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Practice Management

Advisors and experts offer insights about the changes and issues the industry will face this year.

This Practice Management article is intended for financial advisors only (registered representatives of broker/dealers or associated persons of Registered Investment Advisors).
 

Between the fiduciary battle and a changing political climate both here and abroad, the year 2016 was a wild ride. In the new year, what lies ahead for the wealth management industry?

We asked advisors and experts for their predictions for what the new year will bring. Here are their projections:

"Volatility could be quite severe at times."
—Kevin Norris, president, Univest Wealth Management
, King of Prussia, PA 

As investors turn their attention to 2017—the new administration, economic growth, stock valuations, interest rates, etc.—what keeps us awake at night is the groundswell of nationalism.

The movement began in June 2016 with Britain unexpectedly voting to leave the European Union (EU). While Britain always took a one foot in and one out approach to the EU, the outcome of the vote was nevertheless a surprise. It continued here in the United States during the recent presidential election, when Republican and nonpolitician Donald Trump defeated life-long politician Hillary Clinton in a surprising result.

The most recent indicator of popular discontent was Italy’s recent referendum, when voters rejected constitutional changes proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. It seems that everywhere around the world political establishments are being blamed for tepid economic growth, far too few job opportunities, and stagnant household income. The status quo is unacceptable to voters.

This political instability could continue next year with elections in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Should the deep divide among electorates continue in these elections, the continued viability of the EU could lead to a European banking crisis, which could lead to a Black Swan-type event. These new and unpredictable forces warrant close monitoring.

It’s for this reason that investors shouldn’t abandon their defensive holdings, as volatility could be quite severe at times.

"Realities of the national budget will force presidential campaign promises to be broken."
—Tom West
, managing director, Signature Estate & Investment Advisors, McLean, VA

In 2017, many of the expected changes in the economy and the markets simply won't materialize.

The stock market will neither collapse nor soar—it will be mostly flat. Valuations are starting off high and expectations of global growth are already pricing in mostly optimistic projections.

With that said, GDP will still grind forward without any major negative surprises. Similarly, those anticipating big changes in the bond market, given the U.S. Federal Reserve’s recent posturing will find that U.S. and global interest rates will look a lot like current figures in 12 months.

Market optimism about the possibility of grand bargains between a Trump White House and a Republican Congress will wane as the realities of the national budget winnow the promises of the 2016 campaign to a much more modest scale. House Republicans, in particular, will balk at the prospect of significant government borrowing and a simplified corporate tax reform and simply will not get in line.

The Trump budget that eventually gets passed will be notable for highlighting politically expedient but cosmetic changes, and closer inspection will show more similarities to previous budgets than the new administration will like to admit.

"Multi-employer plan programs will decrease in popularity."
—Aaron Schumm
, CEO, Vestwell, New York, NY

Multi-employer plan (MEP) programs allow multiple small businesses to adopt a single retirement plan collectively. These will decrease in popularity, as cost-effective retirement programs replace the driver behind the MEP offering.

Regardless of what version of the [Department of Labor’s] fiduciary standard goes into effect, the financial service firms that succeed in the marathon race will be positioned to do what's in the best interest of their clients.

Those closest to their clients will be able to best serve as fiduciaries, requiring a level of personal interaction.

Leveraging technology to better service clients will be a must in order to offer retirement programs at a "best interest" price acceptable by regulators.

Defined contribution plan contribution participation rates will continue to increase.

"Year-end loss harvesting could be less beneficial for those who are currently subject to the 3.8% tax."
—Jody King
, vice president and director of client services, Fiduciary Trust Company, Boston, MA

While it remains unclear what specific tax and financial planning changes will actually be enacted after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, there remains the potential for significant changes that financial advisors may need to consider in 2017 and beyond.

Under Trump’s tax proposal, the long-term capital gains tax rate for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of more than $112,500 (or $225,000 for married filing jointly) would remain at 20%. The 3.8% net investment income tax, however, would be repealed. While it is uncertain whether this repeal will happen, it indicates that year-end loss harvesting could be less beneficial in 2017 than in 2016 for those who are currently subject to the 3.8% tax.

Due to changes in the tax code over time, the alternative minimum tax (AMT)—designed to prevent the wealthy from avoiding federal income tax by claiming significant itemized deductions—now applies to a broader range of taxpayers. If Trump’s plans are enacted, the AMT will be repealed, and he would reduce the top income tax rate, from 39.6% to 33%. However, he also has suggested capping total itemized deductions at $100,000 for single taxpayers and $200,000 for those married filing jointly, which would drastically reduce the tax benefits associated with large-scale charitable giving compared with 2016. Last, it would be advisable for advisors to keep an eye on changes to estate tax legislation, as it may affect planning for lifetime gifts as well as whether assets receive a basis step up at death.

