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Financial Planner vs. Economist
Old 12-29-2008, 01:58 PM   #1
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Financial Planner vs. Economist

I was browsing my pension fund's website and found an article from October that I had not previously read. One of the fund's in-house planners had gone to a seminar and had come away with what he felt were controversial, but interesting ideas. Basically, it's financial advice from an economist's viewpoint compared to what the typical financial planner would advise.

It's password protected, so I'll have to just summarize it here.

The speakers were Laurence J. Kotlikoff, and Zvi Bodiea. Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University. For many years he has provided expert testimony to the Senate Finance Committee (Washington D.C.), the House Ways and Means Committee and others. He has served as a Consultant to governments all around the world.

Zvi Bodie is the Norman and Adele Barron Professor of Management at Boston University. He holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has served on the finance faculty at the Harvard Business School and MIT's Sloan School of Management. Professor Bodie has published widely on pension finance and investment strategy in leading professional journals.

From Kotlikoff:

On withdrawal strategies in retirement:

Financial Planner: Retirees should wait as long as possible to draw on their pre-tax retirement accounts, in order to maximize tax deferred growth.

Economist: Retirees should spend their pre-tax retirement savings first, since income tax rates are almost certain to be higher in the future. Withdraw those dollars now and pay your taxes at a lower rate than what you are likely to experience years from now.

On paying for kid's college education:

Financial Planner: Educate your kids at the most prestigious university you can get them into, regardless of the cost.

Economist: People spend too much on expensive colleges.

On asset allocation:

Financial Planner: Wealthy people should own stocks. Less wealthy people should invest in bonds.

Economist: The wealthy should own bonds. Less wealthy people should invest in stocks.

On financial priorities:

Financial Planner: Our top priority is to accumulate as much money as possible in 401k plans, Roth IRAís and 529 plans.

Economist: Paying off the mortgage should be our first priority, and is one of the safest investment strategies available to us.

From Bodie:

We underestimate the risk in the stock market. He believes that most people would not choose to invest in stocks if they fully realized how much risk they are taking.

Bodie has real doubts about the long-term effectiveness of conventional asset allocation and diversification strategies, particularly for individual investors. In times of crisis, a positive correlation makes everything go down and investors have few, if any, safe havens.

He believes that the defined contribution industry and its clients have conflicting long-term objectives. The industry focuses solely on accumulating assets to provide for a future retirement of its client, yet they are frequently not offering a mechanism for converting the retirement plan from asset accumulation mode to lifetime income mode.

Rather than using diversification to manage risk, Bodie recommends that individual investors transfer the risk. He recommends doing that by using TIPS.

Individual investors should prepare for retirement using safe investments, and lower their expected rate of return. Save more, work longer, retire later.

Here is the final paragraph, from the planner who wrote the article:

Quote:
All in all it was an interesting seminar. Leave it to academia to question conventional wisdom. If one of the media stars in the financial services industry had made some of these remarks, we would have an explosive front-page controversy on our hands. According to these two economists, the financial services industry has been operating on a whole series of false assumptions for decades. But since these guys are just a couple of old east coast professors that the general public will probably never hear about, itís apparently a story the media would prefer to just ignore.
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Old 12-29-2008, 03:09 PM   #2
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I think the reasoning that went behind each of the recommendations is important to their positions. Either or both can be correct.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
On withdrawal strategies in retirement:

Financial Planner: Retirees should wait as long as possible to draw on their pre-tax retirement accounts, in order to maximize tax deferred growth.

Economist: Retirees should spend their pre-tax retirement savings first, since income tax rates are almost certain to be higher in the future. Withdraw those dollars now and pay your taxes at a lower rate than what you are likely to experience years from now.
======
Both can be correct - need reasoning
Yes taxes are expected to be higher in the future but, people in retirement usually have less income than working and might have more capital gains - so they would be in a lower tax bracket.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++
On paying for kid's college education:

Financial Planner: Educate your kids at the most prestigious university you can get them into, regardless of the cost.

Economist: People spend too much on expensive colleges.
================

Both can be correct - micro vs macro
micro
- Going to an Ivy league college - a person can earn more over their lifetime.
macro
- Generally people do not get a good return on their education investment


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++
On asset allocation:

Financial Planner: Wealthy people should own stocks. Less wealthy people should invest in bonds.

Economist: The wealthy should own bonds. Less wealthy people should invest in stocks.

