Couples get separation anxiety over financial planners

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Rick Parks and his wife Cindy got married a couple of years ago, the Knoxville couple shared a lot of things together: A home, family trips and holiday gatherings.

A couple kiss while they enjoy a sunny afternoon during the solstice day at Governors Island in New York, United States June 21, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

One thing they did not share: a financial planner.

They each had their own careers, retirement savings and financial planners - his with Charles Schwab, hers with Primerica, and they were happy with them.

“We have different investing styles - I’m more aggressive, Cindy is more conservative,” says Rick Parks, 53, owner of two automotive repair businesses. “We were both in good financial positions, and just felt comfortable with our own planners.”

The Parks are not alone in starting out their relationship with different financial planners. In fact, 13 percent of couples keep their own respective financial advisers, according to the 2015 Couples Retirement Study by Boston-based money managers Fidelity Investments.

It found 28 percent of couples reported keeping their financial accounts “mostly” or “completely” separate from their spouse or significant other. That was up from 20 percent of couples who did so just two years earlier.

The trend seems to be generational. The age group most likely to keep finances separate: Gen Xers, with almost a third of couples keeping their money mostly or completely apart. In comparison, only 23 percent of baby boomer couples keep their money in different pots.

Part of the reason is that Americans are getting married later than ever, often after careers (and financial plans) have already been established. The average woman gets married at 27, and average man at 29 - both historic highs, according to the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

While keeping separate planners might feel more comfortable at first, it also raises a number of potential problems down the line, like conflicting strategies, overlapping holdings and duplication of fees.

To manage the process successfully, a few tips:

1. Hold a team meeting

Get the planners in a room quarterly, or at least annually. “You don’t want a situation where one adviser is doing something that completely offsets the strategy of the other adviser,” says Jacquette Timmons, a New York City financial behaviorist and author of “Financial Intimacy.”

2. Don’t feel pressured into snap decisions

Keep your existing team in place for a while and see how it feels. “It does not have to be an overnight thing,” says Timmons. “After a few team meetings, that will help you determine if you keep both planners, or if you switch to just one.”

3. Unpack your attachment

If you decide that you really like having separate planners, take a step back and look at the reasons why. Is it about performance, personality or fees? Or is it something deeper and more emotional, such as wanting to retain some control over your own financial life? “Be honest with yourself, and write those reasons out, and have your partner do the same thing,” suggests Timmons.

4. Use the moment to uncover savings

Whatever your final decision about planners, take a close look at other financial areas as well. Maybe one partner has very favorable fees with a particular bank or brokerage, while the other has a terrific deal with an insurer. “There is room for a collection of advisers and products,” says Michelle Fait, a San Francisco planner who runs Satori Financial. “There is nothing wrong with a little competition to see who really offers the best option.”

5. Consider a new planner

It is not necessarily a question of choosing one partner’s planner or the other. Much like a couple that moves into a new apartment or house together, you could opt for the “neutral territory” of selecting a new planner for both.

That is what the Parks eventually did, opting for Knoxville planner Rose Swanger of Advise Finance to steward their combined savings - primarily to save on fees, since they had accumulated 14 financial accounts scattered among various institutions.

“Don’t pressure your partner to change to your planner,” says Rick Parks. “I would recommend a fresh approach, and choosing someone who is neutral to either side.”

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler