In this episode of Retirement Success in Maine Podcast, our Guidance Point Advisors team is sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 virus. We thought it would be interesting to have a roundtable with the team around the health crisis - how is it impacting financial markets? How is it impacting retirements and retirement plans? What lessons have we learned from previous bear markets that we're applying today? What are some inspiring stories we've heard from our clients on how they are being resilient in these difficult times?
What You'll Learn In This Podcast Episode:
Introduction & Geography of the Guidance Point Advisors Team & Our Favorite Ice Cream [1:07]
When a client calls you up and asks, "what's going on in the stock markets?" What do you tell them? [4:10]
What lessons have you learned from previous bear markets that you've applied to this one? [12:03]
What are some inspiring stories you've heard from your clients on how they are being resilient in these difficult times? [18:56]
What has been the biggest disruption in each of our geographies? How has life changed so far? What changes do you think will "stick" after this health crisis is over? [29:15]
Has the health scare changed any of our outlooks on retirement, retirees, and pre-retirees? Will their attitudes and behaviors change? If so, how? [37:20]
Conclusion with Ben, Abby, and Curtis [45:17]
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Ben Smith: Welcome everybody. My name is Ben Smith. I'm an investment consultant with Guidance Point Advisors. I want to welcome everybody to our Zoom roundtable today. We are Guidance Point Advisors and you have the majority of our team on this screen with you right now.
Ben Smith: One of the things we wanted to do is walk you through some of the topics we're experiencing on a daily basis working with our clients. And the topic we really want to dig into is managing through market declines and a health crisis. So it's really just a roundtable discussion. We'll go through several questions of it, but one thing I wanted to do jus to kick off the conversation, was just to go through and have the team introduce ourselves.
Ben Smith: So again, my name is Ben. I'm an investment consultant. I'm based in Bangor, but I cover the entire state. And what I'm going to do as an icebreaker is favorite type of ice cream, since we're coming up on summertime. I'm going to lead off with Phish Food, as Ben & Jerry's. You can't get better than gooey, marshmallow, caramel and chocolate. So I'm going to turn it over to Wes next and have him introduce himself.
Wes Del Col: Sure. And even out of the beginning, I'm going to take it one step further and tell you the place I like the ice cream the most. There's a place called Four Seas down in Cape Cod in Osterville. Mint chip, that's what I go with, with hot fudge.
Wes Del Col: My name's West Del Col. I'm the founder of Guidance Point Advisors. I'm also an investment consultant, and in addition to that, I'm the Chief Compliance Officer, so I also oversee compliance for the firm, just to make sure that we're being compliant with all of our marketing efforts and everything else that we do. I work out of Boston, downtown, and have clients all over the country, but primarily mostly out of New England, but I'm based in Boston.
Ben Smith: Great. Chris, I'll have you introduce yourself next.
Chris Del Col: Chris Del Col and I'm an investment consultant at Guidance Point Advisors, have been for the last few years. I cover primarily the northeast region of the United States but have clients in the Carolinas and Florida as well. And my favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip.
Ben Smith: All right. The Del Col's are sticking together on the mint chip. Okay. A.J, I'm going to turn it over to you next.
A.J. Walker: I'm A.J. Walker. I'm an investment consultant with Guidance Point Advisors. I've been with Guidance Point for around eight years now, I think. Favorite ice cream, I guess we'd do Moose Tracks ice cream from a place called Fielder's Choice. There are a few locations in the state of Maine. My office is in Portland, Maine.
Ben Smith: Great. Abby, I'll turn it over to you.
Abby Doody: Okay. My name is Abby Doody and I'm also an investment consultant at Guidance Point. I'm based in Portland but definitely cover the entire state of Maine. I'm up and down the state very frequently. My favorite ice cream is pistachio ice cream with marshmallow sauce on it.
Ben Smith: Pistachio? We got a lot of green going on the ice cream flavors. Larry, I'll turn it over to you.
Larry Pelletier: Hi, I'm Larry Pelletier, formally from Maine, but now I'm North Carolina. My favorite ice cream is any kind of chocolate with chocolate on top, and I'll eat it almost anyplace.
Ben Smith: Great. And Curtis, I'll have you bat cleanup here.
Curtis Worcester: Alright, yeah. My name is Curtis. I am with Ben out of the Bangor office. I kind of serve right now as I guess you would call it "client service investment consultant in training" you could say. I'm currently studying to get licensed. My test actually got postponed due to the current state of the world, so hopefully that'll come back here pretty soon. Favorite ice cream... I would have to go with chocolate chip cookie dough, so probably Gifford's; that's a Maine thing. I think Gifford's is a Maine thing. Is it Maine only? I'm not sure. So yeah, that's me.
Ben Smith: Great. Well, thanks everybody, for being on the call. I know it's kind of just great to get together anyway. I know we do that from time to time, but doing it virtually... Again, so to explain to those out there that are watching this video: we are recording this in the middle of the shelter-in-place rules that are happening because of COVID-19 that's going on. So the time, it's the middle of April 2020. One of the things that we wanted to do was kind of go through again, what's going on, obviously, in the stock market with the health crisis, and what we heard from the previous financial crisis at bear market was, "What were you doing during those times? What were you talking about? What was life like?" What better way to capture a time-capsule than actually getting on a video like this today and doing it, so thank you all for tuning in.
