Guiding clients on the path to financial security
Guiding clients on the path to financial security
Proactive Advisor Magazine: Gary, how do you define your role in guiding clients?
Each client or family has unique circumstances, attitudes, and priorities, and that is what informs our efforts. I tell clients that our motivation is to help them work toward long-term prosperity and peace of mind in their retirement—effectively using all the resources they have available. I also tell clients that they can expect highly personalized and responsive service and professional support. It is important that they know I am committed as a fiduciary to the highest ethical standards and will always place their interests first.
What do you think your strengths are as a financial advisor?
My approach with clients is very analytical, both in a qualitative and quantitative sense. As a financial advisor, I think it is important to understand your strongest skillsets and areas where other professionals may be able to provide specific expertise that will benefit your clients. I have three key skills that I think are important in serving clients well.
The first is the ability to “hear” what is truly behind what a client is saying. I have a background in psychology and understand that communication is not always about literal language, but also about various cues. What can you learn from the questions someone asks—or does not ask? Where do you sense confusion or uncertainty? Can you understand what someone is really thinking, even subconsciously? How does their background, upbringing, career, family, or other factors shape their attitudes around money?
The second skill is taking that understanding and finding the best way to communicate with clients in a way that fits with how they receive and process information. Speak at a pace that they are comfortable with, matching their thought process. Try to demystify jargon and industry buzzwords. Many clients have told me that I deliver financial information in a manner that is clear and easy to understand.
The third skill is being able to effectively curate the products and services that are appropriate for the client’s aspirations and goals, which we identify with the client in the discovery and planning process. I explain to clients that over the years we’ve built a “virtual office high-rise.” What I mean by that is our ability to partner with many other high-quality companies and industry professionals. Most notable here is our use of third-party asset managers. They bring research, staffing, strategy development, and overall investment sophistication that I could not replicate on my own.
Describe your client base and your financial-planning process.
We work primarily with couples that are nearing or in retirement, but also see a good number of individuals. I enjoy meeting with families and addressing financial- and legacy-planning needs across different generations. We do not greatly emphasize asset levels, and our account minimum is relatively low by industry standards. That said, many of the employers in our area are involved in the technology industry, and Nike is also a major employer. We are increasingly serving more highly compensated clients with significant assets.
I teach a Social Security optimization class sponsored by Portland Community College. About two-thirds of our prospects are introduced to our firm through this class, and the other third comes from referrals. Teaching is one of the most satisfying things that I do as a financial advisor. I have refined and mastered the material over the years—updating portions as regulations change. I think the class is a point of differentiation for our firm, highlighting our deep knowledge of Social Security and how people can maximize their benefits over their lifetime. We also provide some of our insights on the markets, investments, and risk management—which I think is a different perspective from what most people are used to hearing.
Our firm was founded to help average Americans in every aspect of financial planning, from income strategies to estate optimization. I work closely with each client to help them achieve their personal goals. Our process has structure but is flexible enough to accommodate the unique circumstances of any of our clients.
I mentioned that the process starts with truly listening to a new client and understanding their underlying concerns, aspirations, and current and future resources. We fully analyze their financial situation and work collaboratively to establish realistic objectives that will help them achieve lifetime financial security.
Our comprehensive financial-planning process emphasizes five main areas: (1) Income planning for life. We strive to build a plan that can help future or current retirees identify and develop streams of dependable income with a low risk of running out of money over their lifetime. It’s all about cash flow. Studies have shown that the people who are happiest in retirement are not necessarily those with lots of assets. It is those who know their income will meet or exceed their budget—even in the face of inflation. (2) Risk management across all areas of the financial plan, whether through insurance strategies or as it pertains to the risk-managed growth of investment assets. (3) Minimization of fees across a variety of financial products, which can make a huge impact on a compounded basis over many years. (4) Retirement tax-planning strategies that help our clients use their assets in a tax-efficient manner. (5) Legacy planning for estate maximization and helping clients fulfill their unique legacy objectives.
“Risk management is at the forefront of everything we do.”
Talk about your broad investment philosophy for clients.
As with our overall planning philosophy, we think that not losing money is one of the most important strategies in addressing a client’s investment planning. Risk management is at the forefront of everything we do. We examine the full universe of investment and income products in generating suitable options for our clients’ investment plans. For longer-term growth assets, we focus on active money management with downside protection.
