And a Happy New Year to all!

, T-bnAs we finally close 2012, there are many things on which we can reflect. The sad, the inexplicable, the disappointing and yes, some good things too – from an investment perspective anyway!

Canadian banks and other financial institutions, despite a credit downgrade late in the year, are among the safest in the world and investors continue to benefit from holding their preferred shares, common stocks and various debt instruments. The same appears true for the utility industry, despite the contretemps of the Northern Gateway (or maybe Arctic Gateway or Eastern Gateway) oil pipeline in Canada and the US side of the Canada/US Keystone XL pipeline project. Oil is a key utility input in all of it’s many forms as is natural gas. I will stay out of the debate on fracking!

The world needs power – from any and all sources so I believe that for long-term holdings, exposure to this part of the economy is important. Short-term, be prepared for some storms in all of the energy sector, and I suspect they will all be of a political making. So some inclusion of energy and utlities makes some sense – the amount you include depends on your investment comfort level and time-horizon.

Communications in all of it’s forms will continue to grow although I suspect it too will be choppy due to anti-trust, patent issues and regulatory meddling on one level or another. Manufacturing and transportation industries should experience reasonable grow as I believe that deficit and national debts will gradually be controlled allowing economies to begin expanding again.

Whether doing your equities on a do-it-yourself basis or using some form of managed funds or ETFs, I would be staying blue-chip common shares and preferreds particularly for the risk-adverse.

Short-term interest rates (10 years and less), I believe will stay within about 1% to 1.5% of curent levels, which is positive for everyone including companies loooking to expand their operations. If doing things on your own, I recommend GIC or GIA ladders and if you are going the managed fund or ETF route, then I would be looking at average term-to-maturity south of 10 years and only A or better ratings – BBB if you feel adventurous.

On the pure cash side of things, whether in a bank account, T-bill account or some life insurance cash values, it seems to make sense to hold somewhere in the 5% to 7% range – both for protection and any buying opportunities that present themselves.

On Precious Metals – flip a coin! From everything I can find, the “experts” are about evenly divided on direction and potential upside/downside movement. Some level of exposure would seem reasonable if you can tolerate the earthquake-style market reactions but for these I would personally stay on the managed money side and look for broad diversification across countries keeping in mind political situations and I wouldn’t be comfortable holding more than 4% to 5% and only then if I was looking in the 10 plus-year holding range.

Think positive about yourself and your family, keep personal debts going DOWN and by wise in your discretionary spending in 2013!

Some happy year-end thoughts!

An interesting year on many fronts – financial and societal. But have I learned anything I can use in the future? From a financial perspective, I very strongly believe we are going to get more of the same in 2013 that we had in 2012 – notwithstanding the “fiscal cliff” nonsense taking place in the Untied States (deliberate). Resolved or not, my best assessment is that world markets will be slightly chaotic for at least the next 2 years before some level of stability re-appears. Am I psychic?? Absolutely not – but I am a fiscal realist. On a relative basis, Canada is better off that just about everwhere in the world with the exception of New Zealand. For my younger audience, NZ did go bankrupt as a country about 30 years ago – and ever since have kept things fiscally responsible.

Canada may be the best of a bad lot, but we are certainly not having the country’s finances managed in any way, shape or form in a conservative manner. Quite frankly (and I am not, have not been and never expect to be a member of ANY political party), our proclivite spending habits are much more reminiscent of Liberal and NDP spending patterns.

Over the past 18 months or so, there has been a real shift around the world to a more socialistic approach to all levels of government. Citizens of all countries are demanding more services and support from their governments yet no-one wants to pay the price. It is the same in North America, Europe, South America, the Far,Middle and Near-Easts plus the former Soviet states, the Indian sub-continent and Australasia. The people in the Sahara and sub-Saharan regions in Africa are facing even more serious issues of civil wars and genocoide, on one or more levels. The Scandinavian folks are much quieter about things in their part of the world, but they are facing the same issues as the rest of the Eurozone as our our friends in Iceland.

