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Coaching clients in achieving their retirement goals

by Sep 20, 2023Advisor perspectives

Coaching clients in achieving their retirement goals

by Sep 20, 2023Advisor perspectives

Toby Lewis, CRC • Bardstown, KY​
Thoroughbred Asset Management • GWN Securities Inc.
Read full biography below

Proactive Advisor Magazine: Toby, talk about how your career has evolved.

The story of my career is pretty straightforward, but many people helped shape that story. I grew up on a dairy farm in rural Kentucky. My father was a Marine veteran and church deacon, and he managed the farm. My mother was a beautician who had her own shop. My father is a no-nonsense person, but he and my mother have always been supportive and caring when it came to family. My brother and I worked hard around the farm, but we were also very involved in sports and school. I was a good football player in high school, earning all-state honors my senior year.

I attended Morehead State with the intention of playing football but had an injury in my first year. The school also revised its policy on athletic scholarships, so I decided to focus on my studies in special education. After graduation, I spent four months in England, completing my student teaching. I returned to Kentucky to start a 10-year career as a special education teacher and coach. Both of those roles were challenging but highly rewarding.

I was working with a financial professional during my teaching career who helped guide me in retirement planning. He saw that I was highly motivated and also very engaged in understanding finances. He recruited me to work in the financial industry, acting as my mentor. I started my own business, Lewis Financial, in 2006. Initially, I worked with educators in Kentucky school districts, guiding them on retirement planning. Subsequently, I earned the designation of Certified Retirement Counselor (CRC). Through referrals and educational events, I was able to expand our client base beyond the educational segment to serve people from all walks of life.

The foundational influences in both my personal and professional life started at home. I’ve always admired my parents, as well as a number of aunts and uncles, for successfully building their own businesses. When I was young, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and attended a private school for a few years that addressed learning issues. I appreciated the support of the school and my parents, which enabled me to develop a learning style that has served me well throughout life. The experience I’ve had with educators—including teachers and coaches I had growing up, my student teaching professor in England (who remains a friend and guide), and the teachers and administrators I now serve—has been immensely valuable. I also learned a lot from my financial-services mentor, and I continue to exchange information and knowledge with peers in the industry. My wife and our three boys have always been a major inspiration and source of joy in my life.

Describe your process in working with clients.

We use a holistic approach to retirement planning that allows us to learn about our clients’ current circumstances and future goals, assess their financial situation, make investment recommendations, and develop a comprehensive financial roadmap that fits their unique needs. Our approach to retirement planning is thorough, covering everything from the essentials of budgeting and debt management to risk management and tax-mitigation strategies—and, most importantly, guiding clients as they seek to achieve their most aspirational financial and life goals.

During our first consultation, we have a discussion with clients about the expectations for our relationship, review their broad goals for retirement, and gather information to better understand their current retirement planning. Ascertaining if there is a mutually beneficial fit is important both for our firm and our clients.

For clients who are not yet in retirement, we thoroughly assess their retirement-income needs and evaluate different strategies for meeting those needs. We discuss the steps that should be taken now to position their assets for their eventual retirement transition. These vary by client, so we take a customized approach. Using retirement-planning software, we determine if an income gap exists between the projected fixed income during retirement and potential total income under various scenarios. For our education and public-sector clients, we leverage our extensive knowledge of Kentucky’s retirement system. We provide detailed insights into the pension and voluntary plans available—including 403(b), 457(b), and 401(k) plans—and how these can be used appropriately.

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As clients start to transition into retirement, we revisit their current situation and vision for retirement, adjust strategies as needed, and help them set up their withdrawal strategy. During review meetings, which we hold at least once a year, we evaluate how strategies are performing versus expectations, assess any changes to clients’ lives, and revise income streams as necessary. We deeply engage in discussions about their desired legacy and offer assistance in estate planning. For such concerns and others, we can set up joint meetings with estate-planning attorneys or CPAs. I see our role as a financial hub, connecting clients to specialists in a variety of areas when needed. Throughout the retirement-planning process, my background as an educator has been very helpful, enabling me to use active listening skills and recognize how different clients best assimilate information.

What is your broad investment approach for clients?

Our investment approach is driven by each client’s overall financial objectives, retirement-income needs, risk profile, and time horizon. I believe in having a goals-based investment approach and the use of “bucket planning.” To simplify, the first bucket covers a relatively short term, about three to five years. Assets in this bucket are intended for retirement-income distributions, so they need to be liquid. They might reside in cash or cash equivalents such as a money-market fund or Treasurys. The second bucket’s time frame is longer, up to 15 years. For this bucket, we want to build a durable, risk-managed portfolio that is typically diversified among multiple asset classes and multiple strategies. The goal is portfolio growth that is less volatile than the broad market while avoiding catastrophic risk. Depending on market conditions, we use this bucket to fund the first bucket, replacing funds that have been dispersed for the client’s income needs. The third bucket has a longer-term view, essentially for the remainder of the client’s life. Given this longer time frame, it can be more aggressive in its assumption of risk. The third bucket is used to replace funds in the second bucket, with the timing dependent on the growth of the portfolio.

