Investment Insights Podcast – July 1, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded June 30, 2014), Bill addresses some of the things we don’t like first, then gives greater insight into what we are doing about it:

What we don’t like: Interest rates are stubbornly low; expectations were that they would rise over the first-half of the year; low interest rates hurt retirees ability to generate income

What we like: How we are handling this financial repression

What we are doing about it: Emphasizing three themes in fixed income: yield, shorter maturity bonds, and inclusion of absolute return

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording or click here

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Investment Insights Podcast – May 28, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded May 22, 2014), Bill gives a review on the controversial book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty:

What we like: Emphasis on returns to capital (savings); savers will continue to be rewarded.

What we don’t like: Modern-socialistic state belief using high tax rates in order to deal with societal inequalities.

What we are doing about it: We encourage opening savings accounts for children and grandchildren; fund 401(k)s to the max; watching if some of the societal inequalities as outlined by Piketty are dealt with sooner than later.

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording or click here.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Planning Fallacy

Dr. Daniel CrosbyDr. Daniel Crosby, President, IncBlot Behavioral Finance

Last November, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of Liam, our second child and first son. My wife, who had diligently prepared for all aspects of the baby’s arrival, had been encouraging me to prepare my overnight “go bag” in the case of an early arrival. As I am wont, I put this final preparation off until the last minute, only preparing a very few basic necessities and wrapping them unceremoniously in a Walmart bag rather than the leather duffel I use for most business travel.

Our son arrived without adverse incident (easy for me to say!) and as we hunkered down for those difficult, sleepless first nights in the hospital, I realized that my preparations had been inadequate. I had forgotten my contacts entirely, brought an outdated pair of prescription glasses and packed only enough clothing for one day following the delivery. Needless to say, the discomfort of those late nights in the hospital was only made worse by my lack of foresight. Not only was I sleepy, as is to be expected; I was also smelly, unshaven and outfitted in yesterday’s rumpled t-shirt. Luckily, the miracle of new life minimized my failure to prepare, but the (seemingly millions) of pictures will always tell the tale of just how unprepared I truly was.

Crosby_PlanningFallacy_4.3.14So how is it that I, an otherwise functional person who had been through this experience once before, was caught so off guard? The psychological term for what I had experienced is the planning fallacy and it is the reason that we are often a day late and a dollar short. In a phrase, the planning fallacy is the human tendency to underestimate the time and resources necessary to complete a task. In my case, the damage was limited to a few unfortunate pictures, but when applied to a lifetime of financial decision-making, the results can be catastrophic.

There are a variety of hypotheses as to why we engage in this sort of misjudgment about what it will take to get the job done. Some chalk it up to wishful thinking. To use my example, I was hoping to be in the hospital just two nights instead of the five we spent when my daughter was born. By packing a small bag, I was willing this dream into existence. A second supposition is that we are overly-optimistic judges of our own performance. Extending this line of thought, I might understand that most couples are in the hospital for three nights but most couples are not as fit, intelligent and strong-willed as the two of us (to say nothing of our exceptional progeny!). A final notion implicates focalism or a tendency to estimate the time required to complete the project, but failing to account for interruptions on the periphery. Sure, it may just take a few hours to have the baby, but there is recovery, eating, entertaining visitors, and the requisite oohing and aahing over the new arrival.

Whatever the foundational reasons, and it is likely there are many, it is clear enough that the American investing public has a serious case of failure to adequately plan. Excluding their primary home value, most Americans have less than $25,000 in retirement savings. 43% of Americans are just 90 days away from poverty and 48% of those with workplace retirement savings plans fail to contribute. Perhaps we think we are special. Maybe we are simply too focused on the day-to-day realities that can so easily hijack our attention. Without a doubt, we may wish that the need to save large sums of money for a future date would just resolve itself. But wishing it won’t make it so any more than wishing for my son’s hasty arrival did. I got off no worse than a few bad pictures and some unsightly hair; those who plan to save for their financial tomorrow’s won’t be nearly as lucky.

Views expressed are for illustrative purposes only. The information was created and supplied by Dr. Daniel Crosby of IncBlot Behavioral Finance, an unaffiliated third party. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

Retirement Planning: Beware of the Boomerang

Sue BerginSue Bergin

Unexpected events wreak havoc on many retirees’ portfolios.  According to a recent study, unexpected life events cost retirees on average $117,000. [1]  While caring for an adult child falls in the “unexpected events” category, recent trends suggest it is becoming a commonplace scenario.

