Why Do We Love Financial Planning?

3 Feb

Yesterday I wrote about a fundamental lack of leadership in our world.  Well, I’m not just a complainer. I like to look at the issues we have and find ways to solve them.

There are examples of leadership in our world.  The president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, comes to mind.  He has refused to repeat some of the many mistakes South American leaders have made over the last 50 years.  He has lead his small country to stability. Simply for being brave and different.

But we need leaders on the streets and in the halls of our companies and our governments and our non-profits.

I love this talk from Simon Sinek.  What, How, Why? This is the normal and basic approach.  But what if we flipped that sequence. Why, how, what? This applies to life in all ways- business, parenting, serving others.  If you have 20 minutes, please have a look.

Why, how, what.

Why do Sarah and I run a financial planning company?  Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.

The way we challenge the status quo is practicing as fiduciaries.  Is by ignoring trends and sticking to tried and true advice. By respecting our clients and their hard earned money. By actually placing a client’s interests ahead of our own, not just saying we do. Wouldn’t you like to work with a financial advisory firm like ours?

Where are the Leaders?

2 Feb

Not sure who said this but it applies very well across the globe today. “Leadership involves remembering past mistakes, an analysis of today’s achievements, and a well-grounded imagination in visualizing the problems of the future.”

Whether divisiveness in Europe, the Middle East or here at home what is needed is leadership.  We seem to be very good at recalling the mistakes and trying to place blame. But our current world leaders have no skill in analysis of today nor any imagination for a better future.

You know where else we lack leadership in this world? People’s money and savings. Whether it is a poorly constructed 401(k) at work or Wall Street’s continual refusal to do what is right by the American public due to their out-sized need for egregious profits, the industry of financial advice lacks solid leadership.

The quasi-regulators at the SEC and FINRA would rather focus on making sure this blog is written in an ‘approved’ manner than catch crooks like Clay Stephens or Bernie Madoff before they destroy the finances of so many. Why are they focused on the wrong places, time and again?

Advisers in Sonoma County and all over the country continue to legally sell awful equity indexed annuities, garbage private or ‘alternative’ investments, stuff people into insurance policies they don’t need and worse.  All because the regulators in power refuse to stiffen their backs to heavy industry lobbying.

Individuals far and wide continue to bank at major Wall Street corporations, continue to invest on the advice of major Wall Street corporations and continue to get fleeced by both.  Why? Why do folks do things against their self-interest?

Out here, in our humble Santa Rosa outpost, we keep swinging at the windmills.  We keep urging people to take responsibility with their money.  To find a financial adviser who is independent of Wall Street, someone they can trust will put the client’s interests before the advisor’s.

So, I commend you reading this. Many of you are our clients.  You’ve placed your trust in a firm that respects and appreciates you rather than sees you as an easy mark, a dollar sign, a chump. You are ‘shopping locally’ when you engage our firm.  You are telling Wall Street you’ve had enough. You are telling your government there is a better way to regulate the securities world. Thank you!

Share this with your friends. See if they are fed up with the misdirection, the half-truths, and the obvious skullduggery of the big guys on Wall Street.  Let’s go have coffee with someone you know who might be tired of all this.  Let’s keep swinging at windmills and see how many we can take down!

Boa Noite, 2014!

