Month: January 2022

Episode 8: What to do when stocks are volatile?

Strategies for navigating stock market volatility

What to do when stocks are volatile


Kevin  00:12

Hello everyone and welcome to the Planning for Retirement Podcast. My name is Kevin Lao and I am your host. Just a quick background on me, I’m a CFP been in the business for almost 14 years and I have my own firm serving clients all over the US. We’re based here in St. Augustine, Florida. My firm is Imagine Financial Security. But this Podcast is to educate you on the strategies we put in place every day to help our clients plan for retirement and achieve financial independence.


If you have any questions about working with me one-on-one or, even had feedback on our Podcast, I always love to hear from you. And you can visit my website at and contact me that way. Also, be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, if you’d like what you hear.


This episode on January 24th 2022 is episode number eight. It is called what to do when markets are volatile? Before we jump in just a quick disclaimer, this should not be construed as investment, legal or, tax advice. And you should consider your own unique circumstances and consult your advisers before making any changes. So, let’s dive in.


All right, as I mentioned it is Monday, January 24th, it’s the evening. My three boys are now sleeping. So, I have some quiet time to record this episode, which I’ve been looking forward too. We’ve been in some ballot of volatility over the last four to five months really starting with the Delta variant in the third quarter.


The markets got a little bit spooked. Of course, with the recent variant Omicron in the fourth quarter of 2021 and we’re officially in correction territory with the NASDAQ intraday today was down 17% from its previous high. The S&P 500 was minus 10% and some change from its previous high.

Correction vs bear market

We’re definitely in correction territory with both of those and the small caps in the US, are actually in bear market territory. So bear market, just to define this, is a drop of 20% or, more from previous market highs. So, many times I’ve clients or, prospects, they come to me and ask what should they do? What should their strategy be?


So, really to simplify things, there are three things you can do. You can sell something. You can buy something or, you can do nothing.

And I hear many talking heads in our industry, even advisors, co-workers, friends, family, I hear a lot of people talk about number three, which is do nothing. Bury your head in the sand, just let the dust settle and just don’t look at your statements, and then wait a year.


This is great for people who don’t know what to do because making a mistake is, you certainly want to avoid selling something at the wrong time and making that big mistake.

So, doing nothing is certainly better than making a big mistake.

But the real answer, the one the pros practice, and the one my firm employs is, to do a little bit of both. You sell some things and you buy others.



Now, what to sell and what to buy is, much more of a complex question. I’ll go into what our process looks like, in just a moment. But first of all, I just want to talk about what’s going on in the markets now? We’ve had record high inflation. We’ve had for many months, really since June, we have had interest rates spike at the beginning of the year, so far in 2021. So, the concern, there is large purchases like, homes and cars are becoming less affordable.


It also impacts the ability for businesses to borrow money, which has been a very easy thing to do for businesses, for many years, really since 2010. So, that’s going to become a little bit more difficult. A little bit more expensive, which will impact the growth and then ultimately, number three, which is really related to the first two is, this concern of slowing growth in 2022 and 2023.


Really, with the reopening from the global shutdown in 2020 towards the end of 2020 and 2021, we’ve been experiencing a rapid expansion because we were experiencing the reopening from the lock downs. Naturally, the pace of growth is going to slow and so, investors are certainly concerned with that, and ultimately concerned with stock prices not being aligned with their valuations.


So, those three things are really contributing to the stock markets being volatile and what I will say is, volatile markets are normal. They’re healthy. If stocks had no volatility, they would not provide the upside potential, they have provided for decades. We’ve all heard the notion of risk and reward.


Well, if there’s no risk involved, there’s no reward involved. I tell my clients and friends, and family and people I talk to is, embrace the volatility. This is an opportunistic period of time in the markets, and we’ll talk about here in just a second. So what do I mean by opportunistic?


Let me throw out a quick statistic that really jumped out to me. This was done by Hartford Funds I believe, and I’ve been looking at this study year after year, and I think they update this almost every year. We talked about bear markets being minus 20% drop a bull market, conversely, as a 20%, increase in prices from previous lows.



So, listen to this, more than half or, 56%, of the S&P 500, its best performing days in the last 20 years have occurred, while we are in a bear market.

Again, we’re not in a bear market for the S&P or, NASDAQ yet, but I’m just talking about volatile markets in general. When things are bad, we tend to have some of the best performing days in the market. Actually, here’s another one. I’ll follow up on that.


Another 32% of the best days in the market took place, in the first two months of a bull market.

So, if you really add those two up which probably, isn’t fair to do, but let’s say 88% or, north of 80%, of the best days in the S&P 500, over the last 20 years have occurred, while we were in a bear market. Ok. Now, you could argue. You know, a large part of that was 2008-2009, with the worst recession since the Great Depression. We were in a really deep recession, a deep bear markets.


Of course, there were a lot of good trading days during that period of time, but you really look at 2020 as another example, that was the other bear market we’ve had over the last 15 or, so years. There was some great opportunity in March, April, May, June, July of 2020, where if you didn’t take advantage of it, it hurt your recovery.


