Fast Times for Financial Planners

Article excerpt

Financial planners have been in high demand since Sept. 11.

"We've found that immediately after the attack on the World Trade Center, phones were ringing off the walls," says Clare Stenstrom, of Bourne Stenstrom Capital Management in New York.

"Calls have started to settle down now," adds Ms. Stenstrom, who is also president of the Financial Planning Association of New York. But all the same, she finds herself talking to clients - both existing and new ones - more than ever about how to deal with the current economic climate.

Most investors want to know two things:

* How to get their financial affairs - such as insurance policies, wills, and personal records - in order.

* How to structure a long-range investment plan to garner gains at a time when financial markets have hit the skids.

Calls delving into such subjects have been intense, says Gary Schatsky, chairman emeritus of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, in Buffalo Grove, Ill.

In addition, Mr. Schatsky sees a growing number of people using financial planners rather than brokerage houses for their investment needs. Whatever the reasons, he notes a number of large brokerages are laying off employees, reflecting the downturn in their primary business.

The shift to financial planners suggests that "investors don't want to buy financial products pushed on them by a broker," he says. "They are really eager to find someone that they can trust."

Another subject that may have turned off some investors from brokerages: so-called "managed accounts," driven by computer programs and increasingly popular among brokerage firms. "People are looking for more direction for their investments than [they can get] from managed accounts," says Scott Kahan, president of Financial Asset Management Corp. in New York, and a member of the Kaplan College financial-planning advisory board for Kaplan's online education program (www.kaplancollege.edu).

Jill Gianola, of Gianola Financial Planning, in Columbus, Ohio, says many of her newer clients need more-comprehensive planning than can be given by a brokerage house representative.

Many of her older clients have called to make sure that their retirement plans are still adequate. "They ask me, 'Have the rules changed for my retirement?' "

In terms of overall requests for help, time of year plays as big a role as time of life.

In September, parents with children in school or heading off to college tend to look for financial advice, says Mark Johannessen, a certified financial planner with Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney in McLean, Va. At year's end, people seek to form a plan for the new year. And April - tax time - always encourages planning.

The new demand for help began to grow even before the 11th, says Mr. Johannessen, amid the economic downturn.

Johannessen, in his practice, notes the same factor noted by Stenstrom: Investors want to make certain "that their estates are in order."

They also seek to ensure that they have enough liquidity - assets in money funds, or access to bank credit lines - to carry them through unexpected financial crises.

But new clients, he says, are also seeking to "look long" - to make sure they can take advantage of evolving market conditions to post gains above the meager results now being produced by money- market funds and certificates of deposit. …