The number of young adults, ages 18 to 31, living with their parent’s increased four percentage points from 2007 to 2012.  Now, over one-third (36%) of the young adults in that age category live with their parents.  Many of these adult children have children of their own, adding layers of both complexity and expense.  Pew Research Center attributes the multigenerational dynamic to declining employment, underemployment, rising college enrollment and declining marriage rates.[2]

In a separate survey, Securian Financial Group found that only 10% of the adult children living with their parents contribute to the household finances (e.g., pay rent).[3]  The Pew study reported that 22% of adult children still received an allowance from parents and 80% of the adult children living at home said they did not have enough money to live the life they wanted. Conversely, only 55% of their independent-living counterparts had the same response.

The boomerang-child pattern is nothing new.  It has surfaced during other economic downturns.  However, experts suggest that there may be some generational dynamics at play associated with this current wave of boomerangs that make it different from others. Those dynamics include a pervasive entitlement mindset, inflated self-esteem, and bumpy on- and off-ramps to the labor force.

Bumpy on-ramps refer to the fact that college graduates are having a difficult time finding employment.  Bumpy off-ramps refer to delayed retirements and boomers having to work longer than originally planned for.

While the debate rages as to the merits of adult children returning to the roost, one point is irrefutable.  Boomerang children create a drag on the parents’ retirement.

Boomerangs & Their ImpactIt is natural to want to help your children, at any age.  The child, however, should know the risks that you, as parents, assume if you agree to the arrangement.  The child probably dwells on the relationship risk potential, but should also be aware of the financial and lifestyle risk impact.

If the new financial impact on the parent is left unsaid, it will go unnoticed.  This fact is supported by Securian’s survey of Millennials who live with their parents.  45% of the surveyed young adult demographic said that their living at home has not financial impact on their parents, and almost half of that group said they weren’t even sure of the impact.

Other interesting stats from Securian:

  • Only 4% acknowledge their parents delayed retirement to accommodate the living arrangement
  • 8% said their parents did not request cost-sharing
  • Only 9% of the parents put a pre-determined end date or set conditions for how long the adult child could stay.

There may be tips and tools out there, but working face-to-face with a financial advisor can help add value.  It’s important to assess the financial risk associated with having an adult child come return to live in your home.  A skilled advisor can help project anticipated increases in living expenses as well as the impact on your retirement. This will help establish parameters, set expectations, deepen the child’s understanding of what is at stake for you, and foster open communications. And maybe even make it an enjoyable living situation for all!

Will Advisors Get to The Promised Land?

Sue Bergin,Sue Bergin@smbergin

The maturation of the baby-boomer generation turned into a bit of a “promised land” for advisors.  New products, services, specialties and strategies were devised better to serve this massive market.  Advisors, along with the rest of the financial services industry, eagerly waited the fees, commissions, and product sales that would naturally flow as boomers prepared for, and transitioned to, retirement.  Everyone was ready, but will those who were promised ever even reach the so-called promised land?

In an article (subscription required) published in Financial Planning, “Advisor Threat? Wave of New Online Services Incoming”, Charles Paikert reports the influx of venture capital and clients flocking to the online advisory space. Many of the services who have staked a claim on the promised land are getting clients before advisors even get in the door.  Financial Guard is an example of a service offered directly to individual investors/employees.  It provides advice and recommendations to employees on their 401(k) portfolios.

10.30.13_Bergin_PromisedLandWhile these services are arguably tapping into a segmented market, it is important to note the increase in their popularity.  However great the rise, it does not diminish the experience of working directly with a financial advisor. Let’s take a look at some of the applications and services with a presence in the online world:

  • SigFig, a mobile application that tracks, organizes, and makes recommendations on financial assets garnered $50 billion in assets managed in just nine months after the app launched.[1]
  • In February 2013, online investment company Betterment had amassed $135 million in assets under management, investing on behalf of 30,000 users.[2]
  • Online wealth management firm Personal Capital amassed $120 million in assets under management, 75% of which came in the first quarter of 2013.  The firm continues to add $20 million to its platform monthly.[3]
  • Jemstep, which provides recommendations on retirement goals, has attracted 10,000 users and tracks approximately $2 billion in assets.  It has only been up and running since January 2013.

These new entrants are a prime example of what late British author and psychologist Havelock Ellis had to say about the promised land—It always lies on the other side of the wilderness.

[1] TechCrunch, “Financial Planning App SigFig Crosses $50B in Assets Managed Though the Platform,” 1/14/13

[2] Pandodaily, “With 135 million in Assets Under Management Betterment Lures Two Key Hires Awa From Traditional Finance.”  2/12/13

[3] Pandodaily, “Wealth management isn’t for old farts anymore.  Personal Capital uses technology and design to spice up a boring topic.”  4/11/13

Demographic Changes Looming (Part One)

10.17.13_BlogRyan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

This is part one in a two-part blog series.