If you sat it out, there’s no way you would have made back what you’d lost at the beginning of 2020. But the important note is, that when things are bad people tend to run. People tend to get scared and that’s when opportunity arises. Ok, valuations become more attractive, stock prices are lower than they were previously and so investors that have been sitting on the sidelines, opportunistic investors, are now buying in, now getting into the market.


It’s like the quote I love from Warren Buffett is, be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.

I love that quote and I think it really applies to the process I employ for my clients.


Another interesting statistic I want to throw out there is that, bear markets last 10 months on average, but bull markets last three years. So, this really goes hand in hand with a lot of the advice people give around, just wait it out, don’t make any moves. You just buy and hold.


Don’t make any rash decisions because on average, bull markets tend to last longer than bear markets. If you did nothing, you probably did just fine over the course of a long period of time. Ok. But how do we become opportunistic? How do we really take action during periods of volatility?


This is really what the answer that people are looking for when they come to me during these periods. Ok. What my clients are looking for in an advisor during volatile markets?

So, the answer is simple. We manage to each investment policy statement. Ok, let me repeat that, we manage to each individual investment policy statement.

So, what’s an investment policy statement?



A simple way, a simple definition is, it’s a written document that designates a certain percentage to be allocated for each asset class. Ok. How do you create an investment policy statement?

So, the equation in my mind is very simple. It’s your financial goals, combined with your risk tolerance or, risk capacity. Minus your financial resources equals your investment policy statement.


Some examples of asset classes would be, let’s say, large cap US growth stocks or, International stocks or, US bonds or, Real Estate, just to name a few. A well-designed investment policy statement will have asset classes that move in different directions during different periods of each economic cycle. Meaning they’re well diversified from one another.


So, as the market shifts, the percentage you own and each designated asset classes, you then have the opportunity to sell at a premium or, buy at a discount relative to your IPS or, your investment policy statement. Ok. If you have no starting point, it’s never going to make sense mathematically of, when to buy and when to sell?


Whereas, if you have an investment policy statement, and you have a certain percentage that’s supposed to be allocated towards international stocks, and a certain percentage that’s supposed to be allocated to US growth stocks, ok, and that percentage has shifted, based on fundamentals of the economy and stock prices. That’s going to give you the answer of what do you buy and what do you sell?


Let me give you a quick example. Let’s look at the recent bear market we had. Ok. Again, I’m not predicting we’re going to enter a bear market right now. I’m just talking about bear markets, because typically people start to pay attention when their accounts dropping by 20%. Even now, people are starting to look its headlines, are being made because the NASDAQ was down intraday today at over 4%.


So, if you’re like, oh, should I be doing something? The last bear market we had was February, March of 2020. Ok, this was the beginning of the Pandemic sell-off. It was short-lived in early, in August. We had recovered all of the losses from the bear market and stocks have been on a rally ever since. But stocks dropped 35% in a six-week period.


Bonds, on the other hand, were up close to 7% during that same time horizon. Ok, so why is this? I mean, interest rates were low, relatively speaking. Ok. So, how could they return 7% in a two month period? Well, it’s because when people are selling out of stocks, because they’re fearful or, they’re concerned about what’s going on in the economy?



They have to buy something. I mean, yes, you could go to cash. But a lot of these individuals, a lot of these investors are going to flight to safety. So, US Treasuries, Municipal bonds, Corporate bonds, they’re flighting to safety. So, bonds spiked because of prices going up. People wanted safe investments paying a coupon rate of, one and a half or, two and a half percent, just because they were concerned with stock prices dropping 35% over a six-week period.


Ok, let’s say for simplicity purposes, we had an investment policy statement, based on your financial goals, based on your risk tolerance, based on your time horizon, based on your financial resources. We said, hey, you know what? Let’s use half of your portfolio to be in the stock market. Obviously, diversified within stocks, US stocks, International stocks, large stocks, small stocks, mid-sized stocks, and the other 50% would be in fixed income also, diversified US bonds, International bonds, high quality investment grade versus Junk bonds, high yield.


So, in the first few months of 2020, stocks were down 35% and bonds were up 7%. So, as it relates to your investment policy statement, ok, we are now, under exposed and stocks, and over exposed to bonds simply by the drastic difference in performance during that time. Instead of reacting to headlines, which is very tough to do, I promise you, ok, you wouldn’t believe the phone calls, I was receiving from clients during 2020, at the height of COVID when stocks in a single day, were going down 11 to 12 and 13%.


Ok, the calls that we were feeling were concerning, ok, but we had to stay disciplined, ok, and if we’re now, underweight and stocks, ok, and overweight and bonds, mathematically speaking, as a relates to your investment policy statement, and that 50-50 designation, we had the asset class. By simple way of math, we have to then trim off some of the gains from bonds so, sell at a premium, and purchase stocks at hopefully, discounted prices.


Now, hindsight is 2020 we know how that worked out. But in practice, this is literally the discipline that goes into this, ok. So, we’re not reacting to headlines. We’re not trying to time the market, ok. We’re simply looking at a financial goal, a time horizon, and an investment policy statement related to a certain account, and we’re going to buy some things and we’re going to sell others.


