Financial Advice or Wellness: What Has The Bigger Impact? 

Question: Are employees able to get effective financial wellness support through phone calls, emails and/or texts, or do you need to have an onsite presence to be effective?

 

Peter Dunn: With the types of questions we answer, sometimes that little barrier (e.g. phone, computer) allows a person to face a tough reality without the prospect of judgement or shame. We think the arm's distance is a conduit for honest discourse and practical solutions. For those people who want face to face interaction, we do offer video chat, but very few people take us up on that offer, and even fewer people request an in-person meeting.

With Guest:
Peter Dunn, 
a.k.a Pete The Planner
 

Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning comedian and an award-winning financial mind. He’s a USA TODAY columnist and the author of ten books, six of which were featured in a nationwide launch at Barnes & Nobles stores in January of 2015. He is the host of the popular radio show The Pete the Planner Show on 93 WIBC FM and is a columnist for the Indy Star. Pete has appeared regularly on CNN Headline News, Fox News, Fox Business as well as numerous nationally syndicated radio programs. In 2012, Cision named Pete the fourth most influential financial broadcaster in the nation. Pete lives in Carmel, Indiana with his wife and two young children.

A Message From Pete: I fix financial lives. That’s what I do. I take people who are underachieving and put them on a path to becoming millionaires.

I’ve had the opportunity to personally dig through the financial lives of over 25,000 people. I’ve seen success, I’ve seen failure, and I’ve seen what it takes to turn failure into success. After fixing the disastrous financial life of that couple in 2005, I’ve been 100 percent committed to fixing the lives of millions of others. It even prompted me to sell my financial practice and focus on writing, educating, and speaking.

Recap, Highlights, and Thoughts

Should employers focus their efforts to help employees on the journey to retirement by providing true investment advice or more in the trenches financial support?  To debate the finer points and provide his in the trenches experience, I was excited to welcome back Peter Dunn, a.k.a. Pete the Planner to the podcast.  Pete has a pretty unique vantage point as he provides employers with a suite of financial wellness tools but he also has a support center for employees of his clients to speak, email or text with.  During our conversation, Pete shares some common real life questions and challenges his team gets from real life employees.  We hit on why honesty and empathy is important in financial conversations, examples of how investment advice only scratch s the financial surface for most employees, a few thoughts on where plan design fits in the conversation, a few sanity checks for me and strategies to move farther down the path towards providing holistic financial support to help improve employees financial wellbeing.  Also, don’t miss where I was actually more eloquent in describing something than Pete, defiantly a first for me. 

 

Before we get started, a few of the suggestions I have received to improve the podcast was to share more of my personal opinions.  This episodes definitely gets there.  If you have further ideas or suggestions to improve the podcast please shoot me an email to feedback@401kfridays.com.  

Thanks for listening!​​

Sincerely Your Host, 

Rick Unser

NEW: Episode Transcript

Rick Unser :    00:00    Well Pete it's been a little while. I am really looking forward to catching up and also looking forward to stirring the pot here today and having some fun.

Peter Dunn:    00:09    I'm glad to be back. There's no one I enjoy stirring the pot more with than you. So let's get, let's get after it and let's argue a little bit.

 

Rick Unser :    00:16    I know and I just hope I can keep up with you. So here we go. Recently I've had a couple of conversations and seen a few requests from employers, plan sponsors that are wanting investment advice delivered to their employees and being the guy that you are and doing what you do. I'm just curious as you're interacting with lots of employees in retirement plans, I mean, what's your feeling for how important getting true actual investment advice is to the, the challenges and realities a lot of retirement plan participants are facing today?

 

Peter Dunn:    00:58    Yes, so to answer that, I have to go back to when I was a financial advisor and I was doing financial wellness at the same time and it was sort of this blended hybrid product. I'd go in help people with whatever they needed help with Rick. And the trend back in late 2008 2009 was no one was asking about investing even when the market was getting beat up. People had real life questions. And to me that actually led to me selling my investment practice to really focus on those other questions. We like to describe it like this. Anyone in their financialized has a spectrum of questions. One to 10 you know, financial planning is eight nine and 10 those are those questions. Financial Wellness, people who answer questions the way we do. We're basically one through eight so there's very little overlap as to what people, what their questions are as relates to their financial life.

 

Peter Dunn :    01:50    And then investment questions themselves. So we rarely get investment questions. We get real life. This is the thing that's currently kicking my butt questions. So any thoughts on why we continue to see a lot of focus within that employer community that says, Hey, this is a qualifying reason I'm going to hire x service provider is because they deliver investment advice. Well, if you think about who's making the decisions within the organization, these are people that are in leadership positions that are very well educated, that have nice incomes. And so as they try to internalize what's going on, they say, all right, well if I'm in that situation, I have investment questions. In fact, I do have investment questions. I would love to use this service. And it's not that they're being selfish or even myopic at that point, Rick, they're just, they're really trying to appropriately empathize and view the situation through their lens. But their lens is one with investment questions. Whereas the masses, the people who are their coworkers who are not in positions of leadership, I'll just say,

 

Peter Dunn:    03:00    People don't have investment questions. And by the way, and I know we didn't intend to go here today, or maybe we didn't, the target date fund itself, you know, the whole concept around that should answer most of the investment questions for the masses in my opinion. 

 

Rick Unser:     03:15    Yeah, and I, I don't disagree with you there. And I've had several conversations on the podcast about target date funds and you know, my personal opinion is I really think, and some will argue with me on this, that 80 - 90% of employees are probably going to be very well suited just keeping their money in a target date fund. Maybe there's an argument that, okay, there's some unique situations in maybe if the plan has it you go to a managed account solution or something like that. But between the two of those, I honestly think you capture for most companies, 90% plus of the “investment needs” of the employees.

