Charlie is the principal of Epstein Financial Services, an independent RIA providing corporate retirement plan consulting, as well as wealth management services in East Lyme Meadow, Massachusetts. He has more than 40 years of experience in the financial services industry and is the founder of the 401(k) Coach Program. He is the Author of “Paychecks for Life: How to Turn Your 401(k) into a Paycheck Manufacturing Company” and “Save America, Save! The Secrets of a Successful 401(k) Plan”. He is highly influential in the 401(k) industry.
In this Podcast you will hear powerful insight for engaging the 401(k) market as Charlie shares myths people have about retirement and their money, opportunities advisors have amidst the COVID-19 crises, and what can set you apart as we come though this crises.
Edward Dressel: 0:08
Welcome, everybody to another RetireReady Solutions podcast. I am excited today to have Charlie Epstein. Charlie, welcome to our podcast,
Charles Epstein: 0:14
Ed, it's a pleasure to be at either end of this beautiful, spacious country of ours.
Edward Dressel: 0:23
It is. It is a beautiful country in interesting times, I should say, And it's great to have you at such a juncture in our history. For those who aren't aware of who you are, why don't you give us a little introduction of who Charlie Epstein is and what you do.
Charles Epstein: 0:38
So I like to tell people, Ed, that my new ministry in life is to ease people's pain and suffering about their money. So I've been in the financial services world for 40 years, and for the next 40 years, all I want to do is help people ease their pain and suffering about their money. Because, you know, people are suffering and it's not just about their money. It's about their myths. So I started 40 years ago right out of college, in the financial services industry, built up a fairly successful practice, Epstein Financial Services. We have our own independent RIA here in the booming metropolis of East Lyme Meadow, Massachusetts outside the even more booming metropolis of Springfield, Massachusetts. Built a 401(k) business, we built third party administrative company, benefits consulting group. We sold about five or six years ago, successfully. And, as you know, in 2002 I launched the 401(k) Coach program. I think we were the first coaching program for the 401(k) industry. I can remember standing behind a booth at the second annual 401(k) Summit in Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded by the Vanguards, the Nationwide's, the Empowers, the fidelities of the world, mutual funds and record keepers and us. So over the last 18 years, we, together with you, have coached over 10,000 advisors how to do what we do in the 401(k) space. I like to say we're Betty Crocker selling our recipes to Duncan Hines, but recently we have really shifted back into our practice.
Edward Dressel: 2:17
You use an interesting word. You call it a ministry at the beginning. Why did you pick that word?
Charles Epstein: 2:22
I picked it specifically. You and I have had some really engaging conversations about religion, spiritualism, and the Bible. And over the course of the last two and a half years, I participated in a program called Legacy with a gentleman by the name of Peter Size. He is one of the most brilliant people I've ever come across. And I spent three four day sessions from nine to five holed up in a hotel room, four days in a row at a time over a six month period, working with Peter to dig real deep. It was kind of phase one, phase two, phase three. But one was to look at who I have been in the world in my work, family, and to actually complete a lot of unfinished business in my life. And then to ask the questions, not what the legacy is I want to leave behind when I'm gone, but what's the legacy I want to live into. Which is really a ministry if you think about it. And that word came out of my conversations with Peter about dedicating myself to just helping people get really, really clear on what it is that keeps them stuck in their lives and what their myths about their money are, which, I discovered really influences the decisions people make. And unfortunately it doesn't support them in making really great decisions about who they want to be and what their dreams and aspirations are and how they're going to pay for them. So the word ministry to me really means being of service to people for the rest of my life as a ministry.
Edward Dressel: 4:03
When you think of myths, what are some of the myths that people have?