31 Dec
Sometime or another, someone shared with me the reason why the pace of the days, weeks, months and years feel as if they are continually accelerating.  It was something like this –
When you are 5 years old, a year is 20% of your life. When you’re 100, it is 1% of your life. It gave new meaning to the impression that every year, your time gets shorter. On the contrary, is this why we can’t remember as well as we age?
At 5 years of age, there is still so much to learn. At 85, we’ve learned so much, we have so much accrued knowledge, it becomes more and more difficult to recall a singular fact. Like the name of the Cubs third basemen in 1984 or where I put my key. I never found my damn lost key in 2014.
Despite losing my car key at minigolf, this has been a wonderfully blessed year for us. Sarah and I both stayed healthy, my back has finally healed, our children are healthy and loved.  Our family shared some very special moments together. I was also lucky enough to see Brazil play, in Brazil during this summer’s World Cup…in Brazil! Not to mention a few fun Giants games.
The company also had a wonderful year.  We want to thank you all for that. For your kindness, your trust, your introducing us to your families. Our business incorporated this year and Sarah became the boss. I just listen to her now. Seriously, it was another step toward making our company most efficient. We have a great team between us and Commonwealth and we look forward to serving you in 2015.
Not everything was peaches and cream.  We took a few lumps.  But we learned from those hiccups and received some wonderful generosity from one fellow in particular. He wouldn’t want his name here but his help won’t soon be forgotten.
I suspect 2015 will go be even more quickly. So, before this post gets too long, here are some of our resolutions for the new year.
  • We are cancelling our cable (mind if I stop by your place to watch a Giants game?) and plan to read much more.
  • Radically changing our health insurance, we can no longer support our current health insurance company who can so efficiently collect our premiums yet so chaotically refuse to pay for our medical care.
  • We also want to attempt to cut our cell phone bill in half!  We’re worried about coverage but are looking into alternatives from the Verizon/AT&T oligopoly.
  • We are each going to save $1 per week, then $2, then $3 and so on, for 52 weeks.  We want to take the savings from that idea ($2600) and the savings from health insurance, cable TV and phone, ($2600!) and go to Washington D.C.- show our kids (and us!) a little about the history of our great country.
  • We’re seeking new charities to serve.  Both Sarah and I are looking to give more time to our community in new ways.  After 12 years with Rotary, I’m looking for a different way to serve Santa Rosa this year. We’d love your ideas.
  • Lose 15 pounds. That’s just me. But we’re all committed to eating well and exercise.  We’re lucky we live in an area with so much fresh and local food.  My family is also lucky Sarah is such a tremendous gardener and cook!
We have a lot more going on in 2015.
What’s that? No bullet point for “GETTING MARRIED?” you say.
I know. Look, this isn’t just a picnic we’re talking about.  This is our wedding. At least we are finally planning it!
When are we getting married?

June 18, 2016 in NW Tahoe.

Happy New Year!!!! All the best in 2015!

22 Dec

Back in 2008, the Press Democrat asked for readers to write a story about the Christmas season. They chose to print my story in their “Closer to Home” section on December 24, 2008. In the midst of a divorce and a business nearly going under, I had a lot I could complain aboutBut instead, we stayed positive and today, six years on, I’ve never been more grateful. Hope you enjoy the look back. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

We’re rich!” exclaimed the innocent 5 year old.

It was an honest appraisal from my point of view.  The boy who said that was me. And the sound of laughter which my remark inspired still remains with me to this day.

I suppose the reaction of my parents and their friends took me by surprise because I honestly felt I was rich.

I didn’t understand what they all thought was so funny! But something about that remark set them all in hysterics.

A few months ago, when my son Patrick turned 5 years old, I asked him if he thought we were rich.

“Yes, I think so, daddy,” he told me.

“What makes you feel rich?” I followed up.

“Well, we just are.”

I’ve come to realize, he’s right. Just as I was when I was 5 years old.

At nearly 37 years old, I now understand why my parents and their friends laughed at my proclamation. I realize the pressure of being an adult now that I could not then.

Each week, I struggle with bills. I find creative ways to stay on top of a mortgage and pay our taxes. The demands have only been more fierce in the teeth of this financial crisis.

We own a financial planning firm caught in the teeth of this crisis. As hard as I try to remain positive, sometimes it all makes me feel like I’m not rich at all. But then I recall that money cannot make anyone rich. Only wealthy.

Wouldn’t a boy in Pakistan crawling in the dirt, suffering from polio, change spots with me instantly? I wonder what the word “rich” means to him?

Wouldn’t a girl sold into sexual slavery in Cambodia take my place in a second? I’m sure she’d trade my stress and anxiety for her own daily horrors.

Wouldn’t a Russian business owner constantly pressured by graft and government demands wish for the free enterprise system I enjoy?

Aren’t I really wealthy, by comparison, to nearly 99.9 percent of the world?

I believe so.

And that is simply monetary. What about health? As Americans, our life expectancies are some of the longest in the world. Isn’t health as important a commodity as money? Or what of nutrition? In Sonoma County, we live among the best farms in the world. A real cornucopia of organic, fresh, tasty and nutritious food abounds. I wish my waistline could decline in size like my portfolios have during this financial crisis.

But judging from my snug-fitting pants, the so called crisis hasn’t affected my ability to eat well. Can you imagine anyone living in Zimbabwe who wouldn’t enjoy trading pantries with me?

What about our wealth of freedom? I can write what I please without worry at all of government or social censure. Starting a business was a piece of cake. Where else in the world is that a true statement? I’m free to travel, work, exercise, spend, save and do what I please in most every instance. Not so for nearly 75 percent of our world neighbors.

Wealth is just one area where many Americans have lost perspective. Consider our selfish interpretations of right and wrong. Or our heated and uncivil discussions about religion and politics. Americans have lost the attitude of gratitude that made us such a force in the past.

Take a moment and look around like a 5 year old might. Everything around us is so amazing yet so few around us seem very happy about it. Do you wonder why?

If only folks could step back for a moment. Take an inventory of what we do have rather than what we do not have. And then compare our ledger to our friends around the globe. Isn’t each and every one of us very wealthy?

I believe so.

Honoring our Veterans Today

11 Nov
Fall has arrived at MJ Everson Financial, our Flag is out for Veterans Day

Fall has arrived at MJ Everson Financial, our Flag is out for Veterans Day

 Today is Veterans Day. We set aside November 11 to honor anyone who has served in the U.S Armed Forces.

Having never served myself, I’m often unsure the proper way to honor those who have.  What I’ve done over the years is call those I know who have served and thank them personally for their service.

In October 1995, I visited Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.  It was a life changing experience.  A lot of the soldiers buried there were kids.  From 16 to 20 years old, most of the tombstones listed birthdays that meant the men and women buried there were the same age I was at the time of that visit.

Here I was, rolling around Europe leisurely. There they were fighting for that freedom I so sadly took for granted at that time.

The moment brought to light an idea that I had been given some very tremendous gifts and opportunities in the lottery of being born in America. The sight of the seemingly endless tombstones snapped me into a reality that I was perhaps being ungrateful for those gifts and needed to do a better job maximizing those opportunities and honoring the sacrifices of these soldiers.

Omaha Beach CemeterySince that visit, I’ve read history on these soldiers. It has truly fascinated me how many of them died and that they seemed to do so for mainly better reasons than any war before or since. Time and again you read how these men knew what they were doing. Believed in their fight.  They believed they were fighting against the Germans and the Axis in order to preserve our free way of life. There is so much honor in that.  These men didn’t think of fancy cars and big homes. They valued their freedom and were willing to sacrifice their own lives to preserve that freedom for others.

Take a moment today and think about those among us who have served. To thank them and their families for that service.

Maybe you have a moment today to reach out to a member or veteran of our armed forces.  Thank them. Buy them lunch. Visit with them.  It doesn’t go far enough in thanking them, but I suppose it is better than no notice at all. Here are a few more ways to reach out and show your thanks today.

The Value of Partnership – Commonwealth Financial Network

10 Nov

Today represents a wonderful milestone for MJ Everson Financial, Inc. – Five Years With Commonwealth Financial Network.

I thought I’d touch on a term that is often unclear and what it means to us and to you – broker-dealer. Our industry, financial advice, is one that can be confusing to outsiders.  First, the language.  IRA, SEP, 401(k), Roth, RMD, margin, loss, broker-dealer…it is a language that can be difficult to understand.

Here is a definition form the website Investopedia – A person or firm in the business of buying and selling securities, operating as both a broker and a dealer, depending on the transaction.

Yea, I’m sure that clears it right up for you?  So, someone who works for a big Wall Street firm, say Morgan Stanley, works for a broker-dealer (BD). And our firm is associated with a broker-dealer, too.  Commonwealth Financial Network (Commonwealth) out of Waltham near Boston.

We feel that Commonwealth is different than any BD in the business. Why is Commonwealth unique? We could compare CFN to the largest publicly held independent BD, called LPL. LPL spent the entire past decade recruiting advisers on board in what appeared to be a mad rush to increase revenue in order so they could list their company publicly and the founders could ‘cash in’ on the IPO.  In doing so, they not only alienated their old advisers but it doesn’t appear that they spent too much time vetting those newly recruited advisors.  There is a cost to doing business this way. LPL is now finding that out.

Commonwealth, on the other hand, is still owned by Joseph Deitch and a handful of Principals who either founded the company or who have played an integral role in growing it to the firm it is today. They like to say they are “Anything but Common.” And they back it up. These folks tell me every year there is no plan to go public, cash out or sell to the highest bidder.  The peace of mind that gives us is hard to convey.