 

Peter Dunn:    04:02    Which kind of brings me back to the why to why do people keep harping on that as a distinguishing factor in this day and age, and I don't disagree with you that I think a lot of people that are making the decisions, hey, that's what's at the front of the brain when they think about retirement or when they think about their 401k. So I think it's logical that it bleeds in. Another one of my hypotheses is I think some people that are, that are in the business of searching for different providers. I think they've got some old questions as well that haven't necessarily been updated for kind of this modern way of selecting or contemplating how you're going to deliver service to participants. If the fundamental issue in our world that we share that we get to spend time in together, Rick, is the fundamental issue is people are not putting enough money into the retirement accounts.

 

Peter Dunn:    04:49    Okay. If we want to agree that that might be the fundamental issue, then how is telling those people what to invest in the solution, right? Wouldn't it be how to find a way to get them to put more money in their accounts? And I'll say the bigger issue, and this one I have to identify my bias here. I find that when we run into competition where investment advice as part of it, it is a means to prospect for investment based clients and I find there's liability issues there for the employer to expose their workforce to a prospecting method for wealth advisors. And no offense to the wealth advisors, but that is reality. You know? 

Rick Unser:     05:15    I will say that I, I've seen similar things and I can't wholeheartedly disagree with you there. As you're having conversations with those employers, are you getting into kind of what people are hoping to accomplish with that investment advice type of questioning or request or is it just, hey, I'm kind of checking the box here. Do you do this or not? 

 

Peter Dunn:    05:58    Yeah, we definitely try to push back a little bit respectfully, right? I mean, this is your world. This is my world. I eat, drink and sleep in it. And so sometimes we forget what we know isn't basic stuff. When we say to someone, people aren't gonna call with investment questions, they go, well I really think they will. They're wrong. But pointing them out that they're wrong and the appropriate way is, is very important. I mean, and we'll get to here in a moment. I took the liberty of pulling the last eight questions into your Moneyline of the hundreds of thousands of people we serve. I pulled the last eight questions. I'd love to go through them case by case and tell you what people are really asking and why it's so much more important than should I have more small cap. Absolutely. And before you do that, give me a quick fly over the trees of what is your money line and maybe how does that differ from what some people might think about as like a traditional call center for a record keeper or a call center for an advisory practice or or whatever the case may be.

 

Peter Dunn:    07:01    We are professional financial problem solvers. There's no really other way to say it where CFPs and AFC, which is an accredited financial counselor who are trained with empathy in mind to get in there and fix whatever people are dealing with. And again, sometimes people do call with an investment question, very rare, but they do. We're either able to redirect them back to the advisor on the plan, which we often do. Or sometimes it's not as specific investment question. It's more of a, you know, modern portfolio theory or something that that we can answer and that we're comfortable answering. But we don't get, should I invest in Amazon? Should I invest in apple? Should I add more mid cap? We don't get those. But I also don't think the average person has that question. So yeah, we're professional financial problem solvers via phone, email, live chat and now texting.

 

Rick Unser :    07:52    Nice. All right. So what do you, what do you have there on your list? 

 

Peter Dunn:    08:00    The first one was awesome. I'm trying, I don't wanna give too many details about this person. Of course. We are also a confidential service so that, so this individual was roughly 60 years old. Really cool guy. Like much cooler than me, Rick and not possible. Well, it's possible and actually very, very likely doesn't have a better radio voice though. That's, that's true. He had not filed taxes since 2008 wow. Yeah. I saw you were drinking coffee as you are about to react to that and I was hoping that wasn't gonna be a spit take on your nice Mike there. I had to move fast. So he had not filed taxes since 2008 and he also has $25,000 in consumer debt. And so what was interesting about this is I don't know if you've ever been in a situation like it just keeps getting worse, you know, you need to address it. It keeps getting worse, it keeps getting worse. And then finally are at this breaking point of like, I don't want to go to jail. Well hopefully you've never been in that situation. Right? So with this, we do the research to let him know what are the ramifications

 

Peter Dunn:    08:56    Of filing taxes that he hasn't filed for 10 years. He's been paying taxes through his employer. He is just has not been filing the returns. And that's an issue. So what we do is we say, okay, September we want you to file oh eight and oh nine let's just see what we're dealing with here. And we help facilitate that process for him. We don't do his taxes, but we help them understand the process. And then he's got $25,000 in consumer debt. And so once we create a little momentum with taking some action, we've put together a structured way from to pay down that debt with somebody called the momentum method. People also call it the snowball approach and we think we should get him in pretty good shape by the end of 2020 wow. And I mean that just strikes me as a much different question than what does a basis point or you know, what percentage should I have in international in my portfolio I hit.

 

Rick Unser:    09:56    Again, it's important to understand all that, Yada, Yada, Yada. But I think that's just one example. I can't wait to hear what the other seven are of some of the things that real employees are facing within the modern workforce that some employers, I think, I don't want to say the brave few, but whatever the case is, I think there's some people that understand it. I think there's others that are either not willing to address it or are unaware that that problem you just outlined is you're not making that up. 

Peter Dunn:     10:15    No. And here's the crazy part about this. The employer for that organization, as I look at the data here, they paid us $14 in the year 2019 to change this guy's life. They paid us $14 for him specifically right there. I don't know if you want to call it, their rate is $14 per employee based on the quantity they have.

 

Peter Dunn:    10:54    They paid us $14 to change this man's life. Rick. If this guy called and said, hey, should I add more international value, does that change his life and is that worth us? $14 does. That is a $14 answer. And I would tell you like if your focus is investment questions, what, what value are you really bringing? You're not changing anyone's life. This is about changing people's lives. 

Rick Unser:    11:23    Not to lead the witness here, I guess, but heaven forbid that individual who'd called into a recordkeepers call center with that challenge. What happens with that question? I mean he builds up the courage to do that because that's, that's not something, I mean forget debt and admitting that you're in debt and you have a problem, but you know, now you go to taxes, which is, you know, another one of those kind of taboo topics. You build up the courage to, to actually have the conversation and say, I'm ready to start tackling this. And then it's, I don't know. What is the reaction? 

