By 1982 I had been ten years in the banking business. My bank was the largest in Philadelphia at the time. I had just introduced the first Private Client Service in Philadelphia banking, and I was looking for a unique factor that would set us apart from other banks.
A consultant told me about Living Trusts, and how they were being marketed heavily in Florida. The principal advantage of the Living Trust in Florida was the reduction in the cost of settling an estate by avoiding the charges for probating the estates. Similar, but somewhat less onerous conditions existed in Pennsylvania. So we tried it out on some customers, and they responded overwhelmingly.
The consultant helped me prepare a presentation to describe the advantages of Living Trusts. We conducted workshops for our banking clients, and always had a local attorney to present part of the advantages. We did this regularly over the next four years, and the response to the idea was very strong.
In 1986 I left banking. With my son Kevin, and my wife Leona, I formed a broker/dealer and a registered investment advisory firm. I also created a life insurance general agency. I had recruited 37 registered representatives and we continued to conduct estate-planning seminars, featuring the Living Trust as the core instrument in the plan.
Our strategy was conventional: conduct workshops, make appointments, collect data, provide the attorney will all he needed to draft the documents, hold a “signing” meeting, and another meeting to transfer assets to the trust. In the process, we analyzed portfolios and suggested alternatives. We gathered a lot of assets under management.
The only technology we used at the time was in the presentation. We used a 35-millimeter carousel slide protector and screen, which we toted around to various hotels in the Philadelphia area. The cost in those days of generating slides was not all that much, but there certainly was not much flexibility to make changes.
Living Trusts continue to be a mainstay in estate planning. The presentation technology has changed. In fact, up until this year, the only significant change that has taken place on the marketing side has been the transition from 35-millimeter slides to PowerPoint presentations.
Today many of the attorneys with an estate planning practice have the advantage of better document preparation systems for producing Living Trusts and other documents. There are still many attorneys, on the other hand, that do not have such access, or don’t have the staff and the means to acquire such systems. While they may have the opportunity to perform more advanced estate planning, above and beyond living trusts, they need support to do so.
It appeared to us that there is a need among the general public for estate planning that would be best satisfied by trusts more advanced than the conventional Wills, even those Wills with complex testamentary trusts. Living Trusts can begin to satisfy those needs, but many clients could also benefit from Irrevocable Life insurance Trusts, Special Needs Trusts, Spendthrift Trusts, Asset Protection Trusts, Charitable Trusts and Dynasty Trusts, just to name a few.
The issue appeared to be that this vast market of under-served families is larger than can be served by the current number of lawyers that are practicing estate planning. At least they can’t be served well with the current technology that was being used. The fact of the matter is that these attorneys find it difficult to reach out to these families to identify their potential needs. Indeed, many such attorneys depend heavily upon referrals from financial advisors and insurance agents.
The other issue is that the task of gathering data from clients and discerning their needs and concerns is time consuming and tedious. Attorneys, even with a good staff assistant, often cannot afford the time to perform these functions, especially for clients who are very fee-sensitive.
A combination of factors now exist that will change the entire approach to estate planning for the average “somewhat-affluent” client-family. One of these is that the “Boomer” generation is now quite computer literate, and is using the internet virtually every day, at work and at home. The same can be said about the financial advisors and insurance agents who are working with these clients.
So all that is needed is a technology that would permit a cooperative, collaborative effort between the clients and their trusted advisors and agents. Working together in an on-line environment to collect data and make certain choices in a highly structured systematic approach, the time and costs of data collection and plan structure can be significantly controlled.
So, to make a long story short, we are the only trust company that is providing a technology that meets the needs of this larger market for advanced estate planning services. The system has been under development and in use, in one form or another, since 1985, and has had input from some of the best legal and technical talent available.
We are calling this service the “Summit Estate Planning Center”. It is a total and comprehensive center for collecting data, collaborating with clients and the attorney, and implementing the funding of the trusts.
What we now have is a technology that permits both the client and the advisor to each have their own “console” to input and review the data, and collaborate on the choices, to produce the entire documentation package. The system will automatically draft the documents for the final review and adjustment by the attorney. The time required, and we all know that time is money, can be significantly reduced by the use of this well designed, fully integrated trust development system.
The basic advantage of any technology is the acceleration of completing a project. Doing things faster and better is permitted by having clients actively participate in the process, where they can see the significance of the participation and the elements required each step of the way.
We are now seeking qualified advisors who understand the discipline of estate planning and have clients who are in need of such services. We will provide this system to them for their use, and we will train them. We also have a network of attorneys who understand the system and are prepared to provide appropriate services as each case is developed.
Our system provides for orientation and training both on-line and in personal sessions to assure that properly qualified individuals deliver the highest level of service to their clients.
We are prepared to provide these services to the family and to the business owner. In our past experience, we have had over 25,000 people go through our workshops on estate planning, and a significant percentage of these families owned their own businesses. It became our pattern that we would serve the family needs first, and then the needs of the business.
Our slogan is: “Family First, Business Next”! So we are training our advisors to work with the family in regard to their estate planning, and then to apply the new technologies that we have for the business owners. The first of these is the Summit Business Valuator”, which is an outstanding technology that helps the business owner know the value of his business for one-fourteenth the cost of the traditional business valuations prepared by consulting firms.
The fact is, even the least costly valuation runs around $8,000.00. Our new system can be done quicker, more accurately and less expensively - - for only $365. This opens the door for virtually any business to determine their value.
Once they know their value, they now have a benchmark for additional more advance business planning. The technology we have for that purpose is so inexpensive that you might consider it pocket change - - about the cost of going out for dinner for a husband and a wife.
Finally, we have software that will determine if the family has saved enough money for a comfortable environment, and then additional software to determine if they can give money away to their children or to charity.
The use of a fully integrated service based on high technology will change the way that advisors deliver the highest quality of services to their clients. We are dedicated to bring that technology to them so they can continue to be a valued and trusted advisor, and maintain long-term relationships based upon meaningful service.
For more information on the Summit Estate Planning Center, contact:
George P. Brown PhD, TEP