It's been a year like no other. A global pandemic. Economic downturn. A global race for a vaccine. A nationwide database to trace outbreaks.
I can't believe 2020 is finally in the home stretch. I know there is no magical fast forward button to hit on New Year's Eve to get us to 100% normalcy – but 2021 is looking hopeful.
Each year just before Christmas, I schedule conversations with my clients to help guide their year-end planning discussions and to offer ideas for consideration.
In those discussions, I aim to ensure that their plans are updated as needed, based on changing market conditions and their specific circumstances. My goal for these discussions is to stay on track to deliver each client's long-term outcomes.
And to all Canny View readers, for the last column of the year, I traditionally like to pen something about forward-looking and goal setting and encourage to take stock of what you may want to consider before year-end.
This year, it's different. 2021 is going to differ too, depending on our knack for making the right decisions.
Sure, there are issues and uncertainties to consider every year, but 2020 has been a uniquely challenging year for all of us on many fronts, and no one knows what 2021 will bring.
The Covid pandemic continues to loom as a dominant factor over every aspect of our lives. While our concern is largely directed to those who have contracted the virus, and the health care and other front-line workers who are seeking to protect us, we are also very aware that the pandemic and its aftermath are likely to heavily impact the capital markets and government policy decisions in the coming months and years.
Many other factors – from growing concern regarding climate change to uncertain trade relationships with China and other global competitors, to the potential for tax increases to grapple with rising deficits – contribute to an uncertain picture in the future.
In all honesty, no one knows what is coming around the corner, or what will happen with Covid-19, or with the markets.
But we need to remember that good planning never assumes the ability to predict what's going to happen with capital markets, tax policy, or one's own personal, family or business circumstances. We can only weigh probabilities and take actions that position clients to do well in the context of their individual goals.
Thus, my task with the last Canny View article for 2020 is to help you consider your options, make wise choices and develop a sense of calmness during a highly uncertain time.
Some of that calmness can come from consistency. My year-end conversations with people include a checklist of financial planning considerations, and often it is viewed as a starting guide for more tailored discussions. Some of the items I cover in my year-end checklist are:
Filtering out the noise. Short-term crises create a lot of "background noise" that can be distracting and therefore, detrimental to sound planning. It is important to filter out that noise by focusing on long-term goals and objectives.
The first step is to start by identifying what matters most to you. I try to engage people I see on "big picture" questions, such as where they want to have the most impact, where their passions and beliefs lie, and their most deeply held goals. With all that information, a financial road map is created.
In some cases, people have found "working backwards" to be a helpful exercise — first defining what they want their legacy to be, and then reordering their priorities accordingly.
Focus on what you can control. None of us can control the news and the daily ups and downs of markets. But you can manage your responses to the news. With the help of an adviser, build an investment plan that fits your needs and risk tolerance. You can structure a globally diversified portfolio and built around the long–term drivers of expected returns, expenses and taxes.
Create confidence in your investment plan with a comprehensive financial plan. Sound financial plans provide peace of mind and help bring your goals into focus by creating road maps for long-term financial success.
The process starts with evaluating current financial circumstances and accounting for potential changes to income, portfolio performance and composition, and considerable funding goals for retirement, second homes and large gifts to family or charity.
Plan for health care events and expenses. The current pandemic has refocused attention on the possibility of severe illness and unexpected events in life. A full financial planning conversation would not be complete without a review of risk management plans.
This can come in the form of liquidity plans or risk insurance covers for covering the expense of long term care. This unexpected event interrupts income or wealth accumulation plans or even unforeseen liabilities. A review of insurance policies is an integral part of a comprehensive and durable financial plan.
To conclude, strengthening your financial wellbeing shouldn't require a complete overhaul of your life; the above steps with a fiduciary by your side will set you on the right path, and, more importantly, help ease that nagging feeling that you are neglecting something important.
· Nick Stewart is an Authorised Financial Advisers and CEO at Stewart Group, a Hawke's Bay-based CEFEX certified financial planning and advisory firm. Stewart Group provides personal fiduciary services, Wealth Management, Risk Insurance & KiwiSaver solutions.
· The information provided, or any opinions expressed in this article, are of a general nature only and should not be construed or relied on as a recommendation to invest in a financial product or class of financial products. You should seek financial advice specific to your circumstances from an Authorised Financial Adviser before making any financial decisions. A disclosure statement can be obtained free of charge by calling 0800 878 961 or visit our website, www.stewartgroup.co.nz