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Aligning client goals with sound and efficient asset management

by Oct 2, 2019Advisor Interviews

Aligning client goals with sound and efficient asset management

by Oct 2, 2019Advisor Interviews

Michael Zimmerman, CEPA • Stevens, PA
Regal Wealth Advisors • J.W. Cole Financial Inc.
Read full biography below

Proactive Advisor Magazine: Mike, talk about the progression of your career.

I have something of a unique background. I attended Philadelphia University, now known as Thomas Jefferson University, to study biochemistry. I minored in finance, which was probably a foreshadowing of how things would turn out later. I had thoughts about medical school but fell in love with the research process and the challenges of solving tough problems. I went on to the University of Texas at Austin where I received a master’s in organic chemistry and taught as a graduate assistant. I was hired after graduate school by GlaxoSmithKline, where I became a senior scientist and medicinal chemist. I am proud that I received several service awards during my eight years with the company. Our team developed several patents in the areas of cancer and viral research.

Given my interest in finance and the markets, friends and associates would often ask me for guidance on personal financial-planning questions. Working on my own time to help them out, I decided that I wanted to enter the financial-advisory field full-time. I was pleased in 2008 to be able to join a progressive advisory firm, Sequinox, which was located not far from our home. In 2014, I became an owner and partner in the firm, helping to drive business development and refining best practices in our planning process. I knew that ultimately I would want to start my own firm and be the final decision-maker on strategy and direction. I took that step in June of this year, founding Regal Wealth Advisors. I have retained the same broker-dealer relationship and many of the platforms I have used in the past. I have definite plans for growth and enhancing the relationships I have with other trusted professionals. I am very excited about the future of our firm in serving our clients.

“A conservative approach to money management does not mean just letting things happen.”
As a financial advisor, what motivates you?

I am very dedicated to my craft and to helping people when they need it the most. I am passionate about solving problems and truly care about our clients’ financial health and personal lives. I do everything I can to make clients successful, which, in turn, fuels the success of our firm. I would not be able to do this without the love and support of my family.

I am an advocate for a conservative but active money-management style for clients, with risk management ranking high on the list of priorities. The nature of people here in our area is quite different from some others. I have often thought to myself, “Why do people here seem to have a lot more cash and assets than debt like everywhere else I have lived?” I love to grow money in a conservative fashion, and that is a good fit with the attitudes of my client base.

Another important factor in my personal career philosophy is to always seek to grow and improve. Continuing education is very important to me. I have taken coursework in several areas directly related to delivering a high standard of professional knowledge in serving clients. This includes earning the designation of Certified Exit Planning Advisor and completing studies in retirement-income, legacy, and Social Security planning. I have also worked with a variety of prominent figures in our industry, receiving training and insights that have been invaluable.

Discuss your overall financial-planning process.

I’m not going to tell people that I am a better stock picker or asset manager than anybody else. But I am very confident that we have the ideas and coaching strategies to help clients turn what they have worked for their entire lives into retirement-income streams, incorporating comprehensive risk-management strategies throughout their financial plan. We can effectively help address the challenges of long-term care and estate planning.

While I will use any investment or financial tool that is appropriate, the core of what we do is embodied in what we call a matrix strategy. When I first meet with clients, I want to hear their life story, their concerns, the dynamics of their family, and their aspirations for the future. We then look in detail at their financial situation, and I plot out their assets in a nine-box matrix.

The matrix helps clients understand how we see the relationships of risk management, asset management, tax efficiency, income streams, and the time horizons of their assets. What assets need to be the most liquid, what assets require a high degree of risk management, and what assets might be best for first fueling retirement income? We look across three rows and three columns. The three columns identify asset allocation for a client, looking at the categories of cash or cash equivalents, “safer” investments that are not exposed to market risk, and market-exposed investments. The three rows are labeled “taxable,” “tax deferred,” and “tax efficient.”

The goal of going through this exercise is to better align clients’ goals in terms of asset and tax management, as well as beginning to develop an estate plan. We can help clients see where they may have assets that are not working hard enough for them, the percentage of their assets that are exposed to market risk, and the relative mix of their assets from a tax-efficiency standpoint. When we talk about assets, these are not only traditional investments such as stocks or bonds. They can also include real estate, insurance, annuity products, and alternative investments. For many of our clients, the benefits of a sophisticated approach to planning for life insurance can be quite eye-opening. This can be a very suitable option for some assets in terms of growth, safety of cash, liquidity, estate planning for a tax-free death benefit, and chronic illness protection.

From this discovery and education phase of the planning process, our next meeting will involve the presentation of specific strategic options. Assuming that we reach agreement on next steps, we will move into implementation, setting up a schedule of periodic review sessions, and making sure to address any other issues of concern that may have come up in our discussions.

