Ryan Barber • Portrait of a Financial Advisor

Vantage Pointe Group Empowers Clients to Navigate the Currents Towards Financial Security

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   By: Robert E Martin

09th February, 2016     0

As we enter into 2016 with the hopefulness of a fresh slate, making resolutions to shed a few pounds and exercise more to improve our physical health, people also take inventory of their financial fitness with an eye towards protecting and growing their next egg as Father Time ticks away into the weeks & months of the new year.

Unfortunately, accompanying this sense of hopefulness is the mire of uncertainty & fear when it comes to planning for retirement or cultivating a cushion of financial security. Since the financial crisis of 2008, coupled with relatively flat real estate markets and money-market returns, confidence more often than not has been replaced by anxiety.

However, one financial advisor who has helped clients charter a thoughtful course while navigating through the often unpredictable waters and swells of opportunity that abound in today’s investment markets is Investment Advisor representative Ryan Barber, whom has worked at VantagePointe Financial Group for nearly nine years, and assisted countless clients of all income brackets and age ranges chart a rational course towards financial security in unsettling times.

A distinguishing quality about Ryan is an obvious passion that he harbors about servicing and advising his clients to the best of his abilities.   While majoring in Human Resource Management at Michigan State University’s business school, Ryan had a marketing professor who one fateful day taught his class the ‘Rule of 72’, which shows how compound interests works.

“He said it had nothing to do with marketing, but felt it was an important concept to be exposed to before leaving college,” explains Ryan. “For example, if you have an investment making 3% interest and take the number 72 and divide it by the expected rate of return, in this instance your money will double every 24  years. At a 2% rate of return it will take 36 years to double, so if you apply that rule it gives people a pretty eye opening look at their investments.”

The point for Barber was transformative because it demonstrated for him a significant point: “While the market can be wildly unpredictable in the short term, if you go over longer periods of time it becomes predictable. The trick is to not get too excited or depressed if investments underperform.”

Working at Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance as an intern, Ryan graduated in December, 2000 with his B.A. degree in business management; until a former classmate, who worked at Axa  Equitable in Saginaw asked him to come for an interview. “While this didn’t align with my major in college, I quickly realized that financial advising fit exactly with what I was looking for,” reflects Ryan. “I knew that I wanted to work with people and I had an opportunity to help educators learn about their benefits, which also gave me a target market. I was 23 years-old at the time and suddenly without too much difficulty, I became skilled at knowing what was important to teachers once they retired, and how to analyze their pensions, benefits, health insurance, and all these moving parts that would affect them one day.”

Barber worked in the Saginaw Township, Carrollton, and Birch Run school districts for five-and-a-half years, making himself available after school hours to the staff, so he became a familiar face throughout these various school districts, helping teachers set up supplemental retirement accounts so they had more than 40-50% of their income levels available to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Finally, Ryan joined VantagePointe Financial in March 2007, which is where he is at today, so that he could become more of a holistic financial advisor. “I felt it was time to take my business acumen to a different level and wanted to provide my clients with more options,” he explains.

“When people ask how much they need to stock away for retirement, I tell them to picture their financial future like a GPS system. Apart from social security and pensions, how can we invest to support our lifestyle? A GPS will give you an idea of one’s rate of travel and when you arrive at a destination, and developing a financial strategy is similar to using a GPS – it will give you an idea of the pace you are on and whether you’re ahead or behind of schedule, and also let you know what kind of adjustments you need to make.”

“I decided to go with VantagePointe Financial because their philosophy is that the financial advisor is their client, which very much suited me,” explains Ryan. “My job is to take great care of my clients and it’s such a refreshing thing for a company to basically say to me: ‘You are our client, what do you wish to accomplish?’

“Vantage has a corporate culture that fits my personality extremely well and their philosophy is the same as mine,” continues Ryan.  “I’m their client and they support me serving my clients. Plus, they have an open architecture that is appealing in the sense they have no proprietary product requirements. I can offer almost any financial product out there, similar to a car salesman that can offer a client Chrysler, Ford, Honda, or GM products. It offers a flexibility as opposed to trying to sell an F-150 to every person coming in the door. In this sense I function more like a relationship manager with the client, so that I can be their tour guide along the way, reviewing different investment portfolios depending upon the client’s objectives. It’s amazing how many different investment options we have today – literally, the number is in the thousands, so its my job to understand those options that align with the client’s goals.”

When sitting down with a new client, Barber references his approach to that of a physician meeting a new patient. “Many times people will contact me and set up an appointment with a pre-conceived intention of setting up something like a Roth IRA,” explains Ryan, “but we have a careful process that we follow consistently with each new client to give them the best care possible. Rather than simply set up an account, the first step of the process is to arrange what I call a discovery meeting, which usually involves a 20-minute conversation to hear what they wish to accomplish with their investment goals, and also to explain our own process.”

“If they choose to schedule a second meeting, this one will be a fact finding meeting whereby we gather all pertinent facts, not just the numbers or hard data; but also the soft data, which is equally important and involves how the client feels about risk and what they envision doing in retirement. In most cases this lasts about a 90-minutes and then we merge together the hard and soft data.”

“The third step is a considerations meeting, which doesn’t involve recommendations so much as instilling the fact there is no one way to accomplish important investment goals, so based upon what I understand their goals to be, at this meeting I will present them with three ideas that might work for them; and then I help them understand both the pros & cons of each path, empowering the client to decide what works best for them. At the end of the day, I’m really more of a coach or teacher than a salesperson. My goal is to educate me clients, and this is pretty much the process. If a fourth meeting ensues, this is when we implement the investment strategy.”