Ben Smith: One of the things I wanted to lead off with as a question was, when clients are calling up right now, or maybe over the last six or eight weeks and they're saying, "Hey, what's going on in the stock market?" And, "What's happening?" I'll ask Wes just to start off. We'll try to be careful about investment advice in these sorts of forums, so we're not going to do that. But what's going through your head in terms of what are you telling them and how do you counsel them?
Wes Del Col: Well, in terms of what's going on with the market, the way I look at it is, if you think of the market as a leading indicator for what's happening and you realize what's happened as a result of the crisis in terms of so many companies and their earnings potentially being squashed down to almost nothing, you're seeing that the market takes that into account, as sort of an earnings-forecaster of future earnings and it's saying, "Ooh! Prices are going to drop as a result."
Wes Del Col: So all of a sudden, we see the prices on all of the stocks that we own and the funds that we own, come down precipitously. And so in terms of trying to counsel my clients on what to do during this time, and I think, Ben, it speaks to what you were saying a minute ago about looking at prior crises is, "Okay, can you do some rebalancing? I think that's a very important concept to consider at a time like this because obviously your stock market exposure is down, your bond market exposure may be up; rebalancing back to what your targets are can be very useful in a time like this."
Wes Del Col: The other point that I would make would be remembering to stay longterm in terms of your thinking. Remember to be disciplined. It's very easy to capitulate in times like these and to think the world's going to end and the headlines are really scary. So I think in terms of trying to counsel our clients to be disciplined, to rebalance when that's appropriate, and to think towards the longterm are three very important points to consider at times like this.
Ben Smith: And it's, in a way, even more emotional, right? Because hey, people are even more concerned over their own personal health, not only their own money, but there comes this thing about, "Well hey, I'm concerned about my own mortality right now, or my loved one's mortality, or people around me getting sick." And they're also seeing a double impact with their finances. So it kind of heightens the level of fear and uncertainty that's happening in the world around them when they're seeing multiple fronts impacting them, right?
Wes Del Col: No question, and I think that's unique to this crisis, compared if we looked back, for example, to 2008 and the financial crisis. You really felt that more just on the financial side in your pocketbook or your wallet. Whereas this has a completely separate emotional piece to it that I think we'll get into later with some of the other questions you have, but absolutely. And I think that makes it more difficult quite frankly, to manage through, because your heightened anxiety. And we all know that when you're in a heightened state of anxiety, your thinking and your behaviors can change, and it can force you into making decisions that you might not otherwise. So that's a key piece to this whole thing, is, keeping a level head when times are uncertain.
Ben Smith: Yeah, I like that, because again, the emotional aspect of this is something that we're trying to contain for our clients. So Chris, when you've had someone that's coming to you and they're in some sort of emotional state and there again, they're asking that framework of a question, how have you responded to them?
Chris Del Col: Well, as Wes brought up and you brought up, "This is a once in a lifetime event that we're going through. The new normal is different: we're all at home. You're not able to be communicating with your co-workers as easily as you did before when you were all going through the crisis in '08 and '09." And I think one of the things that most of my conversations have been centered around is risk in the portfolio, and it has given people a good or better understanding of what is the proper risk tolerance that a portfolio should have.
Chris Del Col: Is your use of your money 20 years out? Is the use of your money 10 years out? Is the use of your money potentially only five years out? Well, each of those timeframes would require different risk tolerance, and it's been a healthy exercise to go through with clients and discuss that, and understand that to earn proper returns over a long time, there's going to be ups and downs. And it is a very powerful tool, to see that the downs and ups can on a long term basis eventually result to positive returns, but there's going to be downs. Those have been the conversations I've been having with my clients.
Ben Smith: Great. And I know again, from the risk tolerance side too is, sometimes people know we've gone through a lot of these conversations over the years and figuring out what the risk tolerances are, but sometimes they just assume when the market's going down, that they've lost as much. And usually when people are entering retirement or even within, they're probably not fully allocated to stocks like someone younger in their career would be, but they assume that they had all the loss.
Ben Smith: So it seems like sometimes the biggest thing to get out of the way in these conversations is, "How bad is it? How much am I down, or how bad is it relative to what else is going on in the stock market?" So, Abby. I'll turn it to you. Those have been our conversations, is even right out the gate, "Just get the news out of the way, where and I? How is it impacting our plan?" What have you been doing in terms of your conversations there?
Abby Doody: So, to your point, yes, getting the news out is really important. And I have found that people just want reassurance, or a lot of the people that I've talked to, they're really just calling to check-in, say hi, see our view of what's happening and not necessarily make any changes. But I think they really like hearing from us in times like this. So I've gotten a lot of good feedback about the newsletters that we've sent out. They find those really reassuring; and not that they say anything different than the news or anything, but they like hearing it personalized from us. So those are the conversations that I've really been having.
Abby Doody: And to your point, Wes, about emotional coaching, it's been a lot of that. So everyone is dealing with emotions right now. Everybody is edgy and not really sure where things are going in the future, and so just making sure that they know that we're taking care of their money steps, so that they can focus on their health and what they need to do on a day-to-day basis.
Ben Smith: That's a really good point. Again, I like that a lot of what people are trying to get out of us is confidence, right?
