Creating a road map for a more secure financial future
Creating a road map for a more secure financial future
I originally entered the financial-services business working for an insurance company that provided services related to workplace benefits for school districts. I greatly enjoyed working in that capacity for about five years. Then I had the opportunity to join a firm that provided the 403(b) plan for a local hospital and health-care system that employed about 6,000 people. This position was much more consultative around an individual’s big-picture retirement planning, starting with how they were handling their 403(b) account.
I stayed in this position for 16 years. I really enjoyed interacting with so many people and assisting them with their unique financial and family circumstances. I was in the workplace constantly and had access to employees in all departments. Our primary focus was to promote the plan, help with the orientation of new employees, drive up participation rates, and service the plan.
We are all about client education. Our mission is to help clients understand the opportunities and potential rewards that are available when they take a proactive approach to their personal financial situation. This covers areas such as insurance protection, asset management, retirement planning, estate planning, and wealth preservation. We want to work with clients who are open to learning and value our guidance—it has to be a two-way street of trust and an open relationship.
One of our main objectives in working with clients is to ensure they have the opportunity to develop a lifetime income stream. It is important to help them get to a place where they won’t have to wonder if they will outlive their money. Again, the emphasis is on being proactive, to help them address their retirement situation before it becomes a potential problem—one that can get more difficult to solve as the years go by. This will help our clients live their retirement years with confidence.
A lot of times when people get older and retire, you will see them working somewhere in a part-time job. That is great if that is their choice and something they enjoy. But I always wonder if they are working because they want to or just to survive. Everyone has dreams and aspirations about retirement, and I want to help clients understand and employ strategies that will help them get where they want to go. An important exercise I go through with new clients is stress-testing their current retirement plan—does it really have a high probability of working over several decades? I am dedicated to developing lasting relationships with all of my clients and want to help them make the appropriate adjustments to their plan and their investments as they move forward throughout their retirement years.
In my years working with hospital employees, we essentially employed a classic, diversified allocation approach to investments. There was an element of managed money we could employ, based on an employee’s goals and risk tolerance, but it was limited to using the funds within the plan. As an independent advisor, I now have the opportunity to employ a wide range of money managers and different strategies if that is appropriate for a specific client.
My investment message to clients, especially older clients who are planning for retirement, is that wealth preservation has to be a critical element of their investment-planning process. They cannot afford to have their retirement income plan disrupted by major hits to their portfolios due to market downturns. We are not looking to hit home runs, but rather to achieve competitive returns within a risk-managed, strategic approach. Their portfolios may not see all of the gains that indexes see during strong bull markets, but the flip side is that we strive to avoid the worst of market downturns.
“We are not looking to hit home runs, but rather to achieve competitive returns within a risk-managed, strategic approach.”
The goal is a smoother ride for their investments over the long term and through different market cycles. If they can mitigate the downside losses, they have far less to make up during favorable market conditions. This will hopefully keep their portfolio on an upward trajectory, even with some potential minor setbacks. We cannot control what the markets are going to do, but I believe a managed-money approach to investments enhances the probabilities of achieving long-term investment success that will help fund retirement withdrawals.
This entire analysis depends on a client’s specific situation, their risk profile, and their overall retirement plan. We have situations where clients desire a portion of their retirement income to be annuitized, and there are some attractive options there, even in today’s interest-rate environment. It does not necessarily have to be a fixed annuity. And when a sizable portion of retirement income is covered through annuities, a pension plan, and Social Security, it might provide the opportunity to assume a little more risk on the investment side. The goal is to develop an overall retirement plan where all of the pieces are working together and risk is well-managed.
We have a great deal of flexibility in terms of strategy selection from our outside professional money managers. Again, it all depends on the client’s needs, the role of specific money in their retirement plan, and their appetite for risk. We might employ more conservative active strategies if we know that money has to help fund ongoing income needs. I also usually like to recommend some use of dividend-paying investments that can help further supplement an income plan. If income needs are well-covered through other buckets, we can use active strategies that are more growth-oriented. That is a nice position for a client to be in. That portion of the plan ultimately might be used to travel, help fund a special purchase, or perhaps to buy a new home or vacation home. Very often it simply helps grow their legacy and can be earmarked for family members, charity, or church.
Whether we recommend more conservative active strategies for a client or somewhat more aggressive strategies, the bottom line is they will be employing strategies that are risk managed. I tell clients that their approach to investment management really needs to be different during their distribution years, as compared to their accumulation years. They cannot afford to have their plan thrown off track by the 30%, 40%, or 50% losses that can be incurred using passive strategies while they need to make withdrawals. There are no absolute guarantees in anything related to investments, but we do know specifically how the active strategies available to us have been able to deal with market risk in the past. That enhances the probabilities of being able to weather the inevitable downturns of market cycles. It greatly improves, in my opinion, the ability of clients to have a retirement income plan that will work for them over a lengthy period.
As part of our commitment to building productive and long-lasting client relationships, we will stay on top of a client’s retirement and investment plans on a regular basis. If adjustments need to be made due to changing client circumstances, market conditions, or economic factors, we will engage with the client in a consultative manner to help guide them. I think this personalized approach has been successful in providing a road map for clients as they work toward a more secure financial future.
Bently Ford is a financial advisor and president of Ford Financial Services, located in Diana, Texas. Mr. Ford says his firm is “dedicated to understanding clients’ financial situations and providing them with the highest quality information, services, and products to help them reach their goals.” Ford Financial Services offers guidance for a variety of financial products and services, including insurance, investment planning, asset management, estate planning, and retirement planning. Mr. Ford has a deep understanding of qualified retirement plans and beneficiary protection.
A native of Texas, Mr. Ford attended Stephen F. Austin State University, where he studied business administration. After college, he spent several years in sales, insurance and workplace benefits, and in providing guidance to health-care employees regarding their 403(b) plans. Mr. Ford says his experience in workplace benefits was “invaluable in understanding the value an advisor can bring to people regarding their retirement planning needs.” In 2013, he opened his own advisory firm, which serves clients throughout east Texas and beyond.
Mr. Ford and his wife have three daughters and a son and are active in their local church. He is an avid sports fan, especially of college football, which is the source of friendly competition in his household. “My wife and I are a house divided in terms of our rooting interests!” says Mr. Ford. He is an outdoor enthusiast and enjoys hunting, fishing, and camping. He frequently participates in bass fishing tournaments across Texas.
Disclosure: Securities offered through Questar Capital Corporation (QCC). Member FINRA, SIPC. Advisory services offered through Questar Asset Management (QAM), a registered investment advisor. Ford Financial Services is independent of QCC and QAM. Diversification does not assure or guarantee better performance and cannot eliminate the risk of investment losses. Annuities are insurance products designed to meet long-term needs for retirement income. Early withdrawals may include surrender charges and may impact annuity cash values and death benefits. An additional 10% IRS penalty may apply to withdrawals prior to age 59½. An index annuity may include, but is not limited to, asset fees, participation rates, caps and surrender charges. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company.
Photography by Angela Duncan