Advisor Business
Sure, Your Clients Can Pay for College, But Can Their HS Junior Even Get In? edit
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 11:00

Tags: client education

Juniors Are Rising


It’s the end of February, which means your clients’ high school juniors are gearing up for their college search and section process.


As your client families begin to consider where they will spend the college fund dollars you helped them to save, we thought we’d pass along to you some tips about college application preparedness to share with them.


Class Selection


If a student has not completed the proper private or public high school curriculum for entrance to a desired degree program and/or university by the time they graduate from high school, they may as well not even consider applying to top colleges.


For instance, if your clients’ student wants to enter one of the top engineering programs in the U.S. – such as Georgia Tech, Purdue, MIT, etc. --  math through trigonometry and pre-calculus should be apparent somewhere on their transcript.


Admissions counselors base admissions decisions on coursework completed through junior year. In addition, they want to see a listing of courses that the student will be taking in senior year. 


Your client’s should be very careful to understand the minimum high school coursework that is required for their child to apply. It doesn’t matter how good the student is academically or if he or she has the right board scores. If they don’t have the classes, they are out.  So encourage your clients to check their child’s potential college and degree-program requirements and then adjust their schedule to be on track.




Students who are interested in Meteorology often don’t understand that to complete a Meteorology degree, they must be able to ace Calculus V in college.


This means that the student must show a strong aptitude for mathematics and make sure to include in their schedule the highest level math courses available at the high school, such as AP Calculus.


You are lucky if you’ve never stood in a college hallway with a weak math student who is sobbing because they had a lifelong dream of being a meteorologist and no one ever told them they were going to have to excel in math to be a weather expert.  It’s heartbreaking. But it’s avoidable if the student is advised expertly (and there are lots of meteorology-related pathways that do not require higher levels of math).


Test Preparation


Whether your client’s child is taking the SAT, the ACT, or both, the student should have been preparing for some time. If they have not had strong test prep in their high school or academy, they need to get it now.


In fact, many high school juniors are already lined up to take their first SAT come March, May and June 2014. The best thing they can do at this time is to get ready. Getting ready can take many forms, from picking up a guide that walks them though the exam and gives them test-taking strategies, to taking the College Board online SAT example tests, to completing a formal SAT/ACT preparation course.


Minimally, the published guides are a great resource to help students become familiar and comfortable with the test format and tips on how to do their very best.


If you get the feeling your client’s child will need more intensive help to ace the test (many students who are talented are not great test takers), then coursework and tutors and learning anxiety-coping strategies can also prove to be effective for some students.


Summer Experience


For a good number of students, the summer between junior year and senior year is their last opportunity to gain real-life experience that is relevant to their career interests.


It also provides excellent material for college essays and personal statements where students are asked to explain “Why XXXXXXX major?” and “Why XXXXXXX college?” Students can gain this experience through a job, an internship (paid or unpaid), or minimally they can interview people in their chosen field.




We worked with a student this year who is seeking admission to an accelerated medical school program. He was going to need something special on his application to make him stand out from all the other outstanding applicants with perfect grades and test scores. So we guided him toward participating in medical research. 


He contacted a professor at his state university and asked to work with him in his lab during the summer before senior year.  The professor allowed him to do so, and then wrote a stellar letter of recommendation for the student’s college applications. 


In addition, the professor included the student as an author on the research paper.  As a result of this extra effort and experience, our client has received full rides at several elite universities.


Vacation with a Purpose


Are your clients talking about taking a vacation this summer, perhaps even overseas? Encourage them to visit colleges while they are traveling.


What should you advise them about visiting?

