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Will Retirement Be a Bust for [Doctor] Boomers?

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Are Doctors Different?

By Rick Kahler MS CFP® ChFC CCIM

www.KahlerFinancial.com

If you’re a lay or medical professional Baby Boomer, or your parents are, here’s a ray of sunshine to brighten your day: Boomers have so severely underfunded their retirements that Congress may turn to their children to bail them out.

Dr. Basu Speaks

This is the gist of an article in the April issue of Financial Advisor magazine, by ME-P “thought-leader” Dr. Somnath Basu PhD, professor of finance at California Lutheran University. He notes, “The problem could be as big, if not bigger, than the 2008 financial crisis.”

The Study

A new study by the Center For Retirement Research, Boston College, detailed on CNBC.com, finds the retirement years for Boomers will be much leaner than for their parents. An estimated 51% of them will be unable to maintain their current lifestyles in retirement.

Ironically, one major contributor to this bleak picture is the Boomer generation’s own optimism and positive thinking. Raised in a society of abundance with expectations of prosperity, Boomers have over-spent and under-saved for decades. Many of them assume they will receive ample inheritances. They see increased life expectancy as a wonderful thing, forgetting to factor in the higher medical costs that will come with it. They expect to work well into their 70′s, disregarding statistics that show many of them will be forced to retire sooner due to health problems or job layoffs.

The Numbers

Let’s look at some decidedly pessimistic numbers from the Center For Retirement Research study. The median 401(k) and IRA balance for Boomers nearing retirement is $78,000. Only around half can expect to inherit from their parents, with the median inheritance amount $40,000. That adds up to a total nest egg of $118,000, which at a 4% withdrawal rate provides less than $400 a month for life. Combining that with the average Social Security check of $1,077 means retiring on an income just above the poverty level.

What’s the Solution?

Many Boomers say they plan to never quit working. Unfortunately, this is delusional. According to a new survey by the Society of Actuaries, “The 2011 Risks and Process of Retirement Survey,” over one-third of Boomers think they will never retire and only 10% say they will retire by 60. Statistics show, however, that 50% have actually retired before age 60. The main reasons are health and downsizing, which boomers discount. Well over 90% of them maintain they have a healthy lifestyle and won’t get sick. Boomers are so out of touch with reality I wonder how many, if asked, “Will you ever die?” would answer, “No,” or “Maybe.”

Sadly, only one-third of Boomers have a plan for financing their retirement, other than planning to work until the day they die. What’s the solution for the remaining two-thirds who are unprepared?

Unfortunately, for many older Boomers it is already too late. Their lack of planning for their retirement years may mean forcing their children and grandchildren to decide whether taxpayers can afford to pick up the tab.

Assessment

Younger Boomers can take control of their retirement by radically downsizing their lifestyles and increasing their income. This means selling expensive homes, cars, and toys and living as frugally as possible. The resulting savings should first go to pay off high-interest debt, then to fund to the max every available retirement plan. Another possibility is to consider various employment options, including government jobs which offer pension plans unavailable in most private sector jobs.

Conclusion

Wise Boomers will also encourage their own children to emulate the frugality and money skills of their grandparents. The kids will need those skills for their own futures—especially if they have to help their Boomer parents pay the bills.

But, are doctors the same as the rest of us – or do they differ on this issue?

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Dr. Somnath Basu on Retirement Happiness [Video Clip]

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A PodCast Clip

This brief podcast clip features Dr. Somnath Basu, director of the California Institute for Finance [CIF].

Dr. Basu, a popular ME-P thought-leader, shares his insights on what makes people happy in retirement.

Assessment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTrtmW831Xk

Conclusion

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Dr. Somnath Basu on Financial Planning Client Expectations [PodCast]

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On Client Attitudes in the New Economy

In this encore podcast, Somnath Basu PhD examines how the recent economic turmoil has changed financial planning clients’ attitudes and expectations.

Dr. Basu is a popular ME-P contributor and thought-leader.

Assessment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzAkB8h5v3Q

Conclusion

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Are You Scared of Investment Losses?

Well Doctors – You Should Be!

By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA
President: AgeBander
Thousand Oaks, CA

There is a very simple way for medical professionals, and us all, to approach investment decision making. To start with, begin by asking yourself some basic and preliminary questions such as what is the investment for (to buy a house, to fund a kid’s education, or is it to fund retirement and the like) and how long these investments will last (for example, up to 40 – 50 years sometimes when one starts planning for retirement early).

Basic Questions

Once these basic questions are answered then ask this $64 million dollar question of your-self. Over your planning time horizon, how much of this money are you willing to lose? For example if you are trying to accumulate $100,000 for a house, how much could you afford to lose and still not lose your bearings? What if it is a five-year plan and in the 4th year you lose 50% of your accumulated funds with only one more year to go. How would you feel? This is the critical question in any investment decision. Typically you will not hear a financial planner [FP] or financial advisor [FA] talk in such terms; but perhaps they should!

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Conservative Investing

When financial planners and financial advisors talk about conservative investing, they couch the same idea in terms of risk and return. In the language of these experts such measures are often quantitative and difficult to understand for the average investor. While return on investments seems like a fairly straightforward concept (8% or 11% for example), risk is mentioned usually in terms of standard deviation, a statistical terminology difficult both to explain and to understand. Hence, most physicians and investors are pretty much in the dark when it comes down to making the decision itself since it is their sole responsibility. Thus, the investor is left with no other choice but to decide on whether the suggested investment return sounds attractive or not. On this track, the higher the return, the more attractive the investment seems.

Furthermore, FAs may suggest that a return such as 8-10% is a conservative rate whereas 12-15% is aggressive. Hence if an 8-10% based investment is being suggested, the investor is likely to go with what she/he thinks is the most conservative decision, being the conservative investors they believe they are. (As an aside, there is a whole theory about physician investors being conservative and risk averse)

Unwinding the Mystery

To unwind this basic mystery, simply ask the FA the likelihood of various amounts of losses in any single year including the last year of the investment. Could half your funds be wiped out in any year including the last year? What is the likelihood of such an event? What is the likelihood that it could be 25% in any given year? Suppose your planner shows how your $100,000 will grow to $150,000 in five years if you were to earnings the average rate of 8% per year for five years. Under such a scenario, what is the likelihood that you could lose half your accumulated funds in the last year and come out with a negative investment return even though you still earned that 8% average rate over the five years? As we know now such possibilities not only exist but are not uncommon either. As an extreme case in point consider the 2008-09 financial debacle [flash-crash]! If your investment was maturing in 2009, the outcome would have been a lot worse.

The Driver of Concern

This concern of loss is what should drive us in our investment decisions. Most planners are unable to explain this concept of loss aversion to their clients because they themselves are not adequately educated to understand the concept themselves. However, as mentioned before, the solution is simple. Now reconsider the example above of earning an average annual rate of 8% over 5 years. While it sounds conservative on the surface, it is actually quite aggressive. Earning 8% a year for five consecutive years (or averaging out over the five years to an 8% rate) is a very tall order. To do so, especially under most circumstances, one would actually be exposed to a large amount of loss in any given year.

Without getting into the details of how the standard deviation measurement of risk converts into the loss propensity and using very rough estimates, another way to view the 8% investment opportunity is to understand that in any year, you may not even earn a dollar (0%) and this could happen in each and every year. The likelihood of such an outcome is astonishingly high – about 25%. Thus, the investment decision is about whether you are willing to bet where the odds of loss is one to four (25%) every year for each of the five years. Of course the reverse is also true that in each of the years you have a 75% chance to  earn a positive return on your investment and the earning rate itself could be anywhere from zero to the highest rate imaginable. Further, there is a 12% chance that you could be actually losing 8% a year for each of the five years! In prolonged economic downturns, which are not so uncommon, such are the outcomes. Now ask yourself this question: If you were told about these odds of losses, would you still consider the 8% investment opportunity to be conservative? Hopefully not, especially when you feel unsettled about the existing economic state of affairs. Further, would you consider a 10% return to be attractive and conservative if you were rejecting a 15% investment and choosing the 10% one?

Assessment

As mentioned earlier, this idea of loss aversion is probably the most powerful tool in the investor’s bag. Once you understand the implications of loss from any investment decision, then the loss aversion approach to making this decision is a dimensional shift, something that can be easily understood and applied by all investors. Furthermore, if most physicians and investors behaved similarly, collectively we would make the investment market a much safer place. Unfortunately for now, there are no known ways of educating all investors about this critical aspect since the tools that currently exist are all based on statistical concepts of risk and return which make little sense to most lay investors.

Conclusion

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Mental and Physical Well-Being for [Physician] Boomers and Their Retirement Plans

By Somnath Basu PhD MBA

President – AgeBander
Thousand Oaks, CA

A  Pew Research Center study[1] on the effects of financial stress on health finds 42.4% of respondents in a survey on the subject indicated that their health had been affect by financial problems. The study also found that 1 in 8 baby boomers were raising children, planning for retirement and at the same time caring for their elderly parents. This is the unfortunate reality for many baby boomers who face the implications of being a sandwich generation.

The Boomer Spectrum

For boomers across the spectrum of age (1945-64) financial stress has also contributed significantly to relational strife and has exacerbated many medical conditions. It has been linked to depression and sleep disorders and has been known to negatively affect the autoimmune and digestive system. For retirees who find themselves on a limited income with few options for augmenting that income the additional stress of financial problems has certainly  been detrimental to their mental, emotional and physical well being.  For such retirees who had an improper perception of their retirement needs the realization of the truth is definitely overwhelming. For others, who had thought they had planned ahead and were diligent, are now wrestling with guilt and remorse over their failure to provide for their retirement years. These individuals too are likely also facing fairly severe mental health conditions related to retirement security. Additionally these retirees will likely look back on the sacrifices they did make and feel these were in vain further exacerbating the state of their mental health. This in turn leads them also to resist reasonable advice because their fears make them more suspecting of any advice including the reasonable ones.

