Robert Powell, Special for USA Today
Goals-based planning has become all the rage in the world of financial planners and investment advisers.
That’s a strategy where you identify your goals – a retirement home in Arizona and one in Paris – and then create a savings plan and investment portfolio to fund those dreams and aspirations. Review and revise those goals and portfolio on a regular basis and – voilà – happy ending.
This strategy makes perfect sense on paper and, truth be told, is used by many firms and software providers in the financial services industry. After all, you’re just trying to make sure you have money earmarked for certain goals at certain times in the future.
But a growing number of financial advisers are starting to question the use and value of goals-based planning, and perhaps you should too. “The longer I’m in the business, the less a fan I am of goals-based planning,” says Michael Kitces, author of the Nerd’s Eye View blog.
According to Kitces, the problems with goals-based planning are many. First, most people don’t really understand what it takes to get where they’re going. “For instance, the average person who wants $1 million to retire and has $400,000 just 10 years out worries that they’re ‘so far’ behind when, in reality, they’re precisely on track.”
Second, for those who are “on track,” Kitces says the bigger problem is that they don’t actually know what their goals are. “They don’t even know what’s possible or feasible,” he says. “Retirement goals tend to just be arbitrary round number that ‘sound’ good. They need to test and explore the possibilities of what they could do first.”
The biggest issue, though, according to Kitces, is that the research is increasingly finding that “we don’t know how to vision our future” in the first place. “Goals-based planning presumes we know what our goals are in 20-30 years,” he says. “Except we don’t. We really don’t. We don’t know how to vision our future until it’s almost upon us.”
Kitces blames this on what’s called the “end-of-history illusion,” which, according to research published in 2013 is when “young people, middle-aged people and older people all believe they had changed a lot in the past but would change relatively little in the future.”
Others agree that goals-based planning has drawbacks. “This may sound irreverent, but the value of thinking about and setting goals – planning – is not that it makes it more likely that an investor will reach them, although that would be a logical conclusion,” says Marshall Jaffe, managing partner of Jaffe Asset Management. “The real value of planning is that it forces an investor to think structurally about his future, and that tends to make for better decision making. But it isn’t enough.”
Says Kitces: “I’ve found for years that if you ask a 40-something what retirement looks like, they’ll likely just say it’s their current lifestyle, but the kids will have moved out, and they’ll have a little more gray hair… with no actual concept of how their life will likely change over the next 20 years. They’re actually just describing their current life, with minor tweaks, with no recognition that their kids might move 500 miles away, or a job change could move their whole life, or their neighborhood may no longer be enjoyable by then, or how their group of friends will change, etc.”
In his practice, Kitces says “it’s usually not until someone is within 10 years of retirement at best, more commonly within five years, before it’s close enough they can really envision how they might live retirement differently and have a realistic likelihood they’re anticipating it correctly.” (Read Goals-Based Financial Planning Is Impossible Without First Evaluating The Possibilities and The End Of History Illusion And The Problem With Goals-Based Investing in particular)
So what does work if not goals-based planning?
Goals require process. According to Jaffe, the missing ingredient in goals-based planning is process. “Once an investor has goals,” he says, “the only way to really improve the odds of achieving them is to apply a solid, rational and time-tested investment process.”
Otherwise, says Jaffe, an investor would have no way of distinguishing (other than the current direction of the market) between appropriate and inappropriate risk, and that can lead to making poor choices at the most important junctures. (Read Are Goals Enough?)
Just fund one account. Kitces says you can still create long-term asset-allocated portfolios, akin to what most investors already do. “The point is simply that you wouldn’t create the ‘retire to Florida’ account and the ‘summer home in Scottsdale’ account,” he says. “You would invest for the ‘long-term retirement account’ and figure out later what your ‘exact’ retirement goals are when the time comes.”
Kitces also suggests avoiding the over-precision of saving for retirement goals that turn out not to be the goals when you actually retire. “That’s actually quite straightforward from the investing perspective,” he says. “Long-term investing is what most already recommend for retirement. The point is just that it’s really OK, at least from the investment perspective, to just say ‘it’s for long-term retirement’ and invest for the long term, without striving to tie it to goals that might not actually be.”
Review your plan periodically. Determine, as best you can, your goals and whether they are realistic and, if not, what sort of trade-offs you might have to make – save more now, reduce your goal and the like. “Sometimes people will make decisions on how to save more to reach the goal they have outlined,” says Scott Kahan, president of Financial Asset Management Corporation. “That leads to the next challenge, making sure they stick to the plan. That part is not always easy. But reviewing it periodically can help clients stay on track.”
Read the original article here.