Charles Epstein: 4:06
We've identified 15 myths. And for those people listening, a myth is a set of beliefs that people have that they believed to be real. There's evidence, but for the most part, they've inherited those myths. The two greatest myths in America are (1)I'll be in a lower tax bracket when I retire, and (2)my house will be paid off or it needs to be paid off for me to be happy. I can't tell you over the years, the number of people have said to me, "We're just gonna have that mortgage paid off so we don't have a payment," but they don't think about what does that mean? My mom is 92 and she still has a mortgage, but my dad had that myth when he retired. He retired in 1992 and his father, my grandfather, was an accountant. And his father, Max, my grandfather said, "You know, Bob, when you retire, you'll be in a lower tax bracket and your house would be paid off." In 1992 my dad retired at 68. Bill Clinton came to the White House and he actually raised the marginal tax rate from 36 to 39.6. And my dad had been successful, made a six figure income when he retired, saved enough that he would still generate a six figure income--and low and behold--found himself in a higher tax bracket. There went number one. And then he moves to Florida to build a house of his dreams on the golf course of his dreams--he was going to pay cash--and his financial advisors said, "No, I want you to go to the bank and take out a mortgage." And my father said, "A mortgage? What are you talking about? How long ?" The guy said "Thirty years." My dad said, "What are you nuts? I will be dead before it's paid off!" And the guy said, "What do you care? You'll be dead!" Guess who his financial advisor was? Yours truly. And my father said to me, "What's your mother going to do?" I said. "Well, she doesn't play golf, she doesn't play margin, so we're gonna sell the place and she'll move back home." And sure enough, 13 years ago, when my dad passed away, I called my mom up. She said, "I'm already packed. Sell this place." Now, I didn't have him pay cash. I said, "Pop put $100,000 down and borrow $400,000 for 30 years because it's all interest in the first 15 years and he could itemize and write it off. I said, "You're in a 40% tax bracket. What's the net cost to borrow money?" He said, "I don't know." I said, "Dad, it's 3%. You can write off 2% of the 5% mortgage." I said, "If I can't make you net more than 3% on that $400,000 your earning, fire me as your advisor." We averaged 7-8% and then when we sold the place, moved my mom back, the real estate market imploded in Florida. We were lucky to get $400 for that $500,000 house. Thankfully we didn't pay cash. And at 79 years old, my mom moves back up north to be near me and her friends and she says, "Do I get to take out a mortgage?" And I went, "Atta girl, Mom!" And at 92 she has a interest only, nine year interest only note at two and a half percent on $400 grand. Her net cost to borrow the money is 1%. And my point about this is, I say to people when you hold up in the light your myth and start to investigate where it came from and what it means, I say all my mom cares about is does she have enough money to pay for all the things she desires to do--including drinking a lot of vodka, which she can drink a lot of vodka. So I could make more money on that money. So those are the two biggest myths. But actually the biggest myth--take a guess with the biggest myth people have about money? The number one biggest myth?
Edward Dressel: 7:19
Charles Epstein: 7:19
The biggest myth about money that every human being has is, "If I just had enough, I'd be happy." That's the biggest myth. And I say to people, "Oh, yeah? Have you ever met a lottery winner?" Ninety-nine point nine percent of all lottery winners, three to five years after winning hundreds of millions of dollars, are broke, depressed and suicidal. What's going on? So we help people to unpack and look at their money myths and how it's been influencing their life. I did a seminar in January when you could still talk to people in person for forty union gas company employees. The union boss is a client of mine. He asked if I would do a seminar and educate guys. We went in and we did this. And out of those forty people, 70% signed up to come in and meet. The union boss stood up and said, "Look, folks. Everything you've learned about money is wrong. It's just wrong. Everything I learned was wrong until I met Charlie. So what I try and teach people is how to be--how to act like a bank,
how to bank on themselves.
Edward Dressel: 8:23
I was talking to you last week about being proactive in this unique time we're in. Covid is happening and a lot of advisors don't know what to do with themselves. They're either trying to just settle people down but really growing their business isn't happening. What do you see is the opportunity right now for advisors?
Charles Epstein: 8:38
Biggest opportunity. The thing that I tell the advisors that we're coaching as the 401(k) coach is, "Ask yourself. Who do you want to be a hero to right now in your life? Could be family members. It could be your employees. It could be the first responders in your community, the restaurant owners that are suffering. But who do you want to be a hero to? And how do you want to be remembered coming out of this? And as soon as the shutdown happened here in Massachusetts, my employees were working from home. I said, "Well, the first thing I got to do is be a hero to all of my employees because what are they worried about? Are they going to have a job? And every Monday we get on a call and we do what's called a positive focus. Everybody has to come on, and everybody has to share one thing positive from their personal life and business life that happened in the last 24 hours. We've been doing that for the last six or seven weeks, religiously every Monday. The next thing I said to the employees is, "We're going to get through this and the way we're going to get through this is each of you needs to ask, who do you want to be a hero to? And how are you going to be a hero to your family and to our clients?" And so the thing I tell advisors is, "The only thing you should be doing 7 a.m to 5 p.m is being on the phone, calling every client you've ever had or come in contact with because these are scary times for people." And I say, a really great advisor right now is forgetting about themselves and focusing on others. That's what great advisors are doing. They're forgetting about their commodity. And they're focusing on their relationships and their forgetting about the sale, selling anything and focusing on creating value.
