I can still remember my first financial plan. The good folks at American Express created a thick, beautifully-bound financial plan for my wife and me when we were first starting out. It was useless. The problem wasn’t Amex, though — the problem was that we didn’t have any assets of which to speak. There wasn’t much to plan.

Fast forward 25 years, and some things have changed. These days, a financial plan could be very helpful to us.

As part of the Dough Roller Money Podcast, I’ve recently interviewed two financial planners. The first was Jeanne Fisher of ARGI. I’m working with her on what I’d call a traditional financial plan. It will cost $2,500 and also includes planning for my business. Here’s the audio of the podcast in case you missed it:

For today’s show, I interviewed Mark Zoril, AIF, of Plan Vision. Mark offers financial planning services, including investment advice, for just $96 a year. That’s about as inexpensive as it gets. I’m going to use his services — along with Jeanne’s — and I’ll come back in a future podcast to let you know how the two plans compare.

In my interview with Mark, we covered a number of great topics:

  • How and why he created Plan Vision
  • How he offers financial planning services for just $96 a year
  • What he thinks of the fiduciary rule
  • The software he uses to create a financial plan
  • Why he likes target-date retirement funds from Vanguard

Here’s the audio of the interview, followed by a transcript:

Rob: Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark: Thanks, Rob. It’s great to be here.

Rob: I’m thrilled to have you on. I’ve been looking forward to this interview. I’ve told folks in the Facebook group that I’d be interviewing you, the guy that can offer financial planning for $96 a year. That seems impossible and I’m sure all those financial advisors that listen who charge assets under management of one percent or more may not like you at the end of the show. I’m not sure but we’ll find out. Let’s begin. Tell everyone a little bit about yourself.

Mark: I have been an advisor for going on 23 years now. I worked at a conventional broker-dealer for about 17 years: VALIC. Our specialization was working with non-profit organizations. That’s my professional background. I set up Plan Vision 5 years ago. I had really gotten tired of the nonsense that was going on in a conventional broker-dealer channel, as far as sales quotas and getting assets under management. I also had become relatively convinced of two things: first, that using low-cost index funds or ETFs—and I’m certainly a big fan of Vanguard because it clearly gives investors the best chance for long-term investment success. I wanted to work in a way that I could promote that kind of investing. Also, it had become relatively obvious to me in working with my client base — which was really rank-and-file employees of organizations, just middle-class folks — that helping them plan for their future is incredibly easy to do. It’s not that complicated. I felt I could offer a much better way to help folks do the planning — instead of the conventional, assets-under-management financial planning model — so I set up Plan Vision to work in that capacity. It took me quite a while to figure out how to do it correctly, but I think I’ve arrived at a good place.

Rob: Okay.

Mark: That’s my professional background. I’m not a CFP. I never got it, but I have done a wide range of guidance and advice for the folks that I work with so I feel pretty confident about my capabilities.

Rob: I noticed after your name the initials, AIF. What does that stand for?

Mark: AIF stands for Accredited Investment Fiduciary. And for what it’s worth, (and I don’t know what it is worth) you can get an AIF— I got mine through FI360. You do some studying and you maintain it on an ongoing basis. But that’s what it stands for, Accredited Investment Fiduciary. It’s very easy to get so I wouldn’t put much credence behind it, to be honest, but it’s something that is a credential that’s a part of my work.

Rob: I don’t know Mark. I think you need to talk it up more than that. (Laughs) You are downplaying—

Mark: Yeah, well, we’ll talk a little more about what I feel about the term, fiduciary.

Rob: You started Plan Vision 5 years ago. You gave us some of your views, which we’ll talk about more in terms of the industry, but did anything happen 5 years ago that you finally just said, “Okay, that’s it. I’m done. I’m going to go out on my own and try something new,” or was it just a number of things over time when you just got to a point where you decided to make a change?

