The Sullivan & Serwitz Process of Financial Counsel
Financial counsel is a disciplined and controlled process analogous to the pre-flight checklist used by all airplane pilots. Depending on the complexity of the client’s situation, sound financial counsel typically requires 10 to 30 hours of consultative review governed by a comprehensive data gathering questionnaire. More importantly, sound counsel requires consistent on-going reviews to monitor actual experience and revalidate assumptions. We have organized our process into five discrete segments, typically addressed over five separate meetings. Meetings after the introductory session can be combined to accommodate a client’s scheduling challenges; out of town clients can be scheduled over two consecutive days to complete the process.
The process begins with our Introductory Meeting, which typically requires three hours. The purpose of this meeting is to provide sufficient information for the prospective client to make an informed choice in determining whether Sullivan & Serwitz may meet their needs and objectives. In addition to a financial review, we fully articulate the nature and methodology of the investment discipline we employ.
2. File Review/Client Profile
The prospective client has called the office with the intent to move forward by scheduling this meeting. The completed Confidential Client Questionnaire is due in our office at least one week prior to the actual meeting. In between receipt of the completed Questionnaire and the meeting, our office converts the Questionnaire and supporting documents into a client file which is reviewed by assigned counsel in preparation for this meeting. This meeting typically requires two hours, the purpose of which is to ensure we understand the information provided through the Questionnaire – “to walk a mile in the client’s shoes” – and complete the client profile. At the conclusion of this meeting, the client is provided all legal disclosure documents as well as our client contract.
3. Analysis Meeting
The purpose of this two hour meeting is to validate the client’s goals and objectives within a context of long-term capital requirements. We use a sophisticated software tool to model various capital projections, including investment growth rates, inflation, tax, savings and spending assumptions. Critical frequently overlooked factors, such as required distributions from retirement accounts, are integrated into this analysis.
The analysis addresses three principle outcomes; clients may be:
- Inadequately funded, requiring a plan to achieve financial independence.
- Adequately funded, assuming a reasonable cushion.
- Over funded. Over funding often leads to a more sophisticated discussion/strategy to address estate planning and gifting issues.
4. Investment Methodology
The purpose of this two to three hour meeting is to complete your understanding of the investment discipline we employ. We review the thesis of the investment discipline and illustrate how the money managers with whom we work tie directly to the discipline’s history. We explain the important nuances of the discipline, provide realistic client expectations, and outline what the managers do that is similar and what they do that is distinctively different. Towards the end of this meeting we complete a client profile which results in a client specific Statement of Investment Policy.
5. Estate Planning and Insurance Meeting
The goal of this meeting is to outline the purpose of estate planning, then to review and compare your existing estate planning documents vis-à-vis the estate planning objectives you have defined. For clients who do not have estate planning documents in place, we focus on assisting the client in understanding their options and opportunities. To complete this session we discuss the role of various insurance elements such as property & casualty, umbrella liability, life, disability, medical and long term care issues. If a client’s objectives indicate a need for more sophisticated estate planning techniques, we will schedule additional contact or meetings with the client and/or outside counsel.
The best plans are worthless without effective follow through and implementation. Our ongoing work with clients, whether via phone, email or office meetings, is focused on open agenda items providing additional clarification, or simply revisiting areas of interest. This frequently includes accompanying the client to meetings with other legal, tax or insurance professionals.
7. Quarterly Client Contact
Upon completion of the initial consulting cycle, we establish quarterly phone contact with all our clients. Our office will call you to determine if any open agenda items require a phone or office meeting with your advisor. We do not typically schedule client appointments on Mondays and Fridays to ensure we have time available to address unexpected client issues requiring immediate resolution.
8. Annual Review Meeting
After the first year we send all clients our Annual Review package consisting of an abbreviated questionnaire and financial worksheets. With our receipt of the documents, an Annual Review meeting is scheduled which typically requires two hours. The purpose of the Annual Review is to identify changes, either personal or environmental, that may impact a client’s goals and objectives as well as update financial projections.