Let me give you one small example why Commonwealth is different in their approach to this business. In the financial news this week there are two stories that likely flew under your radar.  Many of you own an investment in your portfolio known as ‘alternative.’  Lately, because of the varying level of quality in these investments, regulators have been having a look at the sales practices around them and also the quality of the actual investments.

Now, Commonwealth would never tell me or push me toward any specific investment that they’d want me selling to a client.  That’s because they are independent and have no proprietary investments they need sold. But they do look at the quality of alternative investments such as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and they do a large amount of due diligence on alternative investments before they will allow them into the Commonwealth adviser’s platform.

Two years ago, during the annual Commonwealth conference, one of the Commonwealth advisers asked a question during a session on REITs.  He wondered why Commonwealth had not approved for sale a particular investment from a company named American Realty Capital Properties or ARC.

The gist of the answer was that Commonwealth’s research team was not thrilled with that company’s recent acquisition spree, didn’t like the leverage employed and were worried about some of the activity they saw and concerned what that might mean for investors.  Two years ago, mind you.

Last week, that same company was in the news quite a bit.  Like the article above on LPL, the news is less than positive. LPL is being hit with bad press for declining revenue, increasing regulatory fees and fines and also made news for finally deciding to pull all ARC products from their platform. We see ARC like a race car which blew a tire and is tumbling over and about to hit the side wall. It isn’t good. Luckily, in this case, our business and your accounts are exposed to neither company’s foibles.

We don’t worry that tomorrow we’ll read Commonwealth is going public. We feel confident that our computers and your private info will not be hacked, thanks to industry leading technology at Commonwealth.  We know your needs and ours are fully supported with independent experts. Sounds so simple, yet so few firms can say this.

I’m proud that our company was founded on August 1, 2001. But to be honest, we became a very real and mature firm on November 9, 2009. That’s when we switched to Commonwealth.  With their invaluable partnership, we have made our little firm into a well-organized business that serves the needs of some very select folks -you! Today, we celebrate 5 years with our broker-dealer.  We couldn’t be happier!

Weekly Market Update

21 Oct

Our blog today links to the most recent “Market Update” from the experts at Commonwealth Financial’s Investment Research team.  If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to give us a call.

Zee French

20 Oct

My junior year of college was spent abroad, in the South of France. A lovely little town called Aix-en-Provence.  There, I learned so much about the French culture and language.

Aix is actually a perfect microcosm of France. Better than Paris, for example, at representing all the many paradoxes that exist in French culture. Don’t get me wrong, America is the King of Paradox.  But France is really more enjoyable to poke fun at, isn’t it?

They eat and drink but never get fat. How does that work?

They loved our help in saving them from the Germans but routinely criticize America and our ways of  violence. So ungrateful sometimes!

They value education but teach too many of their young to believe that one can still live a wonderful life without working for it in any meaningful way. And that is the point of this blog post.

No doubt you know that France has had a great many philosophers.  During their revolution, men like Momoro, Hebert, Fouché and others began the Culte de la Raison or Cult of Reason to counter the Catholic church teachings and focus civilization on reason and logic over superstition and feelings.

Today, the French still insist they base their life on reason and logic. Not feelings. The English phrase common sense doesn’t directly translate and is mocked like a cow-launching John Cleese as a foolish sentiment.

“Sense” a Frenchman might say “is a feeling.  How can it be common and why would you want it to be anyway?”

There is the famous Descarte, “I think, therefore I am.” A mathematician, Descartes desired to build a thought process for science based on facts and reason, not ideas and guesses. Reason and logic.

Now consider the French government, which for 40 plus years has violated all reason and logic by making promises to its population it could never keep.  Paradox.

Today, those promises are becoming less and less tenable.  And other European countries, mainly Germany, are sick of trying to explain to France that their budget misadventures are threatening the entire European Union.

I’m not anti-French.  I enjoy these paradoxes and certainly their people and culture.  But right now, the French government and its refusal to see that the people of France must accept a new reality regarding their promised pensions, is not honoring men like Descartes or Fouché. And it may just be the thread which, when pulled, will unravel the economic recovery we’ve been waiting for in Europe.

C’est la vie, I suppose.

Weekly Market Update

23 Sep

Our blog today links to the most recent “Market Update” from the experts at Commonwealth Financial’s Investment Research team.  If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to give us a call.

Weekly Market Update

26 Aug

Our blog today links to the most recent “Market Update” from the experts at Commonwealth Financial’s Investment Research team.  If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to give us a call.

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