In this episode, Julie tells you what Strategy PLUS is, and then asks David Blanchett about:
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David Blanchett, PhD, CFA, CFP®, is Managing Director and Head of Retirement Research for PGIM DC Solutions
Can't Find Certain Research that David did? He can help you: HERE
David develops research and innovative solutions to help improve retirement outcomes for investors. Prior to joining PGIM he was the Head of Retirement Research for Morningstar Investment Management LLC and before that the Director of Consulting and Investment Research for the Retirement Plan Consulting Group at Unified Trust Company. PGIM is the global investment management business of Prudential Financial, Inc.
Important Disclosure: This podcast recording has been prepared and made available by The Pacific Financial Group, Inc., also known as TPFG, a Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) offering advisory services. Information in this podcast is to be used for informational purposes only. The information contained herein, including any expressions of opinion has been obtained from, or is based on sources believed to be reliable, but its accuracy or completeness is not guaranteed and is subject to change without notice. The information should not be construed or interpreted as an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell a financial instrument or service. Any expressions or opinions reflect the views of the speakers and are not necessarily those of TPFG or its affiliates. TPFG does not provide tax or legal advice. Investors should consult their financial, tax or legal professionals before investing. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. All investments contain risks to include the total loss of invested principal. Diversification does not protect against the risk of loss.
Episode 7 Open Windows Investing w/ Guest: David Blanchett
April 22, 2022
Julie Mochan: Hey, everyone, welcome back to Open Windows Investing with The Pacific Financial Group and me, Julie Mochan. In today’s episode, I have a spectacular Guest, David Blanchett, Managing Director and Head of Retirement Research for PGIM, which is PRU, Prudential Global Investment Management - their DC solutions, DC means defined contribution. So PGIM DC Solutions, if you want to get “acronym-ical” I got in touch with David because I heard he was retiring. [recording] Hope there are Zoolander fans out there, because if not, that didn't make any sense. So, the real reason I'm having David today is not because he is retired, but he does talk a lot about retiring. And he does a boat load of research. That includes a lot of studies on retirees, participants of group retirement plans…check out the backlinks. There's a ton of papers that he's written or had a hand in. It's impressive. Anyway, on episode 3, there was made mention to one of his research papers. It was math summer from Janis Henderson was making mention to this great article that he'd read with some terrific research about the March 2020. When we figured out that there was a worldwide pandemic happening, what took place in the market? What did investors do? Retirement savers. Did they jump ship? What was going on? Anyway, my guest David Blanchett did what he does, and he did a lot of research and had a hand in a paper that I couldn't find. I couldn't find it because he had left Morningstar. So long story short I'd asked him to come on to the podcast because he’s sort of like a superstar in our industry when it comes to research. And I'm really excited to be able to have him. Before we talk to David about a lot of great stuff,
I want to tell you quickly what we do here at the Pacific Financial Group. If you're not familiar with us, remember these two words: Strategy PLUS, because that's our turnkey asset management platform that is built specifically for advisors helping their clients in group retirement plans, whether it’s a 401k, 403b, or 457. We give you a platform to choose well over 30 different models that are customized to suit your client, their risk tolerance, their lifestyle. We do enhanced target date models, we do Index PLUS, which is enhanced index models, if they like passive, underlying investments, we do ESG, we have partners that are best in class in the industry. You'll know every one of them that have partnered with us here to help because everyone realizes there's a crisis with retirement plans, not being able to really give what the participant needs and that's customized advice that suits them to help them get to retirement. I suggest you check it out because I'm sure you have clients that are working that have a 401k, 403b or 457, and you haven't really been able to give them advice without taking on fiduciary responsibility. And you don't really want to take on fiduciary responsibility and not get paid, because this is your business. You have a family to take care of as well, right? Obviously, your clients comes first, so we are here for you to get you trained, to give you what you need for this marketplace, and to make sure that we have the follow-up services to keep everybody as happy as we possibly can. All right.
Let's do this David Blanchet. Welcome to Open Windows. First question I have for you is how did you get into this business? How did you, how did you get here?