  •  Tell them to make sure to pick up copies of the student newspaper to find out what’s really going on at the school.
  • They should ask questions of the locals to learn what the climate will be like when it’s not summer.  
  • Encourage them to seek out the professors in their child’s area of interest, as faculty schedules in the summer are often less frantic than during the academic year. 
  • This is also a great time to make a positive, lasting connection with an admissions counselor, as summer is a slower time for admissions staff and they have more time to spend with families.
  • While visits are important, many students fall in love with the campus of a college at which they have no hope of being accepted because the right advising has not taken place throughout the high school years. So it’s important that you encourage your clients to help their student maintain perspective. 


An absolutely wonderful student we only started working with at the end of the summer just before his senior year visited Vanderbilt and fell in love with it. He wore the sweatshirts. He told everyone he was applying there. It was his number one choice.


But he wasn’t accepted, because they had come to us too late to let us really affect his admissions outcomes. Frankly, to an admissions insider who understood his real and meaningful goals, it wasn’t the right fit for him anyway. By anyone’s standards, this is an amazing young man who is going to do great things. However, it’s hard to tell that to a kid who set his heart on a goal that he never would have set for himself if he had not visited. Oh well, Vanderbilt’s loss will be someone else’s gain. 


So while it’s important for your clients and their children to visit colleges, it’s also important to make sure that the stage is set appropriately so that inappropriate -- and perhaps crushed -- expectations are not created.


Get Ahead of the Game


Students should begin to familiarize themselves with the degree program curricula for their major and the application requirements for each of the colleges to which they intend to apply.

The two most intensive parts of a college application are the college essay(s) and the letters of recommendation.


Regarding the latter, many students will be asking teachers and others to write their letters. The request for letters of recommendation should be made as soon after the start of school in the fall as possible. This ensures that the student’s request will not be turned away by those teachers who are “favorites” in the school. We will talk about strategies later on to ensure the best letter is written on behalf of the student.


Regarding the essay, many teachers and families still do not understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all essay.  Many colleges now require essays of various lengths and topics in addition to the essay prompts on the Common Application (Common App). 


The development of the college essay should start slowly and build up to the finished product. Too many students leave the essays until the end and those never end well.


Please note that the Common App essay questions for 2014-2015 are the same as those from last year’s cycle, so they are available to start thinking about now (although changes to the individual college supplemental essays and personal statements may not be available until late summer or early fall).  We always suggest that students create a list of bullet points for each question by simply listing thoughts that can be expanded as they develop their essay over the summer and into the fall.


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Rowling’s Appeal To NAPFA Reflects A Deeper Problem In The Movement To Make Financial Advising A Real Profession edit
Saturday, February 08, 2014 20:24

Sheryl Rowling’s appeal to NAPFA to restore accepting CPA/PFSs as members even if they do not hold a CFP designation reflects a deeper problem in the movement to make financial advising a real profession.

This Website Is For Financial Professionals Only

Each segment of the financial services world thinks it is the answer, the designation, the real professional.
This myopia obscures commonalities and gets in the way of creating a single profession comprised of practitioners from all the different disciplines of financial advising.  
I’m not proposing that CFA Institute merge with CFP Board and the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning Practice Section. I’m just saying that the different corners of the profession all have to find common ground instead of erecting new barriers the way NAPFA members did to CPA/PFSs.
All of these groups need to stop thinking of what’s best for their professional status and start thinking about what’s best for consumers. Finding common ground on ways to help consumers would be a lot more productive than bickering.
CFPs, CIMAs, CPA/PFSs, ChFCs, CFAs and lawyers all have the same goal: serving clients well and making a living. Each segment of the profession has something of value to consumers and each other.

Advisor Clients Often Think Their Kids Are A Shoo-In For Entrance To Elite Colleges, But Good Grades And A Legacy No Longer Are Enough edit
Tuesday, December 24, 2013 12:52

Say your client’s child has great grades, tons of “Advanced Placement” credits, high SATs and SAT IIs, went to all the right summer camps, and has legacy 10-ancestors deep at an Ivy League school.  This child also has a list of extracurricular activities that runs two-pages, single spaced, and includes music, theater, and Habitat for Humanity. And the kid spent last summer volunteering in a refugee community in Africa. In short, your client’s child seemed to have it all, but now the whole family is devastated because somehow all of that was not enough to get into a dream school. How could that be? Here’s what’s going on. 