 

Peter Dunn:    12:01    Well, there's a couple things. Number one, there are a lot of people that work at record keepers that are put in this position and asked this question, and Rick, they want to help. They want to help. They have that spirit about them that they're like, I want to change people's lives. They're just not allowed to and that's not the person answering the phones fault. We work as you know, with a lot of record keepers and we try to communicate that to to their call center and say, look, we're going to send you calls. Don't be afraid of, you know, we're on the plan to send it back our way and when we are able to to work together then it's not, it's not. There's too many cooks in the kitchen. It's the right amount of cooks and you get the job done.

 

Peter Dunn :    12:37    I think what has ended up happening in financial wellness is everyone continues to scramble now for our 10th year to figure out what the heck financial wellness is and everyone says they do financial wellness. We were at a benefits event the other day and a student loan provider told us they do financial wellness, not a student loan repayment tool or student, like literally a student loan issuer is like, oh, we do financial wellness. It's like we got to just settle down with all that. Not everyone does financial wellness just because you, you, you do financial wellness, fixing people's fundamental problems on a very personal level. That is our definition of financial wellness right now. The next case is a pretty typical one. Right? The that we got. Hey, before you jump into that, I did want to ask you, what do you see as a state of financial wellness?

 

Rick Unser :    13:23    And My snarky way of asking it was gonna be, is financial wellness working or still work to be done? And I think you might've answered that, but I love for you to just kind of riff on what you think needs to happen for, for things to improve or, or really start to maybe live up to the expectations that people have had over the last decade. 

Peter Dunn:     13:55    I think we're still in that. Oh, we do that phase, you know, everyone, oh, we do that from advisers to record keepers to, to, to organizations like ours to banks and credit everyone. Oh we do that. No you don't. And it's, and it's okay. And this is not a judgment, this is an observation. If the end game isn't to take someone through what they're dealing with on a personal level, I would argue that it's just education or it's a prospecting tool.

 

Peter Dunn :    14:15    And I'm comfortable saying that having been in the industry since 2005 I've been in financial wellness since 2005 I feel like we've kicked down a lot of doors. We've made a lot of mistakes that people are making now. And again, that is not meant to be petty. It's just an observation for someone who's been in it as long as anybody else. 

 

Rick Unser:    14:38    Yeah. And I'll say that one definition that I've posited on the podcast and that I, I kind of continued to use in, in my interactions with folks is it's an ongoing process to help your employees improve their relationship with money. And it might not be perfect. I do think one challenge that some employers have had with financial wellness is, well, what's really the difference between education and wellness? I think that's a fundamental issue.

 

Rick Unser :    15:05    And then another one I think you get to is, well, are we about to go to try and boil the ocean here where it's like, well, Hey, education is this and it's this little thing, or it's this, whatever that just deals with the retirement plan. And then, you know, as we continue our conversation, obviously there's going to be a lot of things that are out there that fall under the wellness banner or issues that can be solved or, or addressed under a wellness banner. So how do you go from, okay, we're focusing on this one little thing to wow, there's this whole new world out there to, how do we address that or how do we eat that elephant one bite at a time. 

 

Peter Dunn:     15:32    Yeah, it is a journey, right? I mean, and that's why each individual participant has their own path. Right? And if we say, oh well you're in your 20s so this is the path we have prescribed for you, that doesn't work because there are two people at every organization in this country that are the same age. They make the same amount of money and their lives are so brutally different that if they followed that prescribed path that whatever financial wellness company wants to put out for them, it doesn't work. You have to understand what's going on and how to fix it and as we do get to some of these other questions that come, there are two divorce situations of people the same age that their situations are so drastically different that it justifies these comments. All right, where do we go from here? The next one's really easy and it's probably one of the top five to six questions we get. It's easy in the sense that you'll understand why we get this question.

 

Peter Dunn :    16:34    We're looking to buy our first house. We are renting a duplex right now and we want to buy our first house and we want to know what we can afford, what we're going to need as a down payment and what to do next. So our team, you know, really comb through their situation and said, look, I think by April of next year you're going to be in a position to buy a house. This is the down payment you'll have based on the plan we just put together for you. This is your budget. And what we just prevented there, Rick, is we prevented a lender from facilitating that conversation, which is the last thing you want. I mean, we know what people can afford and we know what won't get them in trouble. A lender is really more concerned. And again, I have no qualms about this because that's their job is to maximize the profitability for the lender.

 

Peter Dunn :    17:23    And so I know anytime we take a call like this, and I believe this one was an email, we prevented this person from making a potentially a giant mistake. Yeah. And our people, as you're talking to employers about wellness, financial wellbeing types of things that they would want to be able to help their employees with, is buying a first home? Is that kind of up there on the priority list for people as they're thinking about this is something we'd like to do for our employees or, or no, eventually I think when we educate them around it a little bit, when we say this is the biggest purchase housing in general, and maybe not the first purchase, but housing in general is the largest purchase you're ever gonna make over the longest period of time that involves the most interest. And it really is the biggest single decision most people make.

 

Peter Dunn:    18:11    And I would say just as we, you know, sort of comb through anecdotally the lives we've served, it's the biggest opportunity for a giant mistake that can put someone behind the eight ball for decades. And so we go front and center whether we talk about housing more than we talk about investing, because if you make a poor housing decision, you're not going to have the money to put toward your future. So we need to make sure we stop those problems before they start. 

 

Rick Unser:     18:42    Awesome. What’s next? 

 

Peter Dunn:    18:48    Man, this is, this is the classic recently divorced, 30 something year old woman, just drowning, just drowning. I mean she, she has been served a really tough situation right now, Rick. And, and every once in a while I jump on the phones like a, every week we have a whole crew of people, but sometimes I'll turn on my ringer and I'll personally answer these, which I used to do all the time, but I just, I don't really have the time anymore.

 

Peter Dunn :    19:03    So I talked to this woman, you could hear in her voice, man, she just, she feels like she's been marginalized within her relationship and her role in society at large. Her employee has no idea. She's a very vital cog to the organization. They have no idea how much she's repressing. So we assigned her to one of our people that she'll talk to that person every two weeks. And this person will serve as their accountability partner because sometimes when you have a relationship transition, which is just a fancy term for divorce, you will, you lose that accountability, you know you, you lose that person that wants the couple to move forward and in this scenario we just supplement that by saying all right, someone from our team will will talk to you every two weeks. We're going to develop some goals and we're going to get you through this.