Edward Dressel: 10:23
You've undoubtedly made a few of those calls. Tell me how they've gone.
Charles Epstein: 10:27
Let me tell that the first thing we did was we got her arms around the Pension Protection Program. What I mean by that is, Congress launched that vote on the original funding going on five weeks ago, might be six, but it was on a Friday. On Saturday I was on the phone with my local banker--and just for background for people on this podcast--I've been the founder of two community banks in my lifetime as a trustee and board member so I understand the banking industry. I got on with the current bank that we have most of our business with and I said, "Tell me what you know about this program." Well, they didn't know a lot. It was on a Saturday. By Monday we had a calculator that would calculate how much money somebody would be eligible for and what's covered if it was a loan or forgiven as a grant. By Wednesday, we had the application and we had a checklist, and we sent that out to every one of our business clients and myself and the team. We got 11 people here. I got on the phone. I educated my employees and called every business client to say, "Did you get this information? Do you understand?" So I'll share a story with you. One business client, a very dear friend of mine. I called him up--he's in manufacturing and has 90 employees--and Ed, he says to me, "I don't need the money." I said "What?"s He said, "I don't need any money. We're doing fine. We got a backlog and we're doing great." I said, "Where are you right now?" He said, "I'm in my office." "In your building? He said, "Yeah." I said, "Well get off your butt and run to the front door right now." He said "Why?" I said, "Because there's an IRS agent with the checkbook at your door, and he wants to write you a check for $2.5 million to cover your payroll for the next 2.5 months. And if you don't make it to the door, he's going to go to the next door and write that check to your competitors!" He's said, "What?!" Two days later I get a text message. His name was Steve, and he says, "Thanks so much for educating me on this. We're meeting with our banker in an hour." He got the money in the first round. So that's what I mean about forgetting about the sale and focusing on creating value. So for the 1st 2.5 weeks, that's an example of what we did. Then we have a team of 11 people, and I said If everybody makes 10 calls a day, that's 110 calls in a week. We'll have reached almost 600 people in a month, right? Do the math. So by the third day, we're on our morning positive focus called. And then I have everybody go around and talk about their projects and what they're focusing on. And Krista in our office is really down in the dumpers that that morning--I could see it. So I said, "What's going on?" She said, "You know, I feel so bad." I said, "What happened?" She said, "I haven't been able to make my 10 calls a day." I said, "Well, how many have you have made?" She said, "I've only been able to make three." "Well, tell us about that." She said, "Well, one call lasted 45 minutes. Another one 30 minutes another on 20 minutes." I said, "Do you know the gift that you are right now to people? That they want to just connect with another human being and share whatever's going on with them." And she was like, "Oh, I thought I had to make ten calls." Isn't that funny? People miss the purpose. It's not about making calls it's about taking care of people. So those are some examples.
Edward Dressel: 13:39
Having a good relationship with the plan sponsors that you're engaging and connecting and moving forward.
Charles Epstein: 13:45
You know what some somebody told me last week? They said, "Charlie, generosity is on sale right now." Isn't that brilliant? Generosity is on sale right now. And the other thing is that I would tell our listeners is, everybody is accessible right now. Everybody. That means your existing clients, new potential, people you have been trying to get in front of. I was on a webcast last week that Mass Mutual put on where a gentleman by the name of Jesse Itzler--do you know he is?. Well, his wife is a lot more famous. She's Susan Blakely, the founder of Spanx, and they're billionaires. But Jesse is an incredible entrepreneur. His stories are unbelievable, but he wrote a book. You have to read this book and I recommend everybody. It's called "Life with Seal." S E. A. L. So Jesse runs 100 mile marathons. He's one of those crazy guys. He's not that big of a guy. And he hired--this was a couple of years ago--a Navy seal to live in their penthouse on Central Park West in New York City for 30 days and train him in the middle of the winter. Crazy. But, he said, "Everybody is available right now, and I know a lot of guys say, "I can't take anybody out to lunch." And Jesse says, Here's what you do. You get really nice silverware, fork, a knife, a spoon in a napkin. You put it in a box. You send it to five people and say, let's do lunch by Zoom today. Isn't that great?