Elite colleges are swamped with applications. Last year Harvard received 35,000 applications. And it’s getting harder and harder to get in:  In 2003, Harvard accepted 9.8% of applicants; for Fall 2012, they accepted only 5.8% of them. Why is it so competitive?  Every student applying to the top schools has the same academic profile and access to the same activities. Many of them come from families that can afford to pay money to provide their student with a volunteer experience where they simply have to show up.  So your student needs something that is going to set her apart from the crowd and beat the competition. 


These colleges are seeking someone special. They are seeking great thinkers, great doers, and great leaders.  They want to see initiative and spark. They want to see that the applicant understands the mission of the college to which she is applying. (It’s on their website, and you better read it.) You must understand the college and how your child relates to it, i.e. does it emphasize sustainability (Vassar), or ethics and social concerns (Swarthmore). 


These colleges want to know that the applicant has read the degree program information in the catalog, including course descriptions and faculty research areas of focus, and that she is able to relate her own experience and interests directly to that information. 


A client of ours who ended up attending Harvard this year – and was admitted to many of the most elite colleges in the country – had a high school record that was stellar but very similar to many other students who are high achievers. As amazing as he is, this student was unable to express his complex interests in a coherent way that related to the college’s individual offerings.  It took getting his parents to stop interfering (however lovingly) in his thought processes. It took months of introspection and research into each college to be able to prep successfully for his essays and his interviews, the latter of which cannot be faked and usually reveals to the interviewer how much the student is not a good fit for the school. 


This underscores the importance of starting early on college preparation. College prep is not simply paying oodles of money for the best SAT tutor.  College prep is about your client encouraging her child from as early as 8th grade to work towards recognizing areas of strong interest and skill. Students need to develop those areas of interest and strength early through substantive experiences that will offer leadership opportunities by the sophomore and junior years of high school. For example, a student we are working with has all the raw material to get into an elite college:  He has a strong political and social understanding and strong leadership in state politics at the student level. This leadership opportunity and steady personal and intellectual growth has given him real experience to use in his college and scholarship essays and personal statements (of which there are dozens).  This student does not have perfect grades or SATs, but he is a great student who presents himself extraordinarily well. He is going to get into an elite college -- the right elite college -- and go on to be a great leader.


As former admissions directors, we know what it’s like to dig through piles and piles and piles of applications and numbers, all of them virtually interchangeable. It’s exhausting and dismaying.  “OMG, another kid who played violin and thinks he's special.”  No.  Music is fundamental to a solid education, but not special. Organizing a group of New York City high school students to travel to Washington, DC, to meet the Supreme Court Justices, as did one young woman we know?  Now that’s special.


Most of your clients probably send their children to private prep academies, where they promise outstanding college advising. However, most prep schools offer between 2 and 4 college advisors for hundreds of students, and often only one 12th grade advisor.  And usually that individual – however well meaning – has no experience in higher education admissions.  We visit prep schools all the time, and it’s sad how many times we hear counselors talking about how they don’t have the time for their students, or they have to pull students in from the hallway once a year to have a conversation, or the parents are overriding the student’s needs and desires in pursuit of a success that has more to do with the parents’ own self-image.


So how do people like your clients find genuine, effective college prep and search help for their children? 


Educational consultants are everywhere, and like everyone in any industry, they vary in quality and intention. In some markets, education consultants with no college-insider experience charge upwards of $20-40,000 per child, “guaranteeing” that a student will get into an Ivy League college. But as anyone with a college admission background knows, there is no guarantee of getting in to any top college. Often, consultants without inside admissions experience simply don’t know what it’s going to take to make a student admissible to an outstanding institution.


