These are interesting times for Richard Stumpf.
Stumpf is a financial planner, not the easiest job when there is economic uncertainty around every corner.
He started his company, Financial Benefits, in 1988. He recently was appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback to serve on a commission that will |examine the Kansas Public Employees Retirement system and make recommendations to the Legislature to improve the plan's long-term financial strength.
Stumpf, 54, grew up "everywhere," the son of a military man. He attended 21 schools before graduating from high school.
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"And I never got kicked out of one of them," he said.
He also served, spending six years in the Air Force and 14 years in the Air National Guard.
He has a bachelor's degree in agronomy from Kansas State and earned his MBA at University of Montana.
Stumpf has been married for 31 years. He and his wife, Evan, have three grown children. He is about to become a grandfather for the first time.
Why does someone need a financial planner?
"Things are a lot more complicated than they used to be. Taxes. Economics. Insurance. Estate planning. And there are things that seem perfectly logical that can be terribly wrong because they impact other things."
Like any business, there are financial planners who know what they're doing and those who don't. How do you differentiate yourself?
"I'm a big believer in education, so I'm constantly going to classes and learning, adding professional designations just to continue to not only stay on top of stuff but stay at the front of what's happening."
"There're ways to check people out. When I meet up with a prospective client... we give them a list of websites or organizations that they can use to check out planners."
How has your business changed since the start of the recession?
"The recession was an interesting learning curve for me. I was taught buy and hold. The market goes up. The market goes down. You make prudent investment decisions based on the goal you're trying to accomplish and you stick with it ... I was also taught diversification ... What we learned for the first time ever in 2008 is that doesn't always hold true. 2008 was the first time we've seen everything go down, so diversification and buy and hold failed in 2008. So what we've been doing is selecting managers that have the capability of actually getting out of the market and going totally to cash when the market says that's the best place to be."
What's the hardest part of your job?
"I'm not a salesman. The hardest part of my job is getting buy-in for what I've laid out as recommendations. I'm not the natural glib salesperson. I think I'm pretty good as an adviser, but I fail when I cannot get clients or perspective clients to recognize the value in what I'm recommending. That's probably the most frustrating thing for me, is to lay out what I think is the best series of recommendations for a prospective client and have them say no."
The best part?
"I love what I do. I get to spend my day helping people. I get to spend my day basically putting together puzzles, financial puzzles for people. And at the end of the day it's a very satisfying thing that I do. And there is no repetition in my business because every client is different."
Do you see any common themes among your clients?
"No question, and it doesn't matter whether they're multimillionaires or struggling paycheck to paycheck. They're terrified of the economy right now. They're terrified of the government. And they just don't have confidence in what the future's holding."
Are people putting enough money away for retirement?
"No. We as a people live for the moment, and we buy the big-screen TV because it's fun now and don't realize what the future is going to hold. The old concept of saving for a rainy day has been totally forgotten."
What advice would you give clients about potential cuts in Medicare and Social Security?
"You've got a choice on relying on the government to take care of you with changing politics and all the rest of that, or you rely on yourself. And you rely on yourself by saving for the rainy day and knowing that you set something aside to take care of yourself."
What are your thoughts on being appointed to the KPERS commission?
"It's interesting that you followed that question with cuts to Social Security and Medicare. KPERS is much like Social Security and Medicare in that they're all slow-moving train wrecks. We've known for years that Social Security and Medicare are going to run out of money ... KPERS is the same thing. The actuaries have said you don't have enough money set aside to keep the promises that have been made ... The thing I like about the commission is Gov. Brownback has got the guts to say we've got to fix it now instead of waiting, because the longer you wait the more expensive it becomes to fix the problem."
What keeps you awake at night?
"I guess I'm like the majority of my clients in that it scares me what's happening in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street. We've got a government that borrows 40 cents of every dollar they spend, and nobody seems to be bothered by that. I'm bothered by that. Wall Street has lost any sense of integrity for the sake of making the fast buck. The nonsense that comes out of Washington as far as Wall Street reform is politically correct nonsense that sounds good and will do nothing."
When you're not working, what would we find you doing?
"Working in my garden. Going camping."
And what's in your garden?
"A bunch of very dry, shriveled-up plants right now."