One of the challenges facing financial advisors is finding ways to actively engage clients in conversations regarding their financial future. In today's world, the volume, velocity and complexity of life's daily obligations often delay longer term considerations that will be crucial to the well-being of aging clients. One of the keys to engagement is to address topics that are relevant and emotional in order to bridge to longer-term planning concerns.
This election year-and the rhetoric, histrionics and hyperbole that surrounds it-offers advisers a timely opportunity to do so. Discussions and debates about legislative and administrative policies and their impact on the lives of everyday Americans will continue not only up to the November election, but long after the outcome is known.
A study released by Edward Jones in August 2012 noted that: "Ninety percent of Americans plan to change their investment and savings strategies in the next six months." The U.S. presidential election was cited by 39% of respondents as the most significant factor affecting investment and savings changes, while healthcare costs came in second at 30%.
Although presidential election years may seem unusually risky for investors given the uncertainty of election outcomes, a historical view of the returns of the S&P 500 Index show that 17 of the last 21 election years ended with positive returns. Of course, past performance can't predict future results.
Perhaps the key message for clients is that the most important consideration this year should be that it's more important what happens in your house than what happens in the White House.
State of the 'You'-nion
Every President since George Washington has delivered an annual State of the Union address. The purpose of this address was eloquently stated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1936 State of the Union address: "Having come so far, it is fitting that we should pause to survey the ground which we have covered and the path which lies ahead." An election year is a great time for investors to reflect on where they stand-not just on the issues of the day-but where they stand financially, where they want to go and what they need to do to get there. Special emphasis should be placed on the latest bread-and-butter issues of inflation, market volatility, low interest rates and taxes.
Few things are as important when it comes to financial planning than anticipating future expenses. Core inflation, a measure of price inflation often quoted by media outlets, has been relatively moderate for more than a decade. But following core inflation is important only for those not planning to eat, travel or stay warm in retirement, because core inflation does not include items that are subject to volatile price movements, such as energy, food or prescription drugs.
The Federal Reserve announced that it plans to keep the Federal Funds Rate near zero, possibly into 2014. Investors may be asking, "Where do I find income in fixed income?" or "What if rates rise?" These questions provide a terrific opportunity for advisors to discuss fixed-income diversification strategies.
Overcoming Short-Term Fears
Market volatility can be a turnoff for many investors. Although the wider range of security prices typically associated with volatile markets can mean more opportunities for investors to buy at lower prices, a fundamental tenant of successful investing, it's often difficult for many investors to overcome their short-term fears and uncertainty.
Since 1990, 38 of the best 50 days in the S&P 500 Index occurred either during a recession or within one year of one. Those who made an investment based on the S&P starting in 1990 and stuck with it through 2011 were rewarded with an annualized return of 8.22%, despite the market volatility. Subtract the 50 best days, though, and the return drops to minus 2.64%.
Ever since the Patriots cried: "No taxation without representation," taxes have dominated American history. But trying to game tax policy can prove to be a folly, as the top federal income tax rate has changed 37 times since 1913, an average of once every 2.7 years.
It is impossible to predict what Congress may or may not do with taxes, which is why tax diversification is important. That means clients should own a variety of assets that are taxed in different ways, including currently taxable, tax deferred and tax free.
This multi-pronged strategy allows investors more flexibility to choose which assets to draw from and when; taking advantage of the most favorable tax strategy at the time of distribution.
Think 40, Not Four
Although there will be much discussion about the political candidates' plans for the next four years, clients should be thinking about their plan for the next 40 years.
Lifestyle changes driven by improvements in longevity give rise to increased interest in retirement income planning, healthcare concerns, and estate and charitable giving strategies.
Ultimately, there is nothing more important to your clients or their families than taking the right steps to help ensure their future years are as bright and comfortable as possible. "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count," President Abraham Lincoln said. "It's the life in your years."
Every presidential candidate relies on trusted advisors for wisdom and direction in hopes of a successful campaign. This election season is a good time for you to play such a role in your clients' future financial success.
John Diehl is a senior vice president of the Hartford Mutual Funds.
The views expressed here are those of John Diehl and they should not
be construed as investment advice. They are subject to change.
John Diehl does not offer any financial planner services on behalf of The Hartford.
Clients should contact their own advisors for specific advice.
"The Hartford" is The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries.