Many of us spend years preparing for a future we expect, but when it comes down to it, things never seem to go as planned. Our guest today is a big believer in planning for the unexpected, as life has a tendency to throw us curve-balls. Ross Marino, Founder of Transitus Wealth Partners and CEO of Advisor2X, joins the show to discuss his new book Shaping Change: How To Respond When Life Disrupts Your Retirement Plan as well as how to be flexible and adaptable to change.
Listen in as we talk about how Ross has dealt with adversity in his own life and how advisors can coach their clients through major life transitions. You will learn why he re-branded his flagship conference from Excel 401(k) to Wealth@wor(k) and how to prepare your clients for retirement, even with the knowledge that things may change.
“Regardless of what we plan and regardless of what we expect, life just doesn't care.” - Ross Marino
“We have to understand that change is a process and takes time.” - Ross Marino
“There is no new beginning without an ending.” - Ross Marino
Josh Itzoe: Welcome to episode number 17 of the Fiduciary U™ podcast. My guest today is Ross Marino, who is founder of Transitus Wealth Partners, founder and CEO of Advisor2X and host of the OUTCOMES Podcast. On today's episode, Ross and I discuss his new book Shaping Change: How To Respond When Life Disrupts Your Retirement Plan. We also talk about what to do when life happens and plans change, how he's dealt with adversity in his own life, how advisors can coach their clients through major life transitions, and why he rebranded his flagship conference from Excel 401(k) to Wealth@wor(k). And so, with that introduction, I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Fiduciary U™ podcast. Ross Marino, welcome to the Fiduciary U™ podcast. Thank you so much for being the guest.
Ross Marino: Thanks, Josh. Been looking forward to it.
Josh Itzoe: We had actually connected a few weeks ago on your OUTCOMES Podcast, and that was supposed to be a pretty brief conversation. And I think you and I wound up spending probably an hour and a half or two hours talking about life and about business and about the industry that we both love and care about. The natural result of that was I said, "I need you to come on the Fiduciary U™ podcast," and the timings good because you actually have a new book coming out and you have your hands in a lot of different things. You're the founder of Transitus Wealth Partners. You are the CEO and founder of Advisor2X, which does a lot of conferences and training and events within the industry for advisors. You're the host of the OUTCOMES Podcast. But I want to talk a little bit about this book. It's called Shaping Change: How To Respond When Life Disrupts Your Retirement Plan. Tell us a little bit about and tell the audience a little bit about your book and why you wrote it and who the audience is for and how that came about.
Ross Marino: Sure. The book is about how life just seems to happen and plans change. Regardless of what we plan and regardless of what we expect, in many ways, life just doesn't care. And as a financial planner, I sit with people and talk about the future. And we make plans for the future. And in many ways, many of those plans aren't even remotely close to what happened in real life. So, I look at our industry and I think here we are doing goals-based financial planning. And then you find out that a lot of what we do in the planning process doesn't actually play out the way we expected. And what made it real for me is if you go back 30 years, and I'll do this short, I wanted to start a financial planning practice.
Ross Marino: I was an advisor studying for the CFP, had an injury. Instead of opening an office, I ended up working in a room over my garage for almost six years. much of it just laying on the floor on pillows. Couldn't get out, couldn't network, couldn't do the typical financial planner type stuff. Eventually, got a little bit better, got out of the house, got an office, started growing my practice, adopted a couple of girls, my wife and I. One of them turned out to be special needs and required a lot of care. That changes your world dramatically. And in the middle of that my wife ill and spent about 10 years or so being mostly bedridden, and severely limited. So, I went from my own challenges and limitations where my plans were completely shot to finally saying, "Okay, now I'm back on track," like that was actually going to happen.
Ross Marino: And then I had family disruptions and pretty much became a single father to a special needs child and a caregiver for my wife, and in the middle of that trying to do business. And what you find out is that plans are great to make you think. The planning process is wonderful, it really helps you think, but the plans, I just haven't seen them really play out. My life was disrupted, and it doesn't make me special. Lots of people's lives are disrupted. So this whole idea of doing a plan on here's what I think 10, 20 years from now, it just doesn't work that well. But the process is valuable. So I felt I needed to shape my practice to actually respond to life happens and plans change and really meet people where they are.
Josh Itzoe: Now, I think that's great. Yeah, a lot of times it's not of like thinking about going on a trip I think with the planning process, is the planning process is really valuable to determine what's the destination and what's the best way to get there? But once you hop in the car and start driving you don't know if there's going to be an accident on the highway and you got to take a detour. You don't know if you need to get rerouted or so on and so forth. You don't know if the car breaks down and you got to spend the night in a place you didn't think you were going to while the mechanic fixes it, and so on, and so forth.
Josh Itzoe: And so, it's really that combination of being directionally appropriate, but also having the flexibility to know that as changes come up. And I love what you say about this is that plans change. But really what you have control over is not that but how you respond and how you shape those changes. And what do you think some strategies are for both planners to be able to counsel clients, and we'll get into this a little bit later. I'm in the midst of an interesting mid career change as well. And that's one of the things we talked about a couple of weeks ago that I think we had such a rich conversation about was just how change impacts people emotionally, not necessarily logically, but emotionally. How do you think about shaping change? And how do you think planners can help clients? And how do you think clients should have a mindset to respond to change in their life?
Ross Marino: I think the first part is to understand that change is a process, and it takes time, and I can't take the bull by the horns and feel like I'm going to dominate my entire life and change everything and be in control because it really just doesn't work that way. As you go through a transition, you have to recognize that the more significant the transition or the life event, the longer it's going to take to go through that. So, an example is I had a conversation with a client recently, they were widowed. Her husband had passed away. Literally called us within three hours. So, what do I need to be doing? Tough lady, let me tell you, tough lady, and we got a good chuckle and thought, "Of course, you called within three hours because what needs to be done here? I got my list. I'm going to put it together. I know it's a little crazy, but tell me what needs to be done here."
Ross Marino: So, here's someone where, and we'll talk about fight or flight. She's the fighter. Life is not going to kick her butt, she's the fighter. So, some people respond incorrectly by saying, "I'm going to handle this. I'm going to take the bull by the horns." You really can't do that. Other people, they may end up just staying in bed a lot. They're the flight people. So they react a little bit differently. The reason the title of the book says how to respond instead of how to react is responding is thoughtful. So, in those situations, you have to really think more about what needs to be done right now. In the financial transitioners world, we use a tool called the decision free zone that helps you prioritize. But when I was talking to this client, we weren't ready for the decision free zone. But what I shared with her, and she ended up writing it down and was so thankful. I said, "Just write down three words for me." She said, "Okay, what are they?" Now, before, next.
Ross Marino: This is all you need to worry about right now. Your husband just passed away. There's going to be plenty of work to do. There's going to be lots of tasks that pop up. Tomorrow's to-do-list may look different than today. Let's not worry about what needs to be done next week or next month. Let's just worry about what needs to be done right now. And when you make that list ask yourself, "If I don't do that right now does the world stop spinning?" And she laughs. She says, "No, nothing's final. I just want to get it done. I want to get it off my list." I said, "I get that. You're a fighter. But let's just do a now list." And she was so happy with that. She wrote it down. She stuck it up on her little file box where she was keeping track of all the paperwork. And for her that was helpful.
Ross Marino: All we're doing is recognizing that you can't do everything at once. It's going to be a long process. There's things that are important. But there's also some things that are important and urgent, not as many as we would think. So, do the things that you know have to get done right now. And when you get up tomorrow, there'll be more things to do, you'll be okay.
Josh Itzoe: Right. No, I love that. Now, before next. I think that's a great little phrase. Actually, I lost my dad about 11 years ago, and after a pretty long illness. And it's interesting, in the midst of that, and you're planning for a funeral, in the midst of all of that you're running on adrenaline. And you probably feel... I know I felt very out of control that this had happened. And one of the things I was grasping for was, well, how do I implement some measure of control within my life and staying busy? And in some ways, wanting to do stuff, I think, is a way to distract you from the pain in a case like that when you lose a loved one. Maybe a welcome distraction, but I wish I had talked to you 11 years ago, the now, before, next. And as you mentioned, the bigger the disruption, the longer it takes to process through all of that. You mentioned financial transitions and you actually have a co-author, Susan Bradley, and I believe and I might get this wrong. I think she is the founder of is it The Financial Transitions Institute?
Ross Marino: Yep, Transitionist Institute, correct.
Josh Itzoe: Transitionist Institute. And so, that is it looks like there's a designation component to it. It looks like a training and development organization. Is that a fair assessment of what institute is?
Ross Marino: It is. And the best way I explain the Financial Transitionist designation, it's called Certified Financial Transitionist is in my opinion, it's the Rosetta Stone of financial planning. And what I mean by that is we've sat with people for years, and we've advised them. They were in a situation and we would say, "Well, here's what I think is in your best interest." And then they don't do it. Even though family members and friends, to them painfully obvious, this is what you should be doing. To the financial planner, painfully obvious. This is what you should be doing. And then the person does something else.
Ross Marino: We've watched that for years as planners. We've watched people struggle, we've watched them when life happens, they make certain decisions. And a year later, they look back and say, "I wish I could have had that decision back." What happened there? What happened was they were in a transition. And they were in a period of time where making financial decisions is challenging. And as financial planners, if we don't understand the limitations of where that person is, and be able to help them walk on the steps that really only they should be taking right now not trying to do a full financial plan two months after a big disruption. If we don't understand that, it's going to be challenging. And the financial transitionist program helps you understand where people are at, what they're thinking, what the signals are, if they're doing well, or if they're struggling, and then there's protocols and different tools we can use to help clients make decision through those transitions in life.
Josh Itzoe: Now, that's fascinating. It's interesting, and I'll get a little transparent here from my perspective, and you and I had talked about this, again, a few weeks ago, when we originally connected around the OUTCOMES Podcast. And once the podcast was over, like I said, we spent north of probably an hour and a half just rapping and chatting and whatnot. But having recently left Greenspring Advisors, the company that I co-founded over 16 years ago, and it was a really challenging... I felt called to this new venture that I'm working on called fiduciary work, which is the company that I just launched.
Josh Itzoe: I would say that leaving Greenspring though, a company I care about deeply, people I care about deeply, that was very much like a death that had to be mourned. And in the midst of it, it was a really hard thing to go through. I had owned the company or owned a major part of the company. And so, there was a buyout financially, and all of a sudden I had this liquidity event, but my income went away. And it was fascinating to me, and this is where I think for advisors and planners to recognize is that there's a much more, a behavioral coaching aspect when people transition. It doesn't have to be a a transition like you lost your spouse. But even this transition into retirement. When you go from having the income spigot turned on, and you're getting regular paycheck. And then you retire and now you've got this pool of assets that you have to monetize.
Josh Itzoe: There's something psychological that happens. I went from when earning a paycheck, a regular paycheck, and the safety and the security of all of that, there was very much an abundance mindset. And what was fascinating to me, and that I'm still quite frankly working through now leaving and as I launch this new venture, and as I now have this pot of money, but I don't have a regular income. I found myself going from an abundance mindset to a scarcity mindset. And thinking about, "Okay. What do I do? Is there going to be any more?" It's been a fascinating, and quite frankly, really hard transition. You say that that in the book that transitions don't play fair. That they're messy, and you can't anticipate some of the changes that are going to occur and that's why you have to respond, not react. I can tell you, I'm living through that right now. Talk a little bit about that transition for people from work to retirement and not just the analytical and the numbers and the financial element, but more of the behavioral and the emotional and the psychological aspect of that.
Ross Marino: Sure, let's touch on a couple areas. So, the first is to recognize that there is no new beginning without an ending. So, your new stage in life only comes when you end the previous stage. Sounds pretty straightforward. But you have to ask yourself, what just ended? And in many cases, when you go from work to retirement, what ended was the things that were incredibly valuable to you. Part of it is and most people won't recognize this, the routine. We love routine as humans. We love a rhythm in our life. We love to know, here's what I'm doing on Monday, here's what I'm doing on Friday. When you go out of that routine, it's hard. When you wake up on Monday morning, and you're not sure what to do, it's hard because your previous routine ended. And now you have to create a new one.
Ross Marino: Then you have relationships, which people do understand. The people we work with, whether we consider them our closest friends or not. They're deep relationships, and we interact with these people. And when you go from that transition to working to not working, most of those relationships from work are severed. They're not just lessened, they're actually severed. And that includes clients. It includes vendors. It includes all types of people. And just think of the level and amount of interaction that you have. How many conversations Josh, do you have during the day? I know today's Friday when we're recording. I think I have five Zoom calls already scheduled today. You're the first one. I've got four other ones. And then I'm waiting for someone else to call back for another one.
Ross Marino: I'm going to be interacting with people for what? Six hours today. That's a lot of interaction. And for a guy who probably doesn't need to say a lot of words, it's a miracle I have anything to say to my wife when I get home. I'm all talked out sometimes. I've been going all day, so I blew that. Sorry, talk too much. But there's so much interaction. So the routine changes and the relationships that we have changed. And that isn't just what we're doing. It really fuels us. It's part of what we love about life.
Ross Marino: And the other two things I'll mention just on the work is it's challenging. We have to problem solve, and challenging leads to measurable. We know when we're doing well. We hit targets, we acquire new clients, we help grow portfolios, we help people make decisions that make their world better down the road. That's awesome stuff. That's why we love our business. If you're doing that on Friday, you retire when you wake up Monday, do you really think you can immediately create something just to replace that? It's incredibly hard for people to do a hard stop on retirement to end working and then begin non-working or non-paid work. So, that's the first one.
Josh Itzoe: Yeah, it's interesting, you did say that you can anticipate. There were things and it was interesting, and this is I'm big on stories and experiences. And it was interesting is through this, and if I'm honest, it's been a really hard transition. The relational aspects, there is a severing, and I might describe it a little bit differently. I feel like it's when you have, you live in your neighborhood, and you've got great friends in the neighborhood, and the kids play together. And in the evening, you sit out on the front lawn, and you're talking, you connect. And if you're fortunate to have your neighbors be really close friends of ours, and then you move. It doesn't mean you stop being friends, but you stop seeing them on a regular basis. It's much fewer and farther between and it doesn't mean you're not going to be friends anymore. But the cadence of those relationships is just going to change.
Josh Itzoe: I found myself more than once and my former partners and colleagues at Greenspring who I love and they're still some of my closest friends, but I don't have the frequency by which I connect. I just call them because I want to talk, because I miss them. It's a really, it is a hard transition because you can't anticipate it. I like what you use, like a Friday and a Monday because the transition typically, it is abrupt like that. My last day at Greenspring, there was obviously leading up to it, but it was March 31. On April 1, it was over. And it's abrupt, and the abruptness can be very... Even when you see it coming it can be very disorienting and jarring.
Josh Itzoe: So, how do you think advisors should counsel clients? So that when should that process to prepare them and to help counsel them emotionally around what to expect? When should that start do you think? Certainly not, it's like the participant who says, "Hey, I'm retiring in a month. I need to start doing some financial planning." Well, it's probably not going to go as well as it would have because you didn't start planning soon enough. How do you think advisors, when do you think they should start counseling their clients to help at least make them aware of what this transition is going to entail? Not just financially, but emotionally as well.
Ross Marino: It's going to be hard for people to be fully engaged in understanding what retirement's like until they're getting closer to it. So you certainly have a timeframe. We find that within five years of retirement, people tend to be more interested and they start talking about it and that's in general. So, I think that's great on the timeframe. I think for the advisors the primary challenge, Josh, isn't on when I should bring this up? It's do I really understand what's going to happen in my client's life? And in traditional financial planning I'm going to say, "No, we don't understand the human side."
Ross Marino: The CFP board just recognized how important the psychology of financial planning is and in 2022, 8% of the questions on the board exam will be around the psychology of financial planning. I almost jumped up when I read that, very excited, because that's not let's just put a couple questions here to talk about it. 8% for a new entry, that's a pretty big deal going in there. So the industry gets it. But from the advisor's standpoint, the challenge, I think, is to recognize that all of this planning that we do doesn't have anywhere near the amount of value that we think it does. And that means we have to start communicating to people that life will change, and then plans will change. This is how it's going to go.
Ross Marino: So, the preparation is helping people understand that you don't actually know what you're going to want once you retire. You think and you may say that. I say it jokingly. I joke with clients a lot. So, I could say here's a joke I can say that hopefully won't offend you. And that is you're going to retire in five years, but you're not qualified to know what you want because you're not the you five years from now. And when I talk through that with people, they get it and they chuckle with it.
Ross Marino: I believe that concept is called the end of history illusion. And that means is I know I'm a different person than I was five years ago or 10 years ago. I see things differently. I feel differently. My values have shifted. And I know there's a common belief that everybody's values stay the same. I don't buy that. My values... Let me rephrase that some values are more valuable to me now than they were, some are less valuable. So, maybe they didn't wholesale change. But they certainly shifted.
Ross Marino: I've been growing, progressing, transforming, like any human being over time. Why would I think I'm not going to be different 10 years from now? Because I'm still going to grow, I'm still going to mature. So, you're going to ask me, "Well, Ross, what do you think you want 10 years from now?" Well, that's a silly question. I don't know what I want. I can't give you a hard core goal of what I'm going to want. And this is part of the preparation. So, instead of asking a client, do you want to travel? Do you want to do this? Instead of asking them something concrete, I take the approach of feeling.
Ross Marino: For example, what do you want to feel like the day you retire? How about when you're 75 years old? What do you want to feel? People know and they answer. They'll say, "I don't want to be scared I'm going to run out of money." "Oh, really? Why is that?" "Because my mother ran out of money. I'm never going through that." The intensity and the passion that people will come out with when you ask them that is awesome to be a part of. That's the preparation. That's the planning. So, I don't know whether you want to move to a new state or work part-time in retirement because you don't know. And any financial planner has watched their client saying, "I'm retired. That's it. I'm done. It's Friday. On Monday, I just put in an application to work part-time somewhere." How was your weekend in retirement?
Ross Marino: It doesn't work that way. So people don't really know what they're going to want 10 years from now, because they're not that person. So let's help people think about what they don't want. That's valuable. But also put them on a track of leave the options open. Let's make sure financially, I'm prepared to do whatever I may want to do. But I don't really think I know today what I'm going to want 10 years from now.
Josh Itzoe: Yeah, I think that's, and so these these deeper, more connected conversations. And there's so much talk about automation and technology and robo and these are the things that in many ways this behavioral coaching, that's the value in the advisory experience. There's a lot of tools that can make the financial aspect more efficient, more reliable, but it's this emotional enactments, this behavioral coaching. I think one of the things, these conversations, there's a couple of benefits.
Josh Itzoe: One is that when you start to have those types of conversations, and people start to tell you their story that some advisors are really you obviously very attuned to. I think a lot of advisors, they want to stay in the realm of the spreadsheets and the data because that's where they feel comfortable because these conversations are incredibly powerful to strengthen a relationship. But they also can get a little bit messy or they can go in places that are a little bit uncomfortable.
Josh Itzoe: I know for me, one of the mentors of mine who was a pastor years ago where I went to church and he had a great saying and he said, "You have to want what your wants lead to." And I think what he meant by that is if someone says, "I want to retire, or I want to make a career change." Well, you have to think about not just... Or may be a better way, somebody says, "I want to lose weight because I want to be healthier. I want to lose 20 pounds." Well, that's great. But you can't just want to lose 20 pounds. What you have to want as well is you have to want to be able to say no to that piece of chocolate cake after dinner, and you have to want to have to be waking up at the crack of dawn to get your workout in. And you have to want going to bed earlier, maybe not going out with your friends and minimizing the amount of alcohol that you drink. These are all the things that if you want to lose 20 pounds, you have to make these changes.
Josh Itzoe: And so, that's where I think the the life coaching aspect of this is helping think about the trade offs and the scenario planning of what people want. Because if you ask somebody, "Do you want more ice cream?" Most people are going to say, "Yeah, I'd love more ice cream." But if you say, "Okay, if you do that, you're going to gain five pounds, do you want that?" Most people will say, "I don't want ice cream that bad.: So I don't know what your thoughts are as far as that goes. But there seems to be something around helping people think about what those trade offs look like.
Ross Marino: If you ask my kids what their father does for a living, and they're older now, so they actually know what financial planning means. But if you asked them years ago they will tell you that daddy helps people make decisions. In the simplest form, what I do on a daily basis is I want to help people think and make decisions. And the reason that's important to me is if they don't think and make a decision, then all they're doing is taking my advice, and I'm not sure it's going to stick 10 out of 10 times. The only way someone is going to make a decision that has value to their future is if they take time and think. And not the instinct of, "Oh, I don't want to be broke when I'm older. So great, we'll invest money." We're not done here.
Ross Marino: That's avoiding the fear, the future pain. That's great. I'm glad you're convicted. We're not done. Now we're going to have to go through this. So some advisors like to do that, some don't. I don't want to say this is the way it has to be done. I've certainly learned over the years there's many ways to build a business and to reach out to people, and frankly, I can only do the business that I'm equipped and passionate about.
Ross Marino: I can't do somebody else's business. I'm equipped and passionate about helping people think. I'm way more fascinated about neuroscience than I am about financial planning. So, I'm a brain geek. That's just the reality of it, always have been. Had a subscription to Psychology Today when I was in high school, and I was like a closet geek because I was a wrestler, and I was a football player, but kept that magazine at home. That's it, I was a brain geek, loved it, always fascinated by it because I really believe that I understand... Or I understand I should say, not believe that I can't make the decision for you. Advice is not good enough. You have to make that decision. I can walk you down the path to help you think. But you have to think and you have to make the decision.
Ross Marino: People want to know what's going to happen in the future. What's the market going to do? What are things going to be like? I have no idea how things going to play out 10, 20 years from now. What I do know is that the decisions I make today dictate and for the most case, what I can or can't do tomorrow. So let's just make decisions today that make sense. And that move me down that path. And whatever happens happens.
Ross Marino: So my planning practice, I haven't come up with a cute way to say it yet. But it really should be a decision making practice because it's not that we're planning in a concrete sense. We're preparing, that's probably a better way to do it. I'm just thinking out loud, right? We're preparing for the future, what happens happens. But really, it's about making the decisions today. That's what really moves the needle for people. We focus on today. You help them prioritize. You make some decisions that will have an impact tomorrow. And we know that you may wake up tomorrow and things change. And when that happens, the front page of our website says life happens, plans change, we can help. Then you sit down and figure it out.
Josh Itzoe: Yeah, I've started to use a saying that behavior always follows belief. I love what you said there is as advisors, I mean, just even in the name alone, giving advice but people need to own their decisions. They need to own their stuff. They need to take responsibility for that and getting it to stick and getting people's behavior to stick they have to believe in what they're doing. If they don't believe in it, then they're unlikely to commit the resources necessary to actually have that behavior stick. I love what you said is that the decisions we make today impact our experiences, if you will, tomorrow and beyond. In the book you talk about four stages of transition. And I think six areas that are impacted through that. Can you maybe talk a little bit about what are those four stages and what are the six areas that are affected?
Ross Marino: Yeah, let's start with the stages. So, the first stage is optional. It's called anticipation. And that means we see the change coming. So, for example, I'm going to retire in 12 months. That's not true. I'm just giving an example here, right? So, I see that coming. I now have 12 months of anticipation before I retire. Or my spouse suddenly passed away yesterday, no anticipation. It just happened.
Ross Marino: That leads to stage two, which is called ending, something ended. That's what kicks off life changes. That's what kicks off transitions, something ended. So, it's not something was altered, it's something ended. And if I retire, something ended. I had an ending my job and a lot more that goes along with that. If a spouse passes away, if I get divorced, if the kids go away to college, and all of a sudden the house is empty, empty nest, that's real. I've heard people laugh about that until they went through it. It's like, "Yeah, it's not so funny, is it?" This is legit. It is real. Your whole day is all of a sudden just a vacuum. It's serious. So sometimes you have anticipation, then you have the ending. And that's when the event ends.
Ross Marino: After you go through the ending now you have what we call passage. And passage is the big part, this is the messy part. This is when you're leaving your old life behind whatever it happened, and you're moving to whatever's going to happen in the future. It is not linear. It is not a straight path. It is not the seven stages of grief where you think you go from stage one to two to three, which by the way was never intended by the person who created that. They are seven stages, they're just not exactly sequential. You're going to be angry at all different times. You don't just get over anger because life changed. But this passage, it's going to take a long time.
Ross Marino: I think the best way to explain it is, let's say your passage takes three years. We'll just give it a timeframe. Somewhere around the middle, let's say a year and a half in all of a sudden in your mind, you're not thinking as much about what ended. You're not talking about the way life used to be as much. You all of a sudden have this shift, and you start looking forward. And you start thinking, well... An example would be I had a client who said this last year who said, "No, eventually I'll move out of this house because my husband passed away, and I'll downsize. But that's down the road. I'm not even ready to think about that."
Ross Marino: I thought, that's wonderful. She thought about the future and realize that's probably how this is going to play out. But I'm not ready to look to the future and create the new future. So, she wasn't at the halfway point. But eventually in the conversations, she won't be talking as much about the past and she'll start talking about how do I want to shape my future? How am I going to move forward? And that's that pivot point in the middle of the passage.
Ross Marino: Eventually, as the passage ends, you start the new normal. And that's when your new life begins. What I think is challenging for some people to understand about the new normal is, life never goes back to the way it was. Does anything in life or ever go back to the way it was? It's always moving forward. And the new normal is when you actually embrace, this is my life. Today is the day. I'm going to shape it and I'm going to keep moving forward and progressing and growing. Depending on the transition, Josh, that could be three to five years. It takes a long time. It doesn't matter how tough you are, like the person I just talked to is like, "Okay, I'm ready to go here." It's been three hours. You're not ready to go. Just take a deep breath here. But it's going to take a while for people to go through that. Those are the stages that you go through when you're going through a transition and they will take a while.
Josh Itzoe: And then what are the six areas that are impacted when you talk about are affected through this transition process?
Ross Marino: Well, let's talk about a couple of them. So first, I'll say is relationships. So when I'm going through a transition, anything that happens to me, happens to those around me. So the old saying of no man is an island. It was a poem from 1600, I think. You're all connected to a continent, and everybody's connected. We aren't an island. Everybody's connected to somebody. The closer you are to me, the more impact my life transition has to you. So, I just went through something pretty dramatic. A couple of months ago, my wife had a heart attack. She recovered, but for about four weeks, five weeks, I was in the middle of it and my relationship was severely impacted. So, I had to change a lot because she was having health issues.
Ross Marino: That happens, and I wanted to bring that up because it'll go into the second area. That's going to be your cognitive abilities, your capacity. When you're going through a massive change in life, something catastrophic just happened or you're in the middle of it, you're anticipating it, you have to recognize that you only have so much brain power in any given day. I only have so much mental capacity. When there's stress involved from a significant change, my capacity drops dramatically. Here's what advisors need to know, and I just went through this. So it's so fresh, it's wonderful.
Ross Marino: Once again, I got another example, did not want another example from my wife having a heart attack. But it really works from understanding how this works is I had conversations with people three, four weeks after my wife had her heart attack, totally blank, didn't remember them. I did things, totally blank. You may talk to someone who just went through a transition, and they're going to sit there calm, and they're going to have a conversation with you. And as a financial planner, you actually think they understand what you're saying. Not only do they probably not understand it, they're not even going to remember it.
Ross Marino: We think because we have this back and forth dialogue with this person who, yeah, they said they're doing okay today. I don't even know what that means. And how many times I as a financial planner offered to make changes for clients in that transition because I just didn't understand how limited they were. I'm sure I've done it a bunch of times. I hope I don't ever do it again. The cognitive capacity that we have when we go through a major life transition is taken down by the stress. So even though we think people are doing okay, they're not, they're like a duck. They look fine on the surface, but underneath they are paddling with all their power. So recognizing that, that's probably the big one that I think planners need to understand is that just because they look like they're okay, they're not. They are having diminished capacity, and it's going to go on for a while.
Josh Itzoe: Yeah, it's so funny. I'm relating to a lot of the things that you're saying, and there is an interesting one. I would say like right now for me I told my partners in November that I was planning on leaving to go launch this new venture and this new initiative. But I didn't effectively leave until the end of March. And so there was a transition process. And part of the challenge was the anticipation. And as I got closer to the ending date, the more stressed I became. A lot of questions around, am I doing the right thing? Have I made a mistake? Which was interesting. And then it was emotional. There were a lot of things I wasn't, honestly, just to be totally transparent that I wasn't prepared for.
Josh Itzoe: I thought I had anticipated what it was going to be like, but there are things that I'm now living with in part of my maybe new normal. And I just would say that I think ending is finite. It seems to me that passage and new normal probably have some blurry lines between them. That passage, and I would say that's probably, that's where I am right now. There are some things that are starting to galvanize and crystallize where will be my new normal. And there are other things that are still very, very fluid. It's challenging. I think during passage, it's really critical to not get caught up in the past or in the future, but to very much live in the moment. Because the past can't be changed. And the future can't be controlled.
Josh Itzoe: I've actually found the more that I've tried to think one moment, one step, one day, and I'm very excited about this new venture, but also it's uncertain, it's scary at times. There's a lot of excitement. There's also mixed with some sadness about leaving the life that I had left. And there's still a lot of uncertainty as I'm starting to try to shape what the future is going to look like. And I'm starting to figure out what the new normal is going to look like because it's not just work, like you said, this has impacted relationships with friends. It's impacted relationships with family, like my wife and my kids are now having to be part of this decision that I have made about my career.
Josh Itzoe: I think I really loved this idea of I feel like you've done a pretty incredible job of creating some structure of how to think about these types of transitions. And as we have, I think 10,000 people a day are retiring or something crazy from a number standpoint. This ability for advisors, the advisor of the future, to be able to counsel and to coach is absolutely essential, and I think it's just become become more and more important. I have a good friend a guy named Tim Maurer who is at Buckingham Strategic Wealth, and he's pretty well known in the industry. He's written a couple of books, but his tagline is that personal finance is more personal than it is finance. And I think he's right about that. So, let's in the spirit of transition, and just really quickly, and we'll throw a link up the book. Can be pre-ordered on Amazon right now, and I think other outlets as well. I believe you said it comes out April 27th. Is that correct?
Ross Marino: Yep. So, by the time people see this, it'll be ready to go. So just go to Amazon order the book.
Josh Itzoe: Yep, we'll put a link up in the show notes so that people can find that. So let's transition. Let's talk a little about Advisor2X and what you're doing there. And you recently rebranded Excel 401(k) to Wealth@wor(k). Talk a little bit about maybe the genesis of Advisor2X and what your vision is for that, and what are some of the new things are doing.
Ross Marino: We started doing meetings and conferences over 10 years ago. We've done more than 1,000 events over the year. Some of them are smaller, 30, 40, 50 people in a city and many are large, many 100 people, stretches over a few days. Our flagship event is Wealth@wor(k), which we started in 2015. It was mostly just for the 401(k) specialists. So the crowds that we get there, they're more successful, they have larger practices. We'll have three, 400 advisors there, but they're up market. So, there's not a lot of newbies that come in there. The content's pretty intense, the discussions are pretty deep, and it was mostly 401(k) focused. Well, a couple years ago, I'm of course a financial planner by trade. I love 401(k)s, I love financial planning even more because helping people make decisions covers everything. It's beyond just the 401(k).
Ross Marino: So, we started a conference called OUTCOMES that we launched a couple years ago. That's what the podcast is named after. It's meant to be just for financial wellness. Well, a couple years ago, it seemed like there was only a segment of the industry that was really interested in financial wellness. Well, as soon as we brought the conference out, some advisors loved it. They said, "This is great." Many other advisors were angry. They said, "Why aren't you just doing this in Excel 401(k)? Why are you doing a separate conference? Because I'm trying to add wellness to my practice, and I'm trying to learn about this, I can only go to so many conferences."
Ross Marino: We knew that there was a percentage that were passionate about it. I certainly didn't anticipate how many hadn't added wellness, but we're in the process of doing it at that time. So we just rolled it into Excel 401(k) the next year, and really just to call it a 401(k) conference going forward, we thought that really doesn't cover it. Because the practices that are really making an impact in people's lives through the workplace. It's about creating wealth at work. It's not just about a good plan design on the 401(k). So we felt we needed to rebrand. And the agenda and the discussions are part of that. Then the agenda committee, which is a group of people that are really intense. So if you could be a fly on the wall on some of those Zoom calls, it's pretty intense because they are passionate, and they are opinionated.
Ross Marino: One of the opinions is how could you not be doing financial wellness? Well, why is this even a conversation of should you add financial wellness to your practice? Because they're so passionate about it. So, we've really gone to where it is delivering wealth enhancement and helping people grow wealth through the workplace. That's where the industry is growing. That's where the top practices are growing. And we just shaped the conference to work around that.
Josh Itzoe: Just a little plug for shape right there going back to the book. I like it.
Ross Marino: Oh, how about that? That's just happened. Oh, I'll take it though. Yeah, let you think that's a plug because I'm that good. Okay.
Josh Itzoe: You are that good, Ross, you are. The listeners will believe that as well. So why don't you talk a little bit about this year's conference. It's going to be in Nashville. It's later this year. Is it in October, I think?
Ross Marino: Yep. It's at the end of October. It'll be a couple days. It'll be in Nashville, which we're excited. Great city to have a conference, easy to get to for a lot of people. So, we really like it, and we're in the throes of the agenda right now. And it really is an impressive to see how passionate people are on what needs to be done with the conference. So, if you have a 401(k) practice, you will enjoy the conference. If you are adding wellness or you believe that creating Wealth@wor(k) is what your mission is as a financial advisor and a 401(k) advisor this is the conference you want to come to because that is the theme and that's what the theme will be going forward.
Josh Itzoe: You actually have an awesome website for it. It reminds me of, it's got a very Woodstock feel for this year, maybe tied into the music and the Nashville scene.
Ross Marino: It does it. Yeah, it's cool. Look, and I of course have none of those skills and nothing to do with any of that. So, I just get to look and say, "That is groovy." Love that website.
Josh Itzoe: I like it. I like it. Just maybe at a high level what obviously there's there's the wellness, and you guys are doing the agenda right now, how many people do you anticipate are going to be there you think three or 400? Is that the number?
Ross Marino: Yeah. We cap it at that. So, it's intentional and the people that go, of course, they're very outspoken. They like the size, they like the people that are there. So, that's pretty much the number you're going to expect now and in the future, three to 400 advisors.
Josh Itzoe: And who are going to be some of... I realize you're getting the agenda, but who are some of the speakers that are going to be there this year? Have you settled on that yet?
Ross Marino: Yeah, I mean, I joke and say it's the usual suspects and the not so usual suspects because we're intentional to get advisors up there. The key with our agenda is with the speakers, at least half of them are going to be producing. So, it'll be people on that have practices, it'll be TAPO award winners, people who won that award. They're all advisors out there. So we'll see the finalists pretty soon. But in general, it's going to be people who are practicing. That's always has to be the core of it. And then subject matter experts on top of that.
Josh Itzoe: No, that's great. That's great. And we'll put a link in the show notes. Where do you see taking Advisor2X for the future? What's your vision? Like you said, you've over 1,000 events over the past decade or so, which is incredible. What's your vision for Advisor2X? Where do you want to take that?
Ross Marino: There's going to be two sides of it. The Wealth@wor(k) is going to be side number one, and that is reaching people through the workplace. It is creating wealth, it's helping people with emergency savings, with college savings, all financial services, it's going to be delivered through the workplace. If I can sign up for a college account with an app on my phone while I'm at work, why can't I apply for a mortgage through a special rate that's offered through the workplace? It's all coming. And we see that so that isn't my special vision. Financial Services and the workplace are integrating. That's where the conference will go because that's where the industry is going.
Ross Marino: On the personal side, we're creating wealth by helping people manage life and navigate life changes. So, the Wealth@wor(k) is through the corporate place. On the personal side, we go through the individual one on one financial planning, and we have a conference that we almost pulled off right before the pandemic, but we just had to cancel it. It was too close, and we just had to make the decision. It's called the Retirement and Longevity Summit. And that will be in March of 2022. And the Retirement and Longevity Summit is basically my private practice. It's combining the human and the financial side of retirement planning. It is the two sides of retirement planning, helping people understand the transition, how you go from working to not working and how that changes things. But also making sure there's the investment aspects of it, the financial planning, income generating. So, it's not that our industry has done a poor job of retirement planning financially. I think it's done an awesome job. We now have to connect the other side, which is the human side. And that's what we're going to try to do.
Ross Marino: I'll give you one quick example on that on why I think it's so important to have a conference that combines both sides. You know the cliche of a million dollars ain't what it used to be. Being a millionaire was such a big deal when we were growing up. And now they say you need to be a millionaire just to retire middle class. Well, maybe over the course of decades, inflation has made a million dollars to not be what it used to be.