Mark: It’s a combination of both. Clearly a number of things over time, but there were probably a couple of things that prompted it. And, by the way, I had a good career. When I started at Baloch in 1994 I needed to find a place where I could begin to grow professionally and it was great for me. But I was changing quite a bit and I didn’t feel like the industry was. But, yeah, there had been a couple of developments. There were two things in particular that happened—actually, three things that prompted me to make a change. One was that Vanguard announced in 2011 that they were going to roll out a product for small company 401k plans and I did have an expertise in small companies. That’s how I grew my business, by helping small employers set up retirement plans, so I was very interested in that — that Vanguard was going to make this small 401k available. Also, we had had a function with our company where they rolled out a new product that was going to be another one percent AUM charge. They did this in maybe 2010 or 2011 at some sort of a company gathering. It was typical nonsense about how the market demands this and how this was going to be a great way to use dynamic asset management for improving clients’ performance and how clients wanted it. And that’s all fine even though I didn’t agree with it. But, at the end of the presentation they said this product was only available for new assets to the company. In other words, all of the folks we had that were current clients would not be able to use it. It was specifically going to be designed to just get new assets in the company which was a primary driver for how the organization was evaluating getting new assets in the company. That’s so pathetic. I mean, if you really believe in the product, how are you not going to let your current clients use it? That was just another example of something I thought was so indicative of how these sales distribution systems work… not necessarily for the benefit of the consumer or their clients, but for the organization itself. That motivated me. And right before I left, there was an email within our district. I think it was company-wide too, about new sales reporting activity that needed to be done on a daily basis to your manager about interactions with your clients. It was a laundry list of things you needed to do and report to your manager by 5:00 pm every day. I happened to be exempt from doing that because I had met my quota numbers and production numbers. But, reps that were not doing that had to do this every day and it was offensive—the stuff they wanted folks to do and report on a daily basis.

Rob: That reminds me of Wells Fargo because Wells Fargo did the same thing.

Mark: Yeah. You know, again, I do have a lot of respect for the folks I worked with in the organization in many ways, but this just crossed the line as far as what they were asking their advisors to do. And, it had less to do with what the interactions the advisors had to do with clients even though that was kind of problematic. It was just the notion that you had report this stuff by 5:00 pm every day. It was just really ludicrous. So that helped push me out the door.

Rob: Okay, so you’re out the door, you started your own business. Were you scared?

Mark: I was much more excited than scared.

Rob: Nice.

Mark: I was very naive in retrospect. There was so much that I didn’t know about what I was doing. But, with how things have played out since I left, in some respects, there were some benefits to how things unfolded for me that helped me arrive at what I think is a product that I’m extremely proud of. But yeah, I was more thrilled than I was concerned about moving on.

Rob: Right. By product you mean the $96 plan?

Mark: Yeah. I worked at a conventional broker-dealer for so long, I didn’t have any idea how the rest of the industry worked, how all these independent advisors set up their practices, how they do compliance, how they got paid, how they billed, and all that stuff. So, I had to figure that out on my own. Through that process, I just developed a great understanding of how I could put together what I think is a really clean model and a great model for consumers. But it was kind of painful to go through that learning process. It took some time and cost me some money.

Rob: Let’s talk about it. Tell us about the $96 plan. How does it work? What services do you provide to your clients?