David Blanchett: So, I used to be a financial planner if we go back like 20 years. I sold life insurance in college for a few years. And one of the things I learned when I was selling life insurance, is that the products and services that, that certain companies may want you to sell, isn't always in the client's best interest. Both of my parents were teachers, so I was very interested in education at a young age. And so, I started taking tests in college. I took the CFP when I was like 20. I finished the CFA when I was 24 and I always really enjoyed financial planning. I didn't plan on being a researcher when I started in the field say 20 years ago, but over time, the more that I've been in the industry, the more that I've enjoyed asking the question what makes the most sense for an advisor or a client to do? And so, 20 years now I've been doing that. And now my job is largely, almost entirely focused on research thought leadership and kind of building a variety of products.
Julie Mochan: As I know you're an adjunct professor at the American College of Financial Services for anybody out there that's listening that doesn't know what sort of designation they want to get or what direction they want to go. Maybe you can shed some light on that for us.
David Blanchett: Sure. So, the American College is a professional education organization, and they're perhaps best known for designations like the CLU, the CHFC and the RICP. I helped create a new designation called the WMCP, but they're really focused on educating advisors to help them, give better advice and create better outcomes.
Julie Mochan: So, if someone's working on their CFP or CFA, should they still look at that?
David Blanchett: I mean you could. I think that it, so I'm a certified financial planner. I've gotten designations through the American College, the CLU and CHFC. There's a lot of overlap there. If you want something more quantitative, you could always go the CIMA or the CFA route. The American College does have two designations that are more retirement focused. There's the RICP and the WMCP. So, there are designations that you could look at there, but I see the, if you've gotten the CFP, then you've spent years learning the, more than just the basics in terms of financial planning. It's not to say that there isn’t designation for you at the American College, but I think at that point you should ask yourself: “What do I want to dig deeper into?” and then find the designation that kind of works for you.
Julie Mochan: That makes sense. Burning question for many here, I'm not sure if you can answer this question that I want to ask, but you were at Morningstar for what? Ten, over 10 years maybe, doing incredible research. And then you recently made a change and I found that out because I couldn't find certain pieces that you're working on.
David Blanchett: So, with respect to research, like nothing has changed. I'm still an adjunct at the American college. I still work a lot with the Alliance for lifetime income. I'm still DC focused. I still have… effectively free reign to cover a whole host of topics. If anything, motivation for the change was to join an organization. Prudential that had a record keeper at the time is an asset manager and an insurance company. I loved the decade I spent at Morningstar. I would have to try something new. So, I don't think that anyone that has been following me will, should expect any less in the near term, if anything I've actually been able to get access to some really interesting data that I probably wouldn't have gotten if I had still been a morning star. So, I hope to be sharing some, even more interesting research in the near future. So, for me, I don't know that I have a five or a three year or a 10-year plan. It's just to keep doing good research, keep advancing the profession. So that's pretty much it.
Julie Mochan: You hear the word retirement all the time. You use the word retirement all the time, I do a bazillion times a day as well. One thing I think about, and I think it's because I have a lot of younger friends. Is retirement going to become obsolete? Is it going to exist in the future? What are your thoughts?
David Blanchett: So, I actually don't love the word retirement. I don't think that I will ever retire. And that's ironic because I, my title is the head of retirement research. I like the term financial independence more, that’s, I think what most people are saving for it's the chance to do whatever they want. And so, I think that it's true, that as our society lives longer, as we have more jobs that aren't, physically demanding retirement could be a very active.
Like four people versus maybe what it was say a hundred years ago. So, I think retirement still fits, but you're really saving for when you're older. And when you want to maybe do something other than what you do right now,
Julie Mochan: so financial independence?
David Blanchett: Yes. And now I don't like to look. There's the whole FIRE thing out that's out there like the financial independence retire early. I think that some of that's a little bit nuts, like it doesn't make any sense to just not enjoy your money and stuff. But I do like the idea of financial and like that to me is the crux of retirement it's being financially dependent. You don't have to work, but that could also mean volunteering. It could mean a second job. It could be starting. A franchise can mean lots of things. The key is that you're out of the main workforce, potentially not earning doing what you were for 20 or 30 or 40 years.
