A tip for Financial Advisors, And an Insight for The Consumer

Bob’s Pearls of Wisdom: The ‘Old’ Man Shares His Thoughts!

 

For years I have been a watcher of the facial expressions and the body language of Financial Advisors and their prospective clients who are together for their first-time visit. In fact, I was a Sales Trainer for 15 years!  There always appears to be a series of ‘tug-of-wars’ at play in these first-time encounters. The potential client is assessing the advisor on multiple criteria, from competence to likability.  The advisor is assessing the prospective client as well, from likability to sophistication in financial matters.

Everyone hates Jargon!

The truth of the matter, from the point of view of the prospective client is, “THEY DON’T CARE HOW MUCH YOU KNOW, UNTIL THEY KNOW WHO MUCH YOU CARE (about them and their situation/problems!).  I have seen numerous advisors go almost immediately into a jargon-based summary of their brilliance and their acumen as Investment Managers.  The Jargon is specifically used to impress the other person, AND, to show who in the room is the PROFESSIONAL and who needs to be listened to. This immediately relegates the other person to the back seat of this relationship, and it is assumed that they will stay that way forever!  There is no caring here, just a professional advisor and the client who needs his expertise.

On the other hand, the reverse is true when the relationship’s whole focus is on solving the financial issues that brought the people to the advisor in the first place.  New clients, in my mind, seek me out because they have serious financial problems that they want to solve.  Generally, the motivation, spoken, or unspoken, is FEAR AND ANGST! Their financial house has some serious weaknesses that they need to get fixed.  I would suggest that NO jargon be used, empathy be demonstrated clearly, and that listening intently is the main tool used throughout the interview!  It is also true that well placed “war stories” of other folks in this predicament make a tremendous impression!

The bottom line is that people come to us because there is something wrong in their financial life.  They, therefore, need to be treated with compassion and caring.  We need to be the caring MD with a great bed-side manner, NOT the 5:00 O’clock expert on the stock market’s gyrations! THEY DON’T CARE HOW MUCH YOU KNOW UNTIL THE KNOW HOW MUCH YOU CARE!

Remembering John Lewis

The world lost a great leader this week when Congressman John Lewis passed away. Lots of words have already been written honoring him, and others will do a better job than I can explaining why his legacy matters, and how we as a country can honor his legacy. I strongly encourage you to read the articles I’ve linked to, but the purpose of this post is to tell a personal story, and share how he touched my life, and how he helped to set me on the path I choose to walk to this day.

When I was 11, I had a unique opportunity to shadow Representative Lewis for a day and cast 4 votes on his behalf on the floor of the House of Representatives. The bill of the day was the Patients’ Bill of Rights, which for the first time gave patients the right to sue health insurance plans that cause injury by denying care or providing substandard treatment.

Max, John Lewis, and Max’s dad Eric, on the steps of the Capital Building, October 8, 1999

The day itself was a whirlwind, but a few moments are crystallized in my memory, sitting in Representative Lewis’s office and feeling, for the first time (although definitely not the last), the weight of history, and the struggle it took to build a country that values inclusiveness, and stands against racism. As I watched a video his staff had made about his life and legacy, I was inspired to use my life and career to participate in his work. I didn’t know how at the time (I was 11 years old after all), but my experiences that day have inspired me ever since.

Max in John Lewis’s office, watching a video created for the Representative’s 50th birthday

I was lucky enough to spend the entire day with him, including a private tour of the capital, a ride in the Congress-only elevator and walks through the tunnels that run under DC. The entire day I listened to his stories, to his journey, and his passion. Spending a day with a living legend, who walked with Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr., gave me a sense of connection to that fight, and an understanding that it is not yet over.

Max & John Lewis, in the Capital Rotunda, October 8, 1999

As I looked back through my parents’ photo album from that trip (and thank you mom, for the time you put in to preserving these memories), I was struck by the picture below, by the expressions on our faces as we looked up at the capital. This picture captures John Lewis’s energy, and the hope and passion he inspired in me. He truly led by example.