Edward Dressel: 15:21
Very creative, very engaging. A way to set yourself from the competition. Where do you see things going as we move our way through this?
Charles Epstein: 15:30
Well, there's going be two types of advisors that come out of this. There's going to be the ones that were heroes to people and went the distance. You know the movie Field of Dreams when Ray Kinsella. Kevin Costners's character is in the corn field, and the voice says, "Ease the pain, go the distance." So advisors that have been on the phone and making the calls and connecting and asking what they can do. They're going to come out of this so connected to their clientele, so much gratitude exchanged versus the ones that have their heads in the sand and have just been frozen and not known what to do. Like all businesses, every business is going to go through big bankruptcies. We have a long way to go. I mean, people don't realize--what's the unemployment rate? Fourteen percent now? So there's going to be just a lot of people trying to come to terms with their financial situation for the next six, twelve, eighteen months. Cash is king. That's the other thing. We created a little playbook. We call it the Corona Virus Financial Playbook for corporations and individuals. And it just addresses everything that's available, through all the regulations and grants and that kind of thing. As I put it together, I realized it's all about cash. So we got the pension protection money. "We" being I and my company and personally renegotiated all of our business loans and mortgages so that we don't have any payments for the next 180 days because people say about how you able to keep your employees on cash flow is king. I'm creating that buffer. Creating that buffer. So I think coming out of this, people are going to want greater connection. Human connection. We're all human. I know I use the 1/3, 1/3rd rule, 1/3, 1/3rd. One-third of the population was at the beach the entire time the virus was going on saying, I'm not changing my lifestyle. Right there at the beach. Another 1/3 is not coming up out of their self quarantine until there's a vaccine: not going to dinner, going to the movies, not getting on a plane. And it's the middle 1/3 that will dictate where the economy goes. How quickly will they start going back? And, until there's a vaccine, no business will be at full throttle, especially restaurants and the entertainment and hospitality world. So I say people are going to want greater connection. They're definitely going to want to collaborate more. I don't know about you, but we've been collaborating more and more during this period of time. And people want, we're going to need greater clarity about what do I do now financially? I think if you know anybody personally who died from this, but I do. It's real and it's going to change how people view what's important to them in life. What an enormous opportunity for every financial advisor to sit down either by Zoom or Go To Meeting, or when it's possible in person and engage their clients in an emotional conversation and an intellectual conversation about their life and what they thought they wanted to, to you know what their dreams and aspirations were and what's changed. And if you do that and ask those questions, you'll create greater confidence for people because when they're clear, they have greater confidence and then they're going to want a financial advisor with the capabilities help them move forward. And that's where courage comes in there. People are going to have to make some really big decisions going forward. That's going to take courage. Do I bring all my employees back? Do I fire people?
Edward Dressel: 19:10
So I'm going to guess you probably had one of those conversations, or more than one with a few of your clients, where that connection, that collaborating. How did that go for you?
Charles Epstein: 19:19
It's interesting. There was a new client--I talked about that seminar that we put on--and just before everything closed down, I had a gentleman come in here. Now, I just let people know the range of clients that we deal with. I had a client of mine in December sell his company for $100 million cash? Not bad, huh? You know what he did the next day to celebrate? He went back to work! So I said "What are you doing?" He said "This is all I know." The company that bought him out wanted him as president for the next two to three years until he finds his replacement. I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "This is all I know." I mean, hello. So, you know, we have client, they're enormously successful entrepreneurs and professionals. And then we have individuals that we deal with--the rank and file of 401(K) plan. So I had this guy come in, Gary, after the seminar that we did for the union workers and he sat down six feet across me, and I said, "So what's your greatest success to date?" He said, "I made it to 60." I said "What?" He said " I made it to 60." "So what do you mean?" He said, "I really never thought I'd make age 60 and I'm 62. I looked at myself. Well, congratulations. He said, "Thank you." I said, "Uh, now what goes?" "Well, that's why I'm here." I said, "What do we want to do for the next 40 years?" He said, "Charlie, to be honest, before I heard you talk, I was going to retire at 60 and make room for the younger guys and get a part time job and then work the rest of my life to pay off my mortgage and my car loan." I said, "Well, that ain't enough for me to be interested in working with you." I said, "So now what? You're sitting here in front. How can I be of service?" He said--ready for this, Ed? He said, "I want OPM and I want the big in the spread." I said, "Tell me more about that." He said, "Why do I need to have my house paid off? Let's pull equity out. Interest rates are low. I get enough pay to cover the note. What do I care when I die? I want to enjoy that money now. I'll tell my girlfriend, I'm going south for six months. You want to come with me? Fine. I'll buy a boat. Still get that part time job and I think I'm going to do something that will really make a difference." And he just, you know, lit up. I said, "Okay, I'm interested in that. Let's put that plan together." Cool, huh?
