Veteran Wealth Strategist, Mark Fried stresses education
and an all-encompassing “maximum planning” approach.
Growing up in Margate New Jersey, a suburb of Atlantic City, Mark Fried has fond memories of sitting at the family dinner table hearing his father discuss his views on financial issues, the economy and the stock market. These conversations along with the later encouragement of his finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania G. Edward DeSeve inspired Mark to focus his career in the Financial Services industry in 1989.
During his early years, he worked at an old line brokerage firm W.H. Newbolds and Sons. But his career took a significant turn when he met a wealthy family and began developing financial services businesses for them. This included being President of Stone Bridge Trust Company (a private trust company for wealthy families) and Executive Vice President and Director of Stone Bridge Mutual Funds. From this platform, Fried launch a benefits and retirement planning business serving small and medium size businesses from Miami to New York City.
Founding TFG Wealth Management and related business in 2006, Mark was determined to help families, business owners, pre-retirees and retirees make the best decisions possible with their investments and retirement plan. While most other advisors are only interested in getting a hold of your money to invest, Fried takes a different approach he calls maximum planning.
He believes that it is not just important to make money for his clients but to use strategies that get the most income from their investment account to their bank account. That means his focus includes taxes, inflation, social security optimization, income planning, legacy planning and much much more.
How does he do this? Through education, or making sure his clients know how to make smart and appropriate decisions. Through planning, every client gets a plan. Not a 60 page document that sits on the shelf but a plan outlining how each client will achieve their financial goals. Through regular reviews, sitting down with his clients on a regular basis to make sure that they are on track. Adjusting the plan, if necessary, to help the select families he works with achieve their goals for them and for their family.
Many of his clients live in the Philadelphia area, although his base does extend to several other states. The families he works with are typically between the ages of 45 and 75 with investable assets of between $250,000 and $5,000,000. Although he will never turn anyone away that needs his help.
He is also sought out by other advisors around the country to do joint case work. Fried’s influence as an expert wealth strategist extends beyond just dealing with his clients. He has been quoted and/or featured in local, national and digital newspapers. These include Forbes, Morningstar online, USA Today, Bucks County Courier Times, The Fiscal Times and the Inteligencier. He has been featured in local magazines including Local Living, Suburban and Outlook magazine. He has shared his views on numerous television and radio segments including Fox Business News, the ‘Financial Tips” segment on PHL 17 and NBC News Money Matters to name a few.
When asked why he started the firm, Fried said “I realized how poorly the average retail investor was being treated by the financial industry, it was something I felt I had to do”. In addition to helping select families with their financial planning and retirement issues, Mark is a volunteer Veteran Service Officer. He has help hundreds of veterans get the benefits they deserve from the VA. Helping cut the red tape and explaining how to make their way through the government bureaucracy which was preventing them from getting the benefits they deserve.
In response to how investors were being treated by the large Wall Street firms and banks, Fried developed the Maximum Planning approach. In a nutshell, he defines “Maximum Planning” as getting the most out of your money, by getting as much as possible out of your investment account and into your pocket” Fried explains that there are many issues beyond just what to purchase in your IRA or brokerage account that will make you a successful investor. These include how to deal with taxes on your retirement accounts, which assets to use first when you need income in retirement or how to pass your wealth onto the next generation without losing it all to taxes and probate.
When asked why most families don’t consider these issues, Fried explains “It’s like a blindspot in your rear view mirror. The car sitting in your blindspot has been there all along but until someone tells you about it or you see it by accident you will never know it is there”.
The greatest blindspot a retiree has is drawing their money out of their retirement account improperly – which can lead to a downward spiral called “asset erosion”. This can decimate your retirement accounts costing you years of retirement income. It can make your money run out years early than it should.
Fried explains that people don’t often understand how much it matters when and how they take their money out of their retirement accounts. If, for instance, they withdraw income when their overall balance is down due to a down market, the withdrawal will “lock in their loss.” This means that in addition to losing money on the spot, the person will never be able to make up the loss. Effectively losing every dollar they could have earned over the next 20 or 30 years.
Many people come to me and don’t know the right questions to ask,” he says. “They’ve managed to accumulate the $1-2 million by consistently putting $100 or $1,000 away on a regular basis over 20 plus years. Then through the magic of compounding they end up with a large amount. At this point they are ready for retirement. The first thing they do is go to their 401(k) provider or local bank or broker whose only interest is to get their money under management.
