Financial Planning for April 2003

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Go Ahead, Be an Armchair Quarterback!
Are you an armchair quarterback; how about a backseat driver? I don’t know about you, but I have been accused of being on or the other numerous times and generally undeserved at that! I mean, here I am, giving this really great advice to my wife and she’s telling me to shut-up. Too bad the state trooper didn’t agree with her, but that’s another story.

Regardless of the general negative connotation, we believe there are times when it’s actually good to be an armchair quarterback, especially when it comes to your financial well being. Though this may seem like common sense, there are many people who don’t subscribe very well to the idea of being an effective team captain when it comes to taking charge of their finances.

You might find this a crazy notion, but it really is not. Being an effective captain isn’t about being able to call the play and make the team run it or making a call without the proper input and leaving the rest of the team to clean up the mess. It’s something far more important. Being an effective team captain is defining a goal, developing a plan with the team to reach that goal and leading the execution of the plan to meet the goal.

With that in mind, I submit that you are the best possible choice to be the captain of your financial team. While there may be some exceptions to the rule, you are the one who has to live with the results of any financial decisions made by the team and you are the person responsible for achieving those goals. And why would it be any different? You are the only one who can answer the critical questions of what you want, when you want it and what you are willing to do to get it.

But a captain needs a team; a team made up of trusted players who know their fields and are willing to admit when you go outside their expertise. Specifically, you need a team that is comprised of the people with the credentials most apt to help you achieve your goals and, as much as I hate to say it, a CPA is not the only person you need. You really need a good attorney, a Certified Financial Planner or Personal Financial Specialist, an insurance agent and a Certified Public Accountant. Let’s take a look at the function of each.

So, why do you need a good attorney? Isn’t there enough software to help you write your will or prepare a contract? Sure there is, if you have a cookie cutter problem, but most of the time, my needs get complicated and I bet yours do too.

Do you own real estate? Who cleans up the mess when your neighbor’s tree falls on your fence? Worse, what if your tree falls on your neighbor’s new Lexus? The fact is, there is nothing simple these days and you need experts to navigate just about every facet of life. Not only are there divisions in the law between criminal and civil law, but what about all the subspecialties? You wouldn’t want a real estate lawyer representing you in a capital murder case would you? Add to this the various Federal, State and Local agencies making law and you have one confusing mess that is difficult to keep abreast of. Having a good relationship with a general civil attorney will give you the resource you need to help you determine when a specialist is needed.

Did I mention general liability concerns in the discussion about lawyers? That’s ok, I’ll discuss them right now. Even though you may have the greatest lawyer in the world, all of his/her great advice will be worthless if you don’t follow it. Part of implementing some of your attorney’s suggestions will fall to your property and casualty insurance agent. Your agent’s job is to find you the right kind of insurance to control potential losses with a strong insurer.

Now, you may say this isn’t a big deal, but how much do you know about most of the insurance companies in this world? How strong are the insurance companies you have available to you? For that matter, what companies are authorized to do business in your state? Do proposed insurers pay claims promptly? All of these questions and more are prime considerations in obtaining insurance. Additionally, the types of insurance you need and the exclusions a company may impose on you are the agent’s responsibility to know and pass on to you. A trusted relationship with a good property and casualty agent is a must in these times.

What is the greatest single risk you take every day? I won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is the risk that today will be your last day. Closely following this is the risk of not having sufficient financial resources to meet your needs. This is where you need a financial advisor to guide you through the maze of the investment markets. But how do you find the right advisor?

The first indication that your advisor is competent is three initials behind her/his name – either PFS or CFP. Personal Financial Specialist is a designation earned by a CPA from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Similarly, a Certified Financial Planner is a credential issued by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Using a credentialed planner gives you the comfort of working with someone who has met rigorous standards in testing and demonstrated proficiency in financial planning through hands on experience. These professionals are also required to follow strict ethical standards or face stiff penalties.

Your PFS or CFP will be your primary source of investment advice. Generally, a CFP will also be able to get your life insurance and annuity products, if you are insurable. As such, you will need to choose someone who you trust with your money and who is with you for the long haul, not for a quick commission. You will probably have more contact with your CFP than your CPA on a day-to-day basis.

And this brings us to the CPA. While you may be the quarterback, you are probably going to need an offensive-defensive coordinator to help you maneuver between all these disciplines and it is where the CPA excels. While the CPA will work to minimize taxes and help you plan your estate, they also have the broadest range of general knowledge and experience. You should be able to trust the CPA implicitly with your total financial health. Kept properly informed, the CPA will be able to help you determine which professional you should use in any given situation and be able to assist you in evaluating alternative investments.

Now, I’ll admit that I have a vested interest in saying that you should use your CPA extensively, but it’s not just fees qualified CPAs are after. Our ethics and training tells us that our clients come first. Far and above temporary and sometimes one-time fees, we care about you. We seek to build strong relationships with our clients. That helps us know your needs and desires, which helps us help you meet your overall goals.

So should you be the “armchair quarterback” on your team. I submit the answer is yes. Ultimately, you are the decision maker, even if it’s just giving general direction to the team. However, just like a great football team, you need all the team members to follow a common vision to make it to your own personal Super Bowl. Let us help you get there.

As I write this, I am listening to the opening salvos of the “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” May you have a great April and may God protect our troops and give us a quick victory and a successful new Iraqi government.


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