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Improving Investor Behavior – Doubt, Sold with a Smile

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This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, March 17, 2019.

Financial advice is usually broken into three steps. First, define your goals. Where do you want to go? Next comes a plan. This is the recipe for working toward your goals with actionable and measurable steps. Then comes implementation when you start your plan.

The first two steps lay out the “What” of your financial future; the last deals with the “How.” All too often investors make it through the first steps with optimism and progress, only to be led astray with the last. This is when experts, products, advertisements, advisors, and everyone else in the financial world tell you their way is best – and all the others? Well, they just don’t measure up.

Of course, this leaves investors with a problem. Who can you trust? The stakes aren’t small. This is a life’s savings for many. It’s the money investors will rely on for the next 30-40 years or more. But with so much doubt and confusion, how are they to choose in whom to trust?

It’s a hard question. Trust is built over time. Like exercise, it takes repetition. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it, and always, always, act in the best interest of the client. But relationships take time to foster. If you’re looking for help, you may not already have a trustworthy relationship with someone in finance. So in blank-slate instances like this, I think it helps to examine the agendas of everyone involved. With a clear understanding of their “Whys,” it’s easier to make an informed decision.

Who are the players on the financial scene? I think there are four big ones: financial manufacturers, media, salesmen, and advisors.

Financial manufacturers are companies that offer mutual funds, bonds or other investments. They monitor demand and develop products that people think they want. Their sales are generated by uncertainty in the marketplace. Want to switch stocks? They will sell them to you and profit from the transaction. Want to add some bonds? Again, they will sell those to you too. When your doubt leads to an action, they generate revenue. As a business, their agenda is profit – not your financial future.

So, if manufacturers profit from doubt, doesn’t it benefit them to create more of it? In the media, a 24-hour news cycle has led to a focus on the here and now. In this fast-paced environment, “talking heads” share their opinions and financial forecasts with almost zero accountability. These differing viewpoints generate doubt, questioning, and in the end, change. Consider the number of sponsored talk radio shows, many of which are really 30-minute financial commercials. These shows help fund station’s operations. Again, as a business, their agenda is profit – not your financial future.

Next, we have financial salesmen and advisors. After 40 years in this industry, I’ve seen great salespeople and great advisors, but rarely are they the same person. How do you determine which is which? Ask yourself this: is this person helping me to transact or are they helping me to get where I want to go? Do they ask questions and listen? Do they really understand my goals, my fears and risks, my most significant opportunities, and my strengths? If so, do they help me along the way?

Investments in and of themselves don’t create peace of mind, income growth, generational wealth, or a lasting legacy. Products alone won’t do this. Does your advisor solve a problem or sell you a product? Are they a fiduciary who puts your interests first – before the company they work for and their own personal interests? Who writes their paycheck? If they work for a company, you might consider where their loyalty lies: to you or the company? This was one of the driving forces behind my choice to be independent. Without a company pushing products on me, I have the opportunity to provide clients with advice that works for them.

The goal is to find someone who’s agenda aligns with your own. Retirement planning isn’t a one-time project. It’s an ongoing partnership that works to ensure you have enough money, long enough, to find the freedoms you desire. It’s a large endeavor and one that usually requires a team of people to help tackle the complexities, paperwork, and strategies needed to make it happen. In choosing members of your team, examine their agendas to decide if the foundations of trust are there. Over time, let trust develop. If something doesn’t seem right, get a second opinion. This work may seem monotonous, but it can make all the difference in your financial future.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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Improving Investor Behavior – Learn to Love a Falling Market

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This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, January 20, 2019.

The financial markets have given investors quite a ride in the past few months. Not only have we seen a drop in the prices, but the volatility and multiple-percentage point days seems to have investors feeling a little seasick. The first thing queasy people want to do is to get off the boat.

This is precisely the wrong thing to do, and here’s why. Thinking fluctuation is bad for investors is an incorrect perspective. Volatility is the stock market’s way of redistributing shares of great companies to their rightful long-term owners. When markets fluctuate as they have in recent months, it is nearly impossible to divorce yourself from the emotional powers of fear and greed. The price per share does not matter unless you are buying that day, or selling that day. Other than some “entertainment value.” daily fluctuation should be ignored.

“What makes stocks valuable in the long run is not the market. It is the profitability of the companies you own,” said Peter Lynch in Worth Magazine in 1995. I agree with him. Over time, as corporations become more valuable, sooner or later, their shares will sell for a higher price. Our contention is you need to remember you own a piece of successful, profitable companies.

When we experience moments in time like this past December, when prices decline temporarily, investors tend to get anxious and fearful. If you are a long-term investor who likes owning great-dividend paying companies, the short-term volatility should be irrelevant. If you do not intend to sell any investments for many years to come, why worry about what the prices are today? Short-term price declines cause many investors angst. That emotional heartburn is just one reason it makes sense to work with a professional who can help keep you on track.

Managing assets for the past 40 years, I often feel I live in what might be described as “investment manager hell.” When clients are excited, almost giddy with enthusiasm about the markets and economy, I tend to feel frustrated. Moments like these usually mean my favorite companies are overvalued.

On the other hand, when clients express frustration, anger, fear, or anxiety about the markets, I tend to get excited. This usually means my favorite companies are on sale. Remember that falling prices mean better deals. Sometimes the price drops so far, and so hard, it’s possible to pick up shares at fire sale prices. Panic can be an expensive emotion for sellers.

Rather than get caught up in the moment, we look toward the future and what opportunities may develop for investments. This is investment manager hell – loving “bad” markets and hating “good” markets. When you work diligently to understand each of the companies you may own as an investor, you realize the value of the company is the sum of the future cash flow that a company may generate. The higher the current stock price, the more over-valued that investment may be. Likewise the lower the price today, the more under-valued that company is. It may be a great time to increase ownership shares.

When prices are temporarily falling, rather than be fearful, recognize that you can purchase company stocks at lower prices. Try to make it a practice to never react to prices alone. A more in-depth, thoughtful approach is necessary to evaluate how a company is doing. Price should not be the sole indicator.

How you think about market fluctuation and, more importantly, what you do about it takes discipline. Often investors let fear and greed override common sense or wisdom. Don’t be a victim of the market. Remember, the best time to buy is when things go on sale. Investments are no different. Great investments, like great products or services, sometimes offer discounts. When they come along, buy them, keep them for a long time, and watch how that investment can pay off.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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Improving Investor Behavior – Focus on the Right Number

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This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, December 16, 2018.

With the year coming to an end, 2018 has been a tumultuous one for investors. For the first time in 46 years, there has not been a clear winner in any asset class: from stocks to bonds, emerging markets to precious metals. As of this writing, none are on track to generate a better than five percent return according to a recent article from Bloomberg.

With all the attention focused on performance and prices, little appreciation goes to what we believe is a most desirable outcome for investors: income. Why do most people invest? Income. Whether you need that income today or tomorrow, most people invest with the belief that doing so will provide, maintain or improve their income.

The problem is that some people tie their income directly to the performance of the market. After all, this is a common approach to investing. Step one, buy a bunch of your desired asset class (stocks, bonds, gold, real estate). Step two, hope their value improves over time. Step three, sell the asset when the price has improved using  the proceeds for income.

But this is akin to a farmer selling off acres of his land. As the area shrinks, so does his ability to grow crops. It becomes a downward spiral, eventually leading to asset depletion. This is what we refer to as a Growth for Income strategy, whereby growth is necessary for continued income. Years like 2018 make this strategy hazardous. No growth means it’s time for the farmer to sell some land, which makes generating income next year even more difficult.

The other risk is that of inflation. At a mere three percent inflation rate, the prices of food, fuel, and just plain living doubles every 24 years. That might seem like a long time, but that’s the age range of 60 to age 84. With better access to healthcare, science, innovation, and taking better care of yourself during the retirement chapter of your life, reaching age 84 is more likely. If your income has not doubled from 60 to 84, your standard of living is lower, and for many retirees, this is a problem. Often people do not realize this until it is too late.

So what can be done to protect income, and grow it at a rate that outpaces inflation?

There are many ways to approach this challenge, and you should ask your financial advisor if there’s one that may be a good fit for you. From my perspective, dividends are a solid way to grow income since companies distribute a portion of their profits from the business to investors, usually in the form of cold hard cash. Though not always, these companies are typically successful and established. Their dividend is a point of pride and offers them a vehicle to reward investors for owning their shares.

As a result, some companies maintain a long track record of paying a consistent dividend and even grow that dividend over time. Companies like Colgate, 3M, Coca-Cola, and Clorox  all have a long track record of paying and adding to their dividends. Better yet, as a result of the tax law changes enacted late last year, some companies chose to increase their dividend more than five percent, beating most asset classes this year. As in our farmer example, dividends paid are like income from the sale of the crops. The land is only a vehicle for generating revenue. We call this a Growth of Income strategy.

We believe Growth of income is a better strategy rather than Growth for income.

In times of extreme volatility and uncertainty, it’s easy to get thrown off your plan. But as we’ve seen time and again, abandoning a well-constructed plan in favor of an emotional reaction almost always leads to a poor outcome. This is why we encourage investors to keep an eye on their income, not their portfolio value. My guess is your real estate agent doesn’t call you every 15 minutes with an update on the value of your home. This would make even the best investors a little cranky, although this is precisely what investors do with the stock market. Using a cell phone and app, the value of your portfolio is only a glance away.

So as you wrap up 2018, I’d encourage you to look past the value of your portfolio. Try flipping to page two or three in your statement and find the income line. Did your income improve in 2018? Did it stay the same? Did it go down? Hopefully, your income is rising, and at a rate higher than inflation. Over a long period, this will lead to more choices, more opportunities, and greater freedom.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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Improving Investor Behavior – Managing the Pain of Regret

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This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, November 18, 2018.

Regret may be the most enduring and damaging emotion investors grapple with during their financial lives. As financial advisors we see it from both sides: clients either regret having done something, or regret NOT having done something, or more often, both. Like a cancer, regret can crawl into all facets of your financial life and encourage you to make bad decisions. All too often, it’s successful.

What is regret? The way I see it, regret is the revisitation of past mistakes. Maybe someone hit the panic button as the market dropped, only to watch investments rebound in a short period. Perhaps they jumped out at a good time, but couldn’t decide on a “right time” to jump back in, missing out on would-be gains. Investors watch themselves do this over and over each time saying they won’t do it again. Then, when they inevitably do, the regret only deepens. This vicious cycle can pour over into other areas of life. How often have we heard the stories of someone betting their life’s savings just to have the outcome bounce the other way?

One such family was chronicled in the Wall Street Journal in May of 2010. The Potyk family liquidated their investment portfolio to avoid the volatility they had been experiencing. The article listed all the problems with the economy and markets, and that investors were abandoning stocks. Investors felt that this was the smart thing to do the article continued, as they thought the markets would be fundamentally different going forward.

I don’t know what happened to the Potyks. The Journal never wrote a follow up to revisit their story. But I wonder how many years they sat on the sidelines, distrustful of what would become one of the longest bull markets in United States history. And if they did, do they now struggle with the regret of that decision? I imagine they must. This is just one of a thousand stories with similar patterns: emotional reactions to uncontrollable circumstances.

So how can we combat regret? What can we do to learn from past experiences without dwelling on the “woulda-coulda-shouldas?”

If regret is a child, its parents are fear and greed. When markets fall, the fear of loss rears its head. When prices rise, greed and envy of those who are “getting rich” lead to the fear of missing out. Ultimately greed is just another form of fear. Giving into either of these emotions often creates regret. In short, regret is most commonly caused by emotional reactions to uncontrollable events.

Though we cannot control the uncontrollable (like what the market does on any given day), we can manage our reaction. We do this by creating a plan based on a foundation of logic, not emotion. Personal finance is more personal than it is finance, so we try to account for feelings. For example, plans should be designed to encourage people to feel safe and strive to help them achieve the growth they seek. They’re regular reminders in periods of uncertainty and fear. They prevent regret by tackling it at its source. Think about it, when was the last time you heard someone regret sticking to a plan?

I think gratitude is also a potent antidote to regret. It’s easy to question past mistakes and wonder what could have been done differently. All the questions make it easy to lose sight of the answer you chose, and the outcomes of the decisions you’ve made. Ultimately they’ve all led you to where you are now. Isn’t that something for which to be thankful? Something from which to learn? Searching for the gratitude hidden under layers of regret has had a profound effect on me, and has led me to learn lessons from each mistake I’ve made.

For those of you who play golf, you’re probably familiar with the idea that you should not let your past shots influence your next one. And if you play golf, you probably know how hard this is to do, especially if your previous shot sent you looking for your ball deep in the weeds of an adjacent hole. But hey, a bad day playing golf beats a good day working. Make a plan, envision the outcome, and take the shot. Make the next shot a good one, and watch the pain of regret fade away.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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Improving Investor Behavior: Managing Your Fears

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This article is set to appear in the Denver Post in about one week. We felt it was worthwhile to share with our clients now, given the events of the past few days.

Shark Week is among the longest running and most popular cable programs in history. First appearing 30 years ago in 1988, the show has since been watched and celebrated by millions. Why would a program about sharks and their danger be so popular? I think it plays on the emotion of fear, and more interestingly, people’s desire to be a little bit scared.

This is quite the paradox: some people enjoy engaging in an activity designed to make them uncomfortable. The same can be said for horror movies, especially at this time of year. In both circumstances, however, the fear is often wholly unfounded. Sharks are responsible for about six deaths per year, and I highly doubt zombies will be taking over the world anytime soon. Instead, people should be much more afraid of mosquitos with their death toll last year of more than 830,000 people.