Julie Mochan: David, tell us a little bit about, and this is, this goes way back, but some research did, I think it was called the retirement SMILE, or what was that? What does that mean?
David Blanchett: It's about retirement happiness...no [laugh]. Okay so, it has to do with the assumptions. That people use when it comes to a financial plan, as well as how retirees spend or consume in retirement. The vast majority of financial planning tools of any kind of projection assumes that individuals increase their spending every year in retirement by inflation. So, it literally suggests that if inflation is 3.2%, that the person calls up their advisors. Instantly and says, hey, inflation was up 3%. Last year, I had a 3% raise, and they do that every single year for say, 30 years in retirement. If you look at the data on how spinning evolves in retirement, so you track the same households over time, what you tend to see happen. The younger retirees. And as that are, say 55, they tend to spend a little bit more versus inflation. If they're active, they can do things as you move through retirement, it declines. So, you're, if inflation goes up 3%, you only maybe spend 1% more, but at the very end of retirement. So, if you're like, if you're like age a hundred, And you're still alive. There's an increasing chance of these really significant medical costs. Now, the median is less than the average, but the longer that you survive in retirement, the higher, the probability of having this kind of big shock might be. And so, you can see spending actually increase at least on average at these really older ages. So, it forms this thing that I dubbed the retirement spending smile.
Julie Mochan: If I'm an advisor helping a client, how do I, how do I fix that?
David Blanchett: Like the one thing that I think is important to do is to not necessarily, I think it's okay to assume that the spending amount increases by inflation is like the base case, because retirement healthcare is like a scary thing. It's hard to hedge against, but there's a very real possibility that the average person does not increase their spending every year by inflation. And why that's so important is, I want people to enjoy retirement. That's why you retire is to do cool and fun stuff. And there's often a lot of trade-offs you have to make and, do you take that cruise when you're 68? I wouldn't want someone to have this. Pile of money when they're 98 years old, they didn't spend in use most effectively. So I think the key is just showing someone maybe different scenarios saying, hey, if we change this assumption from, you're going to spend the same amount every year to maybe match, this more realistic spending pattern. How does that maybe free up some money for you to do things that you might enjoy doing earlier in retirement?
Julie Mochan: Yeah, great advice because, depending on what someone is exposed to, there are people out there that feel like they'll never have enough money. And from personal experience, I feel that a lot of times women tend to do that, where they are so afraid of not having enough money when they're much older, that they're not spending it. And speaking of women. What do you see as far as, I don't know if you're working on any research right now, but what do you see as far as trends for women in the workplace and as retirement savers?
David Blanchett: there's a few things, one, this idea of an uninterrupted 35-year, 40-year accumulation period. Yeah. The same company is just not realistic at all anymore. I think that there's going to be lots of breaks in jobs. Present initially just breaks from working to do different things. And I think that applies more to women than men given their role as the primary caregiver for. Their own children, but also adult parents. And so, I think that it's highly likely, increasingly likely that, people will have these breaks and employment. They're going to have things happen. And that's just kind of part of the new normal when it comes to planning for.
Julie Mochan: What do you feel about social…Social Security? Easy for me to say… how do you feel about Social Security? Is it going to be around?
David Blanchett: I get a little angry when I hear that. So even if social security reverts to pay go, so pay as you go just based upon receipts. It's about 80%. Okay. From my perspective, Social Security is a government like social welfare program to ensure that grandmother does not live on cat food and not have any money. It will never go away. We, as a society, we are a, the ultimate first world country. W it'll it will never fail now, can it change? Yes. Do we need to modify the calculations? Yes. But this notion that it's not going to be there, I think is ridiculous. Now, for some I'm 40, I think it looked very different when I retire, quote unquote retire in 20 or 30 years where, there could be additional means testing. There could be additional taxes but at its core, its goal is to create a minimum income benefit for all Americans. That could mean in, in changes for folks that have a lot of money saved for retirement, but it doesn't change the crux of the program, which is ensuring that everyone has some base minimum income when they retire.
Julie Mochan: I know there's a ton of variables and it's hard for you to maybe answer this without all the facts, but when should someone start taking, like typically when should they start taking so secure?
