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Quarterbacking the client’s team to meet wealth-management objectives

by Feb 6, 2019Advisor perspectives

Quarterbacking the client’s team to meet wealth-management objectives

by Feb 6, 2019Advisor perspectives

John Kuhn • Fargo, ND
Bell Investments • LPL Financial
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Proactive Advisor Magazine: John, please describe your role as a wealth advisor for Bell Investments.

Bell Investments is a division of Bell Bank, which has great resources for retail and business customers in many diversified financial-services areas. It has been voted consistently as one of the best places to work for in the upper Midwest and is currently the 12th-largest privately owned bank in the country. The advisors of Bell Investments collectively have approximately $855 million in brokerage and advisory assets to date. We are different in that all of our wealth advisors are salaried, not commission-based, which reinforces our commitment to providing guidance to clients that is not influenced by a “sales orientation.”

I enjoy being able to talk to customers about their life goals, conducting a thorough discovery process, and analyzing their overall financial situation. Our team’s mission is to help clients put together a game plan that will work effectively over the long term to pursue those goals. My hope is to create relationships that last a lifetime.

We provide access to a wide spectrum of financial services, including financial planning, retirement planning, college-funding planning, wealth management, brokerage accounts, annuities, and life- and long-term-care insurance. Our team can use a broad array of investments—including stocks, bonds, alternative assets, and real estate investments—to help clients work toward meeting their objectives, whether that is creating an income stream, mitigating tax exposure, or capital appreciation. We have the capability to work with complex client situations, including those of high-net-worth families, nonprofits, or foundations, as well as creating estate and philanthropic solutions for many types of clients.

What types of clients do you work with and what resources do you offer them?

There is no such thing as a “typical client,” and we have broad reach among many demographic segments. It is a tremendous pleasure to work with so many members of our local communities. Most of our wealth-management clients are customers of the bank. The branch in Fargo where I’m located is the largest bank in town. When you have that type of market share, there tend to be a lot of new customers of the bank as people move into our area and get established here.

Many new clients are initially looking for an account rollover, but we try to initiate a broader financial discussion and review the benefits of going through the full financial-planning process. As we dig deeper into their needs, they will often come to understand that we can assist them with concerns such as college-funding planning, retirement planning, or analyzing whether they have appropriate life insurance or long-term-care insurance in place.

Clients have accomplished the first important step by talking to a financial professional who will take the time to get to know them and identify tools to help them progress toward their goals. The best way that we can do that is by creating a comprehensive financial plan through our wealth-management group, which includes financial planners.

We work as a team to gather all of the necessary client data, have a thorough discussion of where they have been in their financial lives and where they want to go, identify their risk tolerance and financial data, help determine objectives for the short term and long term, and then create the financial plan and review that with the client or client couple. We will meet periodically to assess how they are progressing toward their goals and make appropriate adjustments, if necessary, to their overall plan or a specific element of it. We also feel it is important to continually work with a client’s attorney, accountant, or other advisors.

I feel very fortunate, and I think our clients are also, to have many professional resources located literally within our building. These include the financial-planning group, attorneys, trust officers, a 401(k) group, and an asset-management group in the bank’s trust department. I am the quarterback of the team and attend virtually every client meeting. If outside professionals are required for a specific situation, we have trusted resources available there as well. I think we are well-positioned to help our clients develop a highly professional and customized financial plan and to implement all of its facets.


How do you approach investment planning for clients?

One of the real strengths of my training and background, which is reinforced by Bell Investments’ planning process, is the ability to listen closely to clients, help them clarify their financial objectives, analyze their financial data, and propose a customized investment plan that will help them progress toward their goals. We use sophisticated planning tools, have access to a full spectrum of investment products and services, and are committed to constructing a sound investment strategy and asset-allocation framework.

I strongly believe in financial education and spend a lot of time talking to clients about the risks and rewards of different types of investment products and strategies. Clients who go through the process of financial and investment planning should have realistic expectations about how their portfolio will likely perform in different types of market conditions. There are no guarantees in any investment scenario, which is why we believe in having highly diversified portfolios and a strong emphasis on risk management that is in-line with a client’s risk tolerance.

I have explained to clients that when I first got into this business back in the early 1990s, we would occasionally see 10% market corrections that lasted about six months. They were painful, but they tended to be slow moving and relatively orderly, and the market would soon recover. Over the past two decades, markets have been more likely to move down 10% or more a couple of times a year and then periodically experience an intense bear market and steep market drawdowns.