Abby Doody: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben Smith: They just lose self esteem in these times and they're looking to us to provide that, and it's a process, and it's a framework and it's not just, "Well, we just decided today to do something that you didn't expect," that we have all these systems and structures in place that are helping out. I do want to rotate to a different question though. Obviously with what's going on in the market is when the stock market goes down by more than 20%, it's considered a bear market. When the market's going up by that level, it's a bull market.
Ben Smith: Obviously when there's a bear market and people are seeing they've lost that level amount of money, it raises all these things we've been discussing. But what lessons have we learned from previous bear markets we've applied to this one? And I want to start with Larry and I'm going to go to A.J. after that. So Larry, can we go to you first in terms of are there lessons that you've experienced from previous times that you've applied here? And then, maybe a later question we can ask is a contrast to that, but let's start there in terms of what have you learned?
Larry Pelletier: Okay. What we've learned is that we need to help people breathe and that may be a different answer, but I remember in 1987, for those of us who are that old, that we lost a third of our value basically in a day, and that got everybody excited. But what the lesson is that I've been able to bring forward to people and what we talk about is, going back to what Chris was saying earlier is "things do go up and down and they do cycle. But in 1987, if you had a dollar in October, it went down to roughly $.70, $.75, depending on how you had it invested; but if you stayed with your program, with your process, with your goals, and you were able to breathe and say, 'Okay, this isn't the end of the world,' that on December 31st that year, your investment had come back to $1.01."
Larry Pelletier: I share that with people now, that's a lesson. I'm very careful not to say or to try to predict where the market's going and how quickly it's going to come back, but the thought is to, "stay with what you're doing and think about what you're trying to achieve in the long run." And I think that that's an invaluable lesson to take forward and to talk to people about today. So it's very similar to what everybody else is doing, just a different concept.
Larry Pelletier: If you skip forward to 2008, we could talk about that all day long, but there are some similarities and some dissimilarities to 2008. But it's to get people to think through the process and to think through the situation, and to have them really come back to you and be able to say, "I don't think this is the end of the day. I don't think this is the end of life. We're going to work through this and we're going to stay on the course," assuming that you were on the course that they wanted to be on before the disaster hit.
Ben Smith: Right. Which is, I think, ultimately our job is checking with people as they progress in life, and getting a plan in place. I know we have a bunch of golfers in this conference call too, but keeping people in the fairway, right? Is, it doesn't mean necessarily that we're always hitting the perfect shot, but we're getting closer to their goals with how we're allocating and how we're adapting to their risk tolerances, as Chris was saying.
Ben Smith: So, A.J. I do want to adapt over to you, but maybe a better way or maybe another way to tackle that question is maybe, well what is a little bit different in terms of lessons you've learned from previous financial crises in bear markets? What have you seen in terms of lessons, but also what's been a little bit new this time?
A.J. Walker: I think the new part is the personal risk, the individual, physical health risk that is brand new. The idea of the pandemic, and so people are worried about them or their loved ones getting sick, is a real, big, different variable, a big change here. I think when we've been talking to clients and if you look at the stock chart of the S&P 500 over the last... during this bull market and up till now, it's not going to look a lot different than other bear markets, and then what our recovery looks like.
A.J. Walker: Everybody seems to want to have this be different than everything else. I think it's a dramatic market swing, it's a lot of volatility, it's scary, but if the financial plan's built on reasonable return expectations and the risk tolerance is taken into account, then people should be fine.
A.J. Walker: But these are not unexpected events, we just don't know when they're going to happen. We don't know what they're going to look like, but we know that the market goes through these gyrations. When you have a year like you had in 2019, with a market up 20 plus percent, we know in the business, that that's just way above any sort of normal average. So we know that we have to have financial plans built upon realistic assumptions for returns in different asset classes. So if we do that, that's fine. I think the big difference here is the fact that it's a mysterious, invisible, physical danger, and that's so different than a lot of other bear markets.
Ben Smith: I'll add to that too, and again, my previous career iteration that was within a community bank trust channel. One of the things I really learned from that is there were, in terms of conversations about what's going to happen when something bad happens, is that we didn't have a lot of that training of, "Well, let's talk about the bad stuff too," and, "What is the plan going into it?" And I know Abby's heard me, ad nauseam, Larry as well on this, is getting in these client meetings, and for the last six, seven, eight years it's been the echo of that of, "Hey, when that bear market happens, here's what we're going to do. Here's the plan." So, let's talk about that well in advance and keep repeating it.
Ben Smith: And then when they're calling us right now, and they're asking, "Well, what are you doing?" "Well, it's just consistent with what we've been talking about over our relationship together," so that there's not surprises. So when they call you up and say, "Well, why did you rebalance?" as Wes was talking about or, "Why did you do that?" "Well, that's all part of what we talked about. It's all part of the plan," and it just lowers that anxiety, right? It's just because, "Hey, we've already talked about it. This is what we're doing; this is why we're doing it; this is why we did what we did," and there's really just no surprise to all those things. I think that's where, again, in my previous stop in the financial crisis was, they didn't know what was going to go on; they didn't know what you were going to do. So that actually heightened the anxiety; it heightened the fear.
Ben Smith: So when you talked to people, they were all on the edge and you had to let them go over that mountain of worry. So again, I like that actually what, and I think we've been receiving that Abby, Larry and myself, with a lot of our calls, is that people are actually going, "How do we rebalance to get back in? How do we buy more? How do we..." They've almost had the reaction of being, "Can we take more risk?" We've had to have that conversation about risk tolerance, as Chris was talking about there. It's a little bit of an inverse, weird kind of thing going on there, but from that end, again, I think that was a pretty good lesson I personally learned there.