My point is this: sometimes our greatest fears are the most unfounded. Whether it’s an oversized fish or monsters under the bed, our worst fears take up an oversized portion of our conscious and drive actions that can be damaging and counterproductive. Fear is a powerful emotion and one you must learn to rein in if you want to be a successful investor.

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Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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Improving Investor Behavior – Longevity and the Fear of Running Out

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This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, July 15, 2018.

When do you plan to die? Weird question, right? It’s one that financial advisors have to ask their clients. The typical approach to retirement planning involves spending down the portfolio, a lifetime of savings for a client, at a rate that will ensure they have enough to live on now and for the rest of their life. The hard part is knowing how many years a person has left.

If risk is defined as the potential of making a mistake, I believe the most significant risk facing investors and their retirement is judgment about their life expectancy or longevity. Live too long, and you’re liable to run out. Die young? Well, you can see the problem with this. It’s a variable that few people like to discuss, so it gets tossed to the backburner with a “let’s just say 85 and go from there” type answer. Ask a client how long they’ll live, and nine times out of ten they say they will die at the same age their parents did.

The problem with this approach is advancements in healthcare, education, and technology. I think most Americans significantly and consistently underestimate their life expectancies. Much of this is due to the increased rate at which people are living longer.

Life expectancy is increasing due to innovations in vaccines and antibiotics; they have indeed caused our health to be significantly better. Stories of pandemic flu today are solved in a matter of weeks or months, yet just 100 years ago it wiped out millions. Tuberculosis and polio were common in the early lives of today’s 70-year-olds. Today they are non-existent. Knee, hip, and shoulder replacements are common, as are cataract and heart stents, enabling people with worn out parts to lead active lives free of what used to be life-limiting pain.

When baby boomers consider their life expectancy, they are using a measuring stick for someone who was born in the 1930’s, expecting continuing improvements in healthcare. But advancements in the past 30 years have been exponentially greater. This creates a significant gap between the estimates of how long retirees will live, and how long they actually live.

More concerning is the combination of a couple in retirement, and their joint life expectancy. It’s like taking the same issue and multiplying it by two.

Data reveals couples live longer than single people. This may be attributed to caring for one another, socialization, and plain old love. Living for another gives purpose to your day. Rarely do people plan for and consider the life expectancy of a couple. In all actuality, the issue becomes even greater than the sum of its parts.

Education is also a significant factor in determining life expectancy. Today, the vast majority of our population is well educated. Educated people have higher incomes, and are more active, eat better, and more in tune with their health. If education is the trump card to longevity, today’s Americans may break out way ahead in life expectancies.

Underestimating your longevity is a significant risk and can become a large financial problem especially for those planning to retire in the next 20 years. Pensions plans cover the life of the individual, but as those plans are replaced with independent retirement savings, will retirees be prepared? Social Security may provide a base of income, yet it escalates at an anemic rate (only 2 percent this year, 0.3 percent in 2017, and none in 2016) and inflation has historically risen at 3 percent per year. This means the purchasing power of your Social Security income falls in half in just 35 years. Live ten more years, say from 85 to 95, and you might see another 35 percent reduction in your purchasing power.

According to a study released this month from The Senior Citizens League, the reduction in the buying power of Social Security benefits from 2000-2018 was 34 percent. Some of the largest cost increases during this period were medical related: Medicare Part V monthly premiums (195%), prescription drugs (188%) Medigap (158%) and medical out-of-pocket expenses (117%). (Source: https://bit.ly/2ItT6NW)

Living longer is a goal to which we should all aspire. With advances in modern healthcare and technology, the goal seems more attainable than ever. As such, we need to start accounting and planning for longer lives and the effect it may have on your retirement. Your investments should support you at all stages of life, whether that’s 65 or 105, especially when going back to work is no longer an option. If you haven’t already, talk with your financial advisor to discuss your longevity plan so your money doesn’t run out before you do.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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Renegotiating with our Business Partner, Donald Trump

Imagine you have a business relationship with a partner. You work and run the business, and take home 65 percent of the profits for your efforts and your partner received 35%. Last December your partner recognized your hard work and rewarded you with an additional 14 percent of the business, reducing their take to 21 percent. Suddenly you are receiving a much larger portion of the profits.

At the same time your business partner has made an effort to reduce friction in the business and keep borrowing costs low. These are ideal conditions for your business to grow, and they are exactly what the U.S. Government has done.