=======
Is this just limited to stocks or did they include stock mutual funds also?
More or Less wealthy - what does that mean?
Both can be correct - depends upon their assumptions and reasoning.

++++++++++++++
On financial priorities:

Financial Planner: Our top priority is to accumulate as much money as possible in 401k plans, Roth IRA’s and 529 plans.

Economist: Paying off the mortgage should be our first priority, and is one of the safest investment strategies available to us.
===================
Again it appears they are talking about two different objectives - saving money versus safety.
++++++++++++++
From Bodie:
Rather than using diversification to manage risk, Bodie recommends that individual investors transfer the risk. He recommends doing that by using TIPS.
=============
Bodie doesn't appear to be presenting the whole story here. He doesn't present an analysis of how much longer a person would have to work to have the same amount of money as a person who invests in a diversified portfolio of stock &bond mutual funds. And he doesn't present a analysis of net worth and income for a retired person who invests in TIPS vs one who has a balanced portfolio of stock & bond mutual funds.
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Old 12-29-2008, 04:08 PM   #3
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Dex,

I think this 2001 working paper may help explain Bodie's position better:

Retirement Investing: a new approach

Quote:
Abstract:
This paper proposes a new approach to investing for retirement that takes advantage of recent market innovations and advances in finance theory to improve the risk/reward opportunities available to individual investors before and after retirement. The approach introduces three new elements:

- It uses inflation-protected bonds to hedge a minimum standard of living after retirement.

- It takes account of a person's willingness to postpone retirement.

- It uses option "ladders" to lever growth in retirement income.
See also Life-Cycle Finance in Theory and in Practice

I think a large problem with today's financial planners is that they're still using Markowitz's 1950's models [i.e. mean variance optimization], while they should be using model developed in the 70's, 80's, and 90's by the likes of Samuelson and Merton.
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Old 12-29-2008, 07:00 PM   #4
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Zvi Bodie has also written a book, Worry-free investing : a safe approach to achieving your lifetime financial goals, on planning for retirement and other financial needs. It's been quite a while since I read it, but as I recall this is a nuts-&-bolts book that explains how to calculate how much money to set aside in bonds, based on how much money or income you need, and when you need it.
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Old 12-29-2008, 08:16 PM   #5
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Interesting comparison, Leonidas! I thought the economist vs. financial planner comparison would be more or less equivalent to comparing the theoretical vs. the practical (towards which I tend to gravitate, having an affinity for the practical).

So, I was greatly surprised to discover that the economist's viewpoints made more sense to me than those of the financial planner.

Hmm!! Definitely interesting.
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Old 12-29-2008, 08:34 PM   #6
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I wonder if this is a couple of guys talking to their books. Kotlikoff has been preaching about the "Coming Generational Storm" and working with Burns for quite some time, while Bodie has also been preaching imminent disaster for years. Both strike me as ivory-tower residents.

Talks like this suffer from a lack of references and a forum where their thoughts can be dissected by comparison to actual studies. Economists rarely have to sit down with a client to discuss what the %^&* is happening to their portfolio. Except perhaps for Bernanke and his 535 constituents.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ats5g View Post
... while they should be using model developed in the 70's, 80's, and 90's by the likes of Samuelson and Merton.
In everyone else's defense, Merton should've been using models developed by Merton. Or at least while at LTCM he should've paid more attention to them... I think that's the cataclysmic positive-correlation type of risk Bodie should be referring to, not a little 40% setback in the S&P500.
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Old 12-30-2008, 08:13 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords View Post
I wonder if this is a couple of guys talking to their books. Kotlikoff has been preaching about the "Coming Generational Storm" and working with Burns for quite some time, while Bodie has also been preaching imminent disaster for years. Both strike me as ivory-tower residents.
You hit it on the head. Maybe either one could share HOW MANY folks they have helped through the process of making retirement choices? I am guessing about zero...........

Quote:
Talks like this suffer from a lack of references and a forum where their thoughts can be dissected by comparison to actual studies. Economists rarely have to sit down with a client to discuss what the %^&* is happening to their portfolio. Except perhaps for Bernanke and his 535 constituents.
Easy to pontificate when noone's asking why the portfolio you put together is down 30%........
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Old 12-30-2008, 08:27 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leonidas View Post
On withdrawal strategies in retirement:

Financial Planner: Retirees should wait as long as possible to draw on their pre-tax retirement accounts, in order to maximize tax deferred growth.

