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Exclusive Interview with Roger Wohlner

Exclusive Interview with Roger Wohlner
January 19
00:03 2016

Roger Wohlner has been a must read for us at FiduciaryNews.com since we began publishing in 2009. He was one of our first “Exclusive Interviews” (see “Exclusive Interview with Roger Wohlner: On Annuities, TDFs and the Fiduciary Standard,” FiduciaryNews.com, October 22, 2013). Roger’s financial blog, The Chicago Financial Planner, regularly ranks among the most popular financial sites in the nation. He brings a solid sense to his writing, something you would expect from an experienced financial advisor and freelance writer.

Based in Arlington Heights, Illinois, Roger’s expertise includes providing financial planning and investment advice to individual clients, 401k plan sponsors, foundations and endowments. He is active on social media; you can follow him on Twitter and Google+. In addition to The Chicago Financial Planner, where he writes about issues concerning financial planning, investments and retirement plans, Roger’s freelance writing work has been featured on Investopedia, Go Banking Rates, US News & World Report, Yahoo! Finance, Equifax Finance Blog and other publications.

FN: You’ve been quite busy since the last time we interviewed you (“Exclusive Interview with Roger Wohlner: On Annuities, Target Date Funds and the Fiduciary Standard,” October 22, 2103). What are some of the more interesting things you’ve been doing since then?
Wohlner: Nothing too exciting but I have ramped up my freelance writing business and now contribute to several sites and write for some private clients. I view this as another way to help contribute a bit of knowledge to readers and hopefully provide a bit of education or at least a different point of view.

FN: Let’s get to the elephant sitting in the room right off the bat. The market has been, well, acting like a market does at times. For a seasoned professional like yourself (and many of our readers), this is not really news. But for non-professionals, these can present rather unsettling times. What are the biggest concerns you’ve seen from your readers? In general, how has your writing addressed these concerns and how have readers responded?
Wohlner: Chris, to be honest with you, I haven’t heard too many concerns from clients or readers. There is a bit of frustration and I think a concern along the lines of not wanting to give back all of the gains of the past 6+ years of the current rally.

FN: What do you financial professionals can best offer to address client concerns about volatile markets?
Wohlner: Financial advisors can help clients look at things in terms of their overall situation and they can provide their clients with a detached perspective to help facilitate rational, unemotional decisions. I think the biggest value of a financial advisor in times like this is keeping clients from making emotion-driven decisions that can harm them in the long-term.

FN: Retirement savers, in particular, might be harmed the most by short-term thinking and knee jerk responses to bad economic news and a struggling economy. How can plan sponsors and professional fiduciaries construct retirement plans and individual strategies to help retirement savers avoid making harmful emotional decisions?
Wohlner: Plan sponsors need to provide participants with access to solid educational materials and should consider providing access to professional advice delivered by a fee-only advisor or firm.

FN: What are your thoughts on the DOL’s proposed new Fiduciary Rule? Do you see it as something that can rightfully level the playing field among professionals, or do you fear this is merely a watering down of the fiduciary standard that allows brokers to continue to engage in self-dealing transactions fiduciary advisers are normally prohibited from engaging in?
Wohlner: Chris, my honest answer on the Fiduciary Rule is that it will ultimately be the most watered down rule that money from the financial services industry can buy. I have no confidence that Congress will pass anything that truly benefits individual investors. I know this is cynical but it is truly what I believe.

FN: Has your perception of target date funds changed over the last few years? Where might they be appropriate and what might be a better alternative to TDFs?
Wohlner: It really hasn’t changed, I think TDFs are great for younger plan participants. They provide instant diversification to young savers who in many cases have no outside investments. I’m not as big a fan of TDFs for those age 40 or older because by then they should have some money accumulated and they should be taking a more tailored retirement investing approach. As far as good or bad families, you need to look at that on a case-by-case basis. Low costs are key. If done well, offering customized risk-based portfolios can be a better alternative than TDFs in my opinion.

FN: Are longevity annuities ever going to take off? What’s their problem? Is there a way the industry can fix them?
Wohlner: I have a natural bias against most insurance products so I might not be the best person to ask. Part of the issue is that this is another option that a plan sponsor would have to decide upon. I’m also not sure if a product that doesn’t kick in until age 85 has a ton of appeal. Perhaps over time things will change or the insurance companies will come up with a catchy sales campaign.

FN: What new and exciting things are you expecting to undertake in the next year? Where can readers go to see your writing? Are you planning to write a book?
Wohlner: I plan to ramp up my freelance writing. I contribute regularly to Investopedia and Go Banking Rates. I have started writing for a couple of other sites and some private clients and am looking to add on additional writing assignments in both areas. I keep thinking that I’d like to write a book and this may be the year, but frankly I’ve been pretty swamped this year and last. At some point I’d also like to create one or more online courses around the areas of my experience in helping clients plan for their retirement and investing.

FN: Who do you think will win the Superbowl?
Wohlner: Since they were able to beat my Packers, I’ll go with Arizona.

FN: Do you have any other thoughts or ideas you’d like to share with our readers?
Wohlner: More than ever, it is crucial for investors to be sure the financial advisors they choose have their best interests at heart and work with them on a fiduciary basis. As far as 401k plans, I suspect we will continue to see more law suits around fees and appropriate investments and I want to give a shout out to Jerry Schlichter, his firm, and others like him for holding the feet of plan sponsors and plan providers to the fire. 

FN: Roger, it’s been great having a chance to talk to you again. Your insights and blunt common sense continue to offer a refreshing and reaffirming perspective on the industry. Our readers no doubt find it just as illuminating. Best of luck in your endeavors and we look forward to reading you.

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Christopher Carosa, CTFA

Christopher Carosa, CTFA

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