Mark: At a broad level, most advisors will talk about terms like wealth management or investment management. At this point, I have come to find that that’s not necessary. And I think wealth management will eventually go away in the next 15 to 20 years. Technology is simply going to replace that. I would recommend— I use a target-date fund with Vanguard. Investment management is nothing necessarily more complicated than that at all. It may take 10 to 15 minutes a year or two to just review it. That aspect of financial planning (which is typically a part of most advisor guidance) is incredibly simplified when you take the approach that you don’t need a lot of ongoing management of a portfolio. Just a broadly diversified low-cost portfolio, either in a target-date fund or something like, that is the best route to go. That is a part of that $96 plan, making recommendations to folks on how to set up a portfolio like that. The other part of that would be the traditional idea of doing a financial plan or doing a retirement plan for somebody. My process with folks if they want to do something like that is—first of all we’re going to have a conversation about where they stand, what their expectations are for the future, what experience they have, and that kind of thing. And what I use is a tool called, Finance Logix which is a standard planning tool that advisors use. I’m pretty pleased with it. There are several of them out there. And, just so consumers know this, when you work with an advisor, they’re not spending 50 hours grinding out a financial plan for you. They use software and it doesn’t take them a team of scientists and NASA to do all this stuff. They’re just going to plug your information into the software and they’re going to manipulate it. That’s what I do with my clients when I do a projection or plan for them. When we agree that they want to do a plan, I send them a spreadsheet that I have and they send me back their data. I load it into Finance Logix and then we have a session by video conference where I walk them through the analysis. Now, the tool itself is outstanding. It allows me to implement a wide range of “what if” scenarios in different circumstances that are specific to their situation so we can do a number of different “what if” scenarios and it will lay out in a visual way on how their future may unfold for them. And I clearly go through all the risks associated with something like this. How this thing may not materialize, how your life is going to change… But it certainly is an excellent tool to put things in perspective for them. As a part of this process—again, keep in mind I’m working with mostly middle-class people that don’t have complicated estate situations or estate situations at all. Their taxes are not complicated. Very few of my clients own individual stocks. Some do, but most don’t. They might own a home. They might have one other property… There’s just not a lot of complicated stuff going on in their financial situation. They might have some debts, so as we’re going through this I help them prioritize where to save, how much to save and whether or not to pay off debt. That’s part of the conversation I have with them.

Rob: That’s a tricky question for folks. You’ve debts, you want to save for retirement or buy a house or you want to save in a 529, so what should your priorities be? What should you do first?

Mark: Yeah. As they’re working with me, they’re looking for me to give them some guidance on that. And when I do this, there’s not necessarily going to be the most scientific, the most accurate or the best answer. It’s going to vary a little bit from person to person based upon their willingness to deal with debt. A lot of folks like to get rid of it immediately and some folks are okay with it depending on how soon they want retirement or to have financial freedom—those kinds of factors. We just talk through those things. Then I make recommendations on what I think they should do based on that.

Rob: Let me ask you about the spreadsheet you mentioned. You said you send a spreadsheet and they fill it out with their data?

Mark: Yes.

Rob: I’m assuming, obviously, they’re putting all the information in there about their investments and their savings. And there is probably a place for them to list all their debts as well?

Mark: Yeah.

Rob: Do they also include information on insurance?

Mark: I ask if they have cash-value life insurance because we may include that but I don’t go into homeowners insurance or auto insurance or anything like that. I do ask them if they have any investment-based insurance.

Rob: Okay.

Mark: And I see that occasionally. Not too much, but I occasionally see whole life policies or permanent life— that kind of thing.

Rob: The kinds of questions you help folks get answers to— things like how much you should save, how much you should be saving, where you should be saving. For example, will you help someone (as part of your service) figure out Roth versus a traditional retirement account?

Mark: Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to tell them what I think they should do.

Rob: Okay. And do you also look into their 401k to see their investment options and suggest what they should do?

Mark: Yes, exactly. There may be limitations with what they may have within that, but yeah, we’re going to do some balancing off there. Maybe they have a pension so we’ll talk through whether or not they should be more aggressive with their defined contributions, their 401k or IRAs because they have a pension. What if they have a property that they’re generating some rental income from? Does that give them a foundation for retirement and they can afford to be a little more aggressive? We look at all that stuff. They’re going to give me everything. The biggest challenge, in my experience in this whole process, is the client getting the data together. That’s the biggest challenge. For me to do the analysis (and the reason I arrive at the $96) is because it’s so easy for me to do this. But advisors imply that it’s horribly complicated. It’s not. It’s unbelievably easy to do this. The question is not “Why am I charging $96?” The question is,”Why is everyone else charging so much?” My viewpoint on doing the planning for $96… There’s no limit to the amount of time that a client can spend with me in the first 12 months so the $96 covers 12 months. For some of my clients it literally may be 45 minutes to an hour. For other folks who might be 7 to 8 hours. At 7 or 8 hours, that’s clearly not going to work, right? But the idea is that if you establish credibility as a competent professional and you give good advisement, you don’t try to sell your clients anything, they develop a pretty high level of trust with that. In the long run, I believe that client will continue to pay $96 to have access to an advisor that will provide that kind of guidance on an ongoing basis. The system will maintain their information so I can just update it on an “as needed” basis. So the amount of work going forward goes down after you do the initial upfront work with the client.

