(Editor's note: In The Trenches is a column written by FA Associate Editor Jim McConville on how advisors solved a client's retirement planning problem. Please contact Jim at email@example.com if you are interested in participating.)
Ron Lecours calls it the "post retirement sub-par portfolio jitters."
But Lecours, senior vice president and partner in West Hartford, Conn.-based Ohanesian/Lecours Inc., whose clients are typically retiring baby boomers, says his 25-person financial advisory firm is familiar with this condition and well equipped to handle it. Lecours says the majority of his firm's clients are pleased with the performance of their portfolios, but a handful complain that their investments aren't living up to their expectations.
"They'll call me and say to me 'Gee, the market was up 4 percent during the month of May and my portfolio hardly went up at all. What's going on?,"' Lecours says. "In some cases, clients tell me that they're looking at their accounts every day."
Such clients will then invariably stop by Lecour's office to express both their portfolio dissatisfaction and growing anxiety over the long-term stability of their retirement plan.
The first step he takes is to review a client's portfolio to determine how much income it's generating and how much the client is regularly withdrawing. "We start there and double check it," he says. "We validate or confirm that it can't be the portfolio."
Clients are often shocked to learn that the actual cause of their "underperforming" portfolio is neither the firm nor their investment mix, but themselves: They're withdrawing too much money from their account.
Lecours then illustrates the client's problem with a simple math example: "If we're making money at the rate of 6 percent for a given quarter, and you're withdrawing money at 10 percent, then our portfolio is going to be going down with the differential."
"They see sometimes that that they don't need to have the full $3,000 a month withdrawal coming out and they can get by on a little bit less," Lecours says. "We make sure that they absolutely need what money they are taking out of accounts."
The next step is to examine ways to enhance a client's portfolio yield. "A lot our accounts are IRA accounts. Let's assume that they're taking $2,000 a month out of their account, but they're doing tax withholding on that. Let's just say that it's 25 percent withholding; that's $500 of taxes that's being held aside, but they're taking that $500 of taxes from their IRA. So in a way they paying taxes on the money that they're setting aside to pay taxes."
"So sometimes, just by minimizing or in some cases stopping the tax withholding and we turn to some other pot of money that they hopefully have to pay those income taxes on the IRA withdrawals, we make the whole withdrawal scheme more efficient," Lecours says.
After the portfolio review, many clients realize that they came into retirement with too much debt or the real estate markets are working against them, Lecours says. "We get creative on trying to come up with some solutions to that."
Lecours says his advisors will suggest ways for clients to augment their income with another revenue source, such as a part-time job. "It's been amazing," Lecours says. "I've had clients that were fully retired for 10 years and then at the age of 69 they say 'Hey, I'm going back to work.'"
Some clients, however, need a bit more convincing. "Some people are just resistant to the whole idea and they would rather see their portfolio become more aggressive," Lecours says. "They'll say, 'Just do a better job, Ron.'"
With such clients Lecours will then have a frank discussion about how such an approach will increase the portfolio's risk level.
"I'll say, 'You understand that we're taking more of a gamble than we were taking before and this might work out in your favor, but it can work against you, too,'" Lecours says. "In a couple of cases it's worked, and in a couple of other cases it really just makes a bad situation worse."
With some clients, Lecours finds out they took on more debt during retirement than they could handle. "They find out that it's much more burdensome than they thought and so they really started to burn through some money very quickly," Lecours says. "It's debts that were not paid off; children who are having difficulty finding jobs. Attempts at downsizing are difficult. Houses are not as liquid as they felt they would be; the net equity in their homes is not as high as they had had some time previously."
Lecours says most clients accept his firm's portfolio management advice and acknowledge that retirement planning today means following a new set of financial rules.
"There are more ebbs and flows in the economy than were there 20 to 30 years ago," Lecours says. "The whole concept of the traditional retirement where you leave employment at age 62 and you sail off into the sunset and never look back is essentially gone now."
Lecours, who has been a financial advisor for more than 30 years, offers five tips for advisors to determine if a client's systematic withdrawals are hurting the performance of his investment account:
1.The advisor and client should discuss the account to determine whether performance is actually sub-par.
2.Make sure that the client realizes the actual rate of withdrawal from the account. Is it a reasonable percentage?
3.Confirm that the client needs the full amount of that portfolio withdrawal.
4.Look beyond the account. Where can you find other sources of income that would allow you to reduce the withdrawals?
5.When withholding taxes from an IRA, minimize or eliminate withholding if the client can pay the taxes from some other source.