Edward Dressel: 21:40
Engaging somebody giving them passion and not just walking through the doldrums of life.
Charles Epstein: 21:45
Well, having an emotional conversation and an intellectual conversation about their life.
Edward Dressel: 21:53
Tell me a little bit more about your reaching out to plan sponsors and participants.
Charles Epstein: 21:57
So in the beginning, like I said, we were reaching out to the plan sponsors on the Payroll Protection Program. But at the same time, we were also with those employees that we have that are focused on the 401(K) side of the practice. We were reaching out, pushing out almost every other day communication on the Cares Act, of course, and making available customized webinars to do for their participants. And one of the big frustrations that I've had in this industry and other advisors have had is getting the data for the 401(K) participants. Record keepers, TPAs have always said well, we can't give that information out the compliance or whatever excuse and basically want to control that information. And so we could only go through our plan sponsors and do the webinars. Well, if you got 100, 20 or 200 or 400 retirement plans, you can't do a webinar for each one of those retirement plans after a while. Just impossible. Well, we had a breakthrough at in the middle of this crisis where we had one record keeper say, "How can we be of help?" And we had gone to them to say, "What do your dcl partners providing?" And everybody has tons of information and that made me realize, well, that means everybody's doing the same thing. They're all bombarding the plan sponsor. Well, let me tell you, it's really busy right now trying to keep the businesses afloat. You know, the head HR of the CFO or whoever is responsible for the plan, I don't want to bother them. And I said to one of the record keepers, "Get me the participant information" and they came back a day later and said, "No problem. Here." I was like "What? Like what happened? What changed?" And then we went to another and another and another and another, and suddenly we have it all. So we have launched employee direct education, Coronavirus education, financial, wellness, whatever you want to call it, Webinar. And remember I said, everybody's accessible, So we're going to do one, and these are gonna be live to begin with. I'm going to do one on a Tuesday for Lunch with Charlie, Thursday dinner 6:30, and Saturday at 11. Find people where they are and make it available. And we're going to go over what can you do as an individual to maximize your cash flow right now. And what should you be doing if anything, with regards to how you're investing or saving and adjusting. Then we're going to be offering people when we do these live in the place of business, we have sign up sheets that go around people--70-80% of the people--sign up for a one on one meeting. So we're going to offer a free post-Corona virus financial wellness checkup. Just sign up and either myself or the member of the team will do a Go to Meeting, Zoom call. I'm so excited when we do this direct. And here's the key to all this. So many advisors don't have a digital footprint and they're not managing the data. You know, like you do. You manage your data. You put out this podcast in all your podcasts. You want to know how many people listened? How many people responded? Did you make an offer? All about the data. And we have been really upgrading Salesforce during this process. Data gathering, testing technology. Every advisor needs to come out of this and figure out their digital footprint and how they can communicate directly to every one of their clients and not indirectly anymore. It's an enormous opportunity, and people should be creating an enormous budget to maximize the technologies because that's what's going to change everything going forward.
Edward Dressel: 25:26
I hear you saying something: opportunity. And I just want to be sure the listeners understand why you think that talking with the participants directly is an opportunity. A lot of people go, "I don't want to do that. I just want to work with plan sponsors." What's the opportunity when you get down to the participant level?