Rob: Do you help people figure out, for example, how much life insurance they should have?

Mark: Yeah, absolutely.

Rob: And if they’re going to buy term, do you sell them term insurance?

Mark: Nope. I will help them buy it and mechanically go through the process. We just go to an online service and I tell them how to do it.

Rob: But you don’t make any money from that?

Mark: Nope, $96, that’s it. I don’t generate any commissions, no revenue sharing, no soft money, no nothing. It’s just $96. It’s a volume-based business but I work with my clients individually by e-mail and video conferencing. I use Skype for that so it’s done personally.

Rob: I’ve got more questions for you, but right now I want to hire you (laughs). If you take me on as a client I’ll fill out your spreadsheet and then maybe we’ll do a second interview and you can tell people, “Hey, don’t listen to this guy. His investments are a mess!” I’m actually doing this with another advisor who charges. You know, I’ve never encountered any person that would do a financial plan for $96 a year so I guess I can’t compare you to anyone that I’ve ever spoke spoken to or heard of. It’s interesting. Did you ever think that maybe you could actually get more clients if you charged more?

Mark: Yeah. There are clearly issues in marketing this kind of product which will deter some consumers from buying. They wonder what you’re really going to get for $96. Or they think it’s a gimmick. You must be being paid by somebody, right? When John Bogle started Vanguard it was Bogle’s folly, right? It was going to fail and was laughed at. There’s no question in my mind, Rob, that this is a viable, scalable product. I also know there are consumers that don’t want this to be done in the way that I do it with video conferencing and screen sharing. They want somebody to come to their house or they want to go to somebody’s office. I will do that here, locally. I’m in Minnesota. But I’ll tell them that if I come out to their house it will cost $250 if they want to pay me that.

Rob: Yeah. That makes sense. And you’re right. I think a lot of people want to look someone in the eye. Well, I guess you do that video conferencing but they want to have someone that’s actually near them and that’s fine. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

Mark: There are plenty of ways to get this kind of service.

Rob: I think in my case, part of the analysis for me deals with my business which raises a lot of complexities. And, like you said, that may be beyond the kind of guidance you give. In that sense, I’m probably more the exception than the norm.

Mark: Yeah, it depends on what kind of analysis you’re talking about. Many of my clients do have a business and I integrate it into their retirement plan. We talk about the cash flow, the amount it would generate whether or not they sell it, whether they’re going to get royalties from it. So if you’re talking about integrating the business simply as an asset in your financial return plan, I can provide very good guidance on that. If you’re talking about more tax-oriented questions, I think a tax specialist may be of some use for that.

Rob: You mentioned Finance Logix, the software you use. Are your clients able to log into that software and see all of their information?

Mark: Finance Logix has an integration feature for that. I turned it off about two years ago because my client base was pretty small at that time. It was getting limited utilization but I’ve grown quite a bit as far as clients so I’m going to be turning it on later this year. You know how all of these tools are coming out now? I think you probably recommend a few on your site such as Empower.

Rob: Yeah.

Mark: So Finance Logix has integration where you can get all your stuff updated. Now, what they see is different than the actual retirement projection that I do for them. Finance Logix has two different portals. One is that you can log in as an individual that uses an advisor and it will show you some of the projections that the system generates. But, the actual full-blown retirement plan which typically needs an advisor to provide context, (I think you’ll understand when you see it) would only get access to that through an advisor.

Rob: Right. But that’s kind of what I meant, a way to login, not so much to integrate your accounts so they’re updated automatically, but rather just to see the data that you’ve inputted into the system and what reports they offer.

Mark: Yeah, they do have that feature. I really have no knowledge of what advisors see on that as far as client utilization.

Rob: No, but your clients can log in and see their own information?

Mark: Oh, yeah.

Rob: You mentioned from an asset allocation perspective that your number one choice is just a target-date retirement fund at Vanguard.