Across everything I’ve read in the days since his passing, one quote spoke to me more than all the rest, and it’s what I’ll leave you with. I am proud to count myself as one of the people the President is referring to here, when speaking of John Lewis’s Legacy:

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”

President Barack Obama

Where to buy sustainable PPE & support communities that need your help

We’re proud to be a Certified B Corp (see our scores here), and we try to raise the visibility of members of this amazing community whenever we have the opportunity. Today, we’re highlighting companies in the B Corp community that have shifted to producing sustainable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). If you are in need of PPE, and want your dollars to support small businesses with a social mission,  check out the list below, which is maintained by the folks at B Lab. The list notes the order sizes each have available, and whether the firm employs individuals in highly impacted communities.

As always, we don’t receive compensation for this kind of thing, and we won’t earn a commission or anything else as a result of this effort. We’re just putting this out because we believe it’s the right thing to do.

COVID-19 Impacts on your IRA for 2020

On March 27, the President signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES” Act), the third COVID-19 relief bill, into law. The more than $2 trillion package seeks to address financial pressures facing individuals, businesses, and state and local governments due to the pandemic. The law also provides emergency funding for hospitals, testing, and vaccine development.

Notable provisions of the CARES Act that will impact IRA accounts include:

  1. Waiver of Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) for calendar 2020.
  2. For those who qualify CARES Act allows for a coronavirus-related distribution in 2020 from IRAs of up to $100,000 without it being subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty if the IRA owner is under 59 ½. The income tax on the coronavirus-related distribution may be spread evenly over 3 years. Or, the distribution may be repaid to an eligible retirement plan within a 3-year period.

Please note that we are awaiting additional details and clarification from the IRS and/or Treasury. The details provided below are based on the information currently available. If additional information is provided, We will issue a follow-up communication.

  • Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) for 2020 have been waived for all IRAs and retirement plan accounts. This includes RMDs from inherited IRAs that were established prior to 2020.

CORONA-RELATED IRA Distributions

  •  Today IRA account owners have the ability to take distributions from their IRA account. Some withdrawals may be taxable and some may be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty. The CARES Act established special tax rules for qualifying COVID-19 related distributions that are taken in 2020. A distribution may be eligible for special tax treatment under the CARES Act for an individual:
    • Who is diagnosed with SARS-COv-2 or COVID-19 by a test approved by Center for Disease Control and Prevention
    • Whose spouse or dependent is diagnosed with SARS-COv-2 or COVID-19 by such a test; or who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having work hours reduced, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to COVID-19, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to SARS-COv-2 or COVID-19; or other factors as determined by the Treasury Secretary (or the Secretary’s delegate.)
    • The qualifying distribution is limited to $100,000 for each individual and would not be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty if under 59 1/2.
  • In addition, the income tax due on the taxable portion of the qualifying distribution may be spread evenly over 3 years. The qualifying distribution may also be repaid to an eligible retirement plan within a 3-year period.

Further information can be found on Fidelity’s website by clicking here.

What we’re doing internally and the importance of planning

In the spirit of full transparency, we thought it would be worth taking a minute to discuss how Common Interests has prepared for emergencies.

  • Our first priority is the security of our clients’ accounts and our ability to provide access and up-to-date information in times of crisis. To this end, we have conducted rigorous due diligence on our partners, and have evaluated their business continuity plans. We invite you to read the business continuity plans for our key partners here:
  • Our second priority is making sure that our firm is protected so that we can continue to serve our clients. Too many people rely on us for us to get sick. Here are the steps we’re taking:
      • Our office functions almost entirely on cloud based systems. Our phones, trading system, meeting platforms, website, and client files are all hosted on separate secure cloud servers with redundant backups. We converted to these systems in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and have been training and preparing for the next disaster since then. We have relied on these systems to continue working from the road at conferences in the past, and have full confidence in our ability to continue to serve our clients from anywhere with a stable internet connection and a power outlet.
      • We re-configured our scheduling tool to provide additional clarity and make additional options available to our clients, while restricting non-client meetings. Our firm has offered Virtual meetings for years, and we’re extremely comfortable meeting over video chat with screen-sharing. To protect both ourselves and our clients, we are encouraging everyone to meet with us virtually or over the phone.
        • Give the new configuration of our scheduling tool a spin below! We’re here to talk. Please feel free to use it to find a time to chat, even if you only have a quick question (there’s an option for that!)