Now, within stocks, we’re going to have different percentages allocated to different segments of the market. Ok, within bonds, same thing. Okay, so I’m just using a very high level simple example of half in stocks and half in bonds. Once we made that move, I know Hindsight is 2020, but stocks went on a tear for the next four months because we had repositioned and loaded up in stocks during the bottom March, April of 2020, and we had that recovery over the next four months, we recovered much faster than, if we had did nothing.



Ok, the same thing held true in 2021. So, fast forward, ok, we’re looking at it and said, hey, we had a massive run in 2020, and even into 2021. So, that same 50-50 portfolio, we’re now overweight in stocks, and we’re underweight in bonds. As painful as this might be, especially, when we’re going through a significant bull market, we need to buy discipline.


Trim off some of the gains from stocks, not bail out of stocks, but trim off some of the gains, to get it back to that targeted 50% that we want to have in the portfolio and purchase fixed income albeit, it’s not going to generate a ton of interest. Given interest rates are super low, but it’s there for that stability. We’re not overweight, when stocks take the next tumble, which we talked about happens every four years on average for a bear market.


Now, that we’re going into this ballot of volatility, third quarter of 2021, fourth quarter of 2021, first quarter of 2022, if we had followed this discipline, follow this process, we’re not going to be experiencing as much of a dip, as we had, if we had done nothing.

Ok, this also is beautiful because it works well when you’re retired, and you’re actually, drawing income from the portfolio.


So, my clients that are— let’s say, a client needs $5,000 a month from the portfolio. We need to raise cash somewhere by liquidating a certain asset class. Every single month, when we go into the portfolio, we look at the Investment Policy Statement and figure out what we’re under? What we’re over weighted?

And that drives our decisions on what we’re liquidating to generate income from the portfolio.


Again, it works in the accumulation phase. It works in the income distribution phase, and for those of you that are younger listening to this, and let’s say, you don’t even have fixed income in the portfolio, where you might have cash. You might have cash that you’ve been waiting to invest, that you haven’t put to work yet. This is dry powder. It’s an opportunistic time to deploy that cash strategically, to buy equities at potentially discounted prices and especially,


If your time horizon is 10 or, 15-20 years, you don’t need to even time it perfectly, and you shouldn’t even try to time it perfectly because conceivably, if capital markets continue at the trajectory, they’ve been going over the net, over the last 100 years plus, you’re going to be much better off than just leaving that money in cash. I promise you that especially with inflation.



So, those of you that are long ways away from retirement, there are strategies you can deploy, instead of selling off fixed income. If you’re closer to retirement, it’s a perfect time to look at what are you overweight in? What are you underweight in? What is your investment policy statement look like? What should it look like? Should it be updated, based on your time horizon, based on your financial goals and circumstances changing? For those of you in retirement don’t panic.


Hopefully, you have a process in place where a certain dollar amount for income each year is, going to be generated from asset classes that are immune to stocks. Ok, in summary, if you don’t know what to do don’t make a knee jerk reaction but at the same time, don’t just sit idle and do nothing. Ok, create an Investment Policy Statement for each account. Ok, that you have follow the Investment Policy Statement, implement it with a discipline process. Don’t act on emotion.


Ok, if you want to consult with an advisor, consult with a fiduciary, go to Go to Fee Only network. Go to XY Planning. If you want to consult with me one-on-one, I’m happy to talk. You can get on my website at but I hope you find this helpful and can apply during periods of volatility moving forward. Be smart, review your situation, make sure you’re taking the appropriate steps for your own strategy and your own unique circumstances.


Ok, again, hope you enjoy today’s episode. Be sure to subscribe. Leave a review on iTunes like, I mentioned if you liked what you heard, and I really appreciate all of you, and appreciate you tuning into today’s episode. Until next time, have a great one.


Are Financial Advisors Worth It?

"How do fiduciary financial advisors add value?"

In my nearly 14 years in this business, I’ve seen financial advice given by many different professionals. Insurance agents, stock brokers, bank representatives, real estate professionals, next door neighbors and the like. I’ve seen some great advice given, but also some terrible advice. This often times leads to the general public to think “are financial advisors worth it?” This is especially the case now given the lines are blurred between different segments of the “financial services” industry. Vanguard did a study called “Advisor’s Alpha” which I have found is the most helpful and accurate summary of value-added services a comprehensive financial advisor provides. I’ve referenced it to clients and other professionals since 2014 when it was originally published. To summarize it briefly, they outline seven areas of advice that add value to the client’s portfolio by way of net returns annually. They have assigned a percentage to each of the categories which amounts to approximately 3%/year in net returns! In this article, I will highlight some of the key components of their research, as well as put my own spin on it based on my thousands of hours working with clients directly.

What is comprehensive advice?

First things first, not all advisors are comprehensive (and that’s okay). However, this article is specifically for firm’s like mine that are focused on comprehensive advice and planning, and I would argue the 3%/year figure is on the low end. I will get into this more shortly.