Second, the student may not be suited to the kind of teaching that is done at an elite college, which can create emotional, social, and academic crises, so the effort to get that student into a rigorous academic environment can be a disaster for your client’s child. We see it all the time. 


Third, many times these consultants are focusing on the wrong effort. The effort must be to match the spirit and aspirations of the student with the offerings of the right college or university, because not all elite college academic departments are created equal.


For example, if your client has one child who is interested in weather forecasting and one who is interested in journalism, they need to know this: Two of the top 10 Journalism and Meteorology programs in the country with 100% placement in those respective industries are at a small college in rural Vermont. Within those vast and complex industries, they are not looking for Yale grads. They are looking for Lyndon State College grads.  If your client’s daughter is interested in engineering, engineering is not “one size fits all”. There are extremely important distinctions in engineering degree programs at all of the elites, and those distinctions must be sorted through with your client’s child, working with experts in order to have the best long term outcomes. 


As a financial advisor, you are often intimately familiar with your client’s personal and family challenges. Teenagers can present a wide variety of confusion to themselves and their parents, from behavioral symptoms that impact their performance in the classroom to social issues that prevent them from succeeding outside the classroom, or worse, they display no symptoms of adolescence at all, which can be trouble hiding in plain sight. Your clients that are faced with these challenges are fortunate to be able to pay for rehab and tutoring, among other means of assistance. However, when a student gets to college and on their own, it is often these students we see who struggle with social and academic stress and learning how to make their own healthy choices.


It is because of this that we believe every kid needs a great team from the get-go. We are in a unique position to be part of the team that helps your families at the beginning of their college prep years. Just as you provide a kind of preventative medicine to help your clients assure healthy financial outcomes, we provide a similar kind of preventative medicine to help assure their children’s success and the continued success of the family through generations. And we don’t charge $20,000 with a guarantee of an Ivy acceptance. We charge $7000 (on average) with a track record that assures the best possible unique outcome for your client’s unique child. This fee provides your clients with highly effective, individualized baseline prep, college search, and college application assistance. It also provides these very busy people with stress relief.


Some families require lots of hand holding. Others simply want to know someone is there to answer their questions when they arise. Either way, you rest easy knowing that your client’s family is being taken care of through one of the most stressful times in their lives.

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Google Helpouts And The Future Of The Financial Advice Profession; This Is The Best Thing To Ever Happen To Hourly Financial Planning edit
Wednesday, November 06, 2013 12:19

Tags: google | online financial advice | prospecting | SEO

Google yesterday launched Helpouts, a way for anyone anywhere to get expert advice on any subject anytime. Should you sign up? More importantly, is Google Helpouts important in the evolution of the financial advice business cum profession?

There are no clear answers to either question. Google’s many failures are well-documented. The company’s willingness to launch new businesses has filled a graveyard of spectacular flops with funny names like Buzz, Wave and plain names  like Answers, Video Player, and Audio Ads. Helpouts, the new venture anounced yesterday on Google’s Offiicial Blog by Udi Manber, could be a candidate for Google’s graveyard of failures or it just might catch on. I think it's going to work.

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Helpouts lets you choose who you get help from based experts on their qualifications, availability, price, ratings and reviews. Powered with crowd-sourced data, Helpouts holds the potential to become the Amazon of professional services. It may take a decade or longer for Helpouts to become a mainstream service, but it could transform the way professional services are delivered.