In 2013, it seems the financial headlines have been dominated lately by policy changes of the Federal Reserve, dysfunction in Washington, China’s threat of a hard economic landing, or Europe’s ongoing sovereign debt crisis.  Lost in these headlines are some major demographic trends that are already under way, or are looming on the horizon over the next decade.  Many of these changes will have a profound impact on investors, governments and societies in the United States and abroad.

Aging Population

The world’s developed countries are aging quite quickly.  As of the most recent 2010 census, the median age in the U.S. is 37.1, compared to 28.2 in 1970.  This is actually fairly low in comparison to some of the world’s other developed nations.


This is not a huge surprise as the baby boomer generation is reaching middle age.  It does, however, have some large implications that need to be watched closely by investors, companies and governments over the next decade.

What implications does this trend have for the U.S. and abroad?  For starters, an aging population will put a large strain on healthcare costs as the number of people who need access Medicare increases.  A study by Health Affairs cites aging population as a main driver of rising health care cost forecasts.  It projects national health care spending to grow at an average annual rate of 5.8% over the 2012 – 2022 period (currently near 4% in 2013).  By 2022 health care spending financed by federal, state, and local governments is projected to account for 49% of total national health expenditures and to reach a total of $2.4 trillion.[1]

Second, smaller subsequent generations (Gen X, Gen Y) will have to increase productivity to maintain the current low, single-digit GDP growth in the United States.  The responsibilities of the baby boomer generation upon retirement will naturally have to be absorbed by younger generations.  A 2013 study released by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) indicates that this trend is already occurring. It cites that there are more job openings created as a result of retirements today than in the 1990s.[2] The U.S. can fuel this productivity by increasing competitiveness in manufacturing, and using competitive advantages such as low energy costs and technological advancements.

Third, an increased focus will be put on fixed income and absolute return investment strategies, especially if the U.S is entering a rising interest-rate environment as many economists believe.  As populations age, their risk tolerance will naturally decrease as people need to plan for their years in retirement.  In 2012, only 7% of households aged 65 or older were willing to take above-average or substantial investment risk, compared to 25% of households in which the household head was between 35-49 years old.  Despite a growing life expectancy, the retirement age is still 65. This has major causes for concern for social security, capital gains tax policies, and corporate pension plans.  Subsequent generations will need to place an increased importance on individual retirement saving should the program terms change, or disappear altogether.

Part two of this blog will look at two additional trends of urbanization and wealth inequality.

[1] Health Affairs.  National Health Expenditure Projections, 2012 – 22: Slow Growth Until Coverage Expands and Economy Improves. September 18, 2013.

[2] Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. September 30, 2013.

Is America’s Retirement System Broken?

SimonBill Simon, Managing Director, Retirement Plan Services

In an article earlier this week, Mr. John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, decreed that America’s current retirement system is broken. As far as a fix, he offers only two suggestions. The first is to increase the current level of taxable income subject to Social Security taxes to $140,000-$150,000. The second is a reduction in the automatic cost of living adjustments that are used to calculate benefits.

While both would generate significant increases and savings to Social Security, they do not address the larger issues with our retirement system. As Bogle notes, the three pillars of retirement are Social Security, Defined Benefit plans and Defined Contribution plans—and they are in bad shape. In order for defined contributions plans to work better, we need to continue to automate as much of the functionality as possible, incentivize larger contributions, and make sure that an appropriate investment option is selected based on the participants age and realistic expectations about goals and markets.

5.15.13_Simon_BogleArticleHere is some food for thought. What if you could earn an additional tax credit by deferring at least 10% of salary or not having a loan against your 401(k)? What if an employer gave one additional vacation day per year if a company-wide goal of participation and contribution was reached? Ultimately, the system can work, but we need to continue to innovate and provide fresh ideas.

Click here to read more on John Bogle’s comments.

Classic Indexes Are Hurting Retirees

Personal Benchmark InvestingEngrained in most retirees is that as the markets go, so do their savings—up markets are good, down markets are bad. It’s not that it’s inherently wrong to think that way, it’s just that there’s a better way of looking at your savings in action. Historical benchmarks do a disservice to investors at indicating how successful they can be in creating real purchasing power.

Chuck Widger, Executive Chairman of Brinker Capital, was brought on to, a leading financial news website, to discuss this new line of thought, and how the industry needs to redefine its value proposition.

