Our team at Shepherd Financial is passionate about creating retirement-ready employees and responsible plan fiduciaries. One of the many ways we achieve these goals is through our extensive fiduciary training. Committee members and key personnel are equipped with critical knowledge to properly execute their roles and responsibilities. As a result, participants may achieve more successful outcomes, because their plan is carefully developed and monitored.
An important component of fiduciary training is learning how to monitor investments. This includes the following tasks:
- Setting overall objectives and investment strategies for the plan
- Selecting appropriate investments in light of these goals and strategies
- Monitoring the plan’s investment options on an ongoing basis
- Adding or removing investments, when warranted, over time
- Ensuring the investment options meet the provisions of the investment policy statement (IPS)
- Reviewing the organizational structure of the portfolio managers
As you think about investment selection and monitoring within your own plan, there are certainly many factors contributing to participant retirement readiness, but selecting an appropriate qualified default investment alternative (QDIA) is critical; without an approved QDIA, participants who are not actively engaged or knowledgeable in selecting their investment mix could wind up in a fund that is not suitable for their circumstances. An approved QDIA can consist of a target date retirement fund, a balanced fund, or a professionally managed account. Notice requirements must also be met for a fund to qualify as a QDIA.
Three factors should be considered when selecting the QDIA for your plan: your participant base, risk, and the elements of a periodic review.
1. Participant Base
Think about the characteristics of your participant population, such as their salary levels, contribution rates, typical retirement age, and post-retirement withdrawal patterns. Also consider their ability to stick with the default fund over time.
Risk, rather than returns, is a critical component impacting participant behavior. Make sure you understand the inherent risk associated with the QDIA – for a target date fund, examine the glidepath, asset classes, and how the asset allocation can impact participants at different phases (accumulation, nearing retirement, at retirement, and beyond retirement).
3. Periodic Review
In addition to performance, risk, and fees, determine if any information used in the initial selection of the QDIA has changed. Consider fund manager, strategy, or objective changes, as well as if your initial objectives for the QDIA itself have changed.
Shepherd Financial is a fiduciary, in writing, for each of our clients. Our commitment to this standard permeates our fiduciary training, fund screening, and due diligence processes, because we believe in working together with plan sponsors and participants to help pursue retirement health.
There is no assurance the Fund will achieve its investment objective. The Fund is subject to market risk, which is the possibility that the market values of securities owned by the Fund will decline, and, therefore, the value of the Fund shares may be less than what you paid for them. Accordingly, you can lose money investing in a Fund. A plan of regular investing does not assure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market. You should consider your financial ability to continue your purchase throughout periods of fluctuating price levels. Please obtain a prospectus for complete information including charges and expenses. Read it carefully before you invest or send money. None of the information in this document should be considered as tax advice. You should consult your tax advisor for information concerning your individual situation.
Risk-adjusted performance is the performance of a security or investment relative to its risk. One may calculate the risk-adjusted performance in a number of ways. One may consider the investment’s volatility. Alternatively, one may compare its performance to the performance of the marketa s a whole or relative to securities or investments with similar levels of risk.
Investments in Target Date Funds are subject to the risks of their underlying funds. The year in the fund name refers to the approximate year (the target date) when an investor in the fund would retire and leave the workforce. The fund will gradually shift its emphasis from more aggressive investments to more conservative ones based on its target date. The principal value in a Target Date Fund is not guaranteed at any time, including on or after the target date, which is the approximate date when investors turn age 65. Should you choose to retire significantly earlier or later, you may want to consider a fund with an asset allocation more appropriate to your particular situation. The funds invest in a broad range of underlying mutual funds that include stocks, bonds, and short-term investments and are subject to the risks of different areas of the market. The funds maintain a substantial allocation to equities both prior to and after the target date, which can result in greater volatility. All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest. Diversification or asset allocation do not ensure a profit or protect against a loss. Investments in bonds are subject to interest rate, credit, and inflation risk.
A Balanced Portfolio is a portfolio allocation and management method aimed at balancing risk and return. Such portfolios are generally divided equally between equities and fixed-income securities.
It’s easy to see why January is considered the start of new things – there’s a fresh calendar year and a plethora of resolutions get shouted from the rooftops. This feels like a chance to hit the reset button in many areas of life. At this point, you can see the race has a clearly-defined finish line – and it’s 12 months away. Of course, for some people, January is really right in the middle of the action. Maybe you’re gearing up for your second semester and looking at a somewhat shorter distance to the finish line.