 

Peter Dunn :    19:49    We do that a lot and I think, I think divorce is probably in our top 10 as well. I'm glad you're there to help somebody like that and I'm glad that there's an option for them to have kind of a, an ongoing dialogue cause I think again, a group that's just thinking about investments or just thinking about singularly the 401k, it's a little bit of a tougher conversation to really get something from that's going to help someone like that. 

 

Rick Unser:     20:15    I think you mentioned he had another one that had to do with divorce. 

 

Peter Dunn:    20:22    Now this one's really interesting. The biggest mistake we see in divorce is when someone fights to keep the family home or buys a home of their own, fresh off the divorce, Rick. And in this scenario, this young woman, and I say young woman because now I'm in my forties now, so I would just assume everyone's younger than me.

 

Rick Unser :    20:38    Everybody's younger. 

 

Peter Dunn:    20:42    I know, and they're at least they're better looking too. So she just made a horrendous decision and I don't blame

her for it. Right? And that's the deal with empathy and financial wellness. We don't sit around the water cooler and go, wow, this lady really messed up. We go, man, I've been there in the sense that you're in an emotional situation and you just make the wrong decision. And by the way, part of this is telling people that, that it's not good, right? We're not going to candy coat this. If you're a record keeper sometimes, and you're just, when I was a financial planner, you never wanted to anger the client or you wanted them to keep their money with you. You never wanted to do create that sort of adversity and adversarial relationship with this. We can just be honest with people and do in an empathetic way and we'll say, you know, buying that house right after you got divorced was, was actually the wrong decision.

 

Peter Dunn :    21:33    And so what we're going to do now is to figure out how to make sure that it doesn't ruin the rest of your financial life. And Rick, six months from now, that may mean we put her on a path to put it up for sale. It may mean that we restructure a lot of other things going on on her financial life, but the fact remains the same. If she's still in that house one year from now and doesn't take action, she'll file for bankruptcy. Wow. Yeah. And it's, again, this is someone she looks to make about 65 to $70,000 a year as an employee. And when we look at that and we look, well why would the employer care about that? Typically to replace an employee in that pay range, you're looking at an additional 60% of their wages in lost productivity and replacement in retraining costs.

 

Peter Dunn :    22:20    Right. If this lady bugs out and you know she goes off the grid cause she just can't deal with it anymore. That's an expensive problem for the employer. And what we try to do again of course is get in front of that. 

 

Rick Unser:     20:47    Well and I think one of the other ones that is probably even a little harder to put a dollar value on, but I think some people understand is the concept of presenteeism where someone is physically at work. But if you're going through a divorce, if you're dealing with the house you can't afford and trying to figure out how to walk back some decisions. That's not something that hits you for 15 minutes a day and you process it and you move on. I've got friends that are going through divorces. I've got friends that are [inaudible]. I mean just the amount of time that I spend talking to them, I can't even imagine what the day to day struggle with that is and the impact that comes with too, productivity, relationships, et Cetera.

 

Peter Dunn :    23:19    Think about all the uncertainty that exists when you're, you're getting a divorce, you can't rely on anything because everything's up in the air. Imagine being able to at least have some semblance of a plan about your money. Right? And the idea that you could then build on that and then the uncertainty and other areas start to go away. And then the emotional decisions that people make in that situation, while understandable, they happen less frequently because you've got some stability. You know, Rick, it's not always the bad things emotionally. And were the relationships that called financial problems. There's also good moments, like the next case we have here as a, as a young couple who has been trying to start a family for five years and they're not having the best luck. So they just underwent IVF treatments. This is one we see a lot. IVF is very expensive and they are on track.

 

Rick Unser :    24:15    And when we look at people's situations, we, we, we try to make sure that retirement at least is taken care of. So this situation, these people are in they’re like 32 and 33 if they keep doing what they're doing retirement wise, it would be multimillionaires that are fine. Like I don't worry about their longterm, but because of how their life goes, because they don't have a family because they're professionals who can afford whatever they want. They have now $4,500 in savings. Right. That's it. And they just went through the first round of IVF treatment. So they're poor, they're cash poor right now, if another emergency happens with, they just had a $5,000 emergency in the house, they're in trouble. They're there potentially borrowing from their 401k, which is doing great in their midterm also looks terrible because they're sort of bet in the house that they're going to get pregnant and then they'll figure it out later.

 

Peter Dunn :    25:01    Unfortunately they're two, you know, young professionals that can afford whatever they want in the moment, but they are not really developing the stability that it takes to have a family. I mean that's real. I mean, this sounds like a soap opera Rick, but you know, we're trying to put a plan together with them so God help them. They, they're able to get pregnant that they're able to bring that baby into a home that has some financial stability. So again, not really an investment question. 

 

Rick Unser:    25:31    No, and that's a perfect transition for something I wanted to pick your brain about. As we sit here recording this in late August of 2019 we've had a pretty good run in the economy. We've had a pretty good run in the financial markets. And I think in general there's, there's some sense of stability for a lot of, a lot of families, a lot of people, but we're starting to see a lot of storm clouds, a lot of warnings, a lot of, you know, sort of bells are ringing and lights are flashing about, well this might not go on forever.

 

Rick Unser :    26:01    You know, maybe we're heading towards a recession. So I don't necessarily, I'm not necessarily looking for your opinion of whether that’s what's going to happen, but what is the impact of a recession? 

 

Peter Dunn:    26:22    An economic slow down on the finances of the average employee. 

 

Rick Unser:    26:25    What does that mean? 

 

Peter Dunn:     26:28    Yeah, there's quite a spectrum, right? And it has to do with investment knowledge and just understanding of the economy at large, but it wouldn't be a stretch for me to say there are a lot of irrational investors out there, you know, that sell low and buy high. I mean it's a pretty classic thing. I'll say this, you know, we go along our daily life, we just tried to survive our present lifestyle, most of us, right? Which like I just got to get to tomorrow. I mean some of us actually say that phrase on her on a daily basis.

 

Peter Dunn :    26:47    When you realize that the markets are starting to get beat up because you hear that on the radio or you see that on the news, all of the sudden you start doubting a future, whether you were funding it or not, maybe you were not putting the right amount of your 401k, but all of a sudden the market stink and you think, well, there goes my future too. And it starts to feel like, what's the point? Why am I even trying? Cause they just keep getting kicked in the face. When we go through tough economic conditions, our cases pick up like crazy and while they're not investment questions, they are stability questions. People want to know should they bail out of the market, should I, should I do something different? And those are tough conversations to have. I mean like any investment advisor would, which we aren't, but like any investment advisor would, we get the people to restate their goals and we get them to understand that the selling solve your problem and and those sorts of things.

 

Peter Dunn :    27:42    You know, we've talked to the state Securities Commissioner, here in Indiana about, you know, where's the crossover point of investment advice versus just financial wellness guidance. And as long as we don't tell people to buy or sell, then we're good, right? It, as long as we don't say, well, you know what, you should buy more at this point in time, then typically we can avoid any of the scrutiny that comes with investment advice. 

 

Rick Unser    28:10    And as I think about recession, I think certainly the implication to the financial markets is one piece of it. But I think also what comes with recession sometimes is an increase in unemployment, lack of raises, maybe some liquidity challenges in the markets in terms of lending or access to debt that people might have right now. I mean, does that give you any pause based on some of the conversations that you've had with people or some of the realities that you see in people's economic lives that if one of those legs either gets kicked out or weakened, that is there something for people to fall back on or, or is that contemplated in people's goals or plans?

 

Peter Dunn :    28:55    Well, I, I'll attack it from a slightly different angle, but I think we'll get to the same answer you're hoping for or expecting. I guess I would say when we onboard people, we try to understand whether they have an overtime culture where people get overtime and in rough economic times we try to begin the messaging at the first sign of that to get people to understand. If you depend on overtime, let's talk, let's talk about what that looks like if the overtime goes away, and Rick, that's the biggest impact we see from recessionary times is that organizations that are manufacturing in nature or or other types of organizations that pay a lot over time, they can get crippled and thus they cut over time and then they cripple their human capital and that's pretty rough. So I guess that's the best example I can give you of a real life example of where a recession can not only impact the company because then they cut over time, but then the workers themselves and even going maybe one or two steps up in the, in the food chain at the company bonuses.

 

Rick Unser :    30:01    Totally. To your point, maybe it's not over time, but it's that 15% performance bonus or whatever it is that someone's depending upon in a recession. If company performance starts to drag, if the economy starts to slow down. I don't know. I, I just, I wanted to have that conversation with you because I feel like having some of these, or at least putting some of these thoughts out there prior to it actually being here I think hopefully gives people an opportunity. Employers as they're thinking about their wellness or other service providers or whoever that might be kind of influencing what employers are thinking about what is on their plate in terms of decisions. I feel like putting some of this out there before the storm is here. Maybe there's actually some, some good that can be done ahead of time versus just, you know, bailing the boat out when you know, when the storms here.

 

Peter Dunn :    30:55    That's so true. A couple of things. Number one, I've heard so many people say things like, well, 50% of my compensation is my base rate, and then the other 50% are bonuses, incentives. You hear that on really high paid people and it's like, oh, that's great. And then you think about recessionary times wreck and you're like, oh my gosh, that would be a disaster for them. The other side is, let's look at maybe the more positive side of this. We recently have a new client, you know, 13,000 employees that it's an education type group of school system and, and so there was a six to 8% pay increase across the board. Everyone got a six to 8% raise and it was the first time in years. And so what they decided to do was, alright, we're about to give people more money than than they've had.

 

Peter Dunn :    31:43    And people are so excited about this raise that there's this pent up demand for more lifestyle spending. So they launched us at the exact same time and they said, all right, we're giving people a six to 8% raise. But you know what, we're also going to give you a plan of how to have that impact your life more than you think it can. And it's been a great uptake rate. And that was a really interesting approach to more macro issues as well. 

 

Rick Unser    32:18    Nice, I appreciate it. and the positive spin on it. So the next one? 

 

Peter Dunn:    32:29    The next one is pretty interesting because it is a woman who worked in the nonprofit world. She's 42 years old for most of her life, but just transition to the for profit world. You know the world we live in. And she has a pension of $350,000.

 

Peter Dunn :    32:33    That's the, the pension value from that time there at 42 years old, she's making $40,000 a year. And in retirement what she wants to do is move to a Caribbean island, cause her family's from there and build a house, but she's rented her whole life. So Rick, in this situation we look at someone who's got a really good amount of money, a good start. And so we have to try to understand how the pension works. Are we able to project forward with that? And then how do we show her how to build money on the side so that she can purchase a house and retire the way she wants. Given that at a $40,000 income level, it's highly unusual to see someone with 300 $350,000 in retirement savings at age 42 and that's about as unique call as we ever get cause it, there's certain things you know about people.

 

Peter Dunn :    33:27    People make 40 grand a year, don't have that much money when they're in their forties right. And so that, that's interesting of how we're going to be able to try to project those things for her and help her understand her pension. She's also, like most Americans, she was using the words 401k and pension and retirement plan interchangeably, which is, which is wrong. And so trying to get to understand what she really means so you can re-explain it in good terms to her will be very beneficial to her. That sounds like a good problem to have. Yeah. You know what, and I'll be honest, I talked to the person on this case. I'm not convinced she has what she thinks she has. Right. You know, you do this long enough. Someone would tell people, tell you what they have and you're like, that's unbelievable to me.

 

Peter Dunn :    34:10    Like that's implausible. And so we want to make sure that she doesn't move forward with false confidence. If we the burst her bubble, we're going to burst her bubble, but we are going to be there to pick her up and tell her how to build what she thought she had. I'm not convinced she has what she thinks she has, but maybe that's beside the point. 