Governments have no money, unless they print more – which brings inflation back into the picture in a big way – something no-one in the world can afford. Some parts of South America are dealing with double-digit inflation now – but on a WEEKLY basis – not annually! So with no money for governments to spend, national debts are growing in leaps and bounds (regardless of the “blue” colours of some leaders), from where does the money originate?

People are still hesitant to invest for the long-term and are spooked every time a politician anywhere in the world, talks about defaulting, restructuring, devaluing or cutting deficits without raising taxes. All of which makes for choppy markets. Yes the Warren Buffet’s and George Soros’ of this world will always make money, because they take the long view.

I haven’t mentioned China and South Korea (or the rest of the Asian-Pacific Rim countries) because despite generally higher levels of “state” control over their economies, they are in no better shape. Closed and partly closed economies may appear to be doing better, but we never really see the complete truth – so in the absence of clarity, investors tend to shy away from them as well.

So what to do now? Stay happy and think positive thoughts! Stay short on the fixed-income side of things and use GIC or GIA ladders to protect yourself against upward movement in rates. Keep at least 5% to 7% in cash. In equities, for less than 15 years holding, stay with large caps that have good dividend histories, or mutual funds/seg funds that hold those stocks. For 15 years and longer – right now, your guess is as good as anyone’s! Have a safe and happy Christmas Season! Cheers Ian

So What Goes in a Full Financial Plan Part 3 of 3

So – now the wrap up of this series.

Financial Planning is intensely personal and clients need to have complete faith and trust in their advisor to make the process work properly, effectively and efficiently. The relationship is the key to success.

It is for this reason, that top planners spend the first meeting just working on laying the foundation for a relationship to grow and blossom – listening is the key of course – the good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth – and good planners and advisors use them in that ratio! This is what as known as a “non-interview”.

I first learned about this concept about three decades ago by reading a book by a fellow named J. Douglas Edwards – “Questions are your answer” – copies are still available in used book stores and on-line – I highly recommend that everyone involved in the financial/estate/retirement planning process, read it – and read it several times. In fact, it is excellent reading for anyone in a sales, marketing and/or management role.

I want to touch on the reporting now – I can hear advisors and planners already saying that if they covered everything I listed in my two previous posts, the final report is going to be 100 pages in length! Well, that depends, doesn’t it ——– on the client.

Some clients are detail-oriented, number crunchers, navel inspectors, etc. – and for those people, a planner can create dozens of reports and many dozens of pages – looks impressive I admit – but of what value to the client?

I learned from studing about and listening to people like Jim Rogers, John Savage, Jack and Gary Kinder, Norman Levine, Charlie Flowers, Don Pooley, Hal Zlotnik, Rick Forchuk, Dick Kuriger, Jim Otar and many others – that simple is best.

In my experience, I have found that the planners who use the longest reports are often trying to impress clients with quantity as opposed to quality. Certainly the attitiudes of the client drive the entire process – including the reporting and some clients do want more details than others – but this is a fine line to follow.

I have found that there needs to be enough detail to illustrate to the client that their goals can be achieved given a certain set of circumstances, what changes they need to make and actions they need to take and I allow the client to determine how that is done. As an example, before I present a plan, it is my normal practice to ask them a few questions first, including: How much time to you want to spend at our next meeting reviewing the plans? Do you want to go over the entire plan in detail, or do you want just a high-level summary and then decide on what sequence to follow before getting deeply involved in the entire report? As part of my interview process, I ask clients very early on to indicate their priorities in dealing with their goals – and regardless of my personal preference or prejudice, I follow the sequence or timing as verbalised by the client – this is critical IMHO.

My preference is to give a high-level overview at the first reporting meeting – typically no more than 3 or 4 pages – I don’t want to frighten them or have them start to think they can’t change anything – spoon feeding in other words. Then the rest is covered over the next two or even three meetings so they aren’t overwhelmed and I use LOTS of pictures and graphs and as few tables of numbers as possible. If they ask for some specific details, of course I can produce them, but I don’t try to bury them.