The Emotional Culprits

Two of the chief culprits have been the tendency of boomers (as a solace, all other generations suffer from these same problems though boomers have been most affected) to overestimate and have overconfidence about their financial knowledge and understanding of key financial concepts. Their lack of knowledge about overestimating themselves and being overconfident about their understanding of key financial concepts has proved to be detrimental to many a boomer’s health and well being in retirement. This is mainly due to these weaknesses leading them to not having enough funds for their retirement expense needs. A national collaborative strategy initiative on this problem has identified five action areas needed to help alleviate this problem – the need to educate consumers on the areas of financial policy, education, practice, research, and coordination. The reality is that when retirees are affected mentally, physically and emotionally (leading to overconfidence and over optimism), their financial decisions become faulty due to acting on their perceptions of retirement risk. This makes them tend to drastically under-estimate their retirement expenses. In such cases they experience or will experience significant reductions in their quality of retirement life. To ensure that expectations of retired life are realistic and risk perceptions are aligned to realistic and achievable goals are the first steps for boomers to ascend in order to improve the quality of their overall mental and physical health in retirement.

Objective Retirement Planning

An objective of planning for retirement thus becomes the need to find some kinds of lifelong guaranteed pensions since it is well known and understood that retirees who have such luxuries are many times more satisfied in retirement than their peers. The more satisfied in retirement the better mental and financial well-being one has. The main thrust in achieving such a mental state is to understand the importance of a secure and assured income that arrives in the bank consistently every period (such as monthly or bi-weekly).  

Perception too plays a big role in mental health as does the security of regular income. However, those receiving Social Security as their regular income are known to be less satisfied than others. Studies show that Social Security benefits carry a “hand-out stigma” for those who rely on them for their well being. From the boomers perspective, living a simpler life but funding retirement from a disciplined pension fund approach (using 401(k) funds, IRAs, personal financial portfolios, etc.) ensures the chances that their mental and physical well-being in retirement will not be reduced in any way by their financial well-being. Now is the time for boomers to exact such a lifestyle and bring in a certain semblance of stability in the vision for the rest of their lives.

Conclusion

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Notes: [1] http://personalfinancefoundation.org/research/efd/Negative-Health-Effects-of-Financial-Stress.pdf

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Why Physicians Need to Deal with Debt

Understanding the Impending Retirement-Planning Crisis

[By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA]

A serious retirement-planning crisis is looming in the US with many Baby Boomer physicians, and others, having already spent a portion of their nest egg and undermining any hope for a comfortable lifestyle unless they continue to work. Notwithstanding medical professionals, look no further than an annual “retirement confidence” survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald & Associates in each of the past 17 years. Nearly two in five of working Americans responding to the latest survey indicated that they have taken no action in the face of reductions in their employer-provided retirement benefits.

Consumption Equals Happiness?

The population is constantly told that consumption equals happiness. At the same time they are not being asked to understand about the implications of borrowing to fund for such consumption. Before we can expect to effect a change in the ensuing pattern of a vicious cycle, the population mass must have a clear understanding of the difference between needs (e.g., retiring with peace of mind) and desires (e.g., cruises or living the high life).

Negative Savings Rate

When savings first dipped into negative territory during the Great Depression in 1932 and 1933, people didn’t have enough to eat, whereas there has been no such urgency to raid nest eggs since the repeat of this performance in 2005 when the rate fell to minus 0.5 percent. Our grandparents were shining stars in the way they worked hard to build this country’s infrastructure and manufacturing sector, saved every red cent they could get their hands on and created affluence on a mass scale. Today we’re able to enjoy the fruit of their labor. But, somehow their values were lost on future generations.

Changing American Culture

Many of the nation’s top engineers and scientists now hail from China, India and other Asian countries as American culture has undergone a dramatic change to the point where jocks and cheerleaders are more valued than computer geeks and science nerds in our schools. We inherited so much affluence that it made us lazy as a society. The seeds of our destruction have been sown, but it’s up to our politicians, educators and other leaders, including financial advisors, to help reverse this disturbing pattern before it’s too late.

Many people fall into the trap of rushing through dinner and unwinding in front of the TV where a big part of the problem lies in slick and subtle, and hard to resist, primetime advertising and marketing messages (prime time for subtle messages) that seduce viewers into purchasing luxury cars or flying to far-flung resorts where they can sip umbrella-clad cocktails alongside affluent vacationers.

Americans in Debt

A recent wave of foreclosures has put Americans deeper in debt, with the sub-prime crisis exposing despicable predatory lending practices. But, research has shown the wreckage also could be found strewn across in the mid-prime and prime markets as middle-class borrowers struggled to pay adjustable rate mortgages. High hopes have been pinned on the stock market helping people crawl out from this crisis just like when the real estate market had softened the blow when the tech-bubble burst at the turn of this century. So far, this has happened, to an extent. But, if the stock market starts reeling again, then it will spell even bigger trouble. Add to this the international trade imbalance, which implies foreign governmental funding of our conspicuous consumption, and which comes with high interest rates that need to be paid to the lenders, again to such countries as China, India and other emerging economies, and a bigger, worse picture emerges.

Personal Bankruptcies

Personal bankruptcies have an even more devastating effect on an individual’s ability to plan for the future, particularly since the laws pertaining to this area were toughened to a point where reckless spenders will need to muster fiscal and financial discipline as never before. The doomsday scenario is that children now run the risk of inheriting debt instead of wealth, and it’s unconscionable to think future generations would have a standard of living that’s worse than their parents or grandparents.

Assessment

The true grit associated with being an American is to rise up in the face of adversity – a frontier spirit that drew me this remarkable country. We’ve weathered numerous storms and can do it again. But, it requires a serious commitment to stopping mindless consumption of goods and services, as well as understanding there’s a difference between basic needs and pie-in-the-sky desires.

NOTE: Dr. Somnath Basu is a Professor of Finance at California Lutheran University and the Director of its California Institute of Finance. He is also the creator of the innovative AgeBander technology www.agebander.com for planning retirement needs.

Conclusion

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The “Life Cycle Investment Hypothesis”

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Physicians Returning to Zero?

[By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA] 

How have your investments done over the last three years? If you were to ask doctors, or the myriads of people who are or even pose as professional financial advisors, they would generally say that it would depend on how well your portfolio was diversified. By this jargon, they would mean how your money (in what proportions) was invested among various asset classes such as stocks, bonds, commodities, cash etc. The more it was spread out around various asset classes, the safer they would have been.

To see how safe (or how risky) your portfolio was over the last few years, it’s useful to view how these asset classes themselves fared over this time period. That is what is shown in the next chart where the following asset class performances over the last few years are shown. The chart shows the performances of stocks (S&P 500 shown by the symbol ^GPSC, in red), bonds (symbol IEI, Barclay’s 3-7 Year Treasury Bond index etf, in light green), Commodities (DBC, Powershares etf, in dark green), Long dollar (UUP, Powershares long dollar etf, in orange; this fund allows speculating on the dollar going up against a basket of important currencies; whenever the world financial markets are in turmoil, this index generally goes up as investors around the world seek the “safe haven” status of the dollar.

Alternately, note that this index value will also typically rise when the domestic economy is in a sound condition and both domestic and international investors favor the U.S. financial markets) and the short dollar (UDN, the Powershares inverse of UUP). Note that the “Cash” asset class has been left out and returns on cash (or money market funds) have been close to zero the whole time.

There are a few startling observations from this period. The first part that arrests the eye is how commodities performed over this time period. If your portfolio was heavy in this sector, you had a heck of a ride these last three years. If you had a lot of stocks as well, heck, your ride just got wilder. As can also be seen from the picture, healthy doses of bonds and currencies would have made your ride that much smoother.

On the other hand, what is additionally startling to observe is that we all started this period close to zero returns in the beginning of 2007 (around March 2007) and in June 2010, we are all converging back to zero returns. No matter how you were diversified, you either took a smooth ride (well diversified portfolio) from a zero return environment to a zero return environment or a wilder ride. That is why diversification is so important. Another way to gauge your diversification benefit is to use a two-pronged system.

The first is what I refer to as the “monthly statement effect”. When your monthly financial statements come in, you first observe the current month’s ending balance, then the previous month’s ending balance and then have a great day, a lousy day or an uneventful day. Depending on how good or bad (how volatile the ride) the monthly effect is, it may last for much more than just a day, maybe days. The second piece is your age.

Life Cycle Investment Hypothesis

As you grow older, you ask yourself how wild a ride can you tolerate at this point in your life? Hopefully, as you age, this tolerance level should show significant declines. If it does, you are then joining a rational investment group practicing a “lifecycle-investment hypothesis” style. Finally, did anything do well during this time? Yes, and surprisingly from an asset class whose underlying asset is shaped too like a zero – mother earth and real estate. Having some real estate in your investment basket (another important diversification asset) would not only have smoothed your ride but would have made your financial life so much more pleasurable. Just take a look at this picture below (FRESX, an old Fidelity’s real estate index fund) which says it all.

Assessment

Even in the darkest days of falling real estate markets of 2008, this fund produced a positive return. Of course many other real estate indexes lost their bottoms; thus finding these stable indexes in all asset classes are well worth their salt. That is, if it is time for you to diversify.

Conclusion

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Congratulations Somnath Basu PhD

ME-P Thought-Leader and 2010 USDLA Award Winner

[Excellence in Distance Learning Teaching Award]

By Ann Miller RN, MHA [Executive-Director]

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The United States Distance Learning Association, the nation’s premier distance learning association since 1987 recently presented its 2010 International Distance Learning Awards, the premier awards for the distance learning industry. And, ME-P thought-leader Somnath Basu PhD, MBA was a category winner. 

These prestigious awards are presented annually to organizations and individuals, and recognize four categories of excellence: 1) 21st Century Best Practice Award; 2) Best Practice Awards for Distance Learning Programming; 3) Excellence in Distance Learning Teaching Awards; and 4) Outstanding Leadership by an Individual Award.

United States Distance Learning Association

The USDLA International Distance Learning Awards are created to acknowledge major accomplishments in distance learning and to highlight those distance learning instructors, programs, and professionals who have achieved and demonstrated extraordinary achievements through the use of online, videoconferencing, and satellite/video delivery technologies globally.

The USDLA Awards

USDLA International Distance Learning Awards honors organizations with its 21 Century Best Practice Awards. This award category recognizes outstanding leadership in the field of distance learning for an agency, institution, or company incorporating blended or individual distance learning technologies.

In addition, the Awards for Best Practice in Distance Learning Programming are presented to outstanding organizations, which have designed and delivered outstanding and comprehensive Best Practices for individual programs or a series of programs through online, videoconferencing, and satellite delivery technologies.

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Award levels include Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze categories. The Excellence in Distance Learning Teaching Awards  honors outstanding instructors whose programs demonstrate extraordinary achievements in a distance learning environment for teachers or trainers. Award levels include Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze categories.