For financial advice professionals who work on an hourly basis, you are a natural candidate for utilizing Google Helpouts. In fact, Google Helpouts is the best thing ever to happen to hourly financial planning. Suddenly, you have a global marketplace for your services. The sooner you get started on building reviews and ratings, the better it will be for you.
Hourly advisors that aggressively pursue business on Google Helpouts early can gather momentum before most other professionals even know about its potential. If you start early, you could gain important momentum by building a track record of high ratings and favorable reviews.
Right now, Helpouts has almost no financial advisor participation. For now, you can get advice from an expert in only eight subject areas--such as computers, education and health. But a financial category can't be too far off. And it will attract some financial professionals.
Google Helpouts can be a good way to gain professional experience for young CFPs, CFAs, CPAs, and CIMAs. Young advisors generally understand social networking and online relationships better than older advisors, and Helpouts could be a bastion for budding young professionals.
And if you're a 65-year old financial advice profssional, listing on Google Helpouts is a fantastic way to keep busy and help people. 
Established professionals are a lot less likely to get involved with Google Helpouts because the economics won’t make sense to you. Why would you spend a lot of your time to work with a person who has a problem and won’t ever contact you again? Once you tell this client what to do with their IRA, how to invest to fund a child’s college education, or whether they have set aside enough to retire, he or she might never call you again.
If you are willing to compete with hourly advisors, then you may find many of these “transactional” clients that hire you on Google Helpouts want to hire you to the manage their money on an ongoing basis.  Which brings up another point.
Just because you list your financial advice services on Helpouts doesn’t mean you are suddenly running an online business that commoditizes delivery of financial advice.  It does not cheapen what you do and who you are. In fact, it carries with it a certain cache of being really with it. In addition, a listing on Helpouts is probably going to help boost your ranking in Google Search.
If Helpouts allows advisors to carve out niches in local places and gain search advantages by participating actively in Helpouts and getting good ratings, it can be a very powerful platform for professional services and that fosters building long-term relationships.  It could provide a huge marketing boost to advisors who get good ratings and deserve the business.  
Imagine being able to post a Google Helpouts badge on your website’s home page showing your Google Helpouts rating. Finally, being a five-star advisor could actually have some meaning.



Jim Pavia, Former Investment News Editor, Is At CNBC Targeting Long-Term Investors And Advisors edit
Thursday, October 31, 2013 09:40

Tags: advisor industry people | client education | Investment News

James (Jim) Pavia, who ran the editorial staff at Investment News (IN) from June 2003 until this past June and was a central figure in its ascendance as the predominant online hub for financial advisors, is now leading an effort to do the same thing at CNBC, the cable TV business news channel—to create content for investment advisors and financial planners as well as long-term retail investors.


Investment News (IN) has consistently beat the other trade publications at covering major breaking news for financial advisors. Financial Advisor, Financial Planning, and Investment Advisor, trade pubs that preceded IN and commercialization of the Internet, simply do not cover daily and breaking news for financial advisors with the same breadth, depth, urgency or consistency as IN. Crain Publications, which owns 22 trade publications in addition to IN— including seven devoted to rubber and plastics, Advertising Age and Pension & Investment News—adjusted to the online news format better than the traditional trade publications. Pavia directed the effort at IN.
With the NBA season starting this week, let’s put it this way: Pavia is “taking his talents” to a national cable TV financial channel with a strong Internet presence.