Last, but not least, as a professional financial planner, it is great to have a plan but unless it is implemented and there is regular follow-up (at a minimum of once every two years) to make adjustments as necessary – the whole thing collapses into a pile of snot with only some wasted money and good intentions left lying on the ground!

Anyway, that wraps up this series – hope you find some of the comments of value or at least thought-provoking – agreement is neither necessary, required or expected! Cheers Ian

So What Goes in a Full Financial Plan – Part 2 of 3

So here we go on part 2 of this 3-part series

Post-employment/work Income PlanningAll sources of potential revenue.

1) Employment pensions:
a) Type – Defined Benefit Plans, Money Purchase Pension Plan (Defined Contribution) Deferred Profit Sharing Plans, Employee Profit Sharing Plans, Employee Share Purchase Plans, Group RSP, etc. – past and present – valuations, statements, benefit formulas – early or late – contribution rates, maximums, etc.
b) Portability, commutability – formulas, etc.
c) Inflation protection – none, partial or fully indexed.
d) Pension choices available – spousal requirements, pension splitting options, etc.
e) Income buy-back availability.
f) Integration with OAS or CPP as applicable.

2) Personal retirement assets:
a) RRSPs, Spousal RSPs, Locked-In Retirement Accounts, Locked-in RSPs, Tax Free Savings Accounts, OPEN – depending on current purpose if in existence.
b) Valuations, statements, reasons for choices of investment holdings.
c) Plans for disposal of other investments/business interests/tax-shelters, etc. to supplement other retirement income assets.
d) CPP and OAS benefits statements – OAS maximization/claw-back minimization and planning.
3) Other Savings/Investments earmarked for other purposes/re-direction possibilities.
4) Review potential for partial employment or other post-retirement income supplements, potential inheritances, etc.

Education Planning – as appropriate For clients and family members as applicable.
1) RESPs, other in-trust holdings earmarked for education:
a) CESG and related possibilities including low-income education benefits for grandchildren/great-grandchildren.
b) Retiring student loans effectively.
c) Potential uses of Tax Free Savings Accounts for children.

Charitable/Philanthropic Intentions Family, living and/or posthumous recognition or benefits, donation planning.

Special needs – challenged or gifted Registered Disability Savings Plans, other government assistance plans, trusts, grants.

Wills, Codicils Inter-vivos/Discretionary Trusts, Alter-Ego/Joint Spousal Trusts, General and
Restricted POAs – including bank accounts, Limited POAs, Enduring POAs,
Representation Agreements (Living Wills), Multi-jurisdictional Wills/Multiple Wills for non-situs assets,
Planned inheritances, tax implications, contingent ownership issues etc.
choices for Executors/Co-Executors/Corporate/Contingent Executors, Guardianship
of the person and financial guardianship, conservatorships.

Marriage Marital regime, prior divorce, financial obligations from previous relationships that
survive death. Discuss domestic partnerships as appropriate.

Special tax-planning issues Restructuring cash flows, taxable inheritance planning. Review previous
personal, corporate, partnership, Limited Partnership financials, trust tax returns for missed items,
trends. Discuss Health and Welfare Trusts or Private Health Services Plans, as appropriate.

Risk tolerance assessment Separated by family member, goal specific – generic asset allocations, generic product
allocations.

Gift planning Family and others – refer back to Charitable/Philanthropic.

Intergenerational Wealth Transfer Tax effective and efficient transfer of wealth – next and/or subsequent generations.

Implementation roadmap Suggested target dates, sequences.

So What Goes in to a Full Financial Plan? Part 1 of 3

I start this series with a bit of trepidation – I have so far, in more than 20 years of doing financial planning, been able to find some sort of universal agreement on what should be covered – but here is my attempt. I fully expect some disagreement – but that is good – it means people are thinking about it seriously! Also, readers should be aware that “financial planning” is NOT about selling products – it is exclusively about helping clients create a roadmap for their lives – financial and otherwise. For brevity, I am covering these issues in point form – obviously the actual discussions drive the ultimate destination and no two clients(even spouses or partners) have exactly the same vision – which keeps life interesting! If anyone would like confirmation of what some of these abbreviations and notes mean to me – just ask!

