up just forfeiting it.

Note: HSA dollars are not required to be spent, so be careful here.

 

Check Your Capital Gain/Loss Situation

During the year if you (or your financial advisor) made trades in your taxable accounts it generated capital gains and/or losses. You will want to check what the current gains or losses are, whether or not they are short or long term gains, and then see how to minimize these gains by the end of the year. If you have a loss that you could potentially take to offset a gain, you may want to strongly consider it. You will want to be careful not to unknowingly change your asset allocation or trigger wash sale rules. Here is a quick guide on capital gains/losses and wash sales.

 

Make Sure to Take Required Minimum Distributions

If you are over the age of 70 ½ or have inherited an IRA, you are likely to be required to take distributions from IRAs, Roth IRAs, and employer plans such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. You (or your advisor) will have to help you calculate the required amount that has to be taken, which is determined by the balance of the account on 12/31/2018. The penalties are stiff – 50% of any amount not taken – so you will want to make sure this is done on time. 

 

Get Your Roth IRA Conversions Done

With the tax code generally more friendly to most people right now due to lower marginal tax rates, Roth IRA conversions may be a good item to consider. There are many nuances to whether or not you should consider this strategy, so you should be talking to your CPA and/or financial advisor to see if this might be right for you. If your income is particularly low this year, you expect your tax rate to be higher in the future, or you have a large taxable account, this is something to definitely discuss. Unfortunately, all conversions must be completed by December 31st, much to the consternation of taxpayers. This involves some more complex tax projections before the end of the year, but just because it involves more planning, it doesn’t mean you should avoid considering it.

 

Clint Walkner

On Tools….

On Tools….

As the low man on the totem pole, I was holding down the fort while the rest of the Walkner Condon team was in non-icy, non-snowy, non-cold San Diego. On the plus side, I did get to write the blog.

(Yes, Nate, I also remembered to water the plants).

One of the big things that we’ve been discussing before they’ve left is what sort of “tools” they might be on the lookout both for me as the new advisor (who is working in an expanding part of the business) and for their existing clientele. And whenever I think of tools, I think of the old maxim: “A poor craftsman blames his tools.”

And when I thought of financial advising, I thought that doesn’t seem necessarily right, because having the right tools can make a huge difference for clients and their financial future. And as I poked around, I discovered a brief post on computer programming that made a lot more sense of the matter:

“It means that part of being an expert craftsman is having the experience and skills to select excellent tools, and the experience and skills to drive those excellent tools to produce excellent results. Blaming your tools means either that you lack skill, or that you chose your tools poorly because you lack the experience and skills to choose correctly.”

(from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2380679)

In short, bad craftsman pick bad tools.

Much is made in the world of investment advisors of being “independent” from the perspective of investments, but not enough is made of the independence in choosing the proper tools for clients. Rather than having a set of tools foisted upon us, we work to select the best possible tools for our clients, because no single tool makes sense in all cases (“to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”). The tools and software (Riskalyze, Blueleaf, RightCapital and MoneyGuidePro) we use for financial advising, risk analysis, and aggregating and reporting are all ones we’ve worked hard to incorporate into the client’s financial planning process. A good independent financial advisor is like a good craftsman in that respect: they are selecting excellent tools for their clients both in general, but also for each individual client.

However, we don’t make these choices unilaterally: if there is a particular planning, investment management, or risk analysis tool you like that we use– let your advisor know. If you don’t like something, let your advisor know what you don’t like about it. As Nate mentioned last week: we are always on the lookout and your feedback is invaluable.

Keith Poniewaz

Heading to LINC 2019

Heading to LINC 2019

This week, Clint, Jonathon, Mitch and I will head to San Diego for the annual TD Ameritrade National Conference. The scope of the conference is wide ranging from keynote speakers and break out/learning sessions to vendor demonstrations and networking events with advisors from across the country. Clint and I have attended the conference twice before in 2015 and 2017. We have found it to be incredibly rewarding, from hearing the likes of David Cameron, Leon Panetta, and Magic Johnson speak to having planning sessions with some of the top business coaches in the industry. Every time we attend the conference, we have the same goal in mind: find tangible ways to improve the client experience for everyone who works with Walkner Condon Financial Advisors.

We pride ourselves on having technology that helps add value to our client experience through improved communicate and efficiency. Many of the systems that we use have come from the TD Conference. We purchased our risk analysis software, Riskalyze, and our CRM system, Wealthbox, at the 2017 conference. We also first saw RightCapital there as well, and in 2018 we added it as an important financial planning tool to our practice. Being able to speak directly to the founders and developers is invaluable to our vetting process.

On our wishlist for this year is software to better deliver our social media output and organize our marketing as well as learn more about the recent enhancements to our existing systems. We are exciting to hear about improvements from our two client web interfaces, Blueleaf and TD Ameritrade. It is our understanding that the client account opening process is (finally) entering an end-to-end digital process, saving us significant time in opening accounts and processing transfer requests in a timely manner.

We realize that taking four members of our team out of the office for three working days is a big commitment of the firm’s resources and may slightly delay our ability to respond to client’s questions for those days. However, Keith will be in the office for the week and we will have access to email and voicemail while we are in San Diego. We are passionately committed to deliver a memorable experience for our clients and through exposing ourselves to new ideas, processes, and technology we will leave the conference even better equipped to serve you. See you soon with an update on what we learned!

Nate Condon