 

Rick Unser:    34:52    I hope she does. But that brings me back to a 401(k) portion of a movie from a couple of years ago. I don't know if you remember this one or not, but it was the, I'm not gonna remember the name of the movie, but Will Ferrell and his wife, they create a casino in their house. And, but before they decide to do that, they're like, oh hey, I just found this thing. We've got 40 grand. And she's like, what? Show it to me. And they pull up this statement four oh one K and they're thinking, we're saved. It's like, no, that's just our 401k statement. And it says we have no money. It's hilarious for when 401k jokes are in popular media. 

 

Peter Dunn:    35:10    You talk about a lot of people don't have investment questions, but they have investment jargon questions and those jargon questions impact the rest of their life. Rick, imagine you go about living your 42nd year on this planet, thinking you have $300,000 that you might not actually have. You may behave differently if you knew the truth. And I think, I don't know, I mean, this is not about what we do versus what other people do, but I don't know if a record keepers going to take the time to research this person's pension to do. I don't know if people do that, but that's what we do. And that's a good thing

 

Rick Unser:    35:40    Because I'm with you. You know, if you, if you feel like you're in one situation, you're gonna make different decisions versus if you're in a totally different one.

 

Peter Dunn :    35:48    I think the last one I'll hit you with today was a classic, right? $113,000 in student loans with an Undergrad degree in a Grad degree, neither of which this person Dow does for a living, married to a firefighter expecting their second child, 30 years old and they have some growing up to do like, and that's not condescending. She said it, she said it to the, to the rep. She's just like, you know, we've been making really isolated decisions and we just realized that we're not thinking about the future at all. And so what this case will require is couples counseling. I mean, so the, the rep on this call are our financial concierge as we call them. They will talk with this woman and her husband probably every month for 12 months and get them on the same page. And that's an interesting one. I, we see that one a lot. We see the student loans driving the wedge. We have some grown up to do. We don't think about the future and then facilitating the conversation that changes that all the while, not an investment question. Yeah.

 

Rick Unser:    36:58    Let me pull on the student loan debt string for a second here because I think that's one area that a lot of employers I think have over the last couple of years really woken up to, while there's an issue, I know from my perspective that was probably one of the bigger revelations I had early on in the, in the podcast was student debt is, it's not just a number, it's not just a stat that we keep hearing about and that keeps growing. It really is actually impacting folks in the workforce that are actively working for a lot of employers, et cetera. So what are some of the options that you're seeing out there, whether it be to help an individual that has $113,000 in student loan debt or whether it's to try to provide more services before people get into that? I mean, what are you seeing out there that actually you feel makes a difference versus just somebody kind of waving the wellness flag and saying, Oh yeah, we're in the game.

 

Peter Dunn :    38:03    So everything I've given you so far is either fact or very informed, expert opinion. Based on years and years and years of work. What I'm about to give you now is still my opinion, but I just really want to identify it as it is my opinion. Okay. So I, I have no expertise in the student loan products, but this is how I feel. I feel that the refinance programs where they're voluntary benefits, where you expose your employees to the ability to refinance their student loans at lower rates. There's a lot of those programs going on there. I think they're okay. I think if you get with too much of a startup organization that is doing that, you would question whether they've underwritten the loans, the new loans, refinance loans correctly. And I feel like there is some risk from the employer's perspective of making your employee the client of another organization for tens of, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

Peter Dunn :    39:02    That makes me a little nervous. That is my opinion. The second type of product are the ones where instead of going in and giving a 401k match to an individual, you're helping them pay off their student loans with the match, if you will. You know you, you match their loan payoff outs. My feeling is that that's a math problem that the math does not support that. That is a good idea. I think if you have a young person specifically in their 20s and you take the match to pay off their loans as opposed to take the match and invest it in their 401k whether they want to do that or not, I think you're not being a good steward of their money because with kind of how compounding interest words, they will end up down every single time you do that. That is my opinion.

 

Peter Dunn :    39:45    And the third way is more of a counseling approach where for instance, this woman with $113,000 we're going to have to have a very serious conversation with her and we're going to have to have a very practical conversation and it goes this way. Should we even try to pay this off or should you just keep paying what you're paying and move on with your life? Because sometimes the amount and the income justifies someone making a serious two, three year run and grinding that thing down to the stump. And Rick, sometimes you just have to say, all right, look, if you want to live a life, this is just going to become a bill for the next 20 years and then you can raise your kids, you can buy a house and can you do those sorts of things. That's our approach that if that is what the situation dictates, then that's the advice they're going to get.

 

Peter Dunn :    40:30    Is that fundamentally bad advice to tell someone not to attack a debt? I don't really care whether it's fundamentally bad advice or not because it's the right decision for them. And so those are the three ways I think people attack student loans, refinance programs, the match programs such I don't like at all, and counseling people to make good decisions on a very personal level. Yeah. And a lot of employers I think are looking for that magic pill that whatever it might be that's going to help them recruit talent that's going to help them retain folks maybe that have student debt. But I happen to agree with you. I think the real value is giving people access to real information and helping them make the right decision based on their circumstances. It might not be sexy, it might not be something that goes easily in a brochure.

 

Peter Dunn :    41:22    It might not have a dollar of value next to it in your, you know, your flyer as to why to come work for this organization. But I think somebody with a real problem who is looking for someone to help them, I think the value will speak for itself to those individuals. I think of it this way. Let's say I brought donuts into my coworkers every Friday, right? That's a cool culture thing. Health and probably a bad idea, but Rick, if I did that every day, still a culture thing, but it's a really bad idea, right? It's, it's a, it's a, it's a terrible idea. Some of the cultural benefits that we try to create in the workplace. If you step back for a second, say, oh, we're all going to happy hour, a company sponsored half to a happy hour after every workday. We have to be good stewards of people's money in their health and not just try to dangle culture out in front of them and I fear the way the student loan path is going that we're really just trying to attract people with things that don't necessarily make sense.

 

Rick Unser :    42:24    Yup. No, I mean you and I are on the same page on that one. Did we make it to the end of your list? 