David Blanchett: So, the earliest you can claim benefits is 62. You can technically claim is as old as you want, but there's no benefit to claiming to pass age 70. This is important considerations here. So, one, if you have a choice, it implies that you have money saved for retirement. If you've got nothing saved for retirement, you're going to claim as soon as you can. For the vast majority of folks. It's going to make sense to claim as late as possible. We'll call it age 70. Okay. Someone's going to be listening and saying David, like I'm not that healthy, whatever else. It's okay. I get like health is a big deal. Okay. But a point I like to make out about health and why I think a lot of breakeven calculators will make a whole lot of sense is if you die, when you're 75 years old, your kids get all your stuff. But if you've delayed claiming, assuming you're the primary earner, then your spouse gets a larger benefit. So, I think that a problem with like this notion of like break-even claiming age is that it's focused on like maximizing wealth. When, to me like the ultimate negative outcome is someone surviving to 110 and depleting their kids’ resources because they go broke. So, I think like the notion of, like breakeven needs to be in the context of what is the true bad outcome? Additionally, like social security, doesn't adjust based upon interest rates. And so right now it's like a good deal because interest rates are super low interest rates rise a ton and it's not adjusted. Then there's going to be a reason to possibly claim sooner. But right now, it is like an absolute, no brainer lay-up that you should delay claiming as long as you pass. I assuming you're not like about to die tomorrow, that you're in reasonable health. Didn't even if you are though the increase in the spousal benefit if you're the higher earner could make it worth it as well.
So even if you're not in good health, there's other benefits of social security that make it very attractive. It's linked to, it's linked to inflation, it's taxed advantage. There's the survivor benefit. So, I really do think that, that most Americans that have a choice should wait as long as they can.
Julie Mochan: So, I saw a piece that you were working on that I'll make sure I backlink. That's called 401k menus are not retirement ready. I think is what it was called. Can you give us a scoop on that?
David Blanchett: 401ks have been primarily an instrument. People accumulate wealth for retirement. And they've, I think they've done a pretty good job at that. There are a few haters out there that don't like 401k as well in life. It's always versus what, and if you're not in a 401k, you're not saving for retirement. So, they've done a phenomenal job for those that have access to them, to help them accumulate some wealth that could be improved. Let's just move beyond that.
But the problem is that a lot of them are too focused on accumulation and more plan sponsors, more Americans, et cetera. Like the 401k environment, you've got institutional investments, you've got professional fiduciaries, you've got lots of good stuff. And so, I think what we're seeing is more and more participants in 401k plans, one to remain in them in retirement.
The problem is that a lot of 401k plans aren't retirement ready. They don't have, for example, like they don't allow partial withdraws. There's not advisable. What this research focused on is the investment menu. And most of the investments in 401k plans are growth focused. There's lots of, U.S. equity, international equity funds. There's not a lot of diversifiers in terms of fixed income or alternatives. And so, I think the perspective of the research was like, I think that they've done a good job of helping folks get to retirement, but they're not necessarily ready in terms of being an optimal solution for decumulate.
Unless we add more investments to give participants the ability to build better portfolios using the core menu.
Julie Mochan: Yeah. And that's right up our alley here at TPFG, we offer advisors a platform to give participants in plan, advice, and options that are much more robust than, the general core options. All right. I want to talk about the research that you submitted to. I don't know where, maybe the Journal of Retirement? I'll make sure I backlink this obviously, but Practical Applications of Do Advisors Improve 401k plans. So, for anybody who's listening to this, I'm going to ask David now, are you talking about advisors to the plan are advisors to the participant because obviously there are totally separate things. And I have not read the research thoroughly yet, so I don't know if you've done research on both. I'd love to hear about it. If it's just one you could let us know. So yeah. Advisors for the plan sponsor versus participant.