Ben Smith: I do want to rotate to, because I think one of the things that I always gravitate towards, is storytelling. And obviously things are bad and we are having death right now happening because of this disease within the United States and globally, but what are some inspiring stories that you have heard from your clients and how they're being resilient in these difficult times? I want to start, maybe go back to Wes, here on this one. Is there a story, and again, we try to be confidential with all of our clients here, but is there just an activity somebody's doing that has kind of given you a little bit of glimpse of hope of maybe there's silver linings to what we're doing, especially in shelter-in-place?
Wes Del Col: I think there's a variety of things that I've heard from clients. And very particularly, I have client that is a doctor, works in a lab up here in Massachusetts, and his lab actually just came out with the first immunization test that's going to be used in hospitals. This individual is in his 70s and has been going to work every day, from the beginning, and taking great risks to do that, and so there's exciting things like that.
Wes Del Col: Then you hear from other clients, little things, that to me are more community related, about people who are still continuing to pay their housekeepers, or pay their dog-walkers, or help other people in the community, even though they're not providing services; trying to keep the economy going. So I feel like, in general, what I have been hearing from my clients, is a general sense of togetherness in this. And obviously that's in the small community, and then you branch it way out to the country, and then to the globe.
Wes Del Col: One of the unique things about this, too, A.J. was saying it's unique because it's a physical ailment, is also that we're all in this together, I mean every corner of globe. And so I think in many ways, that's brought out the best in people, and I think we've certainly seen that in our client base. I will just add, Ben, that I'm also proud of the way our clients have responded, even just from the financial side. I've heard many of the same things, of people saying, "Hey, I've got some extra cash on the sideline. Is that better, not necessarily to put back in the market, but is that better for me to use right now in retirement, than to be taking out of my account and drawing down at a negative time?" "Yes. Let's think about stuff like that."
Wes Del Col: So, I think people have been very resilient in that regard, and have really come together; and I've seen it pretty far and wide across our client base.
Ben Smith: I'll piggyback on that too is, one thing that has been pretty unique to this situation has made me feel real good is: one is, people call you and they just go, "I know you're really busy. Can I just have five minutes of your time?" And you give them 30 minutes or 45 minutes and they are just so appreciative. "I know you're just very busy with everything that's going on in life and you're trying to counsel everybody, and you're taking time for me right now." That's been a really great message to hear.
Ben Smith: But the second, is they say, "How are you doing?" It's that you have that relationship with your client and they actually want to go, "I'm concerned about you though. Man, that's got to be tough, hearing all this feedback from people of, 'hey, things are bad' and absorbing that all the time." So it's been kind of nice is to hear the personal concern, which I know in our role, but we're not at the medicine frontline. We're all sheltering in place here, so that's kind of an interesting... It's been different than I've ever received in other markets as well.
Ben Smith: Chris, at this point can I send it over to you in terms of any stories that you have there in terms of things that have inspired you, particularly, last six weeks?
Chris Del Col: Yeah, I think the most inspiring thing for me is that none of my clients... I guess I don't know if that's the way to represent... Everyone has heeded the advice, as Wes put it, "We're all in this together," to stay at home and it's all we can do to combat this virus. I don't know first hand, any of the individuals that are on the frontline fighting it at the hospital, God bless them, but it's really heartwarming to know that all of my clients, and then my immediate community, is heeding the advice to stay at home and working together to fight this virus.
Ben Smith: Right. A.J., I'll switch it to you for a second. Anything you'd like to add, in terms of a story you've heard?
A.J. Walker: Yeah. Well, it's the common refrain that people are using technology to stay in touch and connect like never before. This couldn't have happened at a better time in human history, actually. We're an example today. We're all looking at each other and we can connect in a way that we never could have before.
A.J. Walker: Families are doing this from nursing homes and all over the globe. It's just an amazing time, where technology's more involved in people's lives than it's ever been. That's been pretty great.
Ben Smith: And it's gotten to the point that it's easy enough to operate. I know all of us have challenges, even today, we're trying to get set up, and Curtis and I are trying to work through bugs and, "How do you do this?" and, "How do you do that?" It's just something that we're all learning, and we all have patience towards it too. That we have clients that are saying, "Hey, I'd like to try it" and "I'd like to try this video thing" and "can you take a second to teach me how to do it? Let's do it! Let's figure this out" because for us, we want to make sure we're just meeting those needs and those clients there.
Ben Smith: Larry, I'll throw it to you, in terms of obviously maybe a little bit of a different market in your community there. Any inspiring stories? Because I know in North Carolina where you're at, you went through a pretty big hurricane that was in 2019. So, you already had a community banding together, especially for a new community for you of putting people in, so you've maybe already had a little bit of cohesion that's happened. How has your community reacted here after that natural disaster of 2019?
Larry Pelletier: It's been amazing. I don't know how else to describe it. When Florence came through a little while ago, we didn't expect her to stay. First of all, we didn't expect her to behave as a hurricane like she did, to come and park for three days with 120, 130 mile an hour winds, and 30 inches of rain and no forward momentum. That changed life here in eastern Carolina. It would be the same thing as if it happened in eastern Maine; there's a lot of similarities demographically and geographically, to eastern North Carolina and eastern Maine, just to put it in that perspective.