 

Peter Dunn:    42:32    I think so. I'm looking through it here. There's a couple more that some just pretty regular ones. Someone had an investing terminology question, what does a stock dividend rate again, is that an investing question? Not really, and they probably could have googled it, but they're going to get a good answer from us from someone that is not going to mislead them and then the next one and k with three kids in college and he's just trying to figure out how to fund a little bit of a shortfall that they have. I'd say that'd be top two cases. We get his parents trying to figure out once their kids are in college, when the heck they're going to do well.

 

Rick Unser :    43:05    And just since you're, you're continuing down that theme there of college and all extrapolate that to student debt, how prevalent of an issue do you see that within the calls that you're getting? I mean is that top five? Can those that are listening to this podcast walk away with, hey, this is a real issue that if we haven't already decided that we're going to tackle it or if we're not are already on board that this is an issue that needs some thinking and some problem solving. Would you confirm that that is maybe one of the bigger ones that you're getting? 

 

Peter Dunn:     43:44    It is, but in a weird way, Rick, it's always presents as something else. Someone calls us with, I feel like I'm paying too much in rent or how much can I afford on a car? And then so we ask enough questions to be able to answer that question intelligently and then we realize, no, no, no, no, no brother.

 

Peter Dunn :    43:56    This is a student loan issue. So student loans are definitely an issue. But I think sometimes, again, they don't present as the primary problem, but they are absolutely the core issue. So that is to say, people don't call us and say, I have a lot of student loans. What do I do? They call us with other issues. It's like people and that's a symptom. Yeah. Right. And so that's what we see. I mean, very rarely to someone call and say, all right, how do I pay off $113,000 in student loans? Well, you know, it's going to be funny and you, you may or may not like this, but you absolutely agree with an economist that talked to

 

Rick Unser:    44:32    A few months back where we had a great conversation about student loans and I felt like he was one of the guys who really helped put into words what that challenge is. And the analogy he used was, you know, student loans themselves are not gonna sink the economy. But what they are is just either a boa constrictor or a wet blanket sitting overgrowth. Because that's the challenge. And that's you know it just from a macro perspective, if you look at what's going on with baby boomers leaving and the the spending and the consumption habits that they had versus the consumers, they're being replaced within the economy today. The millennials, they just don't have that same consumption power based on student loan debt and I think your comment there marries up very well with his, which is it's not the problem which is going to send us to a recession or that's going to whatever, but it is a problem that is going to potentially cause others in the big picture.

 

Peter Dunn:    45:33    I can relate because I've been called a wet blanket several times, but I'll say this too. It's like I've just described how we attack that. There's the other side of this, which is when you have parents of college aged students making sure that they don't get themselves or those kids in that problem. That's the great side of of financial problem solving is not only are we trying to help people pay off their debt, but we still have an outlet to prevent it from getting worse. For people who have yet to experience it. And I'll be honest and telling people to not take out parent plus loans is about my favorite thing to tell people. Like I, I think that if people borrow for their kids' college education that retirement's pretty much off the table. Yeah. And, and I'll tell you, as someone with a high school senior right now, someone who is going through the process of, you know, where does she want to go to school, how much is that going to cost?

 

Peter Dunn:    46:27    I completely empathize with people that are in that situation where you've got this, this child, this person that you've raised and you now you're about to send them off into the world and you obviously want to send them to what you perceive or they perceive to be the best possible place for them to be. And when you can't make those ends meet, I get it. I mean it's, it is such a challenge but I, I think you're, you're absolutely right where, hey, don't buy that huge house. Having someone to talk to that can, that can at least maybe bring some reality into the situation is a huge value. Yeah. I mean we're on the same page there. I think that conversation when your kids 17 or 18 and saying, all right, look, here's the impact of us just saying we'll make it happen. Which so many parents do when they enter fund a situation.

 

Rick Unser:    47:18    Well, we'll figure it out, honey. 

 

Peter Dunn:    47:25    No, no, no, no, no, no. Figure it out right now because if you figure it out after someone's moved their Tassel to the other side, you're both going to hate it. And it's better to have that hard, uncomfortable moment now than later because later there is no recourse. 

 

Rick Unser:    47:39    You okay? If I pivot you for a minute? 

 

Peter Dunn:    47:45    I think so. I'm a little heavy, but whatever. 

 

Rick Unser:    47:50    One thing I think that you and I agree on is, and I'll use my words and you can use your words if you want. You can't invest your way out of a savings problem. Do we agree there? Or maybe you say it slightly differently. 

 

Peter Dunn:    48:01    No, I don't know if I've ever heard it put that way, but that makes a lot of sense. I mean, yeah, you've got to put fuel in, right? Like that's an important aspect here. So tinkering too much with the mixture I think is sort of pointless. You said it much better. Wow. I've never been outspoken so much more than what you just did to me. 

 

Rick Unser:     48:17    Wow. Let's take a moment and reflect and just honor that thought for a second. 

 

Peter Dunn:    48:25    That didn't go well for me. You said it better. 

 

Rick Unser:    48:30    Another thought that I wanted to evoke from you here is automatic enrollment I think is a great thing that a lot of plans have implemented. And I've been in some conversations recently that I just wanted to see where, where your head is in and if you agree with me or not. I think for some companies, automatic enrollment has had such great results and they've seen such good changes in savings, behavior, participation, retirement outcomes. As a result, I'm starting to see some conversations with employers where it's like, Hey, you know what?

 

Rick Unser:    48:58    We were really hesitant about automatic enrollment. We did it. We have everybody coming in at the match and now we want to take everybody up to 10% what do you think? And I think most of them are expecting me to say absolutely. That's the best thing you could possibly do. Where I've actually pushed back on some people in situations and said, let me make sure I understand your workforce is 70 - 80% folks making $40,000 to $60,000 a year and we're just without any other conversation going to say, everyone now needs to be contributing 10% of their pay. Am I crazy hitting the pause button there and saying that while I get it, as we look at retirement and while of course the more you contribute to retirement, the “better off” people are going to be. But am I crazy to hit the pause button and say, well, what impacts will that cause in other areas of people's financial lives? 