"Natural gas will make a resurgence as an industry."
—David Root, CEO of D.B. Root & Co., Pittsburgh, PA

Natural gas will make a resurgence within the energy industry owing to a lift of regulation and a fast-tracking of the Keystone Pipeline. This will help regions like our own. Investments such as a natural gas ETF will continue their advance in price, as they have since the November election.

The 10-year Treasury bond is more likely to see a retreat in yield, back to 1.5% than an advance to 3.5%, given the lateness of the current U.S. economic cycle and a mounting risk of recession.

President-elect Trump's protectionist policies likely will result in a high-stakes clash with Silicon Valley. He views the tech industry as made up of “global citizens” who will move manufacturing anywhere where costs are cheapest globally. This provides a direct challenge to his “America First” policy.

"Financial gurus will brag about their winners and not mention their losers."
—Allan Roth
, Wealth Logic, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Investors will buy high and sell low.

The hottest investment will gather the most money.

Financial gurus will brag about their winners and not mention their losers.

Clients will be pitched something with high returns and low risk.

"The DoL rule will stand under the next administration."
—Ajay Kaisth
, principal, KAI Advisors, Princeton Junction, NJ

I am preparing for the likelihood that the Department of Labor (DoL) rule will stand under the next administration. It will be hard to repeal or change drastically.

Digital advice will lead to additional demand for services from advisors with expertise in comprehensive financial planning.

Low-cost robo-advice has brought awareness to clients that their finances can be complex, they are better served by taking goals into account, and that the value of personal advice in turbulent market times can be very significant in terms of enhancing their net worth.

"The SEC begins to work on a fiduciary standard for all assets."
—Drew Horter
, president & chief investment strategist, Horter Investment Management, Cincinnati, OH

On the subject of the new DoL regulations to start in April, the priorities for the Trump administration are to work on Dodd-Frank changes, repeal Obamacare, and tax cuts—both corporate and individual.

While the new DoL regulations are very important, changing them may not make top priority in the next three to four months. Many brokerage firms have already redesigned their compensation structures with level fees, while some have stayed with a commission structure requiring a BIC client agreement.

It is very possible given these developments and the committed fee structure adoptions that the DoL regulations are here to stay.

It would not surprise me if the SEC to begins work on a fiduciary standard for all assets since they have watched how the DoL has handled various questions and comments over the past 18 months.

As for the economy, 2017 could very well be a very bumpy ride for the stock and bond markets. With a push toward infrastructure needs, defense spending, and a desire to reach a 3-4% GDP, the Trump administration may well cause interest rates to continue their upward movement to combat real or perceived inflation.

The stock market may be the recipient of huge amount of money coming out of bonds and cash as retail investors move into the “greed phase” of the new irrational exuberance of 2017. With a high price-to-earnings multiple already in the stock market today, the euphoria of stocks combined with a struggling bond market could propel stocks to 20,000 or more on the Dow.

"We'll see some firms go all in on marketing."
—Joe Anthony
, PR strategist, president, Financial Services at Gregory FCA, Ardmore, PA

In 2017, there will be many advisors and advisory firms facing an identity crisis—and perception problems can arise from that. The way we see it, the outcome of the fiduciary rule—both from the DoL and the potential SEC angle—can wreak havoc. If the rule stands as proposed, there will be a rush of firms and advisors looking to meet the standard and demonstrate that they are in the fiduciary camp. If it is modified, it creates another slew of issues, including leaving some advisors in limbo in terms of how they want to position their businesses and, by extension, their brands and marketing.

If it gets tossed out, there will be a huge opportunity for fee-only advisory firms operating as fiduciaries to take advantage of the fiduciary platform to elevate themselves over the advisors that are on the other side of the fence. So, my prediction is that we’ll see some firms go “all in” on marketing, others being drowned out by the noise, and still others that might simply give up or choose to merge with firms that have powerful enough brands or position in the whole fiduciary discussion.

"Most predictions are wrong."
—Kristi Sullivan, Sullivan Financial Planning
, Denver, CO

Most predictions are wrong: Out of more than 6,500 predictions made by market pundits from 1998–2012, only 47% were correct.

I am a boring “diversify across asset classes, buy for the long term, and occasionally rebalance” type of investment advisor. Therefore, I never make predictions about short-term market movements, or listen to them.

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