Finally, the Outstanding Leadership by an Individual awards recognize those who have demonstrated strong, innovative skills for the development and/or administration of programs or who are recognized scholars in the field of distance learning globally.

About Dr. Basu

http://www.callutheran.edu/schools/business/graduate/cif/

Somnath Basu PhD is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu See his agebander at work at www.agebander.com

 Assessment

The 2010 USDLA International Distance Learning Awards were presented to five major sectors of distance education and training and include the Pre-K – 12, Higher Education, Corporate, Government and Telehealth markets. The 2010 USDLA International Awards were presented at the USDLA International Awards Ceremony, on Tuesday, May 4, 2010 during the USDLA National Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Conclusion

Feel free to congratulate Somnath directly by sending him an email: basu@callutheran.edu

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A New Model for Planing Physician Retirement Needs

Understanding Age Banding

By Ann Miller RN, MHA

[Executive Director]

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From time to time, our readers send in e-books, files or e-chapters, pamphlets or other material they have created for client, educational or marketing use. Some of it may be worthwhile; some not so. Nevertheless, these publications are often a good place to start the conversation, or thought-process on related topics.

They will be occasionally offered as a complimentary membership feature of the Medical Executive-Post.

  • Age Banding [author]
  • Somnath Basu PhD, MBA  [www.clunet.edu/cif]
  • [Director California Institute of Finance]

Link: AgeBander

 

 

Disclaimer

No advice offered. We make no copyright claim to these works. Veracity and information should be considered time sensitive. Always consult a professional for your situation.

Assessment

Feel free to send in your own material for the benefit of all Medical Executive-Post readers and subscribers.

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Current Retirement Investment Options for Physicians

Understanding Build America Bonds

By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA [www.clunet.edu/cif]

[Director California Institute of Finance]

There is heartening news for those of us in retirement or approaching it. There’s a new type of bond called the Build America Bond or BAB. The BAB, along with an older and often ignored retirement investment, is viewed as positive developments for those saving for retirement. But, before a doctor, or any investor, jumps into these investments, some background information is required.

The Accumulation Phase

When people in their early careers save, their primary objective should be that their money grows healthily. They generally should invest in stocks which provides for longer run growth. This phase of our financial life can be called the “Accumulation Phase.”

The Preservation Phase

However, people in their mid- to end-careers (roughly between the ages of 40 – 65) start switching their objectives towards a more conservative future growth in their current savings, especially those associated with emergencies and retirement. This phase is usually identified as the “Preservation Phase” where individuals should begin switching their investments towards more fixed-income securities, such as bonds and bond funds. This idea of how reasonable people “should” behave is commonly known as the life-cycle hypothesis of investments.

The Decumulation Phase

Finally, people in retirement, those who are in the phase termed as the “Decumulation Phase,” should have a healthy dose of bond-type investments in their retirement portfolios.

Strange as it may be to some, this opinion about the investment life-cycle actually contains a lot of truth. If most people followed this basic rule, we would be better off this way than by any other method and especially in times like the recent financial tsunami that hit us. Those hit especially hard were people between the ages of 55 and older who held unhealthy amounts of stocks in their portfolios. Following this simplified version of retirement investments is both easy and effective.

All we do as we age is reduce our stock investments and increase our bond investments. While such a strategy reduces the growth of our wealth it also protects us from large to calamitous losses.

Unfortunately, the last 10 years or so have not been good for bond investments because bond prices have been at or near all-time highs and their returns near all-time lows. The following picture shows the rates one would earn by investing in the government’s (highest safety) 10-Year Treasury Note. Many bonds and mortgages (and subsequently the respective funds) use the 10-Year rate as the benchmark rate.

Graph: 10 T Year Note

As can easily be seen, these rates have come down steadily. A result has been the difficulty, of late, to find (the safer type) bond funds because they have been so expensive. However, one recent development in this field is worth mentioning: that is the emergence of a class of (stimulus-related) bonds known as the “Build America Bonds” or BABs, which for the first time in many years offers investors a very suitable entry to convert stocks into bonds. BABs, which were introduced in April 2009, are an innovative new tool for municipal financing created by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. BABs are taxable bonds for which the U.S. Treasury Department pays a maximum of 35 percent direct subsidy to the issuer to offset borrowing costs.

The second issue of note is that at this point, it is quite expensive to hold cash in money market type funds because of the dismal rates offered on very short-term products. An alternative that physicians and all investors should contemplate purchasing instead of CDs, and money market deposits, is a class of bonds, issued by the Government and known as Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or TIPS. These investments sold directly by the government to you (at http://www.TreasuryDirect.gov) are excellent vehicles for holding funds as they guarantee that your money will hold its buying power over time and a bit more. TIPS are a great way to hold the capital you will need in the short term. The following picture shows the stability of the TIPS rate; a much safer and more stable investment opportunity than short term Bank CDs, recent money market funds, etc.

Graph: TIPS Rate

Build America Bonds [BAB]

The Build America Bonds program, created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, allows state and local governments to obtain much-needed financing at lower borrowing costs for new capital projects such as construction of schools and hospitals, development of transportation infrastructure, and water and sewer upgrades, according to a recent U.S. Treasury Department press release. Under the Build America Bonds program, the Treasury Department makes a direct payment to the state or local governmental issuer in an amount equal to 35 percent of the interest payment on the bonds.

Here’s how BABs work according to the Treasury Department:

“The bonds, which allow a new direct federal payment subsidy, are taxable bonds issued by state and local governments that will give them access to the conventional corporate debt markets. At the election of the state and local governments, the Treasury Department will make a direct payment to the state or local governmental issuer in an amount equal to 35 percent of the interest payment on the Build America Bonds. As a result of this federal subsidy payment, state and local governments will have lower net borrowing costs and be able to reach more sources of borrowing than with more traditional tax-exempt or tax credit bonds. For example, if a state or local government were to issue Build America Bonds at a 10 percent taxable interest rate, the Treasury Department would make a payment directly to the government of 3.5 percent of that interest, and the government’s net borrowing cost would thus be only 6.5 percent on a bond that actually pays 10 percent interest.”

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Assessment

According to the Treasury Department, Build America Bonds have had a very strong reception from both issuers and investors.  From the inception of the program in April 2009 to March 31, 2010, there have been 1,066 separate Build America Bonds issuances in 48 states for a total of more than $90 billion. Read more about BABs at this site

http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/docs/BuildAmericaandSchoolConstructionBondsFactsheetFinal.pdf

Now, until the general level of interest rates go back to their normal states, it will be difficult to find another opportunity such as this one. This is especially true of investments that are made to local governments through their taxable investments. Municipal bonds are typically considered less risky. Add to this the partial guarantee of the Govt. and you have the makings of a very safe Bond fund providing an average yield of nearly 6% for medium-term duration. There has been a dearth of such fixed income investments in the Bond markets for quite a while. Thus, for doctors and all of us at or nearing retirement age, an exploration and investigation of BABs is an absolute must.

 

Editor’s Note: Somnath Basu PhD is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu. See the agebander at work at www.agebander.com

 

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Preparing Physicians for Financial Emergencies

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Domestic Personal Savings Rate Increasing?

By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA [www.clunet.edu/cif]

[Director California Institute of Finance]

There is a heartening change that we are observing today, an event that is truly national in character. At the bottom of the financial abyss we single-handedly turned around our personal savings for the first time in 12 years.  The chart (Department of Commerce publications data) below expresses this turnaround emphatically.

Graph: Personal Savings Rate

It is the timing of this turnaround that is so heartening. The realization that this crisis may truly be worse than any other enabled us as a nation to halt this decline. We have our emergency “nest eggs’ rebuilt again. Amazing still is that this feat was achieved with a determined effort to curtail our consumption levels to ensure that our emergency funds were rebuilt. Again, a similar chart expresses this aspect much better.

Graph: Change in Consumption

What next then?  With our emergency nest eggs rebuilt, we must now ponder the question as to continue to increase our savings or not. For lay and senior physicians, the object would be to ensure they did not outlive their funds. For those medical professionals, and the rest of us, between the ages of 45-65 in general, retirement must loom somewhere, and retirement is sweet. Similarly, for those between ages 25 to 45, thoughts would turn towards families, home purchase and children’s education; all worthwhile savings objectives.

Assessment

Thus, the central question is whether we should increase our current consumption or postpone consumption to attain our future objectives. Only time will tell whether we continue the trend of increasing savings and moderating consumption or whether we go back to drawing down on our savings to increase current consumption.

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. What is your propensity to save or consume? Is it more or less for medical professionals? Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, be sure to subscribe. It is fast, free and secure.

 

Editor’s Note: Somnath Basu PhD is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu. See the agebander at work at www.agebander.com

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The Economics of Stock Market Fear for Physicians

Panic Control and the Possibility of Severe Financial Degradation 

By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA [www.clunet.edu/cif]

[Director California Institute of Finance]

An experiential learning of mammoth proportions occurred several weeks ago in the financial markets. The absolute 10 minute freefall of the prices of stocks and bonds, without any pre-notification froze the hearts of many physicians and lay others both in, and outside, of the investment community. The possibility of a one trillion dollar loss had suddenly and unexpectedly turned real. It happened in a matter of minutes. This experience of panic, of the possibility of a severe economic degradation of life becoming immediately real, is like none other that most of us can ever remember experiencing. Even the 1987 crash happened over a large part of that Monday. Like then, this time too there is no known reason of why it happened, though attempts are being made to understand the cause(s). Whatever the reasons may be, it will not change the experience we had of the realization of the fear of a sudden and unexpectedly large loss.

Event Analogies

Before going deeper into the experienced fear, it is useful to provide some analogies to the event. If the meltdown in the financial markets of 2008 was like an earthquake, then this was like a severe aftershock. It is also similar to going down one of those severe roller coaster freefalls that some may consider very undesirable. Alternately, what makes a 30 year old physician be mostly unconcerned about his/her lack of retirement savings while a 60 year old doctor in the same poor condition is much more concerned. Obviously, the possibility of a lower quality of economic life is much more real for the elder than the younger. In such cases we would expect the fear of an economically degraded life to spur people to take preventive or remedial action.