 

Peter Dunn:    49:47    Yeah. There's not a lot of touch to that decision, right? You're talking about a quarterback has nice touch on the ball or something like that. There's no touch with that decision because what that will lead to is a massive 401k loan problem, a massive 401k loan problem. And especially at the income level that you represented there. Now on a different income level, let's, let's say you're talking about a law firm or something like that, I could get down with that. I mean I really could. I believe that starting in your 20s, I believe

 

Peter Dunn :    50:28    The Russell Investment study that suggests 12 to 14% of gross income a year throughout a career leads to an effective retirement. I, I'm, I'm all in on that and we here in my organization, our own 401k platform, we very closely track total contribution average of our employees because we want it in excess of 15% between what I contributed as employer and what they contributed as the individual. But I'm never gonna force that via auto escalation. Right. I want it to be an intelligent decision that someone arrives at, not that they're tricked into. Because if you do 401k loans coming out the ears, man, it'll happen. Yeah.

 

Peter Dunn:    51:12    And just the last point on that and then we'll sign off here. Is it right to kind of suggest to some employers that, all right, well, hey, if you feel like there's some financial wiggle room within your employee's savings or within their whatever, am I right to kind of point people down the path of, well maybe we think about some type of an emergency savings strategy or are there other things that would make sense to suggest to some employers that say, okay, well maybe before we just put this on autopilot to 10% let's maybe check or take the pulse on a couple other things that might have a bigger impact on people's financial wellness. People, People's financial stability.

 

Peter Dunn :    51:56    You know, I think a really aggressive stretch match is a better solution than auto escalate. You know, like really like dangle the carrot of like we're going to put a lot more in, but, but to make them stretch it, I think that's been a better steward of the person's financial realities than just forcing their own money to go in without having that conversation. There's communication over-saturation in the benefits world, or no one knows what they have. No one knows what their policy is. And these are employees by the way. And so if you have a new auto escalation, someone sees their paycheck getting smaller and they don't realize why they will resent the employer. They will think that they're not keeping pace. And so it is in a good place. That incision comes from, I tend to say things to my wife and it always backfires. Like I'm only, I have good intention, I'm going to compliment you, or this is a good moment for us and our lovely relationship. And it backfires every time. 

 

Rick Unser:    52:55    You do that too? 

 

Peter Dunn:    53:00    Yeah, yeah. I think it's called being married like every day, and I try so hard. I think this is the version of that, right? This we want you to save more and now we're going to have unintended consequences because we manifested that. Yeah. And I don't want to make it sound like I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth, but I do think that that I, I think it's at least worth a conversation. Sure. You know, especially based on a certain employee demographics and if, right, if I may, that's why a good retirement plan advisor is so darn important. Right, because it's like having a good realtor. You can't just have someone that's trying to get the deal done.

 

Peter Dunn:    53:26    You have to have someone that's willing to step in and say, this house is not a good one for you to buy and here's why and what's why work like yours. Rick is so important. 

 

Rick Unser:     53:41    All right, last, last question I promise. You are on the receiving end of so many questions and what I'm wondering is, is there anything that you feel like is a question or a concern that you are being asked to help people with that maybe is a little off the radar screen of some employers or maybe just things that in general we're not paying enough attention to in the financial community. That could be the next, let's call it student loan issue or could be the next thing that kind of starts creeping up on millennials or gen Z or baby boomers or whatever. Whatever generation you want to pick.

 

Peter Dunn:    54:18    Yeah, I wish I had something sexier than what I'm going to say. And it sort of plays off what you just said. I think parent plus loans are going to be a retirement nightmare. I've been saying this for a couple of years and I fully expected within, I said a couple years ago, I would say five years from now, it's all you're gonna hear about. Well, we're now two years in from that prediction. So I guess I'm going to double down and say the next three years, all you're going to hear about is not only healthcare issues, expenses in retirement, but the fact that people are paying for their kids' college educations, especially in the light of, let's say there is a coming recession and let's say that people in their 50s in middle management who at times justifiably or otherwise seem expendable for an organization. Rick, that's a tough time to lose your job when you're in your 50s and you've got $100,000 in someone else's education loans.

Peter Dunn:    55:09    That terrifies me going into the recession. And so that's my morbid, horrific graphic answer. 

 

Rick Unser:    55:17    Yeah. Well. And to put a point, I did a little research and you know, I had a conversation with that, that economist I mentioned to you a little while ago, default rates and delinquency rates on student loans are already 12 - 13% and that's in a very good economy. 

 

Peter Dunn:    55:41    Yeah, and that's, you know, that is one thing. I look at that, again, I know we've talked about it a lot today, but I do think it makes sense to, to keep some focus on that in general. 

 

Rick Unser:    55:53    Agreed. All right. We can't end on that. So maybe tie this together for me. As you're talking to employers and as you’re trying to help somebody take some enthusiasm, they might have to help their employees to improve the financial wellbeing and prove the financial wellness within their workforce. What's your message to them that says, hey, you know what, maybe it's not all about just investments. Maybe this is why you want to think about some of the stuff that we've spent the last hour or so talking about. 

 

Peter Dunn:    56:24    I think for very positive paternalistic companies. It's a really neat, that's a good adjective. Neat. It's a neat message to be able to go to your employees and say, look, as an organization, we're accomplishing our goals, we're hitting our revenue marks, we're hitting our growth numbers, and it is just as important to us that you're having personal financial success as well and not just in the form of income, not just in the form of retirement plan, but you want a day to day basis live in a financial life that you are both proud of and you are enjoying. That's neat and, and I think the right organizations can pull that off. It takes guts to do that because Rick, that's a promise that that is a, you know what? We want this to work for everyone, not just the people getting the big bonuses. We're committing. If you want to guide you down a very personal path of financial contentment. I like that. That's a much better message. It's neat. 

 

Rick Unser:    57:02    There you go. Thanks for being here. As you know, I will come ring again and I wish you all the best and I thank you for all the work you're doing out in the community and hope to chat with again soon. 

 

Peter Dunn:    57:27    Thanks. Always a pleasure.

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