The conversation typically goes like this. How much money do you have? How have you done over the last 5 years? I can do better. Unfortunately this completely avoids some of the most important questions an investor needs to ask. Such as, how are you going to live on your investments? What will happen in an up and a down market? How will you pay all the taxes you owe on your retirement investments that have accumulated over the last 20 years?
The type of advisor Fried mentions is the one that is all about trying to ‘beat the market,’ yet every year 80% to 90% of advisors and mutual funds don’t beat the market.
Fried says “The real key to a successful retirement is to look at cash flow. Most people look at either the total amount they have in their account, or at what they expect to earn. But the only thing that ultimately matters is the cash that makes it into their pocket”.
“From an investment standpoint,” he says, Fried believes that steady gains while doing our best to avoid loss is the best investment strategy for retirees and folks approaching retirement”.
“The starting point for any investment plan is that you really know how much you need to make on your money to achieve your goals. We call that the ‘minimum retirement rate of return.’ Many folks also have a tax time bomb ready to go off, and our job is to project out those taxes and explain what that tax cost will result in – and what we can do to minimize it. Then we talk to them about legacy, what they can expect when a spouse passes away, and the best approach to take to their Social Security. I teach them about the difference between maximization, or how to get the most dollars out of social security if you live long enough, and optimization, which is about how to get the most from social security into your pocket.”
For prospective clients, the process of working with Fried and TFG Wealth Management begins with two complementary meetings. The client does most of the talking during the first session, and Fried, in line with this education-minded approach, shares his ideas in the second based on their input. “I come from a world of actions speak louder than words, and my task is to take them through the process so after two meetings they know how I can help them,” he says. We call this process our Retirement Vision Review.
The first thing he asks them as part of his “Retirement Vision Review” is to describe their “perfect moment” – i.e. what is the thing they aspire to as a result of achieving their financial goals. For some that’s sitting on the back porch with their grandchildren, for others cruising the world with their spouse or significant other, hanging out playing volleyball on the beach, etc.
Once he understands that, he explains that money is just a means to get them to that moment. And he asks them to describe, as best they can, where they think they are now in relation to this goal and what are their greatest concerns.
Because he is involved in so many aspects of their lives, Fried says he is “part psychologist, part couples counselor, financial person and at some point, even a grief counselor. And when we decide to work together, I become their personal CFO. My clients know that I’m not just there to manage their money. I’m their overall financial advisor, and they can come to me with any question they may have. In line with this, every other week I send out an email in a newsletter style investment report. As part of the educational process, I am always educating them on what’s going on with their investments and in the investment world in general.”
Fried also has a special interest in veterans’ affairs. This grew out of his frustration at a system in which clients who are veterans would relate how lawyers wanted to charge them $10,000 to do simple application paperwork to receive government assistance. As an Accredited Veteran Service Officer of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VSO), he assists the veterans and their families with the qualification and application process for government financial assistance programs. Thus far, he has helped approximately 300 families receive over $3 million in benefits for long term care from the VA.
A devoted family man to Alexis, his wife of 21 years, and his children Steven (a college freshman) and Carly (a high school Junior), Fried is involved in many service oriented and philanthropic endeavors.
In addition to teaching continuing law education (CLE) courses for attorneys and CEP courses for accountants, he also served as a member of the Lower Makefield Planning Commission and Newtown Rotary Club. He has participated several times in 100-mile charity bike rides for Livestrong (in support of the global fight against cancer and in honor of his mother) and this year is doing a Multiple Sclerosis “Mudder,” participating in a muddy obstacle course race for people suffering from MS and related diseases. Fried always matches the money he raises. For all of his charitable work and professional excellence, he was named “Man of the Year” in 2009 by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club. He is also a member of the Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce and is the President of his synagogue.
“Being a father of two amazing kids, I have learned that life is not just about what you say, but about what you do,” Fried says. “You leave a legacy through your actions, and I hope when my kids see what I do they’re inspired to give back as well. My belief is that we’re all here to help people, and I’m fortunate to have found ways through my firm and in the community to do that in many ways. As part of my commitment to personal development, I participate in several CEO and financial industry Mastermind