Larry Pelletier: So we already had a community of eastern Carolina working hard to try put life back together. And I'm working on some projects here: there are still homes with no electricity. It's hard for people to believe that they have no electricity yet, or they have no roofs on yet, or they have no repairs to the inside because there are not enough craftsmen available to do all the work you need to rewire, replumb, rebuild houses. And so you have a lot of yokels like me, out there trying to help a little bit, but we really don't know what we're doing, so we can tear things apart but you need somebody specialized to put them back together again. And there was a lot of hunger that came about because a number of people were displaced in that hurricane.
Larry Pelletier: So along comes this virus situation, and you have people working even harder. I was working on that project this morning, rounding up some food for our food bank. I'm sure it's the same in eastern Maine as it is here. You have small food banks, or small food pantries that are trying hard to feed people from almost two years ago, and they're still working on that project. And now you have people who are displaced because we're shutting our economy down, right, wrong or indifferent. That's not a political statement, it's just a reality of what's happening. Our economy is shutting down. And we have a lot of people with no place to turn, so the food banks are under great duress because they don't have food from the super markets that usually send it to them every day. You don't have it from restaurants who usually send it to them every day. You don't have as many people working, so they're not making contributions like they did. The demand was up 60%, contributions are down almost a corresponding number. Talk about a situation.
Larry Pelletier: But what's happening is we're finding that other people are starting to step up. A lot of information going out on local news; a lot of phone calls being made; and a lot of people who haven't participated in the past or didn't realize the problem was a large as it is, are stepping up. So, that's really a good thing. And I know that if it happened in eastern Maine, not to leave the Boston guys out, but Maine is what I know, that people would do the same thing there: you just step up to the plate. So that's an interesting situation that's evolving.
Larry Pelletier: The other thing was our clients. I have been on the phone... Abby knows because I'm always sending her a note or calling her and saying, "Hey I just talked to everybody and here's where we are." Clients really appreciate the phone calls right now, and I know you all know that. I always want to tell them a little bit about what's going on with their account, Ben, and what you're doing with investments or what Abby's been doing with projects she's responsible for, and they appreciate that.
Larry Pelletier: But, they want to blow by that and they want to know, "So, how is Ben? How's he doing? How's his family? Is everybody okay? How's Abby doing?" They know that she's still considered a newlywed by most people, because I have older clients and Abby's a newlywed in their eyes. "What about the rest of your crew?" And they really, really want to make sure that everybody is healthy and in a safe space and that we're going to make it through, that we're just not calling them to stay in touch and build up their astrée décor, but they really want to know that Guidance Point is... in the form of all of you folks, is okay. And that's something new; I've never seen that in 45 years of this.
Ben Smith: That's pretty special, in terms of just, again, having really great relationships with your clients. In terms of how do you quantify whether you have a good relationship with a client is, you feel that caring. Or it is, you give it, and you give that caring to them, and you're thinking about them. And A.J., I'll steal his term, is that, "You kind of think about your client sometimes more than they can think about themselves. And you care for them maybe when they're not even thinking or caring about themselves." So I think that's just a level of care, and in these times you receive that back, even when they're maybe more heightened, and maybe more scared than they probably have ever been in some ways, so that's been a pretty nice outtake there.
Ben Smith: I want to rotate to another question here about... and this is not, maybe, financial related. This is just kind of a life-related question. What's been the biggest disruption in each of our geographies? So if you're thinking day-to-day, obviously, we're sheltering, we're not going out to restaurants or doing things like that and meeting with clients or meeting with each other, but what's been the biggest disruption in each of our geographies?
Ben Smith: Abby, I know you kind of cover the biggest geography, maybe of all of us, other than Larry going from Portland to North Carolina, but maybe I'll start with you there, Abby, in terms of what are you seeing, because you have a few geographies that you cover there with houses and living as well.
Abby Doody: So, we have a place in Portland, which we left when everything started shutting down. That's the most populated part of Maine. We have a place in northern Maine that we came out to. We've been here for three and a half weeks now and the first cases just arrived up here last Friday, so it really has taken a lot longer to get up here.
Abby Doody: Until then, life was pretty much normal around here. I mean, they were still snowmobiling; we were cross-country skiing and snowshoeing; the grocery stores were fine. The biggest challenge up here is the Wi-Fi. So, it works well enough, but my husband Casey and I cannot be doing two work things at the same time, especially something like a Zoom call, so we have to take turns when one person needs to make a call, then the next can make a call. But if that's all we're dealing with, that's not a big deal, so yeah.
Ben Smith: We're just going to wait for Casey to walk through and say, "Hey guys, can you wrap this up because I need to make a call?"
Abby Doody: I know, it's true.
Ben Smith: I'm going to turn it over to Curtis for a second because I know Curtis, you and I are in the same location and geography in the middle of the state in Bangor. Curtis, what's been your experience in terms of the Bangor market that you've seen? Again, I know we're not to Abby's level there with Island Falls, but what have you seen there?
Curtis Worcester: Yeah. It's really been kind of surreal, honestly. Certainly in my life and clearly all of our lives, I don't think we've experienced anything quite like this, as A.J. alluded to with the personal risk there. But just, I think, every day life. I go to the grocery store and I have to stand in line outside. I'm not trying to make that sound like it's a pain to me because I know there's people dealing with much worse problems, but it's just so different. They're counting people as they go in the store; and they're plexiglass built around the cash registers; it's very different. I guess there's no other word for it; it's just different.
