Plan - Keep - Grow
If you visit the front page of our website those are the three largest words and right above them are the phrases:
Nobody knows the future and there will always be surprises around the corner. When it comes to a successful financial life, what is more important: the individual investments you choose, the financial plan, or the financial philosophy? We believe it is the financial philosophy which underpins every decision. We use these phrases in this order as the backbone of all our processes, plans, and investments.
The CLIMB Process TM
Lets take a look at the first line, plan for your future.
Life and investing are very similar, they are messy and ever changing but you do not untangle your spaghetti, you just eat it. Planning is like using a fork to spin the spaghetti. If done at the wrong speed and time it can make a big mess. However, that does not mean you should not plan (or just use your hands!)
Planning helps set the direction but the real value in a plan come in the second, third, and even hundredth version. Life happens, events change, and a plan that is unable to adapt is not much of a plan, it is ancient history. A real challenge in financial planning is having a plan that is strong enough to help you follow through on the actions but flexible enough to change as your life changes. There is never a point that is set it and forget it. Marriages, deaths, children, school, vacations, sicknesses, inheritances, and on an on as Leo Tolstoy wrote “True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” We have the choice to either push against these changes or accept them and update the plan.
Over the years at Ascend Investment Partners we have developed a unique planning process that is strong enough to be time tested but flexible enough to handle whatever comes its way. We think of planning like hiking through mountains. As you summit one there is another one waiting to be climbed.
The CLIMB Process simplifies financial planning as to not overwhelm you from the start. Starting with the immediate problem and fixing that and then works to encircle an ever-broadening scope until the entire picture is found. The CLIMB Process finishes with enjoying the benefits of all your hard work. Planning is not just about solving the problem but also making the place to enjoy all the great benefits. We will get excited right along with you as you share with us your pictures and stories from the adventures you have and quality of life improvements you make. (One of our favorite stories is a couple getting excited over replacing their flooring in their home, simple but they were really happy to make it happen.)
CLIMB stands for
Characterize and Clarify - Leverage - Implement - Monitor - Benefit
Let us take a deeper dive in each one.
Characterize and Clarify your goals/wants/needs/desires. Most likely when we start working together there will be one immediate problem that needs to be fixed. Simple examples are what to do with an old 401k or IRA. That goal will be characterized as a financial goal and to help solve that will be to clarify where you are at and where you are trying to go. This is a step that we will start with and gets revisited over and over and over again. As you know, life changes and you do not hire us for the first plan we create but all the other plans that will come after as life changes. But it all stems from what type of goals do you have and where are you wanting to go.
Leverage may mean a lot of things, but at the highest level it means add an extra force. Archimedes famously said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world” We have experienced the same thing, with enough leverage we will work move your world wherever you want it to go. The leverage we apply comes in multiple forms, through our investment committee, our knowledge, our experience, or our professional network. All is applied to help organize and move you to an ever more stable position of strength right alongside our family investments.
Implement (the most important step in the whole process) Time to put the plan in motion. We frequently say of politicians watch what they do not what they say. The same goes for your plan, words without action are nothing but hot air. If you choose to work with us full time, we will put most of our recommendations into action for you. We will make changes on your behalf so you will not even need to lift a finger. Other places when it comes to taxes and estate planning, we will help you coordinate with the other professionals in your life so that everything works together seamlessly.
Monitor – have you ever been worried about your home when you go on vacation? Do you wish someone would come house sit for you just in case a faucet leaked, or you left the stove on? Someone needs to be consistently looking over your financial life, it can be you, or someone else. The CLIMB Process covers this part as well by having a systematic way to monitor your investments and financial plan. If something changes, we sit down or get on the phone and talk about it. Monitoring is not just reactive but being proactive. Keeping an eye during the good times so when markets or life get rough there is no panic, just a consistent action on the time-tested approach.
Benefit, victories big or small should be celebrated. Take a deep breath and enjoy the climb so far. Plan to take breaks and enjoy the view. Life gets a little better each time you reach a little milestone. If it is just consolidating an old account or reaching retirement, each is a step to the life for which you are hoping. It is also a good time to ask, am I going where I want to go? We have seen during times of stress or times of accomplishments goals can suddenly shift and priorities may change. Which will take us onto the next step of characterizing and clarifying your goals.
Keep more for your family
Remember how long it took to save those first few dollars? It seemed like you would never get there, maybe you still feel that way. The first chunk of savings is always the hardest and the slowest. For that reason, the first step is to keep those savings. We accomplish this by focusing on a few key factors.
Maximizing Tax Savings
Proper Estate Planning
Sufficient, but not excessive, Insurance
Setting the proper foundation is critical as to not go backwards before going forwards. Too much risk too soon can stagnate a portfolio and savings. But not taking enough risk early on can lead to stunted growth. Regularly updating each of these pieces is very important. That is why planning never stops. Everyday we are different people and situations are always changing. Human nature fights each one of us with every step. When times are good it is easy to get loose and take an unnecessary amount of risk. When times are bad its instinctive to cut and run. By finding the right balance you can live your life the way you want to live regardless of external events.
The ASCEND Retirement Income Approach
Grow for generations is the balance between growth and income. If you are like most retirees the main goal is to not run out of money before you run out of life. In addition to income there generally is a desire to either leave money to children or to a charitable organization. The ASCEND Retirement Income Approach helps balance these two conflicting goals.
Our evidence-based approach is designed to help ensure that your money will last through retirement. In a typical investment portfolio while in retirement, you make withdrawals periodically to fund your lifestyle. However, when the market declines, pulling money can be catastrophic. Our strategy divides your retirement money into three buckets. Our approach is designed to help make your money last through retirement and to help give you peace of mind to stay the course and provide income through all market cycles.
Picture your investments in three different buckets that flow into one another: short, intermediate, and long term. As the top bucket, long-term, reaches capacity it overflows into the intermediate and finally the lowest or short-term bucket. This approach creates a buffer between long term growth and short term needs. A very important piece in retirement is income, more specifically reliable income. Keeping the bottom bucket full, short-term, allows you to sleep at night when there is uncertainty.
The growth comes from owning high quality long term companies and sticking with them through ups and downs. When they are down, income can be drawn from the intermediate term bucket buffer and when the high quality companies are up they "overflow" and refill the lower buckets.
There are three major lessons when looking at the market.
- It is time in the market not market timing that increases the odds of success.
- Nobody knows the future, plan accordingly.
- There is always good.
There is and will always be bad news: a pandemic, social unrest, a politics, a host of natural disasters, and many more.
Though rough years there are those who left money in cash for fear of the market and when there is a recovery are hesitant to invest at all-time highs, there is some good news. The market does better after reaching all time highs. Calling the bottom of the market is nearly impossible, and once markets start to recover there is optimism a plenty. Over the last 30 plus years if you invested at all time highs verses any other random day you would have performed well. (https://www.jpmorgan.com/content/dam/jpm/securities/documents/cwm-documents/Is-it-worth-considering-investing-at-all-time-highs.pdf)
The lesson is not to invest at the top but to always be invested. It is time in the market not market timing that increases the odds of success.
Another exercise we do is to look back at past predictions to see how they held up. And simply put – everyone was wrong. The hours and hours are put into research and within a few weeks are already out of date. (The same goes with your financial plan) This is because the world, and your life, are always changing. But by not panicking and staying the course, along with looking for new opportunities, you were able to come out ahead. During times of stress a frequent conversation with our clients is “How can we maximize on this opportunity?” This allowed us to engage in tax opportunities and continued investments. Nobody knows the future, so plan accordingly.
A core belief we hold and will continue to make is that there is good in the world. Good people and good companies in which to invest. Find the good and get it on your side.
What do you do?
If you have made it to this point you can see that we have a strong philosophical background that directs our decision making. How does it play out in your life? What exactly do we do for you as our client?
Our job is to decipher the best strategies for you. Then outline your options and how to implement them based on your goals. Your job is to let us know how you feel about each option, what you like and don't like, so we can do our jobs better. Then we work together to get it done.
The benefit to you will show up in four major areas:
- Long term tax reduction strategy
- Keep track of a plan on Required Minimum Distributions
- Maximize tax savings on charitable contributions
- Annual review of your personal tax return and strategy
- Improving tax efficacy of investments and overall portfolio management
- Plain English Advice
- Annual Strategy Meeting
- Regular client newsletter to keep you up to date
- Translate major pieces of legislation into plain English and how it applies to you
- Open contact for questions by phone, email, or text
- Income Planning
- Complete management of your investment portfolio
- Daily monitoring of your investments
- Invest just like we do - we eat our own cooking!
- Maintaining proper balance between three investment buckets
- Avoiding Common Pitfalls
- Evaluate estate plan for potential hazards
- Review long term care and asset protection planning (sufficient but not excessive)
- When the time comes help prepare the next generation
- Blame us when you need an excuse "Sorry, my financial advisor said I couldn't"
What happens when I reach out to you?
Step 1: Click "Get Started" with
Clicking the "Get Started" will take you to a new page where we have partnered with Elements. (Elements is a world class financial monitoring app to help you build and track your financial goals!) You will be asked basic questions about your goals and financial plan. It usually takes less then five minutes to sign up. And once you have signed up you are welcome to use this software even if you choose not to work with us. Once we receive your application we will reach out by phone and email to schedule a phone call.
Step 2: Phone Call
It starts with a phone call. Usually, a twenty-minute conversation where we discuss your questions. We know we cannot help everyone, and we use this introduction phone call to learn about your unique situation. If you bring up something we cannot help you with we get you directed to someone in our trusted network to help solve your problems. After all you wouldn't go to a heart surgeon for a knee replacement. We want to find the right fit so we both can have a positive experience. There is no "sales pitch" coming. The goal of this first meeting is understating. (Remember The CLIMB ProcessTM ? That is what we are doing, characterizing and clarifying your goals.) The only invitation in this meeting is if you would like to come back to get our Best Ideas?
Step 3: Best Ideas Meeting
We then take all this information, use decades of experience, thousands of hours of training and mentoring by the industry’s top experts to answer their questions. We assemble a financial plan that fits on one page and is written in plain English. The focus is on four main areas, cash flow, taxes, investments, and risk. We then invite you back for a second best ideas meeting. (Step 2 in The CLIMB ProcessTM : Leverage)
The Best Ideas Meeting, if you choose to return, we present a basic financial plan based on your unique situation and questions. We point out the tradeoffs you are making and where we see areas of improvement. You will have a few of our Best Ideas and simple solutions and answers to your questions. However, we do point out that a sales pitch is coming. For a sneak peak here is the sales pitch: "At this point you have three options. 1. Keep doing what you are doing. 2. Work with someone else. or 3. Work with us where we will move onto the next step in The CLIMB ProcessTM , the Implementation phase.
Then we invite you to go home and sleep on it. These are big decisions and we do not want you to feel pressured. We invite you to consider questions like “Do I trust the team at Ascend Investment Partners?” “Will the benefits they provide exceed their cost?” “Do I understand and agree with their investment and financial planning philosophy?”
If the answer is a yes, we invite you for a third meeting where we answer any last questions and begin the paperwork signing process.
Clear and open, we want everyone who works with us to choose to work with us. We have been in business a long time and understand that high pressure sales do not drive a successful business.