Mark: Yes, well, I might be a little extreme. but at this point I believe all of this wealth management and gibberish that financial advisors use is virtually unnecessary. You know, where they talk about managing portfolios and whatnot? You could go pick three funds like Bill Bernstein mentions in his short book, If You Can, total stock market, total bond market, total intellectual—do those three funds for the rest of your life and I’m guessing you’re going to outperform 90 to 95 percent of everyone. That’s my viewpoint. I don’t think you need to use anything more complicated than that. That is my suggestion to my clients. That’s another thing that is challenging for a lot of folks. They kind of think there’s something more to this. They think they should be watching this, monitoring this stuff. But we don’t. I really don’t think you should. When we talk about asset allocation, I don’t think it needs to be more complicated than a target-date fund, maybe a life strategy fund, a 60-40 mix or something like that. I do spend a fair amount of time with my clients talking with them about their risk. I go through scenarios with them where I say, “Okay, well, look, you’ve got $200,000 here. If we go through 2008 again, are you going to be okay if this thing goes down to $120,000? Let’s make sure that you understand what you’re in.” I’m not glib about the investments that they have and understanding the risk of loss, but I don’t think they need to hire a firm for one percent to watch their portfolio or manage it or take advantage of opportunities or whatever it is—these ridiculous things that advisors say they do by adding value.

Rob: Right. Do you get calls from your clients when the market goes down asking what you think about the market and what should they do?

Mark: I do. They kind of know what I’m going to tell them anyway. I only got four emails last year, two before the election and two before the vote in England. Anyways, I talked them through it and they said, “Yeah, I knew you were going to say that.” I will say this, I’m pretty proud of that. If you’re going to work with me, you’re going to have to kind of become converted to this philosophy. You’re not going to hire me to watch your money to begin with so you already know what I’m going to recommend for you. So I’m proud of that. My clients kind of get that when they work with me, I’m not necessarily interested in thinking they need to make changes or watch their portfolio. But, nevertheless I got these inquiries from clients and we just chatted about the situation.

Related: How to Evaluate an Investment Portfolio

Rob: Yeah.

Mark: I just said, “Look, you can do what you want to do. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the markets but I wouldn’t suggest that. You’re in this for the long run and there’s going to be plenty of events now and later and we have no idea what’s going to happen with the markets.” And I also tell them, “Look, the worst thing that can happen is if you make a change and you’re actually right, then you think that you kind of know what you’re doing. And that’s the problem. So, I think you’re better off not doing it.” I have a lot of international clients and I’ve got calls the last few weeks. One email this week was from an American in Spain with the vote in France. He wanted to know if he should exchange his dollars. I just told him to do what you want to do, but I wouldn’t do it. We don’t know what’s going to happen. That is my approach and how I work with my clients. I do get occasional feedback and I respond to that but I don’t get all that much. The other thing I was going to mention about that is, I’ve been an advisor for 24 years and I think mature investors over the age of 40—I don’t even know if they contact their own advisory firms. I think they kind of know what’s going to happen now with the markets. I can’t speak for other firms, but I think the inquiry level, in general, is down.

Rob: You and I are certainly of the same view. We’re not big fans of charging clients a percentage of assets under management. By the way, one of the things there too is that, obviously, the more you have, the more you pay. And yet, it shouldn’t be any more complicated to invest $10 million than it is to invest $100.

Mark: It’s not. I know that.

Rob: I’m curious about what you think of the fiduciary rule in light of your views towards assets under management given it’s usually only fiduciaries offering those services.

