529 Conference 2016: Advisor Perspectives – Top Producers Panel

By Paul Curley | paul.curley@strategic-i.com | October 24, 2016

What is working in terms of college financial planning for top 529 producers?

The 529 Conference 2016 at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando featured a session titled, “Advisor Perspectives: Top Producers Panel.” This was the third year in a row that the annual event highlighted an all-advisor panel built off of what was working for them in terms of college financial planning. This year’s panel was moderated by Kris Spazafumo, VP, Investment Services, Senior Business Development Manager of American Funds, and included the three panelists of Ross Cammarata, Jr., CRPS®, Senior Retirement Plan Consultant, UBS Financial Services Inc., Brett Tushingham, Managing Member, CCO and CFP®, Tushingham Wealth Strategies, LLC and Shawn P. McLaughlin, AIF,President & CEO, McLaughlin Ryder Investments, Inc.. This week’s article highlights a summary of their responses to the questions of what is working for them in terms of college financial planning, how they integrate college savings into their client discussions and what trends they see in usage of 529s. This week’s article will provide market sizing and data, and an overview of the panel discussion to help you grow and protect your book of business.

Market Sizing: Based on data gathered directly from product providers and presented at the 529 Conference 2016 by Strategic Insight, the advisor-sold product channel accounted for $107 billion of the $253 billion under management in 529 plans as of 2015. This value of $107 billion is 29% higher than three-years ago in 2012 and 49% higher than five-years ago in 2010. Capturing this asset growth in college financial planning can help you grow your book of business as well. Read the panel overview below to learn how.

Select Panel Topics of Discussion:

—What is working for you in terms of college planning? The first of the top-three responses spoke to how the college financial planning goal is rarely fully covered. While parents and grandparents may have thoughts and some progress towards the goal, it is rarely fully planned out from a strategy and execution perspective in terms of saving and paying for college in the most efficient manner. This provides advisors with an opportunity to provide value to their clients, while also having their clients admit and accept that they need help with one of their financial goals. Second, the panelists spoke to the value of holistic financial planning, and taking into account the specific situation of the client across goals as a means of helping college financial planning specifically. Third, panelists spoke to the value of having the conversation due to the lack of awareness, understanding and prioritization of college financial planning by their clients.

—How do advisors integrate college savings into their client discussions? First, one panelist provided the perspective of incorporating college financial planning into a broader holistic wealth management strategy. Second, one panelist provided the perspective of providing college financial planning education to employees, as a means to pivot to other employee benefit offerings such as retirement and health care. As such, college financial planning provided this advisor with the ability to show value with an urgent goal in demand by a client that typically has a child or grandchild approaching college, before expanding the conversation to other goals that they should get ahead of. Third, one panelist provided their perspective on starting the client conversation with college financial planning by being a specialist within the college financial planning field. By differentiating themselves within this growing area, they have been able to show their expertise, grow their client base and expand their capability for the benefit of their clients. As such, the more recent growth of college financial planning specialists has paralleled the expansion of other investment specialists for dedicated goals and products as well. As such, they are ahead of the curve. Therefore while each advisor is having the college financial planning conversation as part of a dedicated and methodical planning process, they are all having the conversations at different points along the path to purchase as part of an overall client facing strategy.

—What are the trends? First, all of the panelists confirmed a higher volume of conversations due to media coverage of student loan debt and college affordability. In turn, the second point is that the ability to engage their clients to plan efficient has increased, and in turn, the priority of the goal has also increased. Third, the focus of college financial planning has expanded from primary being one on saving efficiently, to also paying and repaying efficiently as well. Given the volume and complexity of the student loan repayment process, the panelists agreed that clients welcome the conversation for themselves, and their children and grandchildren.

Therefore, advisors, accountants and estate planners should note the examples of how your top producing counterparts are leveraging college financial planning to provide value to their clients and to build their book of business. Have the college financial planning discussion with your clients today.