Here is a breakdown of Vanguard value-added best practices that I mentioned previously:

The first thing that should jump out to you is that suitable asset allocation represents around 0%/year! This is given the belief that markets are fairly efficient in most areas, and it’s very difficult for an active fund manager to consistently beat their benchmarks. This is contrary to the belief of the general public in that a financial advisors “alpha” is generated through security selection and asset allocation! What’s also interesting is that the largest value add is “behavioral coaching!” I will get into more about what this means, but I would 100% agree with this. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy, and this is definitely true when it comes to managing our own investments. It’s natural to have the fear of missing out, or to buy into the fear mongering the media portrays. So if you take nothing else away, the simple notion of having a disciplined process to follow as you approach and ultimately achieve financial independence will add 150% more value than trying to pick securities or funds that may or may not outpace their benchmarks!

Before I dive into my interpretation of their study, I want to note that I will be using five major categories instead of seven. Some of the above mentioned can be consolidated, and there are also some value added practices I, and many other comprehensive planners, incorporate that are not listed in their research.

What are the five value-added practices? I use the acronym “T-I-R-E-S”

  1. Tax planning
  2. Income Distribution Planning
  3. Risk Management
  4. Expense Management
  5. Second set of eyes

Tax planning

There are four major components of tax planning a comprehensive financial advisor should provide. The first component is what we call “asset location.” The saying that comes to mind is “it’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep.” Well, taxes are a perfect example of not keeping all that you earn. However, some account types have preferential tax treatment, and therefore should be maximized through sound advice. Certain investments are better suited for these types of tax preferred accounts and other investments tend to have minimal tax impact, and therefore could be better suited OUTSIDE of those tax preferred accounts. A prime example is owning tax free municipal bonds inside of a taxable brokerage or trust account, and taxable bonds inside of your IRA or Roth IRA’s. Another example could be leveraging predominantly index ETF’s within a brokerage account to minimize turnover and capital gains, but owning a sleeve of actively managed investments in sectors like emerging markets, or small cap equities inside of your retirement accounts. According to the Vanguard study, this type of strategy can add up to 75 basis points (0.75%/year) in returns if done properly, which I would concur.

The second component is income distribution. This is often thought of much too late, usually within a few years of retirement. However, this should be well thought out years or decades in advance before actually drawing from your assets. One example I see often is when a prospective client who is on the brink of retiring wants a comprehensive financial plan. Often times they have saved a significant sum of money, but the majority of the assets are held inside of tax deferred vehicles like a 401k or IRA, and little to no assets in a tax free bucket (Roth). This type of scenario limits tax diversification in retirement. On the contrary, someone who has been advised on filling multiple buckets with different tax treatments at withdrawal will have many combinations of withdrawal strategies that can be deployed depending on the future tax code at the time. I have incorporated the rest of the income distribution value-added practice in the next section, but this practice as a whole is estimated to add up to 110 basis points (1.1%/year) in additional returns!

Legacy planning is the third component of tax planning that a comprehensive financial advisor should help with. This isn’t discussed in the Vanguard study, but it’s safe to say a comprehensive plan has to involve plans for your inevitable demise! You might have goals to leave assets to your heirs, especially if you are fortunate enough to have accumulated more than you will ever spend in your lifetime. With the SECURE Act, qualified retirement plans are now subject to the “10-year rule,” and therefore accelerating tax liabilities on your beneficiaries. However, if you incorporate other assets for legacy that can mitigate the tax impact on the next generation, this can save your beneficiaries hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars simply by leveraging the tax code properly.

Finally, navigating tax brackets appropriately can be another way a comprehensive advisor adds value. If a client is on the brink of a higher tax bracket, or perhaps they are in a period of enjoying a much lower tax bracket than normal, planning opportunities should arise. If you are in an unusually higher tax bracket than normal, you might benefit from certain savings or tax strategies that reduce their adjusted gross income (think HSA’s, pre-tax retirement account contributions, or charitable giving). If you find yourself in a lower tax bracket than normal, you might accelerate income via Roth conversions or spending down tax deferred assets to lessen the tax burden on those withdrawals. Additionally , considerations on the impact on Medicare premiums in retirement should also be taken into account when helping with tax planning.

As you can see, even though I am not a CPA and I’m not in the business of giving tax advice, helping you be strategic with your tax strategies is part of the comprehensive planning approach. All in, you should expect to increase your returns up to 1%/year (or more depending on complexity) by navigating the tax code effectively.

Income Distribution Strategy

In my personal practice, this ends up being a significant value add given the work I do with post-retirees. A systematic withdrawal strategy in retirement will involve a monthly distribution 12 times throughout the year. This reduces the risk of needing a sizeable distribution at the wrong time (similar to the concept of dollar cost averaging). For a 30 year retirement, this means 360 withdrawals! Most retirees have at least two different retirement accounts, so multiply 360 by 2 for 720 different income decisions to navigate. In my experience, the selling decisions are often what set investors back, especially if they are retired and don’t have the time to make it back. By putting a process in place to strategically withdrawal income from the proper investments at the right time, and maximize the tax efficiency of those withdrawals, this can add up to 1.1%/year in returns alone, according to Vanguard’s study! I’ve also had clients tell me they value their time more and more the older they get. Instead of spending their retirement managing income withdrawals each month, they would much rather travel, play golf, go fishing, spend time with their grandchildren etc. So yes, I would agree with the Vanguard study that 1.1%/year is appropriate for this category, but I would also argue the peace of mind of not needing to place trades while you are on an African Safari with your spouse is priceless! Yes, I did have a client who admitted to this, and no, his wife was not happy! That’s why they hired me!