Mark: I’ll try to control myself here. I don’t think much of this at all. I blogged about this before it went down. What I am so tired of are all the fee-only fiduciaries that charge assets under management that are patting themselves on the back and puffing their chests out about how wonderful they are. They have the same conflicts of interest on a day-to-day basis that broker-based… At this point I’m more fed up with them than the commission-based brokers. I really am. On a daily basis, if I was charging assets under management, I would clearly have a conflict with the advice I would give. I can give several examples of that. I would clearly have a conflict on the advice that I would give to clients. These fiduciary advisors say, “No, we just present the information and let the customer decide.” Give me a break! They are presenting misleading—and I’m not talking about a small difference in compensation between, let’s say, $750 or $800 and $1,200. Some of these events their clients can be faced with will be the difference of several thousands of dollars, year after year, in an “assets under management” model. Let’s say somebody comes into an inheritance. They’ve got $50,000 worth of student loans or they want to pay off their house or they’re going to invest the money or they’re going to go into a business. What’s the AUM advisor’s conflict there? They’re not going to get compensated unless they convince the consumer or their client that they should invest. It’s an obvious conflict of interest. Another big one is pensions. A lot of these folks get close to retirement and many of them still have private pension plans. This can be a huge payday for an advisor if they can convince the client to move their money to an IRA, whether it’s $500,000, $750,000 or $1 million, to lump that thing out. That is a significant amount of money they’re going to make on an annual basis.

Rob: Right.

Mark: I had a case—and this is a great example. This guy is paying me $96 and he’s got a really important pension. He’s been a hospital CEO for years and he’s going to get $140,000 from this thing. The lump-sum is something like $1.8 million and he had two advisors that were coming at him so aggressively wanting him to take that money out. We talked about it and I explained that he may be better off in the long run by taking it out. There was no way that he was going to get a better monthly payment from the advisors. There were beneficiary issues and things like that, but it didn’t matter to me as far as how I was compensated ultimately, with what he did.

Rob: Right.

Mark: It completely changes the nature of the advice. I’ll give you another example. I’m an advisor on a retirement plan and I had a client that had a $300,000 rollover from another plan and wanted to roll it over into the company-based retirement plan. Well, in that particular retirement plan (which is the case for all my clients) I’m competent on a flat-fee model, so in their case the average cost that the employees pay is .30 percent. That’s the fund, my advisory service plus the record keeper, plus trust. So it’s everything. But we talked about a situation where I said, “Here’s what you can do. You can transfer it in if you want to. They have a stable value fund you can use. But, if you just want the Vanguard fund, you can go directly to Vanguard and open up a Vanguard IRA. You’ll save yourself about 15 to 18 basis points in fees.” Now, if I was getting paid AUM, as the 401k advisor on that case, I’d clearly have a conflict of interest in providing that guidance.

Learn More: Should You Roll Over Your Retirement Plan?

Rob: Right.

Mark: They’re all over the place and it’s just pathetic. The reason I reached out to you, Rob, is because I read that piece you wrote in Forbes about the potential change in the fiduciary rule. I know what’s going on in the industry, obviously, and I have a very strong opinion about that. One thing that’s been so bothersome to me— it’s not the folks in the industry. It’s the industry commentators that just don’t seem to get this. They don’t seem to see the obvious AUM conflict of interest.

Rob: That’s the frustrating thing for me, because if you’re dealing with a broker who’s not a fiduciary, they’re a commissioned salesperson. There are pros and cons to that, but you know what you’re dealing with. This guy, this advisor is going to make money when I buy the insurance product or when I buy stock. With assets under management fiduciary, as you’ve pointed out, there are absolutely clear and very serious conflicts of interests. The consumer doesn’t realize that. They think there aren’t any because they’re a fiduciary and because they are fee-only. So, you sort of get the worst of both worlds. You get this huge conflict and you don’t think it’s there. You’re not aware that the advice you’re getting could be tainted with conflict.

Mark: What is so maddening for me is this seeming support for this.

Rob: Yeah.

Mark: I get clients asking me, “Hey, are you a fiduciary?” And I say, “Well, yeah, I’m a fiduciary.” I’m glad I’m a fiduciary. I set my business up in that way, but really, the most important question you can ever ask an advisor is not if they are a fiduciary. The question is, ”How will the decisions I make affect your compensation?” That’s the most important question.

Rob: Are you a registered investment advisor?

Mark: Yeah, I am an RIA. My firm is in the system. And, by the way, I have a support person and I’m registered in Minnesota. I’m also noticed in Wisconsin and South Dakota.

Rob: Yeah, I would think you’d have to be because you’re accepting a fee and making investment recommendations.

