No savings, No Retirement

Clients rarely ask questions about money says one advisor who listens

Investors often pepper advisors with dozens, even hundreds, of questions throughout their relationship. But how many of those questions relate directly to money?
Practically none, according to one advisor.

“I sat down and thought about the questions I was asked, and when I listed their concerns, none of them had anything to do with money,” said Monroe Diefendorf, Jr., president of 3 Dimensional Wealth Advisory. “The investment industry is answering the questions no one is asking. They’re answering the questions [the industry is] asking.”

Investors rarely speak financial-ese, Diefendorf said, and are more likely to ask questions such as “I don’t want my kids to fight over money.” Or “Will my children have enough money for college?” Answering those questions using financial jargon can leave clients more confused than before and require a translation into something regular people can understand, he added.

“Honestly, they don’t care about the beta, or the alpha, none of that,” Diefendorf said. “Do I need to know that? Absolutely. But do they need to know that? No. What they want to know is how it effects what’s happening in their life.”

3 Dimensional Wealth Advisory provides full-spectrum (both tangible and intangible) wealth management services to clients, with an emphasis on including the whole family in the planning process. The firm is the newest incarnation of the family insurance business founded by Diefendorf’s great-grandfather in 1875. Diefendorf joined the family practice in 1970 before finishing high school — he later graduated with a master’s in insurance from Georgia State University — but “killed” the company in 2014 by removing the family name. He created 3 Dimensional Wealth Advisory in its place to better serve clients who understand that life is about more than the number of dollars in a retirement account.

While Diefendorf’s ancestors were “rockstars in their industries,” his family name alone did not catapult him to industry leadership. Diefendorf has co-authored three books, “Wealth: Enhancement & Preservation” (1995), “21st Century Wealth” (2000), and “3 Dimensional Wealth: A Radically Sane Perspective On Wealth Management” (2005). He has also written eight books on trusts and trust administration.

3 Dimensional Wealth Advisory wants clients to take a broader view of wealth than just investment yields and dollar counts. Instead, clients should also be considering their quality of life, values, and gratitude as assets they can leave to the next generation, Diefendorf said.

“Sometimes, you can take some money out of the money bank and put it in the memory bank and you’ll be wealthier,” he said.

Diefendorf pushes clients to consider the “totality of wealth,” (personal, financial and social wealth) and strives to provide them with tools to do so. 3 Dimensional Wealth Advisory recently began offering clients access to a new suite of wealth management tools at that allows families access to their plans, financial and non-financial information in real time. The platform also allows advisors to increase the frequency and quality of communication with clients.

Response to the platform from clients has been positive so far, Diefendorf said, but added that the platform is just a tool, however. A tool that requires professional financial advice and “wisdom” to use properly, and that the so-called “robo-advisors” and other new tools can provide investors with excellent real-time data, but not necessarily a personal guide to help them navigate their course of action.

“You need those tools for sure, but that’s information and information is one thing … Converting that [information], and taking it, and saying that ‘With the wisdom we have, how can we make this work for you?’” is what matters to clients, Diefendorf said.

Some of the firm’s wisdom is hard-earned. 3 Dimensional Wealth Advisory emphasizes family involvement in the retirement and wealth transfer planning processes. The firm learned to involve the next generation in transfer planning the hard way.

“We didn’t involve the next generation [in the past]. We dealt with the owners and the older individuals, and one day there was a death and no one knew what they were supposed to do,” Diefendorf said. “So, we’ve changed the way we do that in order to help transition and have a smooth succession from one generation to the next.”

That tradition of total family service has kept some clients with Diefendorf through the generations. One 3 Dimensional Wealth Advisory investor recently opened a 529 savings plan for a two-year old, who will be a sixth-generation client.

“What is it that we can do to help families strengthen the root system of their family tree?” Diefendorf posed, explaining what drives the firm’s approach to family clients.

At the heart of Diefendorf’s approach is a philosophy that puts clients first. Frequent communication and an understanding of what clients want in life is key to creating customized solutions for investors. Constant reassessment matters as well, Diefendorf said, adding that investors can’t simply set up a plan and forget it, but rather must reevaluate and adjust plans based on changing market conditions and personal goals and objectives.

Annual Check-ups: “Doctors do it, dentists do it, everyone should be in that mind set of getting a financial check-up, too,” he said.

Including the whole family, focusing on wealth beyond money, and fine-tuning plans as conditions change may be steps that investors are unaccustomed to, but it is a style of wealth management that Diefendorf hopes will spread throughout the industry.

“In the future, it will not just be about money management,” he said. “It will be about “total” wealth management where we’re really answering the questions people are concerned about.”

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