LifestyleCurrent and future, hobbies, interests, health issues/family history, soft-facts via
non-interview. Potential for changed occupation(s), children? Where do they
see themselves in 5, 10, 15, 20 years??

Cash Flow Actual versus planned, leakage (un-accounted for loss of revenue)/budget/cash flow
Planning.
Income tax assessment/recommendations. Income splitting (CPP and other options).
Debt analysis and review – consolidation, refinance, Line(s) of Credit, Total Debt Service Ratios,
eliminate debt through use of other assets to improve cash flow, TDSR, etc.

Assets and Liabilities Including property assessments, mortgage/loan statements and schedules, details of
co-signing, credit card statements, revolving LOCs, bank accounts, GICs, TFSAs,
RESPs, all Registered Products, notes/mortgages receivable, loans to family
members, ACBs, assessments, valuations, cash flows, etc., stock options,
student loans

Risk Management Risk assessment – lives, property, automobiles and business.
Assessment of risk protection alternatives.

1) For individuals – all family members:
a) As appropriate, discussions about life insurance, disability insurance, critical illness insurance and long-term care insurance.
b) Discuss beneficiary appoints (contingent), previous spouses, blended families.
c) Review of group insurance benefits available – including life, AD & D, STD, LTD,
Medical, Dental, Vision Care, Out-of-country, HSAs, etc.
d) Current and available accident benefits, credit life insurance, disability insurance and critical illness insurance.
e) Potential for expanded benefits through ICBC re automobile injury/death.

2) For business/investment real estate/tax shelters/etc. – all involved family members:
a) Over-head Expense Coverage, Disability Buy-Sell, CII Buy-sell.
b) Grouped Executive Enhanced Benefits Plans.
c) LOC coverage as appropriate.
d) Discussion of Buy-Sell situation, liabilities, potential problems for survivor and deceased family.

3) Contingent Liabilities – all involved family members:
a) Who signed what and are the debts protected and recoverable – including review of alternatives.
b) Can contingency be removed.

4) Residence – owned, rented – reviews as appropriate:
a) Coverage for buildings, contents, scheduled items, deductibles, floaters, exclusions (earthquake), limits.
b) Voluntary medical payments, own damage, personal liability, off premises items, properties.
c) No frills, Basic, Broad Form or Comprehensive coverage.
d) Is building or contents over-insured?
e) If strata – match coverage with Strata Insurance Certificate to ensure no gaps.
f) Loss-payees.
g) Improvements updated on policy – strata and detached residences.
h) Fair Market Value versus Replacement Value updated on policy
i) Scheduled items – basket-clause application for jewelry, collectables, etc.
j) Check coverage for ATVs, boats, etc. extended re damage, theft, destruction and liability.

5) Automobiles – Government and Private insurance as appropriate:
a) Are deductibles appropriate given age of vehicles, use, driver?
b) Waiver of depreciation appropriate
c) BC residents – RoadStar eligibility/benefits.
d) Loss of use
e) Underinsured Motorist limits
f) Uninsured Motorist limits
g) Supplemental Death and Income Benefits
h) Third-party liability
i) After-market upgrades or improvements
j) Change of use
k) Experience of drivers
l) Check coverage re ATV’s, boats, etc. extended as floaters or endorsements
m) For boats – Recreational Boater operator cards, etc.
n) Coverage for personal items such computers, cell-phones, iPads, etc. if vehicle stolen or destroyed.

6) Business/Rental Properties/investments/tax-shelters:
a) Coverage limits for structures, loss payees, flood, fire.
b) Third-Party liability, voluntary medical, own damage.
c) Loss of revenue – business continuation – business financial statements.
d) Recent valuations of all assets used in the business.
e) Business cash flow.
f) Tenant damage as appropriate.
g) Revolving Lines of Credit and terms/agreements/co-signing.
h) Business agreements – shareholder, partnership, operating, financing, royalty, revenue sharing, etc. as appropriate.