Economist: Retirees should spend their pre-tax retirement savings first, since income tax rates are almost certain to be higher in the future. Withdraw those dollars now and pay your taxes at a lower rate than what you are likely to experience years from now.
It's EASY to say that taxes will be higher in the future.........I wonder if he thought that 6-7 years ago. I doubt he foresaw the lowest capital gains and dividend rates in history, along with a tax cut. Remember, hindsight makes us all smart...........

Quote:
On paying for kid's college education:
Quote:

Financial Planner: Educate your kids at the most prestigious university you can get them into, regardless of the cost.

Economist: People spend too much on expensive colleges.
The "financial planner's" response is NOT one a financial planner would make. It's a stupid and arrogant comment if that was his literal quote. So, the conversation goes something like this; Client: "But, in order to get little Johnny through Harvard, I would have to liquidate a chunk of my investments, putting my retirement at risk"..... Financial Planner: "Don't you care about Little Johnny's future, this isn't about YOU".........yeah right, that would work well.........

Quote:
On asset allocation:
Quote:

Financial Planner: Wealthy people should own stocks. Less wealthy people should invest in bonds.

Economist: The wealthy should own bonds. Less wealthy people should invest in stocks.
So, no mention of a diversified portfolio or asset allocation? These guys have been lecturing too long........

Quote:
On financial priorities:
Quote:

Financial Planner: Our top priority is to accumulate as much money as possible in 401k plans, Roth IRA’s and 529 plans.

Economist: Paying off the mortgage should be our first priority, and is one of the safest investment strategies available to us.
Both are correct to some extent. Why can't one do both and live in moderation?

Quote:
From Bodie:

We underestimate the risk in the stock market. He believes that most people would not choose to invest in stocks if they fully realized how much risk they are taking.
So, his complete answer to the entire problem of inflation eroding one's investments is to buy TIPS

Quote:
Bodie has real doubts about the long-term effectiveness of conventional asset allocation and diversification strategies, particularly for individual investors. In times of crisis, a positive correlation makes everything go down and investors have few, if any, safe havens.
Again, EASY to say in a "perfect storm " year........

Quote:
He believes that the defined contribution industry and its clients have conflicting long-term objectives. The industry focuses solely on accumulating assets to provide for a future retirement of its client, yet they are frequently not offering a mechanism for converting the retirement plan from asset accumulation mode to lifetime income mode.
Did he really say that? I guess he was espousing a govt sponsored retirement. like the one being discussed where 401K deductions go away, but you get the "govt plan"..........

Quote:
Rather than using diversification to manage risk, Bodie recommends that individual investors transfer the risk. He recommends doing that by using TIPS.

Individual investors should prepare for retirement using safe investments, and lower their expected rate of return. Save more, work longer, retire later.

Nice to know he is keenly aware of what EVERY investor's needs are. I gotta get me one of his textbooks, I'm sure they're full of interesting tidbits......
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Old 12-30-2008, 09:34 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords View Post
Kotlikoff has been preaching about the "Coming Generational Storm" and working with Burns for quite some time, ...
In fact, yesterday, Burn's blog had a subscriber's reference to a Motley Fools interview by Kotlikoff. Somewhat interesting read... the comment and the interview.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Want2retire View Post
So, I was greatly surprised to discover that the economist's viewpoints made more sense to me than those of the financial planner.
Yeah, their (Kotlifoff and Burns') book, Spend Til The End, is very convincing in its arguments... scarily so.
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Old 12-30-2008, 12:01 PM   #10
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See also The Future of Life-Cycle Saving & Investing conference in 2006 at BU, which included two articles/papers by Bodie and Kotlikoff:

The Theory of Life-Cycle Saving and Investing

Rethinking Your Investment Risk
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Old 12-30-2008, 12:59 PM   #11
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FinanceDude, how much money do you make from selling stock/bond funds? And how much do you make from selling TIPS? Big surprise that you bash Bodie for recommending TIPS.

I bet if your clients knew they could get a risk-free real return of 3% right now they would jump on it...sure beats being -30% for the year.
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Old 12-30-2008, 01:07 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by soupcxan View Post
FinanceDude, how much money do you make from selling stock/bond funds? And how much do you make from selling TIPS? Big surprise that you bash Bodie for recommending TIPS.
You know, you could take a break bashing others in the holiday spirit, but oh well.......... I don't sell stock and bond funds, you must have me confused with someone else. What I was TRYING to say is these guys are coming out NOW and saying folks are better off in TIPS. Well, DUH, too bad they didn't say that in March........