Ben Smith: Reminders of how deadly this thing could be, right?
Curtis Worcester: Yeah.
Ben Smith: There's a pretty high mortality, and really any mortality is high mortality, it feels like too, especially if it touches somebody that you love and that you know. Everywhere you go, you're seeing those signs, right?
Curtis Worcester: Yes.
Ben Smith: Just a reminder of being safe, and also maybe though we're not sharing it and we're not asymptomatic and then spreading to others, but in regards to maybe the Portland market, A.J., what are you seeing there? I'm just working my way down the I-95 corridor for you guys, Wes and Chris.
A.J. Walker: The same as everyone: it's the lack of in-person meetings. I normally see clients a lot and so the abrupt stopping of that and doing it all through video calls like this or on the phone, that's a big difference. I'm normally traveling a lot and in my client base I'm on the road a lot, and so that's all stopped; that's weird for me... you've got that. And then on my personal life, just I'm very active in a somewhat large church, and so there's lots of interactions there that are now all of a sudden, boom, all online, all being streamed or doing video calls and things.
A.J. Walker: So it's kind of a weird dissidence. On one level, my wife and I are perfectly fine, everything's great. We have everything we need here at the house and we have place on the lake that's not too far away and everything's great. But yet life isn't quite normal. It isn't normal at all and if you watch the news, it's really not normal.
A.J. Walker: But in Maine, we really don't have a large outbreak of this yet. It's around 1500 cases and fortunately only 14 deaths so far, so we're nothing compared to Boston or, obviously, New York. But it's just a very weird... it's hard to stay connected with people, like normal.
Ben Smith: And I know, again, for our team, is doing these more frequently because it's easy to feel like every day there's not a whole lot of physical separation from your work time to your home time, and that's weird. There's a lot of stuff happening, almost by the minute at times. I like using a quote of, "There's decades where it feels like nothing happens; and then there's weeks, where it feels like decades happen." And it's almost like that's happened the last six weeks or so.
Ben Smith: Chris, I'll turn to you next, in terms of any experiences you've seen in terms of your geography, because I know, obviously, Massachusetts is having a little bit more of an outbreak than other locations here.
Chris Del Col: As I had said, the community is all heeding the advice and staying at home, so I've never in my 20 years of living in this community, seen so may people out for walks, which is good to see that they're doing that. It comes with a little extra baggage, because we have two dogs and our dogs like to say hello by barking a lot when another human being walks by on the street, or a dog. So, our two dogs are doing a lot of barking lately, but family time on these community walks is nice to see.
Ben Smith: Nice. And Wes, I'll turn it to you.
Wes Del Col: Yeah. I mean I think the one big thing that no one's mentioned yet is if you have children and from a routine perspective. I think all our routines are disrupted, but having the kids home every day is this kind of constant reminder, because it's not summer, that it's just not normal situations. And so navigating that with a little bit of home-schooling and trying to get them to do their studies when it's considered "optional", three different grade levels, has been a little bit of a challenge, but I think that's been the most different thing, is that we're all here in the house together, all day, and have been for several weeks now. I mean, it's great. To Chris' point, we've implemented family walks and we're trying to do different activities and keep each other person sort of energized, but it's been a major adjustment, as obviously, across the country and the world. Many other families are dealing with the exact same thing.
Ben Smith: A.J. and I have had this conversation on the side is, depending on if you're extroverted or introverted. You actually would be saying, "The extroverts would be really struggling right now because you only have that one person to talk to," but we both have spouses that are more introverted and they like their space. They like their "time alone" so, that you're up in their space more often, is a little bit of an adjustment, which I could kind of see from a retirement perspective, of something that's an adjustment for people, too. And that's why I thought, maybe Larry, that could be something where, are you seeing something like that in your neighborhood, with what's going on in North Carolina?
Larry Pelletier: No, it's just a very strange time. It's hard to put into words what we're seeing, to be honest with you, Ben. People are much more likely to be in tune with people that are around them. Does that make sense?
Ben Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Larry Pelletier: And to more reach out and spend time, and so that's what I see, is people caring about people. Our community's a little bit unique because everybody has moved here. In this part of North Carolina, our development is 400, on the homes, on the way to being 800. Two of the homes are occupied by North Carolinians. Everybody else is from someplace else, which means they're all Yankees, and that's a term our two southern neighbors use for us, which is just fine. But everybody is caring about everybody else, and reaching out. So that's what I see, is a sense of the community coming together much more quickly than it would have on any other day.
Ben Smith: All right, nice. I have a wrap-up question. A lot of people call us and they ask about what we think is going to happen next, and we don't have a crystal ball; we don't have a Magic 8-Ball that kind of knows exactly what's going on, but I think we all could agree that life is going to be a little bit different here going forward, from lessons that we've learned now. So, has this health scare plus maybe the market, has that changed any of our outlooks on retirement, whether it be for retirees or pre-retirees, and do we think their attitudes and behaviors will change? I'm going to ask Wes that question first, in terms of kind of projecting forward, what's the thought there?