Check it out here: Classic Indexes Are Hurting Retirees

*Please note that references to specific holdings in the video are for illustrative purposes only and not necessarily owned by Brinker Capital.

Your Personal Iceberg: There is More to Measuring Success Than What Lies on the Surface

Wallens, JordanJordan Wallens, Regional Director, Retirement Plan Services

This is part two of a two-part blog series.

Next time you catch yourself bemoaning a down day in the stock market, calmly ask yourself, “Did I need the money today?” Benchmarking yourself against daily fluctuations is like looking outside and wondering why that tree in your yard doesn’t look any taller today than it did yesterday.

All of this is not to suggest that you shouldn’t seek help – you should. Simply put, having two sets of eyes and experience on the bridge is always better than one. You’ll fare far better at the essential behavioral art of saving yourself from your base instinct to Buy High and Sell Low, by retaining a seasoned financial advisor to walk beside you and talk you down from the ledge of your litany of poorly-timed short-sighted misbegotten past investment decisions.

The key is to once and for all truly personalize your benchmarks, rather than sweat the screeching heads on CNBC, aka Nickelodeon for adults. Better to diligently establish and maintain your own benchmarks, chart your progress, toward your concrete unchanging goals, including past progress, not just fleeting future predictions.

3.22.13 Wallens Personal Benchmarks2Suppose for example you already have a plan in place to save for retirement. What percentage of annual portfolio growth did you assume? 7%? And how much longer do you expect to work? Well how did you do last year? Forgot already? Too bad, especially if say you earned 12%. Why? Because the good news is, that properly harnessed, last year’s out-performance could very well result in meeting your goals a year earlier than planned. Congratulations, you’re money and you didn’t even know it. (Industry should’ve told you so.) My guess is that rather than properly recognizing, accounting for, and adjusting your risk, you’ve probably already moved on to, “So what’s the best stock to own this year?”

Whenever someone touts a fresh baked personal stock pick, I have a pat response for that too. I ask the inquirer what was the top performing stock last year. For the record, in 2012 that would be homebuilder PulteGroup, yet not a single putative stockpicker polled has answered it correctly. This they rarely relish either. So let me get this straight, if you can’t figure out what was the top stock in the past, do you really think you’ve got edge on what’ll outperform the pack in the future? Sorry, ya don’t. But the best news is, it just doesn’t matter.

Get help, it’s never too late. Start early, and you couldn’t screw it up if you tried. Start too late, and there’s nothing Cramer or anyone can do to help. Rehabilitate your investor behavior. Assess via readily available online tools your personal risk tolerance. Establish and zealously maintain your personal benchmark, un-phased by the chattering masses.

Quit obsessing over schizophrenic ever-changing variables that are outside your control, beyond your comprehension, and have nothing to do with your steady consistent lifelong goals. Ignore the reports of others’ flashy investment performance, and instead manage your personal investor behavior, to achieve the glide path, experience, and inalienable progress toward the life of your dreams. You’ll find you arrive at the station on time and intact, and best of all, without ever disembarking from your righteous path at the least opportune moments.

Another wise fellow declared, “Be the change you hope to see in the world.” But in this instance, ’tis far wiser to simply “Stay the same you want to see from the world.”

Question Framing and its Role in Retirement Planning

Sue BerginSue Bergin

Many advisors attribute their success to their ability to listen and to ask the right questions.  Knowing the questions to ask, and when and how to ask them, are at the heart of the retirement planning and relationship building process.

When helping a client prepare for retirement, for example, you probably ask clients when they plan to retire and how long they think they are going to live.  You may not have realized this, but the way the question is framed impacts the answer.

John W. Payne of Duke University, recently found that people would give significantly different answers about their longevity depending upon how the question is asked.

questionsPayne’s study participants gave themselves a 55% chance of living beyond age 85.  When the question was framed differently, their answers were far more pessimistic.  Study participants gave themselves a 68% chance of dying by the age 85, which translates to only 32% chance of living to age 85.[1]

In her Harvard Business Review Blog, “How to Frame a Question for Maximum Impact,” Melissa Reffoni suggests that we think about the metaphor behind the concept of question framing.

A frame focuses attention on the painting it surrounds. Different frames draw out different aspects of the work. Putting a painting in a red frame brings out the red in the work; putting the same painting in a blue frame brings out the blue. How someone frames an issue influences how others see it and focuses their attention on particular aspects of it.”[2]

By framing the question in the, “what age will you live to” context, you bring clarity to the retirement planning task.  Their attention is focused on life post-work, not when they are going to die.