Recently, I started working with a client (whom I'll call Laura) who was trying to take back control of her life. During our conversation, I asked Laura about her retirement accounts. Laura told me, "I used to have a couple of IRAs, but then someone advised me to put the money into a couple of variable annuities. Now the money's all gone, because I think the insurance company took it back."
This article is simply a feel good story about how I was able to help Laura locate these annuities (which weren't really lost), and how this was the first step for Laura to start taking control of her life again.
Laura found out about me through a referral from another fee-only financial planner. She's in her early 50s, divorced, and lives by herself. Like many people her age, Laura has been wondering whether she'll be able to retire. And if so, when?
During our first conversation, I asked her about her previous experience with financial advisors. She told me that previously, her significant other had always managed the finances, usually because he had more money, or earned more than she did. Her impression was that her finances were considered less significant, and could be 'lumped in' with any recommendations that 'he' received.
As a result, she didn't feel valued in their conversations and never felt like she could ask questions in order to learn more about finances. And now that she was facing her retirement, alone, she didn't feel like she knew enough to be financially secure.
After that conversation, I felt like I could help Laura, and we agreed to schedule a second conversation. During this conversation, I would present my annual fee, and outline if I felt like the value of our relationship was worth that fee. During that second appointment, Laura decided to hire me. I feel that this is, in part, because I took the time to listen to her questions, and to emphasize that educating my clients is an important part of what I do as a financial planner.
During our first conversation, I asked Laura, "Do you have any IRAs?" She told me no. However, during the second conversation, Laura immediately told me,
"I have to admit something. When I told you about my IRAs, I forgot about two IRAs that I used to have. But someone convinced me to put them into annuities, and I think the money's gone. This was about 5 years ago, but I think the insurance company took the money back."
That struck me as one of the oddest things I've ever heard. I'm not an insurance agent, but I had a strong suspicion that this wasn't the whole story. So I asked the following question:
"What would you think if I could help you find those annuities?"
"Thank you, that's very sweet, and I'm sure you'll try very hard. But I don't expect to get that money back, and I'd like to focus on what I can do to prepare for retirement."
We continued the appointment, with me telling Laura the ways that I thought I could help her with her finances. When I told Laura that I could help her organize her financial documents so that she could get a better picture, she asked, "Really?" Then she proceeded to reach into her briefcase and pull out a 3 inch thick stack of various folders and documents. And she said with glee:
"You're going to earn your fee!"
Deep down, I took a big gulp and silently agreed with her.
I took the paperwork home, and it wasn't nearly as bad as I had thought. There were some missing documents, but she had told me that. It wasn't anything we couldn't eventually work through with a simple file organizer. Well, except for the fact that she had no documents or statements related to either of the annuities.
However, one of those documents was a handwritten note, dated in 2014, with a list of accounts. She had shown it to me during our second appointment, but really didn't give it much attention. When I took a second look, I saw that there were account numbers next to annuities she had talked about. It also had some account values; the annuities were worth about $20,000.
After that, I figured that during our first working appointment, we would take some time to call the company, update Laura's information in the company's files, and get her most recent statements and balances.
And sure enough, we did just that. We gave Laura her personalized Client Binder and HomeFile file organizer and made the call. After verifying her personal information, the account representative verified that not only were the annuities still in place, but that they had grown over the past 3+ years to almost $25,000!
What a relief to Laura's ears! She and the representative changed the address on file so she could start getting statements again, and he even walked her through getting online access to her account.
After everything was done and they hung up, Laura turned to me and said, "I'm $25,000 richer!" While we both knew that wasn't really the case, we could both appreciate that this was a positive change to her retirement planning.
To me, the most important part is realizing that if I did nothing else, my fee was already more justified. From that point on, we knew that we could just roll up our sleeves and get down to real financial planning without ever worrying about the value of our relationship again.
Laura and I still have a lot of work to do with regards to financial planning. However, Laura now has a confidence that I did not see when we first met. And as we work together, I know that we'll uncover other opportunities to explore the things that are really important to her. Along the way, we'll have discussions so that Laura truly understands how her money is working for her. And with that confidence and education, we can make sure that every financial decision she makes is a sound one.
What do you think? If there's someone you know who might need help understanding their finances, please share this article. We'd be more than honored to schedule a complimentary consultation to see if we might be able to help you gain a better understanding of your finances and take the first steps in the right direction. You can find us through our website, westchasefinancialplanning.com, or give us a call at 813.920.1445. And you can always e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.