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Eight Hanukkah Wishes for Advisors

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"Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!" Comedian Adam Sandler’s kitschy “Hanukkah Song” does a good job of explaining the difference between Christmas and Hanukkah to a largely gentile American populace. He also runs through a list of celebrities who will take kosher wine and matzo this holiday season−Ann Landers, Goldie Hawn, Arthur Fonzarelli, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen (not  Jewish,  but "[Sandler's] mother thinks he is.”)

In celebration of the annual Festival of Lights, which began Wednesday night, we offer up eight advisor wishes for 2011. Look for advisor “naughty-and-nice” lists in coming weeks.

No. 1:  The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

We begin on a decidedly non-Jewish note, since the famous parable comes from the New Testament, but the sentiment translates nonetheless. Were he alive today, the tax collector wouldn’t ask God for mercy.  Like the rest of us, he’d ask for clarification of the tax code.  Whether it’s the income tax or AMT, a Roth conversion or sticking with tradition, rules, rates, codes and percentages are all up in the air. Pray for a Hanukkah, Christmas, Festivus miracle—that something happens before Jan. 1, 5758, I mean, 2011.

No. 2:  Leviticus and the Obama Care Lepers

Governmental overreach causes rebellion. Do we mean AD 66 or AD 2010? We’ll leave it to you to decide, but it’s a major theme this holiday season. Advisors are saddled with issues related to health care reform: reporting, cost, eligibility, pre-existing conditions, waivers, penalties, medical supplements, prescriptions, its impact on HSAs, HRAs, deductibles, patient choice. Answers to these questions have so far been—well, bupkis.

No. 3: Portia Hearts Bassanio, Shylock Still Evil

William Shakespeare’s masterpiece of anti-Semitic stereotypes reminds us that trial lawyers are still on our trail. Class action suits that arise from simple market losses; supposedly “unsuitable” investment vehicles that were included in the IPS in bright, bold letters (of which the client signed); no clear guidance from FINRA that results in “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sanctions. A little more inebriation and a little less litigation would be nice this holiday season.

No. 4: A Maccabean Revolt

Time once again to rescue Judea from Hellenism’s overreach, today known as the “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.” Clarification of its impact on day-to-day business operations would be nice, a popular topic at every conference, trade show, symposium and Seder there is. Advisors aren’t happy, as if compliance wasn’t confusing enough. The 2,300 pages of the new law only adds to their frustration.

No. 5: Shed Some Shamash on the Issue

And speaking of Dodd-Frank, what’s up with the fiduciary standard? Again, how will it impact day-to-day business operations? Will it change for those currently acting in a fiduciary manner? How will the rules differ for advisors from self-described brokers? Above all, how much more will it cost?

No. 6: Head for Miami

Married at age 14, kids at 16; which leads to a retirement age in the second century BC—the first Hanukkah—of about 22. It’s increased slightly since then (although no one’s complaining). Getting the retirement income issue solved, whether through product or process, is a big wish this year, especially given all that’s recently happened to clients' portfolios.  

No. 7: Resolving the Sovereign Debt Crisis

As if the Jewish people haven’t had enough trouble with Europe.

No. 8: Pidyon Ha'Ben as a Succession Plan

The passing of another calendar year reminds us that advisors aren’t getting any younger, and they need their first born son (or daughter) now more than ever. Where will the next generation of financial advisors come from? Once identified, how will a key-person succession plan work, whether to a family member or an outside sale? With an average advisor age of 52, the exit planning movement is ramping up. More of a focus on the benefits of a well-executed plan would be welcome in 2011.  


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