Ross Marino: I'll give you another example when a million dollars ain't what it used to be. If you retire on Friday, and you have a million dollars, you feel a certain way about that million dollars. When you wake up Monday, and there's no more income, and you're no longer adding to your 401(k) and saving for the future. I guarantee you a million dollars in your view ain't what it used to be. And that's part of that transition. That's the human side that when you go to retirement, the numbers on paper are the same. And we as planners would say, "Oh, no, you're in good shape. I told you last week," because we don't understand maybe the numbers didn't change, but the context did, and how the people feel about it and what they're thinking now, it just changed. And no, you can't anticipate that because you hadn't done it before. But once you do it, you're there.
Ross Marino: That's the Retirement and Longevity Summit is understanding the human side, how it impacts people. And then frankly, to say that we help people plan retirement, that's only part of the gig. I'm pretty sure the goal would be retirement and longevity. It's not just to make it to retirement. I want to live well and live long. So that has to be integrated. So we'll have a lot of sessions that also go over how you help people live well and live long.
Josh Itzoe: Yeah. I mean, I'm living proof of it. It's interesting I'm 46, and it's funny, one of my really good friends whose... I've had a great support network in this whole transition and there was a moment where, again, just being totally honest, where I was like, "What am I doing? I think I've made a mistake."
Ross Marino: What have I done, right?
Josh Itzoe: Yeah, and there were a number of those those times as I was going through, really through that anticipation. Being in the the passage now, it's exciting, and I'm much more open to opportunities. I'm back to being excited, which was originally why I decided to do this. But my buddy said to me, he said, "Well, Josh, look on the bright side." He goes, "Most guys when they have a midlife crisis, they make dumb decisions and blow their families up. You just sold your business." And I was like, "That's probably a pretty good way to look at that." But I now think that if I was to sit and counsel someone approaching retirement, it's exactly what you said before, I would be so much better equipped now having gone through, call it this mini, this transition, but going from that on Friday you got assets, and on Monday you've got no income.
Josh Itzoe: I've actually experienced that. And I learned so much through this whole process. I think that retirement and longevity I think that's a really... I'm excited to learn more about that because I do think there is a huge opportunity around the behavioral and just the mental and the emotional aspect to all of this. And so, I think what you're doing with Advisor2X is awesome. We need better training in this industry. For us to be a profession doctors go to med school for four years, and then they're residents. It's not get your medical license in three months, and then go start operating on people. We need better training in the industry. That's something I'm super passionate about, and actually working on some initiatives with some folks to create better training so that we can have practitioners who are in a better position to do well, but also to do good for people.
Josh Itzoe: So, I really appreciate you being on the podcast. I typically end this by asking the question, what is the most important piece of advice that you would give to ERISA fiduciaries since this is a podcast about making ERISA fiduciaries smarter? What's your number one piece of advice for ERISA fiduciaries to do a good job?
Ross Marino: I'm going to go with learn and think. So, we have a responsibility as fiduciaries to make decisions in our clients best interest or our participant's best interest, whatever your capacity may be. We have to learn, we have to think. We can't just rely on someone to give me advice and say, "Well, here's the way you have to do it in order to be an effective fiduciary." It's not going to be enough. So, take some time, learn about it, think about it, you'll understand the why behind what you're doing. And you'll be more convicted on what needs to be done. And I think you'll be more effective.
Josh Itzoe: I think that's great advice. There's actually... There was an ERISA case years ago, and in it the judge in the ruling wrote that it's not enough to have a full heart and an empty mind. So, that's the learn and the think. Where can people connect with you, stay up to date, learn more about what you're doing? Whether it be within your practice, or whether it be with Advisor2X. What's the best way for people to stay connected with you?
Ross Marino: I'd go to the YouTube channel for Advisor2X, which we're just building out. So we're finally creating our digital footprint that we need and probably got 20, 30, maybe 40 videos up there already. So on the Advisor2X YouTube channel. You can follow us on LinkedIn, of course, but we're going to be adding content on a regular basis from the personal financial planning side, transition side, some short videos. And then of course, sessions from the conference are up there. Our whole Excel 401(k) Digital series that we did last year is already out there as well. So, lots of content on the YouTube site.
Josh Itzoe: Awesome. I will make sure to put that in the show notes. Well, thank you so much. And you've been a great guest and great insights. I'm really excited for the book to come out and keep up the great work doing what you're doing to impact this industry for the better.
Ross Marino: Thank you, Josh. Appreciate you being being a host and having me on the show.
Josh Itzoe: You're welcome. Thanks for listening to today's episode with Ross Marino. If you'd like more information or to learn more, go to fiduciaryworks.com/podcast. I've got some great resources there for you, including each episode along with show notes, articles, and free tools. Make sure to sign up on the site so we can stay connected. I'd love to help you stay in the know about what's happening in the world of corporate retirement plans. And if you've got questions you'd like me to answer, topics you'd like me to discuss, guests you think would be a good fit for the show, or any other feedback. I'd love to hear from you. Also, head over to Amazon and check out my two books, The Fiduciary Formula and Fixing The 401(k). And if you want an easy way to support the show, I'd really appreciate you leaving a review on Apple Podcasts. It's the best way to help other people find the show and I read each one. Until next time, thanks again for listening to the Fiduciary U™ podcast.
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