Risk Management

The major risks you will see during your lifetime from a financial planning perspective are:

  1. Bear market
  2. Behavioral
  3. Longevity
  4. Inflation
  5. Long-term care
  6. Premature death
  7. Incapacity or aging process

Vanguard’s study focuses mainly on the behavioral risk (value add up to 1.5%/year) and re-balancing (.26%/year). As I mentioned earlier, it’s fascinating they rank behavioral risk as the largest value add out of any category! What is behavioral risk? Let me tell you a quick story. A client of mine was getting ready to retire at the beginning of 2020, right as the pandemic reared it’s ugly head. He had 30+ years working in higher ed and climbed the ladder to ultimately become president of his college for the last 15 years. He is a brilliant man, and a savvy business person. When the pandemic hit us, he was terrified. Not only did he see his portfolio drop from $2.5mm to $2.25mm in four weeks, but he was worried this could lead to the next depression which his parents lived through. We had at least a dozen conversations during those weeks about how he was losing sleep every night, which of course was miserable for he and his wife. Finally, in our last discussion he informed me he wanted to sell out of his retirement investments and move to cash. I plead my case in that we had a well thought out diversified strategy, and looking at the math, we had enough resources in fixed income investments to pay his bills for the next ten years! However, I told him it was his money and I was ready to place the trades if that is what he wanted. He told me he would think on it for the next 24 hours. The next day, he called me and said I was right, we had a plan, and he wanted to proceed with sticking to the plan. Well, by the end of 2020 his account not only fully recovered, but it grew to $2.75mm! I am not pumping my chest on performance, but by being the behavioral coach he needed at that time earned him $500k of growth in his portfolio (a whopping 22%).

I can literally share a hundred of these stories not just from the pandemic, but stories from 2008/2009, the dot com bubble etc. The point is, having an advisor you trust that can help you navigate through the ups and downs of the market and tell you what you NEED to hear, not what you WANT to hear is invaluable. Furthermore, it can free up your time to focus on what matters in your life and have the professionals worry about the market for you!

So all in all, I would agree on the 1.5%/year value add for behavioral coaching and .26%/year to help re-balance the portfolio properly. However, Vanguard’s study doesn’t even take into consideration proper insurance planning and estate planning advice a comprehensive advisor gives to their clients which are also value-adds in and of themselves. In that sense, I would argue this category can add up to 2%/year in additional returns to a client.

Expense Management

This is oftentimes overlooked when working with a financial advisor. Much of the public believes working with an advisor will be more expensive! However, many of them are used to being sold high commission investment products or services that are overpriced. However, through due diligence and leveraging the proper research, Vanguard estimates clients should save on average 0.26%-0.34%/year on expenses. From my personal experience, this might even be on the low end. However, for arguments sake and given it’s their research, let’s say we agree with the value-added range set forth.

Second set of eyes

Vanguard doesn’t reference this in their study, but that objective point of view is sometimes necessary to drive positive change. I don’t have any specific data on how to quantify this, but I hear time and time again from clients that they so much appreciate having me as an accountability partner. Think about trying to get in tip top shape without a coach or personal trainer! You might do okay, but you certainly wouldn’t push yourself as hard as you could have if you had a coach or trainer. On the contrary, I often hear from new prospective clients how information overload and the fear of making a mistake has caused a whole lot of inaction, which can significantly hurt returns and performance. Think about a surgeon attempting to perform surgery on their own body! They simply wouldn’t. Not that I am comparing my occupation to a surgeon, but someone working to achieve financial independence would benefit substantially from a trusted third party to help navigate all of the different financial decisions they will encounter in their lifetime. This also could be true for married couples who might have differing views on finances. After all, financial reasons are the #1 cause for divorce in America. If I can help a married couple get on the same page with their financial vision, that is a win for them, no questions asked! Without specific data, I would have to say my gut feel is that objectivity should add an additional 0.5%/year in returns over the duration of a relationship, as well as more self confidence and peace of mind that you are on the right path.

If we tally up our TIRES acronym:

  1. Tax planning = 1%/year
  2. Income Distribution Planning – 1.1%/year
  3. Risk Management – 2%/year
  4. Expense Management – 0.26% – 0.34%/year
  5. Second set of eyes – 0.5%/year

This gives us a total value add range of 4.86% – 4.94%/year in additional returns. My firm’s average fee is roughly 0.85%/year. This is why I get so excited to help new and existing clients. The value you receive, is far greater than the cost to pay me, creating a win-win situation. Now, not EVERY client will experience in additional 4-5% in additional value. Some might receive 2%/year, some might receive 10%/year! However, all of you who have yet to work with a comprehensive planner, or for those of you working with an advisor who may not be doing a comprehensive job, it might be time to reevaluate and see what holes you need to fill. If you are interested in learning how to work with me directly, you can schedule a mutual fit meeting with the button below. Or, you can visit my “Process” and “Fees” pages on my website.