Part of the financial education we provide clients addresses what we call “financial myths.” Specific to investments, one myth that people hear is, “Just ride out the market and you’ll be OK.” And, “If you stick with it for 10 years or more, you will see a rate of return in the area of 8% to 12%.” There simply isn’t any evidence for that. If we look at the tech bubble of 2000 and the financial bubble of 2008–2009, the market took many years just to get back to even. If you had retired in 2000 or 2008, and are withdrawing 4% from a portfolio and getting no real rate of return for years from your starting point, you are most likely going to run out of funds in retirement. This is just another way to explain the inconvenient reality of sequence-of-returns risk to clients—and how being on the wrong side of steep market declines can be destructive to their retirement planning.
Another investment myth is that to achieve strong returns, you need to incur high risk—that they are directly correlated. Again, in my experience, that is not true. The third-party money manager we primarily use has an overall philosophy of active money management with an emphasis on risk management and multiple layers of strategy and asset-class diversification. My analysis of their robust comparative reporting across many periods and full market cycles demonstrates that competitive returns can be achieved with less volatility and the mitigation of maximum drawdown risk. I believe that is a suitable style of money management for most of my clients, particularly those who are close to or already in retirement.
To summarize, we emphasize two important principles of retirement income and investment planning for our clients: (1) Meeting basic budgetary needs with guaranteed income sources. (2) Using rules-based and risk-managed investment strategies for longer-term growth. If we can help clients reduce fees, reduce their lifetime tax exposure, and increase their guaranteed income, that gives them a huge cash-flow advantage over the average retiree. Then, for the portfolio side, algorithm-based strategies that fit a client’s customized investment plan and risk profile should provide enhanced probabilities for overall portfolio growth. Our clients have come to highly value this blended approach and think it is very appropriate for their retirement planning.
Gary Duell, founder, Duell Wealth Preservation, and Amanda Ferrier, paraplanner.
Gary Duell, ChFC, MBA, is the founder and principal financial advisor at Duell Wealth Preservation, an Oregon registered investment advisor firm based in Portland. Mr. Duell has over 43 years of experience in the insurance and financial-services industry. He says that helping guide his clients toward “long-term prosperity and peace of mind” is the key motivation behind his firm’s efforts.
Mr. Duell spent his early childhood in Kansas before his family moved to Salem, Oregon. His father was a chemistry professor and his mother was “very busy raising four boys and volunteering for many organizations.” His family loved to travel, camping at national parks and other destinations during summer vacations. He says that competing in gymnastics provided “an appreciation for discipline, teamwork, and pursuing challenging goals.” Mr. Duell graduated from Willamette University with a Bachelor of Science degree in philosophy and psychology. He later earned an MBA at Willamette.
Mr. Duell began his career with Farmers Insurance Group, working in property and casualty underwriting and later managing a policy service department. He completed his 16-year tenure at Farmers as a property and casualty agent, serving individual and commercial markets. After working as an advisor with different broker-dealers, focused on life insurance and mutual fund products, Mr. Duell became an independent financial advisor in 2007. Mr. Duell has earned the professional designation of Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC).
Mr. Duell has taught ethics classes for insurance agents. He has also hosted seminars on a variety of financial topics and written frequent blog articles that address “financial myths.” Through Portland Community College’s Community Education department, he teaches retirement education classes that emphasize Social Security optimization. He is a member of the Society of Financial Service Professionals and the National Ethics Association.
Mr. Duell lives in the Portland area and has an adult son. He enjoys spending time with close friends, reading, hiking at the beach, strength training, cooking, and music. He is an active supporter of the citizens’ organization Braver Angels and also supports other organizations “seeking honest debate and diverse viewpoints.”
Disclosure: Advisory services are offered through Duell Wealth Preservation & Gary R. Duell (“Duell”), an Oregon registered investment advisor firm. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial advisor and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein.
Photography by Joni Kabana
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Top 10 common questions from retirees
Gary Duell, ChFC, MBA, is the founder and principal financial advisor at Duell Wealth Preservation, an Oregon registered investment advisor firm based in Portland. Mr. Duell has over 43 years of experience in the insurance and financial-services industry. His firm primarily focuses on financial, investment, and retirement-income planning.
For over 10 years, Mr. Duell has taught a class that helps people understand how Social Security Administration retirement benefits work and how people can maximize their retirement income from Social Security and other sources.
Mr. Duell says the following are 10 key questions most people facing retirement ask:
- How much money can I safely withdraw each year from my nest egg?
- How long will my money last?
- Can I guarantee I won’t run out of money?
- How much money could I potentially lose in a market crash?
- Can I better protect my assets from losses?
- How much can I expect to pay in taxes? Can that be minimized?
- Can I reduce my investment and other financial fees?
- When is it OK to start spending my retirement money?
- What if I die—or my spouse dies?
- What’s the best way to leave money to beneficiaries?
His planning process helps people address these common areas of concern—in addition to many other financial-planning issues.