 

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

It’s been an especially brutal week so far in the markets, which reminds us of a classic Monty Python sketch.

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition.

We can’t claim to have seen the new Coronavirus, COVID-19 coming. That’s kind of the point. Outbreaks happen suddenly and without warning. There are no ‘catalysts’ for an event like this, and as investment managers and Financial Advisors, the past few days have been difficult, to say the least. Bob and I have been on the phone with clients constantly, and expect to hear from more in the coming days. There are a few common threads to these conversations:

The Chief Weapon is Surprise… Surprise and Fear. Fear and Surprise

Like the Spanish Inquisition, the COVID-19 virus plays on our fears. As investors, we have to balance what we see and read against the goals we set and our timelines. We’ve been devouring as much information about the current outbreak as we can, attending webinars from our partners at MSCI (based on research they published a few weeks ago), reading the thoughts of managers that specialize in investing in the asian markets, and talking with clients about their goals, their timelines to meeting their goals, and whether our current strategy is still appropriate. I’m thankful that we started having these conversations at the beginning of the year, and that we’ve focused on how much risk is appropriate to take.

The truth is, nobody knows when something like this will hit, how bad it will get, or where the ‘bottom’ will be. All we can do is think through the amount of risk we’re willing to take, and stick with that strategy, having faith that this too shall pass. We invest for a reason, whether that’s saving for a house, college, retirement, travel, or any of the other reasons we save, there is always a reason. I encourage you to think beyond the short term fluctuations of the markets, and evaluate your overall strategy. Are you taking the right amount of risk for you?

We recommend some comedy to get you through the week.

And Bright Red Uniforms:

If you would like to meet with us to review your risk tolerance, here’s our scheduling tool:

 


Ways to Green your Business

Our blog has been dark for the past few months because we’ve been deep into what we call “disclosure season”. At the beginning of the year, we’re asked to ‘show our work’ and verify that we are who we say we are by the two main sustainability organizations we belong to: the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, and B Lab, which certifies B Corps. We’re now approaching the end of that cycle, and ahead of sharing the results from these efforts, we wanted to give you an idea of what we go through to be a sustainable company, and how you can do the same for yours.

We discovered this series of infographics created by companydebt.com, who urged us to share them with the world. These track pretty closely (although not exactly) with the processes we’ve used to become a more sustainable company, so we thought we’d share!

We’ve prepared for extreme weather by instituting a work-from-home policy to maintain service during natural disasters. Our phones are cloud-hosted and should remain active even during an emergency.

Supply chain risk is critical, and understanding this is one of the major trends to watch this year!

 

Check this out: we’ve done most of this already, and reported back on it in our recent Impact Report. 

Did you know that the single biggest hidden cost to most employers is turnover? The “S” in ESG stands for “Social”, which is supposed to measure exactly these risks.

Businesses that haven’t thought this through will be more at risk. This forms the basis of our investment philosophy (read the bit under the SDGs)

 

Thanks again to the folks at companydebt.com for putting this together!

Safer Internet Day 2020

Safer Internet Day was this week, and as we do every year, we like to use this event to highlight our commitment to protecting our clients’ privacy and keeping data secure.

Our way of helping is to highlight a few of the tools we employ to help protect ourselves in the wilderness that is the internet. This post won’t cover antivirus software, but we’ll be looking at the free tools we use to help prevent tracking and reduce (not eliminate) your vulnerability online.

  • The first line of defense is an adblocker. These tools are designed to prevent you from seeing advertising online. We HIGHLY recommend that all of our clients and friends install one and keep it up to date. Our preferred adblocker is Ublock origin, which is available for Chrome here, and Firefox here.
  • Here’s another reason to install this RIGHT NOW: once you’ve visited our website, our advertising will take over your devices for the next three months if you’re signed in to chrome. While we make it extremely easy to opt out of our advertising, most people don’t realize that you have to visit our privacy policy page to disable this, and that it only works for our website. An adblocker will remove all of the ads from the internet, including ours!