No matter the length of your particular race, though, it’s helpful to have a good idea of what you’re getting into. As runners will tell you, there is a vast difference between sprinting 100 meters and grinding out a marathon. From race preparation and strategy to gauging your pace along the way, you will benefit from having a plan in place before your feet ever leave the starting line. At Shepherd Financial, we believe financial wellness is one important piece of whole-life wellness. So while we hope financial goals are part of your plan (and want to help you set and achieve those goals), don’t stop there. Pause and think for a moment about how financial well-being could positively impact the rest of your life. Do you want to pay off debt? Save more for retirement? Increase your charitable giving? Send your kids to college? Travel more? We can help you create a plan and work toward those goals.
It’s also important to realize not all runners are built the same. If you’re a sprinter, don’t force yourself into strapping on a hydration belt to run 26.2 miles. Set yourself up for success by running your race. You may find it useful to set smaller goals with shorter timelines. We believe each of our clients has a unique lens with which they see the world. Getting to know you, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, is part of our process – if we craft a financial plan that doesn’t fit your specific needs, it doesn’t make sense to pursue it.
Don’t forget your running buddies! When you head out to pound the pavement for a few hours, it’s nice to know you have a support system by your side. Think through what you want to accomplish, then find the teammates who will encourage you to get there. Because our focus is creating retirement-ready individuals, our team is constantly producing new tools and educational resources. We love finding customized solutions for retirement plan sponsors, participants, and individuals.
For nearly two years, our team has conducted a monthly financial wellness webinar for participants in the retirement plans we advise. These webinars focus on different topics meant to engage participants with their overall financial wellness. Some of our most popular presentations have been our Quarterly Market Reviews, The Basics of Investing, and Dealing with Financial Stress. We have one particular webinar so relevant, though, it’s been requested multiple times and in a variety of formats: Women and Investing.
But why? What’s the big deal?
The truth is, women face a totally different financial environment than men. With an ongoing gender disparity in compensation, years worked, risk tolerance for investing, healthcare costs, and overall lifespan, it’s no wonder there is an undercurrent of fear and confusion surrounding finances. Studies have revealed women do not feel confident – or even comfortable – discussing money or investing with friends, partners, or financial professionals.
Nearly 90% of women will end up managing their finances alone at some point in their lives1, whether due to not getting married, divorcing, or having their spouse pass away. This means learning to navigate expenses and medical/long-term care decisions on one income and without a partner with whom to plan.
So the big deal is this: women are falling far behind men when it comes to saving and retiring on their terms.
Our team simply refuses to settle for this reality. We want to empower women to ask – and answer – questions like these:
How should I initiate financial conversations with my spouse?
What’s a good plan for divorced ladies?
How soon is too soon to begin estate planning?
As a single woman, how do I get started when I feel so overwhelmed?
The process is simple, though it may not be easy.
Start by making a plan. Make it a priority to understand where you are (track expenses and create a budget) and where you want to be (create short-, medium-, and long-term goals). Identify areas where you need help (perhaps learning to invest, paying off debt, or determining your retirement income needs). Once you’ve done that, educate yourself – it’s good to engage in your own financial wellness! Make sure you figure out who’s on your team. It’s unreasonable to think you can or should do everything yourself. We have accessible, knowledgeable team members to make it easy on you. Take advantage of our resources and tools available. Finally, keep making the next right decision. Monitor your portfolio, stick to your plan, and look ahead.
Don’t let fear keep you on the sidelines of your own life.
1 National Center for Women and Retirement
Indiana is renowned for its litany of sports legends. You’ve likely heard of fan favorite Peyton Manning or a trash-talking guy named Reggie Miller. Perhaps you’ve seen those little cinematic gems, Hoosiers and Rudy? And in the month of May, it’s commonplace to see Indianapolis flooded with spectators, all eager to witness what’s known as The Greatest Spectacle in Racing – the Indy 500.
Drivers complete 200 laps to try and win this 500-mile race. Their prize? It’s unique – winners get an ice-cold bottle of milk to celebrate their triumph at the Speedway. Yes, there is a monetary prize as well, but many drivers have claimed getting to drink the milk is the better reward – it’s symbolic, celebratory, and a refreshing end to a grueling race.
Here at Shepherd Financial, our passion is helping individuals and plan participants navigate their personal roadmap to retirement. Like Indy 500 drivers, many things are needed along the way: clear vision, endurance, and support from others. The process starts by asking yourself these questions:
· How much money will I need at retirement?
· Where is my retirement income going to come from?
· How much should I be contributing today?
· How should I invest my retirement savings?
· What steps do I need to take right now?
It’s important to remember your working years are a long race, and some seasons may feel achingly repetitious. There are other times when, out of necessity, you must take a pit stop. Life changes – like having a baby, buying a house, or losing a spouse – happen and can feel frustrating (and maybe even like you’re spinning your tires), but we’d encourage you to use those moments to reset and refocus.