Understanding Fear

To truly understand our responses to fear, we need to go deeper into our minds. According to behavioral psychologists and neurologists both, there are various segments within our mind. For example, one segments of our mind (the frontal lobe) is understood to process analytical tasks. Similarly, other parts of our brain (the older limbic system composed of mammalian and reptilian brains) react to and affect/control our emotions and fear. When we are faced with an immediate threat, this older system takes over control of our reactions and often drives us towards instinctive responses and will not, in general, make the analytically reasoned response. It is similar to learning about all the different ways we need to behave in the wild if we came across a bear. When people actually are faced by such a situation, they rarely remember all their learning and respond with their instincts. Those are the limbic responses. In other words, when threats are real, our emotional mechanisms will dominate our rational mind and we will react according to our older and longer existing nature.

Shocked Limbic System

Such was the effect of the financial freeform. In those 10 minutes the economic shock to our limbic system was the first of its kind, in terms of magnitude. While discussions are held about sudden unexpected losses, typically the impact of sudden huge losses in a very very short period of time is rarely thought of in very meaningful ways because the probability is so very low. This time, it did actually happen! We will bear some consequences which will begin playing themselves out slowly over this summer. For one, the investing nation will be much more circumspect about stocks and other volatile financial instruments. In a more technical way, our risk aversion as a nation will have suddenly increased. This will have an impact on both trading volume and security market prices and eventually on portfolio values. How younger physicians and other investors will react is less known.

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Assessment

Finally, there is one important lesson in behavioral finance for us all – and that is for medical professionals to find competent financial advisors and planners who can safely herald all people in these times. It also is probably an important point to understand why the portfolios of older physicians should consider safety of principal first whilst the younger ones focus on growing their wealth.

Editor’s Note: Somnath Basu PhD is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu. See the agebander at work at www.agebander.com

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Would anyone like to discuss neurotransmitters or chime in on the flight or fight response? Are these very human reactions any different for doctors? How about feelings of “fear” or stock-market “panic attacks?”

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Of Wants, Needs, Economic Sustainability and Even Healthcare Reform

A Social Domestic Healthcare Initiative?

By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA [www.clunet.edu/cif]

[Director California Institute of Finance]

Necessities, conveniences and luxuries are an articulation of the hierarchy within wants and needs. The scale and scope of this hierarchy seems quite seamless at the surface. Food, micro waved dinners to gourmet meals. Transportation needs become personal transportation needs and then into Ferraris. Family picnics are replaced by TVs and then by exotic vacations. Home rentals needs change to the wanting of mansions.

As we move up each of the needs totem poles, our monetary requirements stretch endlessly; otherwise if we were all able to bask in everlasting luxury, the end of capitalism and free markets would be in sight. The ideal of everlasting luxury forever too is therefore necessarily unachievable but something that is pursuable, forever. In this vein of reasoning, all of society’s resources and endeavors must go towards attaining this ideal. What then are the limitations of such pursuits?

The above concept of needs and wants also defines layers of society by their consumption abilities. It also defines the pressures imposed upon the growth of GDP from large sections of society to increase their consumption. It is a single-minded pursuit by the upper middle-class of society to strive towards the entering the class of the wealthy, followed by the middle class seeking upper-middle class status, etc. The wealthy comprise a group who are small in number (10% or less) but who account for more than 67% of the ownership and consumption of resources and production, respectively. As large numbers of people start striving to break into the next higher classes of citizenry, pressures increase for GDP to grow. Over time, the wealthy get wealthier, some new entrants appear in each socio-economic group while the general population at large become poorer and more frustrated from this sum-zero game. At some point, the sustainability of the economic system is tested and then broken; societies develop, peak and then wither through strife.

GDP Pressures

For the event of the entire upper-middle class citizenry of joining the class of the wealthy to happen, the GDP would probably need to grow at about a rate of 10 – 12% per year, for each of the next 10 to 20 years! We can easily deduce that for the remaining 80% of the population, the ideal is mostly unachievable. Thus, it may be useful to ask ourselves what is a desirable benchmark for our way of life? “How much money do we need to be happy?” may be another variable approach. Clearly, there are social costs arising from our relentless pursuits of wealth.

To properly assess the cost-benefits of our economic system we need to explore two issues at the heart of the situation. One is the production of wealth. The second is its distribution. Clearly, distributing some wealth inequally is preferred to distributing nothing equally. The question then becomes one of society’s tolerances of inequality. Thought another way, how is enough provided at each level of society such that there is strive and not strife, such that the entire society is better off.

The Elderly

One victim to the current economic system is the elderly. In relentlessly pursuing growth and consumption of luxuries over anything else, we often forget to save for the years where we are no more productive, in a GDP sense.  The retirement woes of the generation of unprepared baby boomers can be seen in articles and papers in many depressing data forms. The main reason we fall victim to being unprepared for retirement is the need to spend every penny we earn on consumption so as not to forget that we are striving to attain the ranks of the upper echelons of society and which demands that our consumption and lifestyles mimic those we aspire to emulate. Using this example, we can take a closer look at some of our spending patterns and understand the pressures we impose upon our savings, GDP growth and the limitations inherent in such growth.

 

What is Enough?

We spend about 17% on transportation, another 15% on food, and about 35% on housing. This is the national average. If collectively we wished to move into the class of the wealthy, we would impose immense pressure on GDP, one that would clearly not be sustainable. That begs the question as to what’s enough. There is somewhere along these lines of reasoning a place of social well being, where the pressures of producing wealth do not dominate our lifestyles.

Global Considerations

On another plane an argument can be made for the prolongation of our imperial life cycle. As with any cycle, micro or macro, our rein at the top of the global economic cycle is waning; the question then becomes as to what course of action can slow down our descent. It is the respite we need where we can also plan for our grandchildren and beyond, rather than be engrossed in current mindless consumption and the bequest of their repercussions for generations to come. Slowing down consumption is one way of prolonging our place near the top; our “apparent” successor, China, depends mostly on us to buy the goods that they produce on our behalf. Developing fully China’s own middle markets for consumption and reducing its dependency on our consumption will take more than one lifetime for the Chinese. On the same note, let us not give away our technological supremacy to India either. In pursuit of the bottom line and exporting many technical and business jobs to India in the name of bottom line economics will also eventually impoverish our own citizens.

American Economics Nobel laureates

A recent study conducted by two American Economics Nobel laureates (Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Kumar Sen) examined the very issue of GDP focus on behalf of the Government of France. Their findings were of a similar vein where they questioned the government’s fixation with GDP and society’s need for a balanced, sustainable and comfortable lifestyle. They found that using only GDP as the benchmark lead to myopia of sorts amongst government officials that people are happy and satisfied or that their relentless pursuit of GDP growth does not matter to them. The scientists also found that a need exists among people to also have an achievable benchmark of happiness and satisfaction with life without the mires of just GDP alone.

In a sense, if people can be liberated from the necessary requirements of basic living (food, shelter, basic healthcare and retirement), the self-induced pressures to outperform economically, along with the accompanying social malaises, would not be necessary; our lifestyles would also possibly change in very meaningful and simplifying ways as we seek more sustainable allocations of our land, labor and capital.

While the idea above may sound utopian at first, it may be useful to note that there are some societies in the world (primarily Scandinavia) where a much smaller version of such a system exists. First, a visit to any of those countries will persuade any American that their style of life is no less than ours. This is in spite of lesser wages and a staggering (income and sales) tax burden. However, ironically, it is the latter reason (high tax rate) that allows the citizens in Scandinavia to enjoy free education (up to any academic level and including boarding, lodging and international studies!), adequate and free healthcare, subsidized and efficient transportation and a basic pension for all upon retirement. However, this magic is mainly because of a small and highly efficient government giving back probably 90 cents for every dollar worth of taxes collected. Now, that is public good.

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The First Issue

What are the issues for us to scale to such a system? Obviously, the first is not having such a big and unwieldy government. Unfortunately, a lean, mean and highly efficient government is not foreseeable for us either in the near future and neither are higher tax rates. Higher tax rates just drives high income individuals and businesses underground and is not a market solution. Can our society at large demanding such a welfare state, be willing participants in such a system and demand such a government? If it did, we certainly could sail smoother through our busy impersonal lives. Having the GDP monkey off our backs will certainly calm us; consider the intense polarization in political thought around the globe arising from inequities of both consumption and thought. A sustainable solution that creates a safety net for all citizens would indeed be desirable for any society.

The Second Issue

This brings back the second issue, the issue of wealth distribution among society. Even when a non-market system (such as taxes) does not work in making society more egalitarian, a reallocation of wealth is somewhat desirable but no tools exist to make this happen. Possibly, the only market solution is philanthropy where suppliers provide capital for fulfilling social needs.

In the true sense of a long run, the ethical decision of philanthropy is also utilitarian; the value of the family name pays back handsomely to the family over the years. It is well known that where moderately large inheritances are left purely to the children and family inheritors, the family descends into decadence and the wealth is squandered in about three generations.

Of Relentless Pursuits

In a society where economic demarcation lines cannot be drawn but exist, the population at large will go towards a state of constant strife for higher status and eventually self-destruct. In other words, a mass population fed on this idea of relentless pursuit of income or wealth will eventually not be able to sustain itself and disintegrate and decay in its social fabric. In the long run, keeping people distracted by wars, economic woes or other narrow global or domestic events will not keep people placated forever; people have a way of collectively being heard.

Our Global Role

While the above may seem like a commentary on our own social system, it is not. The recent financial disasters have taught us that going into the future, no solution can remain purely domestic in nature. This world, through the unifying effect of the financial disaster, has learnt like never before, that any sustainable solution has to be global in nature. Now, more than at any time before, we must shed any feeling of ethnocentrism and nationalism and prepare to enter and lead the world through global solutions. After all, in relation to the about 5.5 other billion people, our way of life is still grand and we remain the Mecca of all aspiring global citizens.

Politics

As a political nation, we have shown that we are more enlightened than any other nation when we elected the Mr. Barack H. Obama as the President of the country. Ask this simple question: which Caucasian majority country will next vote a non-Caucasian to its highest seat? Nowhere, not in our lifetimes, I think.

Yet by electing President Obama, we sent a clear signal to the rest of the world about our system of meritocracy which very few societies can show and also not brag about.  Through this action we have also shown that we have the political will and dedication to bring around changes in shape to global economic systems as well.

A social domestic healthcare initiative, even if it be a non-market solution, is one in the right vein, though only time will tell if we executed the policy correctly or not.