Quote:
I bet if your clients knew they could get a risk-free real return of 3% right now they would jump on it...sure beats being -30% for the year.
Who says NONE of my clients have TIPs? Oh that's right, you're the next Warren Buffet...........

Give it a rest for once..........congratulations, you are the smartest man in America, as I am sure you liquidated your portfolio and have been 100% in TIPS since october 9, 2007..........
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Old 12-30-2008, 01:32 PM   #13
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Yeah, their (Kotlifoff and Burns') book, Spend Til The End, is very convincing in its arguments... scarily so.
Why would this be scary to anyone but a financial planner? If one way is better than another, just follow that way. It's not like most of us have a lot of capital gains to pay if we switched away from stocks.

I do think however that the only reason we are seeing this is that asset allocaators and stock inviestors in general have had a bd year. The next few years should be better on form.

Quote:
What I was TRYING to say is these guys are coming out NOW and saying folks are better off in TIPS. Well, DUH, too bad they didn't say that in March........
In all fairness, they did. You know that as you attended a seminar where at least one of them spoke. It's just that people in your profession, and the whole commercial investment/media circus either paid no attention or pooh-poohed the suggestions.

Ha
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Old 12-30-2008, 01:44 PM   #14
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Why would this be scary to anyone but a financial planner?
Oh! I meant in the "If it sounds too good to be..." way. And was referring to the entire book not necessarily to this narrow issue.
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Old 12-30-2008, 01:50 PM   #15
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Old 12-30-2008, 02:10 PM   #16
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In all fairness, they did. You know that as you attended a seminar where at least one of them spoke. It's just that people in your profession, and the whole commercial investment/media circus either paid no attention or pooh-poohed the suggestions.
You are making no sense. I am disappointed, as I have always thought you were above making personal attacks. Oh well, I guess I am learning more each day, not all of it good.

The last thing I will say is that I find it both amusing and shocking how some intelligent folks are "experts" on the the financial profession when they know little or nothing about it. It would be like me telling Nords how to run safety protocols on a nuclear sub or educating CFB on how to sell Intel computer chips........
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Old 12-30-2008, 02:22 PM   #17
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FD, don't get upset, a lotta folks here also know how to run car dealerships. (heh)
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Old 12-30-2008, 02:25 PM   #18
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You are making no sense. I am disappointed, as I have always thought you were above making personal attacks. Oh well, I guess I am learning more each day, not all of it good.

The last thing I will say is that I find it both amusing and shocking how some intelligent folks are "experts" on the the financial profession when they know little or nothing about it. It would be like me telling Nords how to run safety protocols on a nuclear sub or educating CFB on how to sell Intel computer chips........
I am sorry that you feel attacked. You made invalid critical statements about these two academics. I merely pointed out the statements were untrue, and that you knew that they were untrue.

Self justification is a powerful need, I don't blame you at all for trying to defend your livelihood, or your role in your clients' returns over the past year. Without the ability to somehow put a good spin on your contribution you would have to find another line of work, which may be less remunerative or less easy or less prestigious than your current line.

I have done badly myself, and should have known better.

Still, that is your problem, not the problem of this board. I have always wondered why people paid any attention to FPs. People here do their own haircuts, and an FP cost a lot more than a haircut.

This board is a powerful organ for transmitting information, for better or worse. Too often dogma is misunderstood as data based nformation.

I really don't think that trying to hold a little closer to truth should be seen as a personal attack.


ha
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Old 12-30-2008, 02:25 PM   #19
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FD, don't get upset, a lotta folks here also know how to run car dealerships. (heh)



What do the Detroit Lions and a Ford dealership have in common?

Neither can get the Fords to sell.........
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Old 12-30-2008, 02:31 PM   #20
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above making personal attacks.
Wow! Is there a full moon? What is making everyone so irritable?

Anyway... profession? Marion-Webster tells me that is:

4 a: a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation b: a principal calling, vocation, or employment c: the whole body of persons engaged in a calling

Somehow I envision doctors and lawyers... and perhaps CPAs. What "long and intensive academic preparation" do financial planners participate in?
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