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Episode 7: Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies


Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies

Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies


Kevin Lao  00:12

Hello everyone and welcome to the Planning for Retirement Podcast. My name is Kevin Lao. I am your host. My real job is running a Financial Planning firm in Florida. We serve clients all over the US remotely. But this Podcast is to educate you on the strategies we put in place every day to help our clients plan for retirement and achieve financial independence. The name of my firm is Imagined Financial Security.


So, if you have any questions about working with me one-on-one or, even a feedback on our Podcast, I always love to hear from you. So, you can simply visit my website at and contact me that way. Also, be sure to subscribe so you can stay up to date on our newest episodes. This is episode number seven, called Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies.


Before we jump in just a quick disclaimer, this should not be construed as investment advice, legal or, tax advice and you should consider your own unique circumstances, and consult your advisers before making any changes. These strategies come from my 13 plus years in the Financial Planning Profession, but are constantly evolving and changing as the business evolves.


Three Primary Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategies

All right, with that being said, why don’t we dive in? So, there are three primary withdrawal strategies. You have the Systematic Withdrawal Strategy. You have the Bucket Strategy, and you have the Flooring Approach. You don’t have to stay in one lane. You can combine different strategies into your own unique strategy. But I’m going to hit the high points on each of these and talk about the pros, and cons and who might be a good fit for one versus the other.

Start your retirement income plan EARLY! 

But before we jump into that, what I will say, for all of you folks that are, let’s say five or, 10 years or, longer away from retirement, you need to start planning early. Ok, but the biggest issue I see a lot of the times, I have clients come to me. They’re right on the brink of retirement. They’re like, hey Kevin, I’ve heard good things. I I’m retiring in a month and they want to create a retirement income plan. There’s not a lot of change we can make happen in order to maximize the efficiency of their plan.


However, someone who’s five years away or, 10 years away, can diversify taxes. They can diversify the different buckets they are using. They can diversify the different investments that can use for income and retirement. So, the earlier you begin this process and this journey of retirement income, the better off you’re going to be when you actually pull the trigger and retire. Ok,


All right, so with that being said, let’s jump into the Systematic Withdrawal Strategy. Now, this is probably the most common strategy that most people have heard of. A lot of folks have heard of the 4% rule and for those of you that don’t know, the 4% rule, it’s an academic study that’s been tested years and decades.


Essentially, what it says is, choosing a well thought out diversified investment strategy and then once you retire, simply withdrawing 4% a year from your portfolio. You have a very low probability of ever outliving your assets. In fact, you have a very high probability of leaving assets to the next generation. Ok.

Systematic Withdrawal for Retirement Income


There are different variances of the 4% rule or, the Systematic Withdrawal Strategy, meaning you can say, I’m going to do 4%, but I’m going to build inflation each year. Meaning you adjust that dollar amount you’re taking out for inflation or, maybe instead of 4%, you choose 5% or, even 6% depending on your risk level. Ok,

Guardrail Withdrawal Strategy

Another strategy is choosing a % and adjust based on what the market does. For example, let’s say you chose 5%, and the market’s not performing well, then you may drop that to four or, 3% temporarily and wait for the market to recover. Conversely, if the markets doing well and you started five, maybe you even take six or, 7% out those years and take a nice vacation or, gift to charity or, whatever you want to do with it.


So, the idea is that there are different percentages that you can come up with in terms of the right withdrawal rate, and I actually did a Podcast on this, as episode number five, and so, check that out. But the idea around Systematic Withdrawals is once you’ve created an a well thought out portfolio of investments, ok, that another key is a well thought out portfolio of investments that are not correlated to one another. Meaning, you have investments that are moving in different directions at different times. Ok,


I’ll give you really high level example, let’s say 50% of your portfolio should be in equities and 50% should be in bonds or, fixed income. If we think back to 2008, 2009, equities dropped anywhere from 40 to 70%, depending on what market you’re looking into?


Ok, well bonds in 2008 during the Great Recession returned close to 6% a year. Ok, many of you have probably heard the notion of buying low and selling high because we had this well thought out investment strategy. Now granted, we have different segments of equities. We have different segments of fixed income. But just from a macro perspective, equities were down in no 809, fixed income was up. We don’t want to sell the losers. Ok,


So, let’s say we needed 10,000 a month from your portfolio. Well, a Systematic Withdrawal Strategy would create a process where we’d be selling $10,000 a month from your fixed income, as investments of your portfolio and letting the equities recover. In fact, we might actually sell a little bit more so we can actually buy up equities at a discounted price. But that’s a different story.


Now, fast forward a year later, in 2009, equities actually performed closer to 25 to 35%. Fixed income still defined, still perform close to 6%. But we want to sell the winners not the losers. So, equities were up at a far greater percentage than fixed income. So, in 2009, we actually might have a process to sell 10,000 a month from the equity portions of the portfolio. Ok,



The idea is, create the percentage of withdrawal rate that works within your financial plan, your risk tolerance and your investment strategy, and then create a well thought out portfolio so you can take the right investments at the right time, and not sell the wrong thing at the wrong time.