Barber has no minimal investment requirements to engage his services. “My only two requirements are that you live within your means and are willing to take professional advice,” notes Barber. “On the one end of the spectrum will be a 19-year old socking away $50.00 each month; and then I also have 85-year old clients with a firm financial cushion.”

Given the economic realities of today and the ongoing erosion of the middle class, many individuals find themselves strapped for cash and resorting to credit cards in order to make ends meet, often accumulating disquieting levels of debt. How does Barber advise these types of clients that are eager to invest, yet saddled by significant credit card debt?

“I do have clients that initially come to set up a retirement account and through the discovery process, I uncover they have lots of debt,” reflects Ryan. “So before helping them set up a retirement account, I ask them to take a ‘time-out’ so they can fix their debt problem, which can be more damaging to their future than their lack of having a retirement account set up this second.”

“If you are paying 12% interest on a credit card, you may want to consider taking your available cash targeted for investment and using it to pay that card down, because whatever they might earn through their investments evaporates by whatever their debt is. 12% interest is like a guaranteed 12% return in the opposite direction into the red, so I help them understand these facts.  At first the client may be surprised that as a salesperson I am denying them a sale, but they quickly realize with this advice that I have their best interests in mind. Once they understand the importance of knocking out their debt, we can set a strategy in motion designed to help free them from that burden.”

When asked what he feels are the most secure investments as we enter 2016, Barber emphasizes the importance of adopting a long-view perspective. “I haven’t met a client yet that wants to lose money, especially when the market gets volatile,” he reflects. “People are worried about safety and you’ve got to be aware of different risks out there.”

“For conservative investors whose primary concern is safety and not losing principal, many are attracted to taking out a CD at the bank; not that CD’s are bad, but they do tie up your money for a fixed period and at relatively modest interest rates that may not be keeping up with inflation.

“One of the tools we utilize examines a client’s risk tolerance,” he continues. “It’s a questionnaire designed to help me understand how people think about risk; and many fall in the middle. If you give people a choice of A, B, or C, many will select B; but I never assume too much about that. Any investor needs to be comfortable with their risk tolerance. Once we define what that tolerance is, we can go into the open architecture of products out there and give them three choices or three separate ideas to choose from, explaining the pros & cons of each option, that are suitable for them according to their risk preference.”

With many people opting to retire at age 62, one important thing many fail to realize is how they can also compound their social security retirement benefits considerably by working past the age of 65. 

“I would say right now from my own experience more people choose to start receiving social security benefits at age 62 over other options,” explains Ryan. “But each year they wait until after the age of 62 to retire, they can earn about 8% more income for each year they defer, according to the Social Security website, which makes an unbelievable difference. So if you do not hate your job and are healthy, you can be better off financially to keep working as long as you can.”

So why don’t more people adopt this approach? “I think the average American believes they’re not going to get anything from Social Security, and if they spend time on the Social Security website, they will see 2016 is the year the system begins to experience more receivers of benefit money than contributors,” reflects Ryan.

“Social Security is an unbelievably different animal today than when Franklin Delano Roosevelt designed it, because who knew back then that life expectancy would rise so much? Back in the 1940s the average male lived to age 65 and now that age is up to 80, so when we do a financial forecast for clients, we also show them the various scenarios of what retirement looks like when they retire at age 62, 65, or 67. That way visually they can see the difference.”

“One of the biggest challenges I face with clients is how many come into an appointment worrying about 10 different things,” concludes Ryan, “so my job is to point out to them the two things out of that 10 that we do have control over, and the importance of spending our time there. Not that we don’t want to be aware of the various risks involved with investing, but the best thing I can do is help my clients  remove the emotion from their decisions.”

“If I put a client in my seat and tell them to visualize themselves as a member of a board overseeing a fund that does not involve their own money, but has two investments within the fund, with one position making tons of money and one losing tons of money, when it involves their own money they get emotional and want to remove the pain and chase the investment making money. We’re all wired this way and are fleeing from pain, so consequently they end up selling low in order to buy high, just in time for these trends to potentially reverse themselves.  This is why one needs to be patient, or as Warren Buffett puts it: ‘Hurry up and do nothing”

“As human beings we are wired to be reactionary when it comes to investments, so in many ways, my job is to serve as a relationship and behavioral manager as it relates to money and explain to them advantages, risks, and strategies in ways they can understand.”

“If you imagine one elevator with one huge cable supporting it and another elevator with a half dozen smaller but sturdy cables, and the one large cable starts to unravel, you better look out. This is diversification and most people get that,” notes Ryan.

“The perfect ideal client for me is someone coming down the home stretch in their working career, which presents a perfect storm of opportunity in terms of how I can assist them. They are likely in their peak income earning years, hopefully either close to or already debt free, and also close to being empty nesters, many of their tax deductions are gone, with retirement staring them in the face.  “We need to make sure they are ready for the future.”

To set up an appointment with Ryan Barber and to find out more about the myriad of services available through VantagePointe Financial Group, you can contact Ryan via email at rbarber@vpfgroup.com or by phoning 989-799-1500 x12.

The material being presented is for informational purposes only. Although many of the topics presented may involved tax, legal, accounting or other issues, neither Signator Investors, Inc. and its affiliated companies, nor any of its agents, employees or registered representatives are in the business of offering such advice. Individuals interested in these topics should consult with their own professional advisors to examine tax, legal, accounting or financial aspects of these topics and how it applies to their specific circumstances. Investment involves risk, including loss of principal. Diversification/Asset/Allocation does not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss.

SMAR #104-20160108-270145. Offering John Hancock Insurance Products. Registered Representative/Securities and Investment Advisor Services offered through Signator Investors, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC. A Registered Investment Advisor. VantagePointe Financial Group is an independent firm affiliated with John Hancock, 3333 Evergreen NE, Ste. 200, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. (616) 534-9623.

 

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