 

 

Editor’s Note: Somnath Basu PhD is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu. See the agebander at work at www.agebander.com

Assessment

As for myself, I would be willing to pay the costs for a social safety net. If I was assured of some basic amenities by way of food, lodging, healthcare and retirement, I would be quite willing to do the requisite work to pay the appropriate cost and spend the rest of my time in a warm sunny beach and eventually experience the liberating feeling of retirement and enjoy each day as the holiday it is.

Conclusion

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Modern Retirement Planning and “Banding” for Physicians

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The “AgeBander” Approach Presents a More Accurate Portrayal

[By Somnath Basu, PhD, MBA]

A convergence of mega-trends will forever change the face of retirement planning and raise its importance in the pantheon of physician retirement planning and most all employee benefits. Chief among them: longer life expectancy, advances in medicine, healthier lifestyles and mounting concern about years of abysmally low savings rates.

What it all Means in Practical Terms

What this means in practical terms for future retired physicians and most all retirees is the need for employers, service providers and financial advisers [FAs] to plot a more accurate and thoughtful course to planning for retirement that acknowledges the necessity of pursuing an “age-banded” approach. The idea behind this new approach is that individuals undergo various changes in lifestyles during retirement that last for finite or “age-banded”, periods.

Example:

For example, doctors like most people spend more time and money on leisurely activities early on in retirement, while health care needs dominate the latter years. Further, the costs associated with these lifestyles also change at differential inflation rates than from the basic inflation rate. While the basic inflation rate is about 3%, the U.S. Census Bureau noted that annual recreation costs increased at 7.14% though most of the 1990s. Health care costs also increased by much higher rates than the basic rate. Since the traditional model bundles all costs (including leisure, health care, basic living, etc) and extrapolates at the basic rate, it tends to underestimate retirement expenses. The traditional model’s “static” approach to retirement can have dangerous implications since it may lead to under-funded retirement plans, especially those earmarked for the critical years.

A Flawed Model?

In a research paper published by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, I detailed the reasons why an age-banded approach is superior to the traditional view of retirement planning. This new model provides for a more accurate portrayal of retirement expenses and an algorithm to calculate the income-replacement ratio, as well as smaller resource requirements and greater flexibility in managing risk. It also allows easier incorporation of long-term care insurance (LTCI) and significantly reduces funding needs. Indeed, the funding needs of a husband and wife who are both age 60 and presumably five years away from retirement are reduced by more than 16% and contributions for a 35-year-old single woman are reduced by 42% compared with previous approaches.

Traditional Retirement Planning Weaknesses

There are five inherent weaknesses to the traditional approach to retirement planning. They include the assumption that all living expenses will increase at the overall rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), bundling all expenses together and not allowing them to change based on the life-cycle, estimating those expenses as a fixed percentage (replacement ratio) of pre-retirement costs, investing in low-return assets and failing to consider contingencies such as LTCI benefits, which can have a significant impact on the amount of funding required for retirement.

Financial Advisory Estimates

When financial planners estimate how much income a client needs in retirement, the calculation hinges on their income just prior to retirement. The pre-retirement income is adjusted downward by 10% to 35%. This adjustment reflects the income necessary to maintain one’s standard of living and incorporates reductions in taxes and other work-related expenses that cease upon retirement. Unfortunately, there’s no objective way to estimate the replacement ratio. Aggressive financial planners typically use large ratios and conservative planners use smaller ones.

30-year Retirement Window

Under the age-banded model, an individual typically lives about 30 years in retirement (e.g., age 65 to 95) and experiences a lifestyle change every 10 years at 65, 75 and 85. Of course, both the retirement period and the width of the age bands are arbitrary but can be subjectively changed to fit each retiree as closely as possible. In addition, a number of steps are taken to produce a clearer picture of retirement costs by categorizing them based on taxes, living expenses, health care and leisure, as well as calculating anticipated expenses using the appropriate rate of inflation for each category, which is adjusted to reflect post-retirement lifestyle changes.

Those expenses are extrapolated through 30 years of retirement and the present value of post-retirement expenses are calculated at an amount deemed sufficient to finance the three following decade (each age band). Instead of discounting these values to the year of retirement (the traditional model), the age banding considers them to be three retirement portfolios that require funding.

Since the portfolio required to fund the expenses during the years 86 to 95 is 20 years behind the first band (66 to 75), investors can seek marginally higher rates of return to reflect the longer terms. Contributions toward these amounts can now be calculated.

Example:

For example, the couple mentioned earlier is able to seek higher rates of return for longer-term investment portfolios which more than mitigate the effects of escalating health care costs. In the case  of the 35-year-old single woman, since the funds required for these three portfolios are 30, 40 and 50 years away she should be willing to take on more risk since she has ample time to manage the portfolio risk.

The expenses for the age-banded method become considerably higher at the latter stages of retirement as compared to the traditional model. This is desirable since the over-funding is associated with an age at which one cannot afford to be out of funds. The higher estimate of the age band comes from higher inflation rates for health care and the incorporation of lifestyle changes that imply accelerated costs such as increased leisure spending upon retirement and higher health care costs in the latter years.

Thus, these higher costs are not only more realistic but they incorporate the dynamics of a retired life, unlike the traditional model. Incredible as it might seem, the ability to assume a marginally higher risk leads to an actual decrease in the funding requirements versus the traditional plan.

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Assessment

One caveat that doctors need to know, and that financial planners will need to keep in mind, is that their clients may be reticent to buy equities when markets are underperforming. Clear explanations are required regarding why it may still be beneficial for the long run and that the risk will be managed on an ongoing basis. But, the results will be well worth the effort for the multiple stakeholders involved in assuring that tomorrow’s retirees are able to live more comfortable after their working years. It’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind associated with knowing retirement expenses will be portrayed more accurately and plan participants will be afforded greater flexibility in managing their risk.

Table [Comparison of growth in retirement expenses]

Link: Age-Banded Retirement Planning FINAL[1]

Editor’s Note: Somnath Basu PhD is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu. See the agebander at work at www.agebander.com

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Financial advisors please chime in on the debate? Is Basu correct; why or why not? Review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, be sure to subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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***

Insuring the Investment Portfolio

A Multi-Strategic Discussion

By Ann Miller RN, MHA

Since the market crash, portfolio insurance and program trading are not as popular as they were in the mid-1980s.

In this essay, Dr. Somnath Basu explains why.

Link: Insuring the Investment Portfolio

Somnath Basu, Ph.D., is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu.

Conclusion

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The ME-P as Provocateur

On Publishing Information and Entertainment

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; MBA

[Publisher-in-Chief]

As avid blogger Darrell K. Pruitt DDS recently noted, this past quarter brought in a large number of monthly hits, readers and subscribers to the ME-P; and we are grateful. The traffic boost was mainly due to interest in eMRs and the financial essays of Somnath Basu PhD, especially during current political turmoil in Washington, DC involving both sectors simultaneously. The common element was the provocation of diverse opinions.

Audience Centric Philosophy

Through a focused attention on our target audience, we’ve come to understand that information and entertainment are inseparable in all but a theoretical sense.

For example, you’re reading this sentence because it entertains or interests you. That it is also informative may be a reason why it interests you, but entertainment and information are nevertheless inexorably linked.

A sure way to entertain is to be provocative.  Apparently some people really like to debate the value of eMRs, healthcare reform and the financial services industry. And, we appreciate multiple links from prominent bloggers, essays and journalists, too. Don’t misunderstand. We do not publish for the sake of provocation and we do lightly self-censor. But, we publish to advance our own thinking and understanding. That we also entertain and invite debate is an additional benefit.

Self Motivation Mission to Inform

Our posts and comments are motivated to correct the record and to infuse an unbiased debate over both healthcare and financial reform with the best evidence available. In the process, we learn much. Hence, though we may entertain, we are motivated by a desire to inform and “bridge the gap between medical mission and profit margin” in the Health 2.0 era.  

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Assessment

We’d even go so far as to say that anyone who does not agree is attempting to fool you with clever theory that belies the practical truth. According to Austin Frakt PhD, of the Incidental Economist, if you fall for it … that only proves our point!

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Doctors – Are You Ready to Retire?

Moneywise?

By Somnath Basu; PhD, MBA

For those of us between the ages of 45 to 54, the thought of retirement should be popping up a few times these days. And, for doctors between ages 55 and 64, the thought may be taking on urgent tones. Many of us are reconciling to the idea that it may be a fact that we have to either postpone our retirements or live a much simpler life during retirement. Whatever the thoughts may be, what’s driving them is our preparedness to retire.

Preparedness Components

So, we will now examine what the component (dos and don’ts) may be for physicians, and others, to assess whether they are on the right path in their preparations to retire. It is somewhat easier if we consider the preparedness issues of the expectant retirees along the two age groups we tagged earlier. It is possible that we may find that the proper components of our retirement plans may already exist for us and we need to give them a good and disciplined effort to carry us through in the retirement years. It is also important to note, in this vein, that as a nation, our savings rate has gone from -0.6% in 2006 to about 5% today. While most of the increase in savings is the result of people building back an emergency nest egg, we can also take heart in the fact that the savings habit has not become obsolete or even rusty, and given the proper motivation (e.g. a sub-standard retired lifestyle), we can alter our destinies by riding on the same savings wave.

The Possibilities

Let us begin by describing the possibilities for the younger group (ages 45-54) doctors and employees pondering their retirement moves. There are two aspects of retirement that needs consideration. First is the contemplation of the needs associated with retirement lifestyles and the corresponding financial requirements required to sustain such lifestyles.

The second is to consider our current lifestyles, living standards (consumption), our income and savings and to assess whether we are set to achieve our retirement lifestyle targets. To understand the many possibilities, we will examine some typical scenarios using data from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI). Note that all calculations are only approximations for a typical individual.

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Example:

If you are about 50 years of age, have worked and saved for about 20 years [401(k), or 403(b)] or other pension plan) and earn about $100,000 a year, you should have about $200,000 in your retirement account today. Assuming that Social Security (if the organization remains viable and makes its required payouts), covers about 27% of your needed retirement expenses. You could expect a Social Security payment of about $30,000 per year at age 65. This would mean that in about 15 years, you would need to generate an additional $80,000 per year from your own savings. While you may think that you are not consuming $110,000 worth of lifestyle today, it is useful to note that this estimate is in future (and inflated) dollar terms.

This brings us back to the second question of how much you may be consuming today. If you are paying about 25% as taxes and saving another 5%, then you are currently spending about $70,000 today. At a 3% inflation rate, in 15 years this amounts to a spending of $110,000 on an income of approximately $160,000.

