As head of wealth planning at Janney Montgomery Scott, the regional broker-dealer with 800 advisors serving 135,000 households ranging from the super-high-net worth to clients of much more modest means, Martin Schamis has a big challenge. Those advisors each “serve their clients a bit differently,” he says, so Janney is careful to avoid a one-size-fits-all financial planning approach.
However, for the 80% of clients whose primary goal is to determine “When can I retire?” and “Can I stay retired?” the Janney approach to financial planning is to provide each advisor with core technology components that allows the advisor to “piece together the process” to answer those clients’ questions.
Philadelphia-based Janney’s first goal, said Schamis, was to make sure “we have a really capable financial planning engine that powers all of our technology and helps our clients give really good answers to the questions clients are asking.”
For Janney, NaviPlan serves as that engine, which Schamis calls “a very comprehensive cash-flow based system.”
But then Janney builds interfaces, or “experiences” as Schamis calls them, off that engine which allow advisors to deliver financial planning as an “almost modular experience.”
So for those 80% of clients who mostly want to know if they have enough money to retire, Janney built the Retirement Income Evaluator, an 8- or 9-page slideshow which walks the advisor and client through the retirement planning data gathering process, analyzes the plan and then presents recommended solutions, including alternative strategies to answer “What if?” questions about their retirement, Schamis explains.
Janney has also built additional modules for life insurance, education planning and savings.
The approach is to avoid providing one-size-fits-all solutions and instead give advisors the tools to follow an efficient process to flexibly meet individual client needs.
For the Evaluator, the process includes having advisors sit down in person with clients to work through the entire presentation from page one, “collecting data as they go along; the calculations happen, and then they can review the findings together.”
Schamis says some data can be entered beforehand via questionnaires, and the advisor can provide clients a printed report, though not one of those “160-page coffee-table book” financial plans that only serve to “confuse clients.”
A non-tech-savvy advisor “can do it across the kitchen table with a bound report,” Schamis says, while more tech-savvy advisors can go through the process with clients using web or video conferencing tools such as WebX “to plug people in from different locations,” a process that Schamis’ wealth planning team can facilitate.
Schamis says the most common implementation of the Retirement Income Evaluator is at the outset of the relationship with the client to help “set a baseline.” However, Schamis’ team recommends that advisors revisit the Evaluator with clients once or more a year to refresh the assumptions and to accommodate any client life changes.
Schamis says that what he’s heard from advisors using the Evaluator is that the ‘Wow!’ factor for the clients is the moment after the data gathering process is complete, when the client’s goals are listed and accurately predicted retirement date is shown with income sources “and you bring up a screen showing what your retirement looks like.” It’s that moment when a screen “pops up and shows somebody their retirement—that’s when it becomes concrete for them.”
Schamis, a CFP who was named to the CFP Board of Directors in December 2017, was a financial advisor himself (with Morgan Stanley) early in his career, and he says that experience has informed his career serving advisors since, including 11 years at Vanguard. Serving in an operations capacity in the back office, and in technology and development, has helped him see the “entire life cycle” of a client-advisor relationship.
That’s also helped him see that the “real beauty of planning” is that it “fundamentally changes the conversation that we have with clients from one around product and sales ideas” to one that focuses on clients and their goals and how to implement solutions to achieve those goals.
“Far too often,” he says, “we get so focused on the technology as the end solution that we miss the conversation, this interplay of people around what we’re trying to accomplish.”