Mark: Yeah, I have the ADV, so I’m a registered investment advisor. I do want to make a comment about the AUM. There are plenty of firms I have a lot of respect for that do AUM. Rick Ferrie is awesome. I think his firm does AUM. Larry Swedroe, who is just awesome in his promotion of low-cost—I think their firm does AUM. Even Vanguard is doing AUM. and I think their fees are a lot more reasonable. I just wanted to comment that there are some really good outfits out there doing stuff like this. And I just think flat fee is the way to go.

Rob: It’s funny you mentioned that, because one thing that’s been rattling around in my brain is to create a list and publish it on my blog (and continually update it) of basically low-cost providers… whether they’re folks like you, who charge a low flat-fee, or the folks you mentioned. I know Rick really well and I think they were at 37 basis points at one point although they did have a pretty high minimum. And there were a few others, as you mentioned. But I’d be keeping a list of companies and individuals that charge (whether it’s AUM or not) low fees. We talk about the importance of it and there are firms like yours and others that offer low fees, so why not showcase those? I’m going to commit to getting that done. And, of course, I’m happy to list your company on there as well. I had a question out of left field for you. You had sent me an article you had written for the White Coat Investor, which is a site focusing on physicians and investing. The article talked about different things that advisors do that are kind of shady. One that caught my eye is actually number 10 on your list. It was a waiver of liability for long-term care insurance. What’s that about? Is this a way to try and strong-arm people into buying long-term care insurance?

Mark: Yeah, I’m not an attorney, but take it for what it’s worth. I think you are (an attorney) but at one of our district meetings, an advisor said he came across a letter you can give to clients and the letter says — of course, this is presented under the auspices of just protecting yourself, in that you’re not going to be sued because you worked with somebody and they didn’t buy long-term care insurance — that their family’s going to sue you for not buying insurance.

Rob: Right.

Mark: That’s the letter, basically. It has legalities that say, “If you don’t buy long-term care insurance, I’m not liable for that.” Give me a break! What if somebody comes to my house and tries to sell me a new roof and I don’t buy it, can I sue them? It’s appalling.

Rob: What’s your view of long-term care insurance? Should we buy it?

Mark: I am actually open to it. For a lot of folks, I think it makes of sense. Clearly, if you don’t have much of anything or if you have a whole bunch of money, I don’t think you need it, but if you’re kind of in that middle space I think it can be very useful. I think there are some real challenges with it. One is that, who really knows the financial solvency of the insurance company you’re going to invest in, right?

Rob: Yeah.

Mark: You pay for a policy for 25 years and they say, “Well, we can’t really pay you because we weren’t charging enough.” The one thing I would suggest to folks is, if you’re going to buy one of these policies, I would certainly encourage doing a lot of cost-sharing. A lot of the folks I work with, of course, don’t have a million dollars but they’ve got maybe $400,000 or $500,000 or $600,000. They get social security and maybe they have a small pension. They may have a house. They can actually pay for a long-term care for a good 3 or 4 years so you don’t need a policy that’s going to pay right off the bat or after Medicare stops paying. I think you can get a much more affordable policy if you do cost-sharing. One of the gripes I have with those that sell this insurance, whether they be broker-dealers or whomever, is they always use the statistic that two out of three people over the age of 65 are going to end up in a long-term care facility. So yeah, they may go in there, but they may only go in there for 2, 3, or 6 months. The real question is what is your risk of having a lengthy long-term care stay? I don’t think it’s nearly that great, but as a form of security I think it can be wonderful for folks that want to protect their assets later in life.

Rob: Okay.

Mark: It’s a value. And I help folks do that. That’s part of the $96. The conversation I just had with you is shorter than it would have been with somebody else but it’s not that much longer. Then we do a little bit of homework. All of the conversations I have with folks don’t take 10 hours to go through. That’s how we arrived at the $96 price point.

Rob: Well, like I said, I’m going to hire you. And I’m going to go through your process and then share it with the folks that listen to this podcast. But, for those listening, if they want to connect with you and maybe talk about possibly hiring you, what’s the best way for them to reach you?