That is why risk management, diversification, and the clarification of expectations for clients are so important in today’s investment environment. Each client’s or client couple’s portfolio construction is based on their financial objectives, risk profile, time frame, and overall comfort level. But it is generally a given that we will recommend multiple investment products and strategies, some that are correlated with the equity market and some that have less correlation.

We will likely consider alternative investments, and, where appropriate for clients concerned about retirement income, we may use an equity index annuity. We also have access to professional third-party investment managers who can add an entirely different level of risk management for a client portfolio. This might be in the form of an allocation to more tactical strategies that are not highly correlated to the overall market and that can adjust market exposure based on changing market conditions. As I explain the potential benefits of further diversification and risk management by using an allocation to actively managed strategies, I usually receive a positive response from clients.

“We want clients’ expectations to be centered on their entire portfolio, not just one product or account.”

We want clients’ expectations to be centered on their entire portfolio, not just one product or account. But whether we are talking about a tactical money manager, an annuity, a fixed-income approach, or a mutual fund family, we believe in the concepts of professional management oversight and a high level of due diligence on our end.

How would you like a current client to ideally describe their relationship with you and Bell Investments?
One of the most important things to all of us is our reputation and the trust that clients place in our relationship and our services. I believe the reputation we have built over the years is of being honest, extremely diligent on behalf of our clients, and forthright in defining expectations. On a personal level, I place a great deal of emphasis on delivering exceptional service and responsiveness. I think all of these factors have played an important role in the success of our organization and in helping clients develop a road map for their financial future.

5 essential financial-planning steps for wealth-management clients

John Kuhn is a vice president and wealth advisor with Bell Investments, located at Bell Bank in Fargo, North Dakota. He says he works with a wide range of clients and “quarterbacks the wealth-management team.” His team can deliver basic financial-planning services for no fee or comprehensive fee-based planning for the majority of his clients, including clients who have highly complex needs. He says the financial-planning “playbook” usually includes the following steps:

  1. A comprehensive review of the client’s investment objectives and risk tolerance.
  2. Learning about their overall financial situation and assets.
  3. Sound recommendations based on their financial profile.
  4. Finalizing a plan that works toward meeting a client’s financial goals.
  5. Ongoing partnership and regular communication with a client and their attorney, accountant, and other advisors.

Mr. Kuhn says, “I feel very fortunate, and I think our clients are also, to have many professional resources located literally within our building. These include the financial-planning group, attorneys, trust officers, a 401(k) group, and an asset-management group in the bank’s trust department.”

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John Kuhn is a vice president and wealth advisor with Bell Investments, located at Bell Bank in Fargo, North Dakota. Mr. Kuhn has 28 years of experience working in the financial-services industry, primarily in the banking channel. He serves clients in many areas, including financial planning, wealth management and investments, insurance and annuities, and retirement and legacy planning.

Mr. Kuhn grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota, “in a beautiful area right on the edge of the prairie and forest.” His parents were both educators in the public school system and also owned a small dairy-delivery business. Mr. Kuhn says he “helped deliver milk door to door in the summer and also worked on a farm.” He was an accomplished three-sport athlete in high school and a member of the band. He says, “Working for my parents, farming, being part of the band, and playing sports all taught me lessons of dedication and teamwork that have served me well my entire life.”

Mr. Kuhn graduated from Minnesota State University, Moorhead, with a degree in business administration. He says he enjoyed “the wide-ranging curriculum that included business courses, a healthy dose of math and economics, accounting, and statistics.” He began his business career in the retail field, “learning the discipline of running a department for profitability.” After several years he was recruited by a national financial-services firm that had an extensive training program and “was a leader in fee-based financial-planning services.” Mr. Kuhn later began working in a bank setting as a financial advisor and wealth manager and joined Bell Investments in 2011.

Mr. Kuhn says he and his wife are very proud of their three adult children—two daughters and a son—who “are all on successful career paths.” Mr. Kuhn is a member of the finance board at St. Elizabeth Church in Dilworth, Minnesota. He and his wife “love the outdoors, gardening, and everything about the changing seasons in the area.” He also enjoys playing golf, hunting, and fishing.

Disclosure: The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. No strategy assures success or protects against loss. Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor, member FINRA/SIPC. Insurance products offered through LPL Financial or its licensed affiliates. Bell Bank and Bell Investments are not registered broker-dealers and are not affiliated with LPL Financial. The investment products sold through LPL Financial are not insured. Bell Bank deposits are not FDIC insured. These products are not obligations of Bell Bank and are not endorsed, recommended, or guaranteed by Bell Bank or any government agency. The value of the investment may fluctuate, the return on the investment is not guaranteed, and loss of principal is possible. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a nondiversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

Photography by Dan Koeck

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