Ask for support and let other people help you. A driver may have a great understanding of how his or her car works, but their job on race day is to drive. Changing tires, refueling, and making mechanical tweaks are the responsibilities of the pit team. The driver simply needs to radio the crew and ask for help. In the same way, financial professionals can walk through the roadmap questions with you, enabling you to focus on your current race.
Visualize your end goal and think about what it requires to get there. Yes, you are striving for the monetary prize of funding your retirement income goal. But how will you celebrate actually reaching the finish line? What’s your bottle of milk?
Sir Francis Bacon is often attributed with saying, “Knowledge is power.” While agreeing with the general sentiment, we have learned firsthand that knowledge is often not enough when it comes to personal finances. April is National Financial Literacy Month, and our team believes this is a critical and timely subject. Financial literacy is more than just a general knowledge of money: it is both the education and understanding of how money is made, spent, and saved, as well as acquiring the ability to manage one’s financial resources effectively.
In our industry, it is clear to see how a lack of financial literacy impacts both individuals and the companies for whom they work. It has been well-documented that financial stress increases absenteeism, decreases productivity, and negatively affects retirement and health care costs. So while the issue is personal, it seems naïve to believe employers should have no say in the matter. Considering its impact on physical health, financial wellness needs to have a natural place in the overall benefits package.
When it comes to retirement plan design, adding features like auto-enrollment and auto-escalation are important steps to help employees save (and save more). But plan sponsors should also consider how loans and withdrawals may cause plan leakage – when faced with financial difficulties, if employees can easily pull money back out of the plan, they probably will. However, simply focusing on increasing savings in the company retirement plan as the only financial goal could also be part of a two-fold problem – first, employees may have a variety of more pressing financial needs; second, improving financial well-being must begin with driving actual behavioral change. This involves communication, education, guidance, and resources that are customized for your employees.
Using plan and participant data (ages, current deferral rates, loan balances, etc.) can help dictate relevant strategies for your company. These targeted strategies can have a significant impact on long-term financial security. But keep in mind that creating financial literacy is not a one-time event. Instead, it must be developed over time – for example, learning how to set and achieve personal goals can positively change attitudes toward saving and spending, which can in turn help build a better budget that will actually be followed. It’s also important to engage with employees in ways that matter to them, perhaps by utilizing technology, gamifying financial behaviors, offering rewards, and incorporating overall wellness into the company culture at large.
In the financial world, we tend to think in quarters rather than seasons, use spreadsheets more than pencil and paper, and punctuate our speech with ticker symbols instead of adjectives. But Shepherd Financial is not your average retirement consulting firm.
Yes, our goal is to create retirement-ready individuals – whether that’s through our 401(k) plan participant engagement meetings or individual wealth management process. Our team is always focused on providing amazing, intentional service. What really differentiates us, though, is our desire to prioritize people, as well as their stories, lives, and goals.
We know that while not much actually changes between December 31st and January 1st, most people view the turning of the calendar page as their chance for a fresh start. The new year lies ahead, open and unblemished. If you are ready to charge into the new year with guns blazing, we applaud you. Take the world by storm!
But for others, the new year creates anxiety. And if you are one of the many people who experienced a tumultuous 2016, you may be looking back, weary and unsettled. Perhaps unexpected medical bills have financially swamped you. Maybe you are now responsible for the care of an elderly parent. You might feel uncertain about our country’s economic future. How you feel about these experiences truly matters.
And we know it can be quite common to let those feelings create a state of paralysis. Worry and fear twist in your stomach. You stop moving, and life simply happens to you. We get it. But know this: we see you, and your story matters to us. You are not alone.
If you’re hesitantly peering over the edge of the new year, our challenge for you is this: be the leading character in your own story. This will require turning hopeful eyes toward your circumstances, taking ownership of your situation, and making active decisions about what comes next.
You are not stuck unless you do nothing – so do something!
For some, that will include swallowing your pride and asking for help. Make the phone call you’ve been avoiding and set an appointment with a financial planner/counselor/personal trainer/doctor. Yes, it’s hard, but it is necessary to move forward.
Other people will need to take a long look at spending habits and commit to doing something different with finances this year. Maybe it means cutting up your credit cards, or perhaps it involves creating a budget and carefully tracking expenses in order to get out from under a weighty mountain of debt. Financial freedom won’t happen unless you deliberately work toward it.
Let 2017 be a year of positive change in your life. And if you need us to partner with you for either the first step or the long haul, our team is only a phone call away.