Mark: Yeah, I’ll give that to you but I actually want to mention I have a 60-day money-back guarantee. And, I don’t know of anybody in the financial industry that does that. So, when you work with me, you pay me $96 and if you’re dissatisfied my guidance or whatever, I’ll send you your money back.

Rob: What percentage of your clients asks for their money back?

Mark: Well, right now it’s none. The interesting thing about it is, in the financial services industry every once in awhile, if you’re an advisor, you might come across a big commission where you can make $5,000, $15,000, or even $20,000. But sadly, it can be off of somebody else’s death or life event. Maybe somebody dies and they get an inheritance or they have a big life insurance policy. I don’t mean to be flippant about my clients, but when I talk with people I pretty much tell them what I do and if you don’t want to pay me $96—I’m moving on. So, everyone kind of knows on the front end what they’re doing with me. That’s why I’m… well, I don’t know. Maybe some time when I grow, someone will be upset and want their $96 back, but people pretty much know what they’re getting from me. I can’t use testimonials, but I’ve had several of my clients go to Andrew Hallam’s site and post comments about what they received from me.

Rob: Whose site?

Mark: Andrew Hallam. Andrew is the—

Rob: How do you spell it?

Mark: Andrew H A L L A M. Andrew is the author of The Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate’s Guide to Investing.

Rob: Okay.

Mark: He has a bio of me on his site and promotes my work, too. At the bottom of that bio, I have had many of my clients post comments there about their experience with me. I’m very proud of it. It’s a great testament to the value you can get for $96. And, you can get impartial guidance.

Rob: By the way, some folks listening might say, “Wait a minute! Why can’t you post testimonials?” I think we can thank the FCC for that?

Mark: Yeah. I don’t really know the history of that. I understand the logic behind it and I’m my own compliance officer, but no expert when it comes to this. For many years, it’s been the case that advisory firms cannot use testimonials. I think that in the last few years there might have been some movement on that, but I think they did that to protect clients from bogus testimonials. But that’s a blog and people can post whatever they want on blogs. The other thing I should mention about the service: when you work in the financial services industry, as in many other industries that are sales in nature, it is in referrals. How do you get referrals? You get trained on how to get referrals. Go on out and get referrals. I’ve never been good at that. I’ve never asked for them and with Plan Vision I don’t ask for referrals, so I am blown away by the referrals I get from this model and from this business. I have people posting on Facebook groups about using this, so that’s another testament to the value of the $96 program, those referrals I’m getting from my clients. That’s just been really satisfying. The best way for folks to reach me is just contact me. They can just Google my name and they’ll come across my website. It’s, Mark Zoril. My email is markzoril@planvisionmn.com.

Rob: Okay.

Mark: I do have a toll-free number if you want me to give you that?

Rob: No, what I’m going to do is include an article with this podcast and the transcript of our interview with links to your site and all the information so people can find it that way as well.

Mark: Great.

Rob: What haven’t I asked you that you were just dying to tell us?

Mark: I think we’ve covered the things that are important to your listeners, at least in my viewpoint of the industry and what middle-class folks can receive when it comes to investment and financial planning. There’s not much else I can think of. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to chat with you.

Rob: Mark, thank you. I appreciate your time.

Mark: Great. I’ll be in touch with you then on your plan.

Rob: Absolutely. In fact, I guess I can sign up right on your website, no?

Mark: Well, here’s the thing. We haven’t got to the point where I have a button on the site that lets you “Buy” the program. But, when people let me know, I just send them an invoice and they can pay with PayPal or a credit card. Then we just start the process. I send my ADV and we go from there.

Rob: That sounds good. We’ll do it. Then I can share with folks, all of the criticisms you have of my portfolio.

Mark: (Laughs) I’m looking forward to it. Thanks Rob.

Rob: All right, thank you.

(Personal Capital is now Empower)


  • Rob Berger

    Rob Berger is the founder of Dough Roller and the Dough Roller Money Podcast. A former securities law attorney and Forbes deputy editor, Rob is the author of the book Retire Before Mom and Dad. He educates independent investors on his YouTube channel and at RobBerger.com.