In short, the tax cuts passed by Congress late last year are a big deal. Corporations are getting around 20 percent more tax relief and reflecting that relief in well-publicized bonuses to workers, increases in earnings, and growing dividend payments to the shareholders. All of that is not just good – but incredibly good for the American economy and citizens.

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Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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Improving Investor Behavior – Act Like an Owner

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This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, April 15, 2018.

Most business owners can feel the pulse of their business. If you own a coffee shop for instance, you can go to the location, see and interact with your employees, touch your inventory, and keep your customers happily caffeinated. You can smell the aroma of your business. You can feel it.

What if you had that same feeling as a shareholder of a public company? What if you thought like an owner? Consider one that sells coffee. Yesterday, you did not own any shares of this company, but today you are an owner – a shareholder.  The feeling of being an owner of that company is divorced from owning a percentage or shares in a public company. Some may think those shares represent a lotto ticket that goes up and down every business day on some stock exchange, based on public consensus or what some analyst says or does not say about that company’s future prospects. Some almost consider it like a casino.

But when you think like an owner your perspective changes. Owning a share of that business can be an abstract thought. Owning your own coffee shop worth $1 million is just as valuable as owning $1 million worth of stock in that public company. You don’t control the public company like you control your own business, but they have the same value. If your genius is anything other than running a business daily, likely you are better off with a passive equity ownership.

Make no mistake, you are an owner of that business, albeit a minority owner, but still an owner! When you invest in shares of that company, you are not just buying numbers on a screen or in your account somewhere that goes up and down in price; you are buying real ownership in that business.

The beauty of the stock market is you can choose businesses in which you want to be part owner. Our whole investment philosophy is to own great consumer companies that sell their goods and services to everyone, every day, everywhere. Companies that can do that, can make a profit which can be shared with shareholders via a dividend. That’s a tangible result of owning a part of the business. Dividends don’t lie.

Being able to walk into a business of which you are an owner/shareholder offers a feeling of ownership one can not experience when owning shares of a mutual fund, exchange traded fund, or any other financial product. And unlike running your own business, there is no daytoday responsibility of opening the doors at 4:30 am, closing at 10:00 pm, or managing payroll. Your only responsibility is to “open the envelope” each month when your investment statement arrives.

Good investor behavior also means you know, or can explain with two or three sentences, what you own. This is one of Warren Buffett’s fundamental principles. Peter Lynch once said, “Never invest in an idea you can’t illustrate with a crayon.” You don’t need to make hundreds of successful investments over your savings and investing lifetime. Rather invest in those companies that you know, and can reasonably predict with a level of confidence that their products and services will be in demand, or that the management of the company will navigate the company for the benefit of the owners (you).

It has been said that the average time someone used to hold a share of stock back in the ’60s was eight years. Now, it is claimed the average time is four months. We call this renting your investments. Buying and selling, re-balancing investments to be “active” or “demonstrate management” is akin to playing gin rummy with your investments, discarding and drawing from a deck of cards. Ideal owners make investments where the holding period is “forever”.

There are many great and wonderful companies that are publicly traded, where the leaders, managers, employees work diligently to improve their product or service to their customers every day to deliver what they do better, faster, cheaper.

Good investment behavior starts with an attitude of ownership.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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The Difference Between Financial and Investment Advice

There’s never been a better time to be an investor. Advances in technology have leveled the playing field in a truly unprecedented way. While these advances are great for you, they make offering value as financial advisors more difficult.

So as we continue to see improvements in technology I believe investment management will become more and more of a commodity. That means real financial advice will be a huge differentiator in the financial services industry. Anyone can create a portfolio, asset allocation or investment strategy. We are even told robots can do this with this concept called “Robo-Advisor”. What most people actually need is advice about how their investments fit into their overall financial plan, and more importantly their life. Believe me – robots cannot do this, nor do investment products do this. It takes an experienced, skilled, listening Advisor.

Both investment management and financial advice are necessary components for long-term success, but it’s important to understand the differences.

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Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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The 3 Paychecks of a Modern Retirement

On November 29th, the oldest living person in the world, Emma Morano will turn 117. Based on my research she is the last living person to have been born in the 1800s. While some people might marvel at all she’s seen and been through, I ‘m curious about what she did during her more than 50 years in retirement.

With life expectancies continuing to grow, from about 69 in 1970 to almost 79 in 2012 here in the U.S., this examples illustrates my point: I think the traditional picture of retirement will look very different in the coming years. Palm trees and Pina Coladas are fun for a little while, but 50 years of it would surely drive many of you insane.

With our dividend strategy we aim to keep checks coming for clients, because we believe in a steady growing income. But there are two other “paychecks” I encourage clients to pursue as well.

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Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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