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Pavia has been cast in the leading role in creating a news stream targeted to long-term investors and advisors on CNBC. And, in man-bites-dog style, Pavia says this new financial news content stream will focus on long-term investing.
Pavia says he has been empowered to alter the cable TV channel’s fixation on the ephemeral. “We aim to provide investor- and advisor-centric content,” says Pavia, in an email answering questions follow-up questions to a phone interview. “Advisors can and will pick up some solid insights by reading our stories at on what other advisors are doing successfully in their practices. So it will be a win-win for investors and advisors.” 
The number of businesses providing news to investment advisors has grown enormously over the past 20 years. With the five-year old bull market in US stocks, media companies are expanding their content for investors and advisors. The field of publications targeting independent advisors is far more crowded than it was in the 1980s and 1990s. 
Financial Planning, originally the "house" organ of the International Association for Financial Planning (now Financial Planning Association), was the first successful trade magazine for financial planners in the 1980s. IAFP  spun it off in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, in the early-1990s, Stanger Reports, which tracked LPs, REITs, and the tax-driven investment offerings pregnant with  fees--deals that were so prevalent in the mid- 80s, broadened its scope and in the early-1990s was acquired by Dow Jones and it became known as Dow Jones Investment Advisor, which begot AdvisorOne and most recently started getting marketed as ThinkAdvisor. When Dow Jones sold Investment Advisor to a private equity group in the late 1990s, Charlie Stroller, an original owner of IA, started a new magazine literally accross the street from IA, which is today's Financial Advisor.
(Disclosure: I wrote what became The Gluck Report at Investment Advisor and Financial Advisor for about 16 years before leaving to build my own online financial news stream for advisors and their clients.) 
Coverage of the financial advice profession has changed drastically over the past 30 years I’ve been involved. CNBC—a TV channel—targeting content about financial advisors adds yet another new twist in the evolution of financial content for advisors and investors.
CNBC’s investment myopia is legendary. While CNBC’s financial news coverage would seem to have value to traders, technicians, and market-timers, it has never been of much value to fiduciaries. People in the long-term investment business need to keep up with breaking news, but they don’t make investment decisions based on the big story of the moment, which is CNBC’s currency. Pavia says that’s changing.
“We are right now creating special report content with a focus on long term investment plans for investors,” says Pavia, who started at CNBC in July. “We are tapping advisors to offer insight through guest columns and to act as sources for the reporters.”
Pavia started his career at The Staten Island Advance, a humble daily for residents of “the forgotten borough.” Leaping onto a national stage is such a great New York story. Having grown up in Queens and competed for jobs against silver-spoon Ivy Leaguers early in my career, I’m a sucker for New Yorkers from the outer-boroughs who earn a place in the national press. It’s like the movie, Invincible, where Mark Wahlberg plays the role of a regular guy from Philly who earns a spot on the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles. Pavia, a scrappy Staten Islander, has a vision that could transform CNBC and play a central role in the evolutionary changes unfolding in financial journalism.

“We want to be the media company that will lead the charge to getting good, deep-dive, long-term information to the investor community,” says Pavia, senior editor-at-large at CNBC Digital. “Our site has several million unique visitors a month and we want to be the first media company of this size to get this kind of information out on a daily basis.”
Pavia says CNBC hopes to cover practice management in addition to investments. But the main focus will be creating content about investing that can be viewed by advisors but also by consumers. Pavia says the opportunity to move to CNBC came up when he was out for drinks with former Crain’s colleague, Xana Antunes, now editor of CNBC Digital.
Pavia describes this part of his editorial mission as providing “agnostic information to educate individual investors who come to the (CNBC) site.” He set up an advisory board comprised of advisors and hopes to get them on TV and online talking to investors.
“As for staffing,” says Pavia, in an email answering questions following up on an interview, “I am part of a special reports team that works together to produce the content. We use staff and freelance writers to help us generate a ton of copy. My team's mission is to provide great content that will be used across all platforms at CNBC, web, video and TV.”
What’s it all mean? CNBC covering investing from a long-haul perspective is like the world of the bizzarro described in Superman in 1961. If you were not a Superman comic-book fan when you were a boy, Bizaroo World, says Wikipedia, “has come to mean a situation or setting which is weirdly inverted or opposite of expectations.” Investment advisors, financial planners and credentialed professionals could always count on CNBC and other cable TV business news outlets to be wrongheaded in analyzing investments, but they are, amazingly, getting smarter. But Pavia is a strong leader with a vision.
Advisors should be prepared for consumers, other advisors, and even CNBC to get smarter about investing, which will further commoditize the investment advice business and compress financial advice fees. Local financial advice firms with niches that aim to keep investment fees low by using index funds and ETFs, and that help consumers avoid behavioral finance mistakes and make strategically-oriented financial decisions based on research will be the winners. But what do I know. I’m from Queens.


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