Thus, if your 403(b) balance does not change from now till retirement and you estimate to plan for a 25 year retirement phase, then your 403(b) account will be equivalent to about an additional $8,000 per year, which itself will grow every year minimally at the inflation rate.

If you assume the 403(b) plan will itself grow at about 7% a year over the next 40 years (from ages 50 to 90) then at retirement (age 65) you’ll have about $550,000 and be able to withdraw about $50,000 per year. This will leave you with a shortfall of $30,000 per year. To be able to afford retirement to its fullest, you’ll need to save an additional $15,000 per year for the next 15 years. Before you begin thinking that is a doable task and start assessing which parts of current lifestyle to pare, note that many of the assumptions above may not hold true.

Average Rates of Return

For example, earning a 7% average rate of return over 40 years is no simple task; Social Security may not be able to deliver on its promise. Physician income and job security is a political issue. Paring current lifestyle is a bigger issue. Healthcare and leisure types of costs during retirement may increase by more than 3%, even as you consume more of these retirement lifestyle services.

Therefore, you may want to continue enjoying your current medical practice lifestyle and consider worrying about retirement about 10 years (or more) later or you may take stock of your current situation. If your situation is worse than the average portrayed above, a big issue for you is to keep your physical and mental health well balanced and not depressed and medicated; plan to postpone retirement and practice or work longer, albeit in good health.

Assessment

If you are about 60 years of age, have worked for about 25-30 years, earn $100,00 per year and have about $350,000 in your retirement accounts, your problems are more exacerbated and your fears (of postponing retirement, paring current or future lifestyle or not being able to make up shortfalls) are much more real. The strategies remain the same from earlier in that you have to make some urgent and difficult decisions. These are decisions that cannot be postponed any longer.

Note: First released “All Things Financial Planning Blog” on December 18, 2009.

Conclusion

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Dr. Somnath Basu on Investing

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He Writes for the Medical Executive-Post

By Ann Miller; RN, MHA

[Executive-Director]

Dr. Somnath Basu is no stranger to the ME-P, or the financial planning community. He is a Professor of Finance at California Lutheran University and the Director of its California Institute of Finance.

Academic Background

Dr Basu earned his BA in Economics, University of Delhi, MBA (Finance), Marquette University and a PhD (Finance), University of Arizona. He is well published and is an award winning teacher. He has significant consulting experience with US Fortune 100 companies, advising institutional money managers and in developing proprietary finance and planning software. He serves on various Boards and committees including the CFP (chaired the Model Curriculum Revision Committee) Board of Standards and the Financial Planning Association.

Basu’s New Book

His new book, co-authored with Professors’ Block and Hirt, Investment Planning for Financial Professionals is available now, published by McGraw Hill, in May 2006.

Link: http://www.amazon.com/Investment-Planning-Geoffrey-Hirt/dp/0071437215/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1265918999&sr=1-1

Additional essays by Dr. Basu can be viewed at: http://blog.fpaforfinancialplanning.org/author/somnathbasufpa/

He also writers a column for the Journal of Financial Services Professionals. He can be reached at:

Contact Dr. Somnath Basu
Director – California Institute of Finance
Cell: 805 405 4448
Work: 805 493 3980
http://www.clunet.edu/cif

Conclusion

Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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Understanding the New “Mixed” Economy

Musings of an Informed Thought-Leader

By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA

Brief Excerpt

The recent debacle in the financial markets has opened up a plethora of issues that require serious attention from all market participants. Perhaps the most serious concern is the emergence of a “mixed” economy where both “public” and government-owned enterprises will coexist with “private” enterprises.

Review of Past Performance

Unfortunately, the historical performances of such economies have been fairly dismal. The debacle is also bound to usher in additional regulation of financial markets. The new regulations are likely to focus on ways to control the possibilities of similar failures in the future.

Assessment

However, the structure of regulation should not be constructed on the basis of how the markets failed the people but instead on how people failed the market. The ramifications of the debacle require our attention and understanding, especially the possibilities of the existence of a regime of both high inflation and high market volatility. 

White Paper Link Here:  The New Economy

Conclusion

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Predicting the Economic Recovery

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How Would Life Change – Even if Prescience Possible?

By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA [www.clunet.edu/cif]

All medical professionals and ME-P readers should know that there’s about a 50% chance that someone will predict correctly when and how the domestic economy will recover. The chances of that person failing are the same, at 50%. There is very little chance (probability approaching zero) that nothing will change. Under these circumstances, it’s quite easy for the pundits to take a shot at being right. It is easy to be wrong because it’ll never be held against them, given the circumstances around the global financial crisis. There’s always a way out of being wrong.

Of Rumors, Guesses, Optimism and Pessimism

Of course being right has its rewards of reaping benefits without any downside. In the meantime, a whole nation is being held hostage as to what happens next. Rumors, guesses, optimism, pessimism abound as stock markets rise and fall, employment goes down by less or more than expected, price of oil suddenly becomes a leading economic indicator, China starts showing the way out, interest rates remain low, home (new, used, new construction, commercial vs. residential) sales increase and decrease in tandem, inflation is a problem but not deflation or vice versa and the economy grows as expected or not. The bewilderment at this state of things is taking a toll but the pundits keep going on. Politicians scream and bureaucrats moan. Obviously, this too is a crisis of sorts.

The Two Questions

There are two questions that fall out of this scenario. First, how does one predict the economy and how sound are the methodologies. Second, and more importantly, do we really need a prediction? I will explore these questions in the order presented above but the first one in more detail.

Let’s Begin the Evaluation

To begin with, it’s useful to evaluate the techniques used by our economic gurus who preach lofty sermons from their altars. These folks have a battalion of charts and graphs depicting why something is happening, ably backed up by rigorous mathematical models that have passed the test of their enlightened peers. These people consider economic indicators using complex models of GDP growth, change in unemployment, trade imbalances, flow of goods and services etc. etc. At the end of the day, they still have a 50% chance of being right. Of course they have a theory already explain this possibility (efficient market hypothesis, or EMH) which they use to explain why the market cannot be predicted with any certainty and the odds of predicting correctly are as good as repeatedly calling a coin toss right. However, it seems that this does not dampen their need in any way to keep on predicting.

 

 The Comparisons

Compared to previous recessions, there is a marked difference with the one we just experienced. This difference is that the great recession of 2008-09 can be considered as the first true global recession where even remote countries in Africa experienced mild recessionary conditions.

Hence, one of the first requirements for the predicting community is to truly incorporate global economic conditions in predicting the future. The current emphasis on domestic economic conditions precludes to an extent our ability to comprehend the changes underlying this “one world” which is necessary to get closer to a more realistic prediction. Further, we should include not only the developed economies along with some of the major emerging markets, but literally all economies, in extending our analysis. As we will ponder later, our model for prediction should be much more inclusive of all countries, no matter how small or economically less developed the countries are.  The understanding here is that given the fragile nature of the global economy at present, even a small non-economic ripple in a distant land can turn into something that encompasses the globe in some kind of economic turmoil.

Thus, hopefully, a globally inclusive model of understanding should definitely help us in the business of prediction.

Departure from the Traditional View

At this point I am going to depart from the traditional view that predicting the future of any economy should necessarily be an exclusive economic model. I shall argue that in this world we live in, such a model is inadequate if we realistically expect to beat the odds of a coin toss game. The point I seek to make is that in a world where we are so dependent of each other, how can we exclude factors like political or social conditions, geographic dispositions and historical interrelations, religion, world health, poverty or global climate change. I am going to elaborate upon some of these above contentions with some simple examples to support my view of an all inclusive understanding model before we go about the business of predicting the economy.

War- What is it Good For?

Consider the politics of wars in the world. Does it have an impact on our economy? It sure does. If we are directly involved, it has a huge cost in human suffering besides the direct dollar cost of war. The countries we are engaged in are similarly impacted by their casualties in human lives (and the subsequent economic effect of that) and the real time dollar costs of the real and financial economy being in shambles. If our country is not directly involved in some war overseas, then the whole defense and allied industries stands to gain – we are by far the largest suppliers of weapons in the world. Hence any war has economic consequences from tangible dollar costs to the associated costs of low morale, drops in consumer confidence, etc. An even simpler example would be to look at the wars we are engaged in (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and ask ourselves whether the economic consequences are not sufficient enough to be included in a predictive model.

Global Climate Change

What about global climate change? It is far too late to say it is not real. The main question is whether the economic consequences of global climate change are large enough to be included in any predictive model. What is the impact of climate change on our economy from the increased ravages of floods,   and famines? Costs in crop loss, insurance claims, higher food prices etc. etc. are surely not trivial. Are we willing to say that in the future these extremes of weather will dissipate and not increase so that we do not need to consider their economic impacts? If the climate changes problem is real then we do need to do something about carbon emissions and fossil fuels even as we find larger and larger oil deposits.

However, it is not enough for us to move strongly in this direction. China and India are already crying foul as the world tries to persuade these two countries to slow down carbon emissions. It is a difficult pitch to sell since the retort is that the economic development in the western world is what caused this condition and it is unfair to ask these two countries to slow down their growth ambitions especially since they have waited so long to wait their turn.

Moreover, less consumption of commodities (e.g. of oil, steel, building material) by China and India will trigger economic events of their own since lower production levels in these countries would mean higher costs to us since we are the main consumers of their economic production. The irony of this argument is that if these countries are not halted from their frenetic economic activity and stepped up consumption of commodities, then there is a good chance of inflation creeping through the commodity sector.

However, the point to make is that the effects of global climate change certainly do have serious economic consequences and excluding it would surely denigrate the prediction.

Other Issues

There are other associate issues. What is the impact of global poverty on future economic activities? Should this be an issue at all? What we don’t observe is the staggering scope of this problem. Let me clarify with a simple example. There are roughly 1.2 billion people in India. Another rough estimate would be to state that about 5% of this population are millionaires (in dollar terms), especially when you factor in that for each Indian Rupee that is accounted for (in the economic system) there is at least two Indian Rupees that are unaccounted (money on which tax has not been paid and has not been laundered either (black money) for but that which circulates in the economy.