Now, this is great for clients that are comfortable with a little bit of risk in the market. They can stick to a process. Stay disciplined during the ups and downs, which I found is very difficult many times. Especially, once clients retire because they’re not working anymore. They can add more to their portfolio. They don’t have time to recover and they may have a desire for liquidity, and leaving assets to their heirs. Ok,


Now, the downside is, its labor intensive. I mean, if you’re taking a distribution every month, there’s going to be a selling decision every single month. You want to frankly, time it right. You don’t want to wait until the wrong time to sell an investment, if we can liquidate something while it’s appreciating really quickly. Ok, so it’s very labor intensive and if you have 12 distributions a year, if you multiply by over 30 years, that’s 360 decisions of selling that you’re going to be making throughout retirement.


Many times I have clients that are very well qualified to manage their own assets. They come to me and say, Kevin, you know what? I want to go sailing. I want to play golf. I want to spend time with my grandkids. I want to volunteer. I don’t want to do this on an ongoing basis. So, you take care of it. That’s a big burden of their shoulders.


Additionally, if you’re the decision maker, and you’re doing it yourself, if something were happen to you, who will be the one to step in and replace you? Are they qualified? Do they understand your goals and your strategy or, your risk tolerance, right? So, this is another reason why clients oftentimes hire someone like myself, a fiduciary an investment advisor to help them with the income distribution process for these Systematic Withdrawals. Ok,

Bucket Strategy for Retirement Income Withdrawals

All right, let’s move on to strategy number two. Now, there’s a lot of similarities from one and two those systematic will draw bucket. Ok, so I’m going to start with the Bucket Strategy and how it differs? But then we’re going to tie it together and explain how there’s a lot of similarities as well?



So, the Bucket Strategy, instead of looking at your assets as one portfolio, one investment strategy, one asset allocation, we are going to look at the different assets on the balance sheet, and actually come up with different investment strategies based on the time horizon in which those assets will be used for income. Let me explain that.


Let’s say, there are three accounts that you have on your balance sheet. Let’s say one is a traditional 401K or, IRA. Ok, so that would be a tax-deferred asset. Let’s say, you also have cash and a brokerage account, you know, investments that are not in a retirement account. But let’s say, you also have a Roth account or, Roth IRA or, Roth 401K, the most tax efficient asset you have on your balance sheet is the Roth account. All of these assets, all of the growth on these accounts are going to grow tax-free. Ok,



So, the idea is that we want to continue, to leverage the tax-free growth in the Roth accounts. So, we don’t want to tap those for a while. We don’t want to take them early. When I want to take them up you know, initially, we want to let those continue to cook and compound tax-free as long as possible.


Therefore, this account might be the most aggressive account on your balance sheet. Ok, so again, we want to have one overarching asset allocation and then we want to break up sub-asset allocations based on the time horizon of each bucket. Again, the Roth would be long-term assets, most aggressive, ok. Then one step down or, one notch down would be your traditional IRA or, 401K.


Now, these accounts would be subject to required minimum distributions at 72 and you’re going to have to start drawing these in retirement anyways. You might still take out a little bit of risk. Maybe retire to 60 or, 65 so you might have seven to 10 years or, 12 years until you’re taking RMDs or, requirement of distributions. We still might take on a little bit of risk, but not as much as the Roth accounts. Ok,


This would be in the middle of your risk tolerance, and then the most conservative bucket you might have would be your Taxable Brokerage Account. This would be an account. You have some cost basis in. You could take advantage of capital gains and capital losses. If you’re strategic there that’s a whole different conversation. So, this account might actually be the most conservative bucket, knowing that you’re going to be tapping into a lot of these assets at the very beginning of your retirement. Ok,


Again, we’d have one overarching asset allocation, and then we’d have sub-asset allocations in each bucket, and bucket based on the time horizons, ok. Now, the similarity to the Systematic Withdrawal is, distributions are still going to have a process of selling winners, not the losers, ok. So, if you’re tapping into that Taxable Brokerage Account, we’re going to want to make sure, we’re tapping the right investments at the right time and not selling at the wrong time. Ok,

Re-balancing is important for all strategies, but especially the bucket strategy.

Now, a big differentiator is that it’s, you’ve got to have a little bit of a process over time to rebalance those longer term accounts, because what’s going to happen is, if you’re just liquidating the shorter term accounts, the brokerage or, even the IRA, all of a sudden, then later in retirement, you’re going to become probably, more conservative as you get older, because you have less appetite for volatility. And all of a sudden, your Roth accounts super aggressive, and now you’re all in equities, right.


So, having a more of a process ongoing with the Bucket Strategy is, prudent to maintain your asset allocation and your risk tolerance. For very similar reasons as the Systematic Withdrawal, it’s great for folks that are comfortable with a little bit of risk. Liquidity is important. They may have a desire to leave a legacy. But



The big benefit of the Bucket Strategy is, more of a behavioral finance component because if we go through some volatility in the Systematic Withdrawal, your overarching portfolio is going to be moving with that type of investment strategy that risk tolerance. Whereas, the Bucket Strategy counts that you’re tapping into currently for retirement, are going to be much less volatile, much less subjected to that risk.