Charles Epstein: 25:42
Well, I wrote my third book is called The $1,000,000 Rollover Mindset. A small little book and I make it available to advisors, like just pay the postage. But the book is really all about having what Don Barden from the Perfect Plan taught me many, many years ago, which is a servant's mindset. It's the thing that you have, Ed--that's what I've always been attracted to about you and your work. You know, your servant-minded human being, and it's so important. You know, it goes beyond best interest in all that conversation, because if you have a servant mind, you're always going to do what's in the best interest of the client. And when it comes to 401(k) plan, it's the participants assets. Yes, you get paid to be a fiduciary at the plan level, but the rubber meets the road at the participant level. And for those advisors that are not talking to those participants your meeting you're missing out on ten times the amount of revenue that's available. I'm infamous or famous for having said for every dollar of revenue an advisor gets paid to manage the retirement plan, there's ten times that amount of ancillary business. It's all about leverage. And in this commoditized world we live in where fees and commissions and assets under management are going down to zero, you better be talking to the participants. Not about just the money in the retirement plan, but all the satellite assets that participants have outside of the plan. Advisors get caught up in this "Well, if I'm a fiduciary of the plan level, I can't manage somebody's retirement plan money." Well, I'm not talking about that right now. I'm talking about their non-planned money, personal, old IRAs 403(b)s, spouses. And that's the $1,000,000 rollover blueprint that we've created, which is how do you go about doing that? And you do it by creating relationship with those participants. Also, something you just made me think of that we're focusing on during this time, as we call it the Next Generation Project. And I have three employees that have told me as of last summer they want to be full time financial advisors in the next three years. They want to kick me out, Ed. A coup d'etate--they're taking over. It's great. I'm excited. And I stepped back and I said, "Well, who are their natural clients? It's not going to be my clients. It's going to be the children of my clients. I'm 62 those two employees air in their mid thirties and early fourties. So we're gathering together all the data during this period of time. As we're reaching out to all of our clients and connecting with them, we sent out a form to say we all want to make sure that we have all your information up to date. All your beneficiaries, all your kids' contact information. Well, think about that database! Now we have all the next generation's contact information. We can now customize communication and webinars and start creating relationship with those people. Because if you don't as an adviser on that client passes away, those assets are walking out the door to the next generation who has no relationship with you,
Edward Dressel: 28:45
Charlie, it's been excellent to listen to you. I love the ideas. Talking about connecting and serving, engaging, and the opportunities that are on the table right now through human contact. You did mention a couple of resources. The Coronavirus Playbook and then The $1,000,000 Rollover Mindset. How do people get that from you if they're interested?
Charles Epstein: 29:04
Thanks for asking. We love too. So the Coronavirus Playbook for businesses and individuals, you can reach out to Marie Forest at my office: firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want a copy of the $1,000,000 Rollover Mindset, just say to Marie to please send me a Coronavirus Playbooks. It's a pdf. We will email it to you. And for the book, all we ask is you pay the postage and she'll let you know how much that is when you reach out. It's a very quick read, it's a small little handbook. It's 80 pages and there's a scorecard at the back. You can actually score yourself, see where you are with that $1,000,000 rollover mindset. Also, if you go to https://www.charlieepstein.com that's our media website and everything we're doing from a digital perspective. All of our seminars Kristen, Renee, do something called Coffee and K Plans. It's a seminar/webinar podcast. I do a podcast called Business in Booths. All of our other videos content, anything anybody would want, they can find that at https://www.charlieepstein.com. Thanks for asking.
Edward Dressel: 30:22
Charlie, thank you for taking this time. It's been a wonderful time. I really appreciate the information. And I I wish you the best--
Charles Epstein: 30:29
Let me put a plug in for Ed, folks, because I've known Ed now for what, 18 years?
Edward Dressel: 30:36
Yes, I think so.
Charles Epstein: 30:38
For those of you who are working with RetireReady--I've said this to every advisor--Ed's technology and tools have made my clients million's by allowing and creating a tool that I could help them save and invest properly and in turn, have made us millions over the years. No other piece of software has produced so much result and positive impact for our 401(k) participants, in our individual clients and our practice then the tools that Ed has created. Bar none. Thank you, Ed.
Edward Dressel: 31:14
It's a pleasure. I have a good team. We all work hard together to help you collectively as advisors be successful. And I appreciate that. That's a nice compliment. Thank you, Charlie, for your time today. Take care.