Many investors take too much risk because they are afraid of running out of money when they retire and because they feel bombarded with negative news and pessimistic attitudes.
Those circumstances force them to keep trying to maintain a growth oriented portfolio when they should be in a less risky, preservation mode, says Mark Singer, president of Safe Harbor Retirement Planning in Lynn, Mass.
Singer has developed a Retirement Roadmap to help his clients know what their goals are and how to get there. He feels it is a different and safer way of looking at the retirement planning process. Many people at one point or another gather enough money to retire but they do not realize it because they do not know what their 'number' is, he said.
For instance, he recently had a widow come to him who had about $600,000, but before 2008 she had $1,000,000. That would have been enough for her to retire and maintain the lifestyle she wanted, but, at the time, she did not know that.
She remained in an aggressive portfolio in a down market and ended up losing $400,000.
"If she had known that her 'number' was $1,000,000, we could have put her in preservation mode, and in much less risky investments," Singer says. "She would have kept her savings and been able to retire as planned."
As it was, with some work and accepting some risk she would not otherwise have had to accept, Singer got her back on track and she is planning to retire next year.
Safe Harbor has three employees and $60 million in assets under management. Singer is ready to publish a book, The Changing Landscape of Retirement: What You Don't Know Could Hurt You. A CFP licensee and a registered Curian advisor, he has appeared on radio and television shows and has 25 years in the financial industry.
"Financial planning is emotions and economics. Because of the negative feelings on the emotional side, people are not stepping back to see where they are on their road to retirement," Singer says. "Instead of focusing on the negatives, which we have no control over, we need to think about how to positively pursue retirement."
When determining the client's 'number,' Singer says he builds in margins of error, low-balling the returns and setting inflation rates a little higher than expected, just to be safe. The road map is revisited at least once a year to make sure the client is still on track. Less risk will be built in if possible. There are many versions of software that can help an advisor determine what a client needs to retire once the daily cash flow and the "bucket list" of bigger goals are determined.
"But many people do not align their retirement goals up with their money management," he adds. "If you do not know what your goals are, you are going to end up taking more financial risk than you need to. Sometimes those goals may have to be redefined."
But Singer says he has clients earning modest returns on investment, because they no longer need to take risks to meet their goals because they know what their goals are and what it takes to reach them. Many of his clients are in absolute return funds, managed futures and long-short funds. The funds often have very low correlation to the market while still adding something of value to the portfolio.
Singer also has developed a 'financial organizer' that feeds all of the client's financial information into one, easily accessible source. This makes management easier, but just as importantly lets client feel more in control.