David Blanchett: I've researched both to some ex to some extent. And the answer for both is yes. And that, there's evidence that, that plans that have an advisor. Our better run now, there's this like weird statistical thing called into (______) I always say it wrong, but like it's select advisors would have made better choices without them, but if you compare investment menu, all the, all these aspects of what any professional producer would say as good or bad, without a doubt plans that have advisors, especially smaller plans, do a better job. And I think this a really important candidate. By smaller plans, just because if you're a big plan, like a billion-dollar 401k, you have a staff of folks running the plan who are professional investment fiduciaries, DC experts. If you've got a plan, that's got $6 million, that's one of a thousand things you just don't have time to worry about.
And so, I think. If I add the most value is when you have an organization that an employer doesn't have the resources to really dedicate, hiring three people to run the plan. So, I think that is where there's unequivocal evidence. Having an advisor leads to better plans. And along these same lines, I've been research too, that suggested having an advisor can lead to better outcomes. If you're someone that would make poor decisions. If you're not good at investing, if you're not going to stay the course, if you need help on, on, on how much to save advisors can have tons of value. Obviously, the value differs a lot by the quality of the advisor or the type of person, but there is a growing body of evidence that does suggest that planners/ advisors can add value in lots of.
Julie Mochan: By the way I love firing questions off at you. Cause you're like boom. Here's all the answers. All right, here's a good one. I'm going to use acronyms. No, I'm not. The pooled employer plan versus the multiple employer plans. Again, the pooled employer plan, the PEP versus a multiple employer plan, the MEP. And these were they both come out under the Secure Act? I don't even know… MEPs and PEPs. Give us your take.
David Blanchett: So there used to be, there's always been this thing called like multiple employer plans or maps, where you could have like a trade organization that has a bunch of car dealerships, get together, and have their own plan. There are problems with the approach from like wider adoption, like the common nexus requirement and like the notion of a bad one bad apple spoiling the bunch.
And the integration of PEPs have eliminated those concerns. I like the idea of PEPs funding. A lot of folks said that, oh, if you, once we have PEPs, we're going to have more plan sponsors, offering plans in my experience, if I have eight employees, whether the plan costs 1% or 2%, it's not going to affect my decision to offer a plan. So, I don't know that PEPs will, really, truly affect the access of 401k plans to participants, across the U S I think that was one of the reasons. So, I did it, but I do think they will improve quality. I think that it gives a way for different groups to pull together and get economies of scale through forming pep. So, I, I don't know where that is going to be headed, but I like it as an alternative to maybe, other ways other strategies that exist right now to hopefully drive down pricing, increased quality in the 401k space.
Julie Mochan: Okay. A couple more quick questions, David, if you don't mind. You did some outstanding research on how participants of retirement plans reacted to volatility in the markets. And I think what I read was based on March 2020, but can you expand on what research you did and what you found there?
David Blanchett: I have like a recurring joke that; I love a good market downturn so we can test and see what's working and what's not for investors. I, I did research back in 2008, looking at triggering activity, looking at RTQ responses for individuals. I've done a bunch of research now looking at how participants in 401k plans responded to the volatility. It was a relatively. Downturn lasted like a quarter or two, but there's really strong evidence that, one participant that are in a professionally managed solution like managed accounts or a target date fund whether they selected it themselves or a defaulted traded less. And so clearly delegation is a good thing for behaviors. But along the same lines the folks that made like the worst timing decisions that were the most active are older participants. And this is counterintuitive if you're a research nerd like me, because in theory, if you're like 60 years old, let's just say you've been investing for 20 or 30 or 40 years. You should know how markets work. You have a higher income by virtually any metric that you would use. In economics, you would describe that person as more sophisticated than someone who was say 30 years old, the reality is, those older investors are the ones who the most likely to trade given market volatility. I think the reason is because of the salience of retirement, all of a sudden, if you're like 40 years old and your 401k is down and you're like, whatever, I'm going to retire in 20 or 30 years. But if you're 60 years old and you're retiring in three years and your portfolio drops by 20%, you're like, man, I was going to get 40k a year, and now it's only 32k. I can't do that. I got to get out. And so, I think the problem there is. It creates a situation if you're not if you can't be a long-term investor or you're going to make poor decisions. And this happened in 2020, there's a ton of folks who were in a target date fund or an aggressive portfolio who sold out early and lost money. And so, I think that my concern is that there's evidence that investors don't appear to get smarter with age, if anything, as they approach retirement, they need help more to ensure that they can stay the course of things. Do get a little crazy.