  • After this, we like to look at a pair of tools from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This group is one of the strongest advocates for privacy and an open internet, and we support their work whenever possible. The first tool we recommend, especially for laptops or other computers that you travel with, is called HTTPS Everywhere (you can install it from that page). This tool helps force your connection to a website over a more secure connection, which can help protect your data and especially any login credentials that you use. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

  • The second tool by the EFF is called Privacy Badger. This tool blocks invisible trackers, including the ones that the big tech companies use to track you across the internet. Privacy comes at a price however, as you’ll quickly learn just how much the web relies on these tools – this one WILL break certain websites, especially those that are pulling services from multiple sources. However, it can be incredibly illuminating to see just how much you’re being tracked across the web.
  • Finally, we recommend a VPN, especially when travelling, and ESPECIALLY when travelling internationally. A VPN (or Virtual Private Network) is a tool that allows you to create a secure connection to another server before going out on the wider internet. We recommend using a tool like this whenever you’re connected to a WiFi network you don’t control, as they will prevent the owner of the WiFi network from snooping on your connection. Of course, this merely shifts who you trust from the person running your local WiFi hotspot to the VPN provider you’ve chosen to work with. We recommend doing due diligence on any VPN provider you choose to work with. We’re not going to disclose the firm we’ve chosen for security reasons, but we will be more than happy to recommend a few if you contact us.

This year, we’re adding one new item to our recommendations. Facebook recently added a new ability for you to see and manage what data they collect about you when you’re not using Facebook. Here’s their guide to understanding this, and here’s their guide to deleting your off-platform activity.

Continuing our Holiday Donation Tradition in 2019

Watch the winners of the ESG & Impact Film Festival!

As a member of the advisory board for the InvestmentNews ESG & Impact Forum, I helped to judge the film festival we presented at the event. We’re proud to present the films we selected below.

The Bee Rescuer This film won the Judges Choice award!
Directed by: Bidit Roy. Amit Godse, otherwise known as The Bee Man, founded a social enterprise, Bee Basket, which rescues bee colonies from urban areas.

I have a personal connection to this one. My family keeps bees in partnership with friends who live in Lancaster County, PA. We’ve lost a number of Bee Hives over the years for various reasons, and bee conservation is a subject near and dear to my heart.

>

The Story of TRU Colors This film won the Audience’s Choice award!
Directed by: Meagen Verdi & Akeem Grady. How one company is driving change in Wilmington, NC by hiring a workforce composed of only active gang members.

After this film was shown, we had the privilege of hearing from the filmmakers and one of the gang members in this film. It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had, and it reinforced to me the impact that investments can make. The Audience Choice award was well deserved!

>

POKO’S STORY
Directed by: Michael Schmidt-Olsen. Poko, a farmer in northern Ghana, learns new farming techniques to combat the devastating droughts and brushfires caused by climate change that are ravaging the region.

>

Lever
Directed by: Stephen Lamb. ESG investing strategies are a way to align values with investments, but don’t necessarily effect change. A look inside the powerful force of shareholder activism.

>

One Island
Directed by: Mitra K. Bolouri Rasmussen. A look inside a small Danish island that is run 100% with renewable energy.

>

Cesar’s Workshop
Directed by: Robin Pogorzelski. An army veteran from Rwanda who lost his leg to the civil war now makes his living by serving others.

>

BIOME – Harvesting Rain
Directed by: Travelling Tripod Films. This film showcases the positive impact of BIOME Environmental Trusts’ work in government schools struggling with water availability in rural Bangalore, Karnataka, India. The project is funded by Wipro Cares.

>

Leafy Greens
Directed by: Stephen Lamb. An exploration of impact enterprise. Can businesses succeed with the dual motives of profit and purpose?

>

Grow Your House
Directed by: Andrés Klimek & Sergio Donis. This film shows how bamboo can be used to construct houses in a low-cost and dignified way for people living in poverty.

>

The Soapmakers of Samabogo
Directed by: Hannah Stanton-Jones & Tadg O’Keeffe. In the southern plains of Mali, a group of intrepid women entrepreneurs has come together to form a collective of soapmakers, enhancing the lives of themselves and their families.

>

Igniting Impact Trailer
Directed by: Akira Chan. Igniting Impact is a short documentary featuring entrepreneurs who are creating impact by aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

>

InvestmentNews also has these videos on their website as well, with more information about the event.