So psychologically, you know short term yes. We’re going through some bad times. Maybe it’s a recession or, just a bear market or, a correction. Well, your most of your equities, your growth assets are in those Roth accounts or, those traditional IRA accounts that we’re not going to be tapping for a long time anyways. Now, we already talked about the downside of it being the labor intensive, with a Systematic Withdrawal really, very similar in terms of the downsides of the Bucket Strategy.


You know its labor intensive. You’ve got to have a system and process in place that contingency plan is critical as well. If something were happen to you, you know your plan. You know, what your power of attorney or, your successor trustee. You know, if you have a trust, do they understand your plan. Ok,


So, lots to consider with a Systematic Withdrawal and the Bucket Strategy, and oftentimes, what I see personally, in my practice, is that we’ll use a combination of these two, right. We’ll create different investment strategies based on the time horizon of withdrawals, and then we’ll create a system for withdrawals on each of those accounts, based on which one we’re tapping for income that year. The final approach is the Flooring Approach.

Flooring Approach for Retirement Income

In general, most people should have Social Security as a floor for income essentially, a guaranteed annuity provided by the government. Ok, now, some folks might have a pension, whether they work for the state or, military so they might be lucky enough to get a pension. Many of us do not have a pension. The income gap that we’re going to be solving for is going to be either created from withdrawals from investments or, creating from an annuity income stream or, a private annuity.


For those of you that don’t know what a private annuity is? It’s essentially a pension that you create with your own assets. Let’s say, you had a 500,000 IRA, and you want to turn that into an annuity, you would go to an insurance company and say, hey, here’s 500,000. How much are you going to pay me for the rest of my life just like Social Security?


They would quote you for monthly income that you’re guaranteed to never outlive, and that’s the benefit to it. It’s very simple. There’s no maintenance involved. You’re basically, delegating the investment process to the insurance company which hopefully is stable and financially secure, and they’re going to guarantee you a check for as long as you live.


So, if you have longevity in your family, maybe your parents lived a long life, your grandparents lived a long life, and you keep you’re an Iron Man or, you keep in really good shape. You might live 30 or, 40 years in retirement, an annuity could solve for that longevity risk that you might have. Ok,



It’s also great for folks that are very anxious with market swings. So, for those first few strategies, you’re going to have to be comfortable with a little bit of risk. But I had definitely run into people that literally, they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. If they know their portfolio is subject to volatility in retirement, ok. It’s just a behavioral finance issue.


The idea of a guarantee checks that’s not going to be subject to stock market swings or, changes in the economy. It’s very comforting for certain folks. So, this is a great profile for someone who could be a great fit for this Flooring Approach. Now, the downside is the lack of liquidity on these accounts, so you couldn’t get at that $500,000 Ira, if you turn that into an annuity. Ok,


You couldn’t call the insurance company and say, what I changed my mind, I want to tap into my principal. Most of these contracts do not offer this. Additionally, there’s inflation concern because we’re in a relatively high inflation environment, at least currently, and expect it to at least be in the near term. Oftentimes, these annuity payments are not going to keep pace with inflation very well, and may not increase at all each year, maybe a static, a dollar amount that you’re getting for life.


If you live 30 years, you can imagine how that’s going to impact your buying power every month or, every year that goes by with your monthly income. The final downside would be legacy.


If there’s not a big concern of leaving a legacy to the next generation, an annuity could be a great tool. However, if it is important to you, and you do want to leave assets to let’s say, your children or, grandchildren, many of times these contracts are going to stop after you pass away or, if you’re married, your spouse passes away. Ok,


So hopefully, this is helpful. Again, these three approaches can be combined, ok. Oftentimes, what I see is, let’s say, client needs 70,000 of fixed expenses, and let’s say, Social Security takes care of 35,000 of that so, we might want to say, that 70,000 is your essential needs for cash-flow, and maybe your spending a little bit more above that for things like, travel or gifting.


What we might do is say, hey, let’s take a portion of your assets and turn that into a guaranteed life annuity to get you very close. If not at that 70,000 a year number between Social Security and your annuity, and then the remaining assets for your other discretionary expenses like, travel or, gifting or, home renovations, we can use from your investments, and psychologically that sometimes works.


So, this combination of the Flooring Approach with a Systematic Withdrawal with a Bucket Approach is very common. But again, plan early. Don’t wait until you’re about to retire, to create these different buckets. Create these different opportunities and avenues in which to draw income from.


So, the earlier you can start this process, the better, a big part of my planning for younger clients, that are in their 40s and 50s is to create the right savings rate for each of these buckets, to set up optimization from a tax standpoint, so we can be strategic. And once you get to retirement, based on who’s in office or, what the legislation looks like? What the tax code looks like? We can create a plan that works for that environment and then navigate the changing environment throughout retirement.



So again, hope you all found this helpful. Again, if you have any questions about your situation or, want to talk one-on-one or, are you interested about working with me one-on-one personally, just go to my website, and again, subscribe, and continue to listen to our Podcasts. We always appreciate you. Until next time, thanks everybody.