Another way of expressing the 5% is to say that there are more millionaires (60 million) in India than there are people in France!! Another 400 million can be considered the middle class. No wonder India is an attractive market to developed nations whose internal markets have become tepid.  However, this also means that the rest of the Indians (about 750 million) live in abject poverty, on a dollar a day. Given that this is an average consumption value, there ought to be about 350 million Indians who live on a lot less than $1 a day. And, this entire population is growing.  In China as in Indonesia; in Bangladesh and in Nigeria. In Brazil and Russia. A growing number of people who are hungry and clamoring for food. People who are adding to the others in claiming land to live on, away from agricultural production. Is there a limit of how many people the world can support before it breaks apart. Does this have any significant (other than the usual Malthusian one) economic impact? It does for sure; much more surely than climate change and swine flu. Yet our models and predictions are oblivious to these possibilities.

SAARS

Physicians and ME-P readers may recalls that about 5-6 years ago, we saw the advent of SAARS, a lethal infection in China and Taiwan, beginning to spread in other parts of the world. There was an immediate and sharp economic impact on many of the industrialized nations. Fortunately for us, the spread of the infection was arrested and the global economy quickly got back in track. Surely, we were lucky. A few years ago, the world witnessed bird flu, an even more lethal viral infection. This too was quickly contained. At some point during the financial meltdown of 2008-09 we witnessed the advent of swine flu, a close relative of the bird flu. This time too we were lucky.

Of course, it is important to note that these infections are one step away from being an epidemic of immense proportions where 100s of millions may perish. If the swine flu was not contained when it appeared in late 2008 – early 2009, the financial meltdown we experienced would seem like a tame event. What happens if the next time and next viral mutation around) we are not that lucky? Should we consider the economic consequence of such an event, albeit within a probability framework?

Non-Economic Issues

As we can see, there are many other noteworthy non-economic issues that can have serious economic impacts.  As a matter of fact, we can all conjure up other examples of non-economic issues at will and make a case for their inclusion because we can so easily rationalize their economic impact. But I have made the point to wrap up the answer to my first question – how good are the economic models? Not much, really.

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Educated ME-P Readers

Since my readers possess financial knowledge and acumen, it is worthwhile for me to allude to the various predictions that are flying about in the economy without having to explain them in great detail. This time around, predictions of economic recovery are in the form of shapes. So now the big question is whether the recovery will look like the shape of a V (a sharp recovery) as compared to a U (a prolonged recession followed by a fairly sharp recovery) or a W (a second round of recession followed by another sharp recovery or like a pair of conjoint Vs (V V). The latest one I had the misfortune to hear about was a square root (√, a V-shaped recovery till a point after which the economy changes very little for a considerable period of time). What is also quite obvious that we can make up many other shapes like the above, using economic (and non-economic) arguments as mentioned earlier but at the end of the day, any one of them has a 50% chance of being right. Because our theories say (yes, the very ones we constructed) that markets are efficient and predictions are futile.

Which brings us to the second question: knowing all this, how important are predictions in the way we live. How much better would our lives be, knowing that one or two of these predictions are right and all others are not? Can we identify the ones that are right?  Most likely not, and definitely much harder than finding good or bad stocks.

Assessment

How would our lives change if we could find that handful of people who predicted correctly and consistently more often than not, if there were such people? Surely, armed with this knowledge, we would be able to exploit the predictions for gain. But, given the odds, it is also quite plain and obvious that finding such people is as difficult as winning the lottery. We know the odds. We continue to admonish our clients who stray in these extreme speculative peripheries. Yet, when it comes to reading about predictions, we continue to play the lottery, in hopes of a windfall. The windfall wills make us richer, but will it make us better or happier?

Note: Dr. Somnath Basu is a professor of Finance at California Lutheran University and the President of Financial Health Technology (www.financialhealthtechnology.com), a personal financial software company.

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Our Recent Experience with CFP® Mark Utility

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Certification Falling from Grace – Deserved or Not?

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; MBA, CMP™

[Publisher-in-Chief] dem21 

The Premise

In the summer [2008], we sent a random email blast to the first 200 Certified Financial Planners® on our list-serve. These were folks who had previously contacted us, and/or purchased our textbooks, handbooks, tools and/or dictionaries that assist accountants, financial advisors, attorneys, medical management consultants and all those working to assist physicians and medical professionals on business and economics matters.

The “Straw-Poll” Query

Our email blast asked the simple question:

“Did you ever voluntarily resign your license to use the CFP® mark?”

First Round Results

We received four positive responses [2%]. We then followed up to learn that 2 of the 4 were CPAs, one was a CFA and another was an MBA. Now, what do these results signify – probably nothing – or maybe an emerging trend?

Repeat

So, last summer [2009], after the continuing Wall Street collapse, and the Somnath Basu PhD article on “CFP Trust” in Financial Advisor magazine and this blog, we sent out a follow-up email to the exact same 200 Certified Financial Planners® as before; but carved-out and replaced the 4 CFPs who had resigned the mark, with 4 others.

Link: I Jealously “Shake my Fist” at Somnath Basu PhD

This time we asked the question:

“Have you recently considered allowing your CFP mark to lapse; or resigning it?”

Second Round Results

This time we received exactly eight positive replies [4%] or double the number from the first round. One CFP® said:

“I am rethinking my entire business and marketing philosophy. This includes separation from any taint left over from recent industry scandals – and yes – even including my CFP® mark”

 CMP logo

http://www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

Assessment

This little experiment was not statistically significant by any means. And, again it probably is indicative of nothing. Yet, these types of questions must be boldly asked today; even if they were not even timidly asked yesterday.

Nevertheless, cited plausible reasons for the increased negative CFP® mark response may be:

 

  • CFP BoS lacks modernity and membership alliance. 
  • SEC mismanagement.
  • NASD/FINRA impotence.
  • Wall Street greed.
  • Lack of true fiduciary accountability.
  • Client anger and public distrust.
  • Advisor frustration at lost income.
  • College for Financial Planning and American College credibility.  
  • ME-P operations in the medical niche advisory space.
  • CFP® mark and related industry certification taint.
  • Alternative degrees and available designations.
  • Rise of RIAs and the fiduciary CMPmark for healthcare specificity.
  • Resigning [doing] and considering [thinking] are not equivalent;
  • etc, etc. 

It is interesting to note that no CFP® resigned their mark who did not hold either another graduate degree [MBA, MSFS, MA, MS, PhD], or more rigorous industry [CFA and CPA] certification.

Assessment 

So, is CFP mark allegiance just a union-like mentality of “united we stand – divided we fall”, by those with little to no gravitation pull of their own – or something else; ie., industry group think? You decide; and do tell us what you think.

Note: I am the founder of the CMP online education and certification program for financial advisors and consultants interested in the health economics, finance and medical practice management space, and a former [resigned] certified financial planner www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org 

Update 2013:

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Introducing Somnath Basu; PhD MBA

Our Newest ME-P Thought-Leader in Finance and Economics

By Ann Miller; RN, MHA

[Executive Director]Dr. Basu

Dr. Somnath Basu is a Professor of Finance at California Lutheran University and the Director of its California Institute of Finance. Dr. Basu is also a Professor of the Helsinki School of Economics Executive MBA Program. He earned his BA in Economics, University of Delhi, MBA (Finance), Marquette University and a PhD (Finance), University of Arizona.

Publications and Experience

Dr. Basu is extensively published in the field of investments and financial planning and is an award winning teacher. He has significant consulting experience with US Fortune 100 companies, advising institutional money managers and in developing proprietary personal investment software. Dr. Basu is actively involved with financial planning organizations including the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), the CFP Board of Standards, International CFP Board and the Financial Planning Association. He coauthored the book (with Block and Hirt), “Investment Planning for Financial Professionals” McGraw Hill, May 2006 which is widely used by financial planning programs nationwide. 

AssessmentCLU

To regular our ME-P readers, Dr. Basu’s opinions are well known and not without controversy. But, whether you agree with him or not, his commitment to the industry and his economics and financial planning students is solid. And, always adhering to the Socratic dialog tradition of candor intelligence and goodwill.

Link: https://healthcarefinancials.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/i-jealously-shake-my-fist-at-somnath-basu/

Link: https://healthcarefinancials.wordpress.com/2009/04/16/dr-somnath-basu-replies-to-the-cfp%c2%ae-mis-trust-controversy/ 

Conclusion

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College for Financial Planning Credibility

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Confusing Nomenclature? 

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; MBA, CMP™

[Publisher-in-Chief]

dem2Recently, John H. Robinson – a Honolulu based independent and dual-registered financial advisor who holds a degree in economics from Williams College and who has written and published numerous professional papers – essentially challenged the credibility of the College for Financial Planning.

“Dr. [Somnath] Basu [PhD] is quite correct in pointing out that the College for Financial Planning is not academically accredited and there are no admissions standards other than a nominal three year industry experience standard (three years as a clerk in a brokerage firm will qualify). Mr. [Kevin] Keller [CEO-CFP BoS] defends the curriculum by stating that, “Topics include economic concepts such as supply and demand, fiscal and monetary policy, time-value of money concepts…” The mere fact that that no prior college level academic experience in finance is required is testament to the fact that the coursework is largely 101 level materials.

To illustrate this point by example, economics represents one small chapter of the Investments section of the CFP curriculum. In contrast, econometrics and statistics alone was a semester long 300 level course in my undergraduate economics studies. This is not to suggest that the CFP program does not provide adequate training and preparation for a career in financial planning, but to assert that the CFP designation trumps a graduate or even undergraduate degree in finance or economics is difficult to defend. This was my counterpoint to Mr. [Dan] Moisand’s bellicose labeling of non-CFP certificants as “faux planners”.

Source: http://www.fa-mag.com/online-extras/4037-revisiting-cfp-credentialing.html

Moreover, he stated that:

In fairness, some of Dr. Basu’s ideals on the educational standards for financial planning certification seem a bit extreme as well. For instance, I can’t imagine subjecting doctors, attorneys, or even business school professors to periodic recertification exams.”

Source: http://www.fa-mag.com/online-extras/4037-revisiting-cfp-credentialing.html

The Big Question

And so, the big question for financial advisors and Certified Financial Planners®: Is the College for Financial Planning, a college at all? Is it accredited and more importantly, who accredits it? If not; why not? And, was the name “college” purposely selected to obfuscate?

Moreover, and of more importance to our physician readers, FAs and ME-P subscribers: Do doctors, attorneys or business school professors need to periodically recertify themselves by examinations?

IOW: Is Mr. Robinson correct or not – in fact or meaning – on one or both accounts? How about Dan Moisand? Am I, or Mr. Robinson, a “faux” planner?