Talk about your broad investment philosophy.

As we go through planning, I educate clients on the basic risk parameters of various asset classes. In general, most clients will need to look at market-based investments for their growth potential, liquidity, and ability to outpace inflation. Again, I subscribe to a fairly conservative investment approach and believe risk management—achieved through active management—is paramount.

When most clients hear about active management they immediately think about what is generally called “an actively managed mutual fund,” something brokers have been telling them about throughout their investment lives. Our approach is different, as we actively manage their entire portfolio, blending different active strategies in line with their risk profile and investment objectives. We talk to clients about the history of the stock market and investment trends, showing that up until roughly 2000, “buy and hold” generally did work. But the volatility of the last two decades has demonstrated that a different strategy is required. That strategy is active management. We use the services of a few third-party investment managers to help develop suitable strategic approaches for each of our clients. I view myself as the “manager of the managers,” and am deeply involved with oversight of client portfolios and adjusting allocations as required.

A conservative approach to money management does not mean just letting things happen. We will develop the appropriate fixed-income streams for our clients, will examine annuity and various insurance approaches, and use the growth potential of risk-managed investment strategies through full market cycles. All of these elements can be folded into an active management approach across the entire context of a client’s financial and investment plan.

Ideally, how would a client describe the process of working with your firm?
That we work hard to understand their needs and goals and listen closely to what is important to them. That we are knowledgeable and prepared to guide them on any financial matter or help find a resource that can help them. That we are deeply committed to their interests. Our best clients are not defined by asset size, but rather by their desire to be true partners in our firm’s process.

Focusing on the educational aspect of clients’ financial needs

Michael (Mike) Zimmerman is the president and founder of Regal Wealth Advisors, located in Stevens, Pennsylvania. He says that his client base really started to grow when his firm “focused on the educational aspect of clients’ financial needs.” He also notes that financial education can start even before someone becomes a client. He enjoys giving seminars at local libraries and notes that it is an effective strategy for introducing his firm’s thinking and capabilities to prospective clients. These seminars are often presented in association with other local financial advisors.

The topic of Social Security planning and claiming strategies draws strong interest among pre-retirees and those who are already retired. The seminars address questions that retirees typically have, which include the following:

  • Will Social Security be there for me? When should I apply for Social Security?
  • How much can I expect to receive? How can I maximize my benefits?
  • Will Social Security be enough to live on in retirement?
  • What are the trade-offs of claiming early, at full retirement age, or later?
  • How do spousal benefits work? What are survivor benefits?
  • How can I minimize taxes on Social Security benefits?
  • What role does Social Security play in an overall retirement-income plan?

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Michael (Mike) Zimmerman is the president and founder of Regal Wealth Advisors, located in Stevens, Pennsylvania. Mr. Zimmerman’s firm “helps clients create plan-driven solutions to meet their long-term financial goals.” His firm’s services include financial, investment, retirement income, and estate planning, with an emphasis on risk management and tax efficiency.

Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Mr. Zimmerman was the youngest of his family’s four children. He spent most of his childhood in Pennsylvania and Sarasota, Florida. He says his parents “were always active contributors to the church and community, including spending several years running a shelter in Florida for abused children.”

Mr. Zimmerman was an accomplished athlete in high school and very involved with student government and his studies. He graduated with honors from Philadelphia University (now Thomas Jefferson University) with a degree in biochemistry and a minor in finance. He earned a master’s degree in organic chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. Mr. Zimmerman spent the first eight years of his career as a medicinal chemist and senior scientist with GlaxoSmithKline, primarily in oncology research.

Mr. Zimmerman began his investment career in 2008 with Sequinox, an advisory firm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He became an owner and partner in 2014, helping to drive business development while providing personalized service to his clients. He left this year, founding Regal Wealth Advisors in June 2019, where he works with his team as lead financial advisor. Mr. Zimmerman has strong relationships with other professional service firms in his area. He has earned the designation of Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA) and has completed coursework in retirement-income planning, legacy planning, and Social Security planning. He has received award recognition in central Pennsylvania for his professional advisory efforts on behalf of clients.

Mr. Zimmerman and his wife have two children. He says he “loves spending time with the family,” especially on their boat at the Chesapeake Bay and on vacation in Florida. He enjoys golfing, tennis, and rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles. He is active with his local church, alma mater, and community, and is especially interested in supporting health-related organizations.

Disclosure: Securities offered through J.W. Cole Financial Inc. (JWC), member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through J. W. Cole Advisors Inc. (JWCA). Regal Wealth Advisors and JWC/JWCA are unaffiliated entities.

Photography by Jeremy Hess


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