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Identifying Hidden Financial Risks Creates Sales Demand


The Wealth Counselor, Volume 8, Issue 10

The world changes; clients’ circumstances change; motivations and interests change. As these changes occur—often gradually—“hidden” risks emerge that can significantly deteriorate future wealth if left unattended. By “hidden” risks, we mean exposures of which the client or potential client is likely to be unaware. Identifying hidden risks in an education-based marketing program delivers an important service to your marketplace and, with this knowledge, provides you with a gateway to meaningful conversations about the added value you can deliver to prospective clients.

Key Takeaways:

  • From the past several years, people understand the devastating impact of unmanaged financial risks.
  • A client’s changing circumstances, needs, and aspirations open holes that allow hidden risks to creep in.
  • Identifying the variety and impact of these hidden risks provides the opportunity for thoughtful and informed risk-management discussions.
  • Presenting these hidden-risk categories as an education topic offers the practitioner a platform to secure new clients, particularly those that have hidden risks but have been lulled into thinking that “everything is fine with their plan” by their current advisor.

Most Practitioners Require “Demand Pull” Marketing to Increase Growth

The two basic types of sales circumstances are “Demand Push” and “Demand Pull.” The Demand Push client is a prospective client who has already identified the need for a financial plan and investment solution and is conducting due diligence to hire a practitioner. You’re hearing from a Demand Push client when you receive a web inquiry, a referral, or a phone call. Your market presence (local search access, professional connections, active client referrals, and website clarity) activates this demand. A strong market presence will increase the regularity of inquiries from Demand Push clients. For some financial professionals, Demand Push marketing and word-of-mouth activity produces growth sufficient to meet the firm’s revenue objectives.

Demand Pull marketing is education based. You, as the practitioner, operate in an educational mode, illustrating your prospect’s needs that exist but are unrecognized either at a basic level or in a matter of degree. You identify these needs and motivate the prospect to act by providing education opportunities.

What you need to know: For the vast majority of financial professionals, achieving the desired revenue growth trajectory requires an ongoing, proactive marketing and sales effort to fuel demand. The key challenge in this common scenario is accessing a market of prospective clients with an educational message that drives action where little or no energy existed before.

Inertia Is a Force to Overcome

Inertia is a powerful force to overcome in today’s marketplace. You find inaction with this sentiment: “I already have a plan or program.” Indeed, the financial planning industry fosters this inertia by treating the planning phase as a discrete, infrequent step; the industry emphasizes the initial investment program deployed to execute the financial plan.

In fact, for most investors—and often unbeknownst to them—legal issues, tax issues, demographics, life stages, interests, anxieties, and aspirations change with regularity, and often altogether.

What you need to know: Treating a plan or program statically in the face of a changing world and uncertain future is a sleeping pill . . . not far from the frog that passively rests in the pot of warming, and soon to boil, water.

Fear Is a Real and Important Motivator Leading to Positive Outcomes

Fear is a high-impact investment force. Fear creates emotional memory that acts as a joint force to inertia or complacency. We see this today in investor caution borne from the 2008 financial crisis (similar to the financial behaviors of the Depression-era generation).

But fear can also be an important driver of good outcomes. Fear-induced motivation is an education opportunity for your Demand Pull marketing strategy.

Over time, a client’s circumstances, needs, and aspirations deviate from what they were when the client’s financial and investment plans were first constructed. The more time that transpires, and thus the greater the changes in the environment, the more likely hidden risks reside in the client’s plan.

What you need to know: Just as a doctor diagnoses bad eating habits as a likely indicator of future health risks, so too can you diagnose hidden financial risks as threats to the prospect’s or client’s need for financial comfort, confidence, and purpose. Activating “fear” of these hidden risks produces demand to have additional consultations with you.

Identifying Hidden Financial Risks Opens Doors to Added Value

The chart below lists some financial circumstances that pose hidden risks. Your educational efforts to identify and illustrate hidden risks (i.e., a Demand Pull approach) offer an important service to the prospective client, just as the doctor’s advice to correct poor health behaviors can add years of life if followed. (For your existing clients, diligence in monitoring changes to the client’s circumstances, needs, and aspirations—thus avoiding hidden risks—attaches to the fiduciary standard, strengthens the advisor-client bond and increases your client-referral prospects).

Client Circumstance

Hidden Risk

Outcome If Identified and Resolved

Low-basis stock (i.e., appreciated securities portfolio)

Capital gains tax exposure

Medicare surcharge tax exposure

Exposure to creditors’ claims

More money available through reduced taxes

Wealth is protected

Stock distributions to trusts providing tax benefits, wealth shifting

Low-basis property

Same as low basis stock PLUS

Replacement value insurance mismatch in an appreciating market climate

Same as low basis stock PLUS

Tighter loss-risk management

Unexercised, in-the-money stock options

Income or gains taxes (depending on the option type)

Medicare surcharge tax exposure

Overconcentration to an employer’s operations, competitors, and market environment

Inefficient allocation of wealth to investment horizons or purposes

Tax efficiency considering other income and gains sources

Improved investment diversification

Life insurance with substantial cash value

Using other income sources with less tax efficiency

Monetize the policy to support income needs

Improved tax efficiency

Unmatched life insurance death benefit

A death benefit too high, risking encroaching on estate tax thresholds

A death benefit too low to support wealth shifting in estate planning

A death benefit too low to replenish lost income due to premature death

Too High: Estate tax savings

Too Low: Achieve target wealth distributions to beneficiaries

Too Low: Fund income replacement

Too Low: Peace of mind that survivors will be sustained

Sub-optimal insurance products

Surrender charges in wealth realignment

Too-high premiums that become a financial burden and thus increase the potential for policy lapse

Comprehensive planning to minimize dollars lost to fee and cost inefficiencies

Earned income in retirement

Creating additional tax exposure in concert with other income sources

Restructuring distributions to achieve tax efficiency

Ownership of an employer’s stock

Poor diversification and risk management due to a concentrated exposure to the employer’s operations, competitors, and market environment

Improved overall risk management

Current chronic illness, poor family health histories, or both

Faster wealth depletion through increased medical liability

Increased family burden

Wealth protection through a long-term care funding plan

Peace of mind that family burdens will be lessened

Obsolete trusts

Unnecessary estate costs

Estate execution inefficiencies

Mismatched wealth to desired purposes

Lower costs

Lower taxes

Viable estate execution

Comfort that wealth’s purposes will be fulfilled

Estate plan relying on wills

Unnecessary exposure to probate

Exposure to legal costs of incapacity

Loss of control of wealth and wealth transfer timing

Estate execution efficiency

Control of wealth and its distribution

Comfort that the plan matches desires, values, and interests

At-home, teenaged dependents

Legal liability exposure in the case of accidents that have resulted in another’s disability or death

Wealth protection

Actions to Consider:

  • Educate yourself on these hidden risks and how your solutions have the potential to manage the risks.
  • For hidden risks beyond your expertise or solution set, partner with other practitioners (e.g., trusts and estates attorneys, insurance professionals, CPAs, investment advisors) to present a holistic solution proposal.
  • Conduct seminars or small-group meetings with prospective clients to create leveraged sales opportunities.
  • In a group setting, plan on presenting the entire hidden risk list to ensure coverage of the variety of attendees’ circumstances.
  • Regularly meet with existing clients to ensure that a hidden risk hasn’t crept into the client’s life. If one has, engage in a plan and solution update for optimal risk management.
  • This activity identifies new business opportunities and is in keeping with the fiduciary standard.