Assessment

A paper co-authored by Mr. Robinson, entitled, “Reality Check: The implications of sustainable withdrawal analysis on real world portfolios” was awarded the CFP Board of Standards’ 2008 Outstanding Paper Award. He does not hold the CFP® designation.

Disclosure

Among many other “hats”, I am a former licensed insurance agent, certified financial planner, board certified surgeon, visiting B-school professor, and current academic provost for the CMP™ online program in health economics and medical practice management for fiduciary consultants. Our goal is to “raise the bar” for all colleagues in this space.

Update 2013:

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I Jealously “Shake my Fist” at Somnath Basu PhD

On CFP® Mis [Trust] – One Doctor’s Painful Personal Experience

[“So Sorry to Say it … but I Told You So”]

By: Dr David Edward Marcinko; FACFAS, MBA, CMP™

[Publisher-in-Chief]dem21

According to Somnath Basu, writing on April 6, 2009 in Financial Advisor a trade magazine, the painful truth is that many financial practitioners are merely sales people masquerading, as financial planners [FPs] and/or financial advisors [FAs] in an industry whose ethical practices have a shameful track record. Well, I agree, and completely. This includes some who hold the Certified Financial Planner® designation, as well as the more than 98 other lesser related organizations, logo marks and credentialing agencies [none of which demand ERISA-like fiduciary responsibility]. For more on this topic, the ME-P went right to the source last month, in an exclusive interview with Ben Aiken; AIF® of Fi360.com  

fp-book4

The CFP® Credential – What Credential?

Basu further writes that stockbrokers and insurance agents who earn commissions from buying and selling stocks, insurance and other financial products realize that a Certified Financial Planner® credential will help grow the volume of their business or branch them into other related and lucrative products and services. After all, there are more than 55,000 of these “credentialed” folks. And, this marketing designation seems to have won the cultural wars in the hearts and minds of an unsuspecting – i.e., duped public; probably because of sheer numbers. Didn’t a CFP Board CEO state that its’ primary goal was growth, a few years ago? Can you say “masses of asses”, as the oft quoted Bill Gates of Microsoft used to say when only 2,000 micro-softies defeated 400,000 IBMers during the PC operating system wars of the early 1980’s. Quantity, and marketing money, can trump quality in the public-relations business; ya’ know … if you repeat the lie often enough … yada … yada … yada! Yet, as the so-called leading industry designation, the CFP® entry-barrier standard is woefully low. Moreover, the SEC’s [FINRA] Series #7 general securities licensure sales examination is not worth much more than a weekend’s study attention, even to the uninitiated.

insurance-book2

Easy In – Worth Less Out

In our experience, we agree with Basu and others who suggest that scores of lightly educated, and sometimes wholly in-articulate and impatient individuals are zipping through the CFP® Board of Standards approved curriculum in three to six months of online, on-ground, or “self-study”. But, that some can do so without a bachelor’s degree when they join wire-houses and financial institutions, which cannot be trusted to adequately train them, is an abomination. And, even more sadly, some of these CFP™ mark-holders, and other folks, believe they have actually received an “education” from same. Of course, their writing skills are often non-existent and I have cringed when told that, in their opinion, advertiser-driven trade magazines constitute “peer-reviewed” and academic publications. Incidentally, have you noticed how thin these trade-rags are getting lately? Much like the print newspaper industry, are they becoming dinosaurs? One agent even told me, point-blank, that his CLU designation was the equivalent of an “academic PhD in insurance.” This was at an industry seminar, where he thought I was a lay insurance prospect.

THINK: No critical thinking skills.

biz-book4

Education

There is another sentiment that may be applied in many of these cases; “hubris.” I mean, these CFP® people … just don’t know – how much they don’t know.”  The very real difference between training versus education is unknown to many wire-houses and FAs, isn’t it? And, please don’t get me started on the differences in pedagogy, heutagogy and androgogy. Moreover, it’s sad when we see truly educated youngsters become goaded by wire-houses into thinking that these practices are de-rigor for the industry. One such applicant to our Certified Medical Planner™ program, for example, had both an undergraduate degree in finance and a graduate degree in economics from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University – in my home town of Baltimore, MD [name available upon request]. He was told, in his Smith Barney wire-house training program, to eschew CMP™ accountability and RIA fiduciary responsibility, when working with potential physician and lay clients; but to get his CFP® designation to gather more clients. To mimic my now 12 year-old daughter; it seems that: SEC Suitability Rules – and – Fiduciary Accountability Drools. And, to quote Hollywood’s “Mr. T”; I pity the fools, er-a, I mean clients. But, T was an actor, and this is serious business.

cmp-logo1

Of CEU Credits and Ethics

Beside trade-marks and logos, we are all aware that continuing education, and a code of ethics, is another important marketing and advertising component of state insurance agents and CFP licensees. It’s that old “be” – or “pretend to be” – a trusted advisor clap-trap. Well, I say horse-feathers for two reasons. First, both my insurance and CFP® Continuing Educational Unit [CEU] requirements were completed by my daughter [while age 7-10], by filling in the sequentially identical and bubble-coded, multiple-choice, answer-blanks each year. Second, this included the mandatory “ethics” portions of each test. When I complained to my CEU vendor, and state insurance department, I was told to “enjoy-the-break.”  My daughter even got fatigued after the third of fourth time she took the “home-based tests” for me.  After I opened my big mouth, the exact order of questions was changed to increase acuity, but remained essentially the same, nevertheless. My daughter got bored, and quit taking the tests for me, shortly thereafter. She always “passed.”dhimc-book3

Thus, like Basu, I also find that far too many financial advisors are unwilling to devote the time necessary to achieve a sound education that will help attain their goals, and would rather sell variable or whole life products than simple term life, even when the suitability argument overwhelmingly suggests so, for a higher payday. We not only have met sale folks without undergraduate degrees, but also too many of those with only a HS diploma, or GED. Perhaps this is why a popular business truism suggests that the quickest way for the uneducated/under educated class to make big bucks, is in sales. Just note the many classified ads for financial advisors placed in the newspaper job-section, under the heading “sales.” Or, in more youthful cultural terms, “fake it – until you make it.”

Of the iMBA, Inc Experience

According to Executive Director Ann Miller RN MHA, and my experience at the Institute of Medical Business Advisors, Inc:

“Far too many financial advisors who contact us about matriculation in our online Certified Medical Planner™ program – in health economics and management for medical professionals – don’t even know what a Curriculum Vitae [CV] is? Instead, they send in Million Dollar Roundtable awards, Million Dollar Producer awards, or similar sales accomplishments as resume’ boosters. It is also not unusual for them to list some sort of college participation on their resumes, and websites, but no school affiliation or dates of graduation, etc. And, they become furious to learn that we require a college degree for our fiduciary focused CMP™ program, and not from an online institution, either. The onslaught of follow-up nasty phone-calls; faxes and emails are laughable [frightening] too.”  

www.MedicalBusinessAdvisors.com

Assessment

More often than not, it is the financial institutions that FAs and CFP™ certificants’ work for that reward sales behavior with higher commissions, rather than salaries; which encourage such behavior and create the vicious cycles that are now the norm.

THINK: ML, AIG, Citi, WAMU, Wachovia, Hartford, Prudential, etc.

Note: Original author of Restoring Trust in the CFP Mark, Somnath Basu PhD, is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu. We have asked him to respond further.

My Story: I am a retired surgeon and former Certified Financial Planner® who resigned my “marketing trademark” over the long-standing fiduciary flap. I watched this chicanery for more than a decade after protesting to magazines like Investment Advisor, Financial Advisor, Registered Rep, Financial Planner, the FPA, etc; up to, and even including the CFP® Board of Standards; to no avail. Feel free to contact me for a copy of a 43 page fax, and other supportive documentation from the CFP® Board of Standards – and their outsourced intellectual property attorneys – over a Federal trademark infringement lawsuit they tried to institute against me for innocent website errors placed by a visually impaired intern. Obviously, they disliked the launch of our CMP™ program. As a health economist and devotee of Ken Arrow PhD, I polity resigned my license, as holding no utility for me, to the shocked CFP Board. They later offered to consider re-instatement for a mere $600 fee with letter of explanation, to which I politely declined. Of course, my first thought after living in the streets of South Philadelphia while in medical school, during the pre-Rocky era, was to say f*** off – but I didn’t. Nevertheless, I still seem to be on their mailing list, years later. No doubt, the list is sold, and re-sold, to various advertisers for much geld. And, why shouldn’t they; an extra bachelor, master and medical degree holder on their PR roster looks pretty good. I distrust the CFP® Board almost as much as I distrust the AMA, and its parsed and disastrous big-pharma funding policies. Right is right – wrong is wrong – and you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time, especially in this age of internet transparency.

Shaking my Fist at Somnath … in Envy

And so, why do I shake my fist at Somnath Basu? It’s admittedly with congratulations, and a bit of schadenfreude, because he wrote an article more eloquently than I ever could, and will likely receive much more publicity [good or slings-arrows] for doing so. You know, it’s very true that one is never a prophet in his own tribe. Oh well, Mazel Tov anyway for stating the obvious, Somnath. The financial services industry – and more specifically – the CFP® emperor have no clothes! Duh!

ho-journal5

Good Guys and White Hats

Now that Basu’s article has appeared in Financial Advisor News e-magazine, the other industry trade magazines are sure to follow the CFP® certification denigration reportage, in copy-cat fashion. And, the fiduciary flap is just getting started. This is indeed unfortunate, because I do know many fine CFP® certificants, and non-CFP® certified financial advisors, who are well-educated, honest and work very diligently on behalf of their clients. It’s just a shame the public has no way of knowing about them – there is no white hat imprimatur or designation for same – most of whom are Registered Investment Advisors [RIAs] or RIA reps. For example, we know great folks like Douglas B. Sherlock MBA, CFA; Robert James Cimasi MHA, AVA, CMP™; J. Wayne Firebaugh, Jr CPA, CFP®, CMP™; Lawrence E. Howes MBA, CFP®; Pati Trites PhD; Gary A. Cook MSFS, CFP®, CLU; Tom Muldowney MSFS, CLU, CFP®, CMP™;  Jeffrey S. Coons PhD, CFP®; Alex Kimura MBA, CFP®; Ken Shubin-Stein MD, CFA; and Hope Hetico RN, MHA, CMP™; etc. And, to use a medical term, there are TNTC [too many, to count] more … thankfully!

Conclusion

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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