Our broker-dealer has a robust investment platform that is well-suited to managing money in retirement plans. We are able to select among many third-party managers—representing different philosophies, management styles, and areas of expertise—to find a suitable fit for the needs of each client’s portfolio. These experienced managers conduct investment research; help us in portfolio construction; apply risk-management tools within their strategies; and monitor global markets, different asset classes, and sectors. Our goal for any client’s portfolio is to seek opportunity in markets when conditions are favorable and manage for risk in adverse markets. We are also aware of the danger associated with the sequence of returns and educate clients on that concept. I characterize our wealth-management strategy as focusing on preserving wealth and minimizing losses—while seeking to achieve long-term growth over different market cycles.

“We use a holistic approach to retirement planning. …”

How do you see your overall mission in working with clients?

The technical aspects of our role in providing financial guidance are very important. Our chief mission is to help clients gain a clear focus on their goals and then help them find appropriate solutions. I have years of experience doing just that and take a lot of pride in our retirement-planning process. But I derive the most satisfaction from building meaningful personal relationships with clients. I see my job as part counselor, part teacher, and part coach. We want to work collaboratively with clients and help them truly understand their retirement plan. We want to be there for them in good times and tough times—and be seen as a team that is trustworthy, caring, and always placing their interests first.

Toby Lewis, CRC, is a financial advisor of GWN Securities Inc. and a co-owner of Thoroughbred Asset Management, based in Bardstown, Kentucky. The firm offers a wide range of financial products and services, with a specialization in retirement planning.

Mr. Lewis was raised in a rural town in Kentucky. His father, a Marine veteran and church deacon, managed the dairy farm where the family lived. His mother owned a beauty salon. Mr. Lewis says he started working at an early age on the farm. He says his family was “conservative about finances, hard-working, values-oriented, and very supportive of each other.” His brother, who owns a machine shop, now manages the farm.

Mr. Lewis was recognized as an all-state football player in high school. He later earned a bachelor’s degree from Morehead State University, majoring in special education. After completing his student teaching program in England, he returned to Kentucky. There, he dedicated 10 years to teaching students with learning issues and coaching both football and basketball.

Mr. Lewis was recruited to the financial industry by his retirement-planning advisor and started Lewis Financial in 2006. Initially, he primarily worked with educators in Kentucky school districts, guiding them on retirement planning and their 403(b) plans. Through referrals and educational events, his firm has consistently grown, and he now guides a diverse range of clients. In 2010, he recruited Brian Higdon, his friend and fellow teacher and coach, to join the firm. Together, they co-own Thoroughbred Asset Management. Mr. Lewis has earned the designation of Certified Retirement Counselor (CRC) and teaches a class each year at the University of Kentucky on the importance of retirement savings.

Mr. Lewis and his wife met in England. They married several years later and have three sons. They enjoy sports, outdoor activities, and traveling together. Mr. Lewis is a coach for youth sports and volunteers his time working with individuals with dyslexia and trauma victims. He is chair of the UP Foundation of Nelson County, which supports local children and schools, and his wife volunteers with CASA, which advocates for at-risk children.

Disclosure: Securities and advisory services offered through GWN Securities Inc. Registered investment advisor. Member FINRA/SIPC. 11440 N. Jog Road, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418. (561) 472-2700. Thoroughbred Asset Management and GWN Securities Inc. are non-affiliated companies.

Photography by: Chris Cone



A visual introduction to retirement planning

Toby Lewis, CRC, is a financial advisor of GWN Securities Inc. and a co-owner of Thoroughbred Asset Management, based in Bardstown, Kentucky. The firm offers a wide range of financial products and services to individuals, families, business owners, and employees in the education sector.

Mr. Lewis says his firm is dedicated to providing clients with clear financial advice, helping them better identify their goals and guiding them toward making sound financial decisions during their life journey. “We understand the many challenges of retirement today and know the biggest concern for many is outliving their money,” says Mr. Lewis. “No one strategy fits everyone, which is why every client gets our undivided attention—from retirement planning to execution to follow-up.”

Mr. Lewis, who worked for 10 years as a teacher and athletic coach, says it is helpful for new clients and prospects to see the firm’s retirement-planning process laid out simply and visually. The firm’s website has a schematic that introduces the broad process in the following way:

  • Brainstorm: “We listen to our clients in order to learn what goals and passions they want to pursue in retirement.”
  • Organize: “We assess whether our clients’ current financial strategies and investments align with their future goals.”
  • Research: “Our advisors use their knowledge and experience to give our clients a personalized investment recommendation.”
  • Develop: “We craft a personalized financial strategy for retirement that is flexible and evolves as our clients’ lives change.”