Julie Mochan: Yeah. Human nature gets you every time. What do you think we're going to see from you coming up here in 2022 and beyond? Do you have anything that you can let us in on that you're researching currently?
David Blanchett: I literally have, I think, five to 10 active papers at any given time. I'm not looking at just one thing. I think that, like the larger themes that I'm interested in are really helping plan sponsors. Figure out how to help their participants have better retirements, but it's not realistic to think that every American will get a high-quality financial plan and a good fee every year. And so, I think that the 401k DC space is a good environment to help, especially middle America achieve a great retirement. And so, there's lots of things that I think that we can do as a society to improve that. So that's a big focus, but then just all the little things, I think.
That there is a benefit, for example, to having more guaranteed income. I don't want to use the, a word as part of a retirement strategy. I think that, like we can build better portfolios. There's lots of things that we can do to help investors achieve better outcomes and kind of anything that, that perks my ear that does that and stuff that I try to work on.
Julie Mochan: Any advice for someone just starting out in the business or thinking about getting in?
David Blanchett: I mean, it's a treacherous profession early on, right? You literally know nothing about how to help people and you're, you have to go out and build a book of business. And that necessarily isn't the best environment. I think that to truly be successful, we need a better track for folks to follow. You join a company as a paraplanner or in some capacity where you can, at least, learn the profession learn how things work without an aggressive sales quota. And then over time you build your knowledge and then build a book. I would, I get a little nervous when I've friends all the time that, give the profession to go and some of them have. Wildly successful and it does happen, but anyone that's been in this business for a few decades has seen many folks come and go. So I think that if there are ways to find a way an entry point where maybe it won't pay as well early on, but it gives you the chance to actually learn from someone, learn about the profession and kind of ease your way into it. That's a much better way than, hey, you've got to learn what planning is and hit aggressive sales targets for the next three years, because what is happening is that most folks fail. They don't always give good advice and it isn't good for the profession. So, I wish that we could create a better way to get newer folks, integrated into the profession because. Better outcomes for them. And that are outcomes for individuals that get the advice.
Julie Mochan: Thank you for saying that because it's not good for the profession. It's not good for the clients, obviously, and it's not good for the profession because it's it cheapens the entire process. It shouldn't be that way! And it's because…. well, that's another podcast. Completely. Last question. I think you're the only person I know from Kentucky. You're from Kentucky, right?
David Blanchett: Indeed. Born, raised and reside.
Julie Mochan: That’s bluegrass country. What’s your favorite kind of music?
David Blanchett: So, I don’t have a favorite, almost anything. Bluegrass is not a regular, but I like all kinds of music, so I run whenever I can, and it is the most eclectic combination of music. It's like rap and it's like old school and it's like country and things that have a good beat, like it's, I, I don't know, for some reason, certain songs resonate with me, and I love them.
Julie Mochan: Yeah, I get it. If you're a runner, there are certain songs that get you up and over the next hill and to the finish line. Hey, thanks so much for all the time you gave us today. Everyone appreciates you.
For the listeners, everything will be in the show notes for you and also check out TPFG’s Strategy PLUS if you want to be able to give some in-plant advice to your clients.
Important Disclosure: This podcast recording has been prepared and made available by The Pacific Financial Group, Inc., also known as TPFG, a Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) offering advisory services. Information in this podcast is to be used for informational purposes only. The information contained herein, including any expressions of opinion has been obtained from, or is based on sources believed to be reliable, but its accuracy or completeness is not guaranteed and is subject to change without notice. The information should not be construed or interpreted as an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell a financial instrument or service. Any expressions or opinions reflect the views of the speakers and are not necessarily those of TPFG or its affiliates. TPFG does not provide tax or legal advice. Investors should consult their financial tax or legal professionals before investing. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. All investments contain risks to include the total loss of invested principal. Diversification does not protect against the risk of loss.
No representation is made by Wilshire or by anyone affiliated with such entity, regarding the advisability of investing in any investment product offered by The Pacific Financial Group. PGIM and TPFG are not affiliated.