Wes Del Col: Yeah. I've actually been trying to give a lot of thought and reading a bunch of articles about how the end of the virus may manifest itself in consumer behavior and other things, and as it relates specifically to retirees. I think I could see, and I'm just projecting, it's just an opinion, people becoming slightly more prone to thrift. People not spending as much, perhaps saving more, which on one end you say, "Great, the more you save the better, from a retirement-planning standpoint." But, for the economy to really keep moving, we need people to be spending. We need to be an economy that's pouring money through the system. But I think you could see some of that.
Wes Del Col: I think the other area that comes to mind is travel. A lot of retirees... And I know, Ben, on the podcast, you've had a travel agent who talked a lot about travel. I'm interested to see how quickly... And I don't just mean in the immediate aftermath over the next few months. Obviously, I think travel will be subdued to a huge extent, but I'm wondering if there might actually be more permanent changes as a result of this, where people perhaps don't travel as far or feel a little more anxiety or nervous about that. Or, similar to what Larry was saying, people, because they're getting together and spending time with their families now and realizing how important that is, say, "Maybe we'll spend more time doing that," as opposed to going to far-flung places, or doing the Disney trip.
Wes Del Col: I don't know. Like you said, there is no crystal ball, but I do believe that this will have some lasting changes to behavioral, or consumer spending behavior. I'm not sure exactly what it's going to be yet, but those would be two areas I would think might be affected.
Ben Smith: And I'd echo too is, I think there's a lot of reasons for why not to do stuff, as you said, like travel. It's easy to go, "I always wanted to go to Spain. I always wanted to go do that dream vacation." And it's just, this sort of thing, which is very present and very in your face a lot, is I think, a big barrier for someone to overcome. "Well, why would I go take that trip that I always wanted to do and looked forward to my whole life?"
Ben Smith: I think there's a level of fear to overcome, that may take a while. So it's not just financial fear, which is something we overcome with our clients a lot, is, "Can I afford it? How does this impact me?" But now also the logistical fear of, "What does it mean and what if I get sick? What if I'm trapped?" Curtis' friend there, went to Thailand, and he went for three weeks. He left, everything was fine. He came back and he's in the middle of trying to get back into a country in essentially lockdown. That's a pretty big fear if you're in retirement and you took a longer vacation than you ever would have thought. Everything was fine when you left, and when you came back it was not. So, I think those are things that are challenges.
Ben Smith: Chris, any thoughts on your side in terms of what you may see for reverb, for retirees or pre-retirees here?
Chris Del Col: I don't know. Like Wes, I've been trying to give it a lot of thought as to will things become permanently changed, and the group activities and knee jerk response or thinking might be, "Okay, cruise ships: who's going to go on a cruise ship?" Yet, Carnival Cruise just raised a whole bunch of money in the high-yield market and so clearly the investment community thinks that there's still going to be cruise ships post-coronavirus.
Chris Del Col: Movie theaters: are movie theaters going to be a place that people go back to? I think that you have to remember that we're going to go back to a somewhat normal state. And we're not talking about the immediate next 12 to 18 months, but two years from now, three years from now. So it's hard, as you said Ben, when you're in the midst of it, to even think that far out and say, "Hmm, what's life going to be like? Is it going to go back to normal?"
Chris Del Col: You could apply that even to office space. People have brought up the topic of, "Are we going to need offices, because everyone's going to get comfortable with doing these Zoom conferences?" I think it'll be hard to have that be a permanent change; maybe something on the edge. I think Wes' point is right though, this is a reminder to every retiree that you don't know what might happen in terms of an event that can have an impact on your retirement savings. So, being more prudent in spending going forward is probably always a better thing, or at least having a good handle on it. And to A.J.'s point, putting the right expected return profile on your savings account so that you know your savings so that you know what you can spend in retirement. So, that's what I would say.
Ben Smith: I'm going to let Abby wrap that up, too. Is there any thoughts there from again, the planning end. And again, maybe just an attitude or behaviors part here, maybe even specifically going to pre-retirees here. Is there anything that you kind of see there that you might think change the outlook?
Abby Doody: So, a lot of Maine is small businesses, which have basically been decimated, and we're a major tourist economy. So all of that is pretty much gone at the moment. Any pre-retirees that own those types of businesses, their retirement plan now is totally thrown off the rails. I think trying to find a way to help their small businesses rebuild so that Maine's economy itself can rebuild, so they can have jobs to even save for retirement. And what that all looks like will be greatly affected by the healthcare system going forward, and how communities react and support small businesses going forward. I think that's a big piece of it.
Abby Doody: How do we come out of this and help people plan for these huge uncertainties? I mean, what small business owner would have known that a month into... We know a business in Portland. They just bought a yarn shop, and one week after they bought it, they're shut down indefinitely. How do you plan for that?
Abby Doody: So I think that's going to be a challenge for us as financial planners go forward is, "These are things that we may have never seen before, but who knows, this could not be the last time we have these shutdowns due to viruses." So I don't really have a great answer, but I do think things are going to have to change and plans are going to have to change. Maybe people are having more in cash than they had before; or maybe they're taking less risk or more risk; I don't really know. It's all kind of fluid at the moment, but I do think things are going to change.
Ben Smith: And again, I think maybe coaching is a part of this too, right?
Abby Doody: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben Smith: It's just talking about what are bad scenarios and good scenarios. And these are just a lot more conversations to be having, of helping people through that so they're thinking logically about it, not maybe having emotional reactions as they're going through it as "in the moment." Because sometimes, maybe zooming out, you're not making the best decision at the time.
Ben Smith: I want to wrap-up our first gathering of this on Zoom. This has been great. Thank you all for joining us, and great to get the team around the table, offer our thoughts; hopefully you all found that valuable. Love to receive comments. Any of us, you can reach out to, if you go to our website guidancepointllc.com. You can click on "Our Team" and all of bios are there, our profiles, and you can get our contact info. So, if you want to reach out to any one of us, feel free to do that. We welcome any feedback or comments. If we can help, we'd love to do that. We're all kind of native helpers, but if you need anything in the meantime, let us know. Appreciate everyone jumping on. Take care.
Ben Smith: So, I think it was really great to have our team assembled today, is have across our... we call it "the 240 mile board room," it's from Boston, all the way out to Island Falls where Abby has got her other place. So we have this very long conference table going on and we're all meeting. But what's really nice is just for us, we do this from time to time, getting together, sharing lessons, sharing experiences. "What are you hearing?" But also to record that. Is to share this, obviously, in this forum, as our Retirement Success and Maine Podcast, is that, "Hey, here's client lessons we're experiencing with retirees and pre-retirees, and how do we apply it to different ways?" and, "How are people experiencing it?" And hopefully you, listening, can take something from that too.
Ben Smith: I know one of the things we always like to do on our wrap-up, is to take a lesson that we thought was important and highlight that to you. So I'll just start with myself. A lesson I really liked for our conversation today with our team, is really about, "What did we learn from previous bear markets?" And then, "How do we apply it to this one?"
Ben Smith: I think we all have a little bit of a different slant on it; it wasn't universal. For a lot of us that have been through these before and going, "All right, we learned a lot of lessons. One, is communication when people are calling and communicating as much as possible." That was something that I think people have really enjoyed as, "We're fearful. We're scared of what's happening, not only with our money as we see that go down in a bear market, but also from our health perspective, and we can sometimes try to take control of things." That was something that was really important for me. I was getting into the markets right in the early 2000s, right after the tech bubble had burst, so that was a really pertinent echo that happened immediately for me.
Ben Smith: And then also, I was being promoted in my previous role, to a portfolio manager overseeing about 300 to 400 clients, right pre-financial crisis. So managing through that was something that... I think there's things that worked well, but there's also lessons that I learned there, so hopefully, that was helpful to everybody there.
Ben Smith: Abby, I'll turn it over to you, in terms of what lesson did you take away from today?
Abby Doody: Yeah. I found it very interesting how very differently this pandemic is affecting everyone. Obviously, it's turned all of our lives upside down, but it was interesting to hear the different perspectives. So, whether it's technology issues that you're dealing with working remotely; whether it's, you're trying to home-school your kids while work-at-home; or maybe it's just the general fear of going to the grocery store, which is something so normal that now contains a fair amount of risk to it. I just found that very interesting to hear everybody's little, different take on how it is affecting their daily lives and how it probably will affect it for at least the next few months, and maybe longer.
Ben Smith: And Curtis, how about yourself? Was there anything you took away from that conversation today?
Curtis Worcester: Yeah, it's kind of piggyback on Abby there, not only how it's affecting people right now, but how it's going to continue to affect us and how much things may or may not be the same. And I think Chris touched on it, and Wes too, as far as going forward, we're not just talking about the immediate future, but a year from now, two years from now. Whether it's things like going on vacation, or getting on that cruise ship, or going to concerts and just all these things that are part of our everyday normal life right now. Or, they were; they're not right now. But, will they ever come back? Going to restaurants: are tables going to be set up differently in your favorite restaurant? It's all just fascinating. It's kind of scary. It's different, but it's something that I think we had to think about and will have to continue to think about as life goes forward.
Ben Smith: Yeah, and for our guests too, right? I think that's something, as we're introducing guests in future episodes, we'll be incorporating that more, as talking about when things go wrong and what happens if... We're looking to have Keri Forbringer on again, talking about travel. And what happens if you are in the midst of travel? We talked about retirement. You can take longer trips and you can do it in a different way. But, what if you were taking a longer trip and all of a sudden you're pre-pandemic when you leave and you're in pandemic when you are experiencing it? What does that mean? How do you get back to your house? What about your loved ones? And so I think there's a lot of... And maybe risk mitigation and conversations that are going to happen as part of this.
Ben Smith: Let's talk about success and how do I do the things I want to do, maybe in a new world or maybe with just another few thoughts backing up if something goes wrong? So I think those are all important things to be talking about. Again, Success in Maine, we want to make sure people are experiencing not only the best of our state, but also the best life that they can too. Again, it's good to aspire, and I think we're all at such a... Right now, it's maybe harder to look forward when you're looking down all the time and everything you look at is in the news is hitting you with COVID-192 24/7, but I think when we're out of this, it might be easier for us to do that. So we want to have those resources in place for everybody.
Ben Smith: Hopefully everybody enjoyed a little bit of the conversation today. Again, this is episode 16 and good to have everybody join us all the way through this journey. I think we're driver's license age at this point, so if you want to go and learn more or see more of the resource, you can go to: blog.guidancepointllc/16 and you can find us there. If you have any thoughts, questions, or want to reach out, love to hear from it. So just feel free to shoot us an email or a message, whether it be through email or Facebook, or some social media. Love to hear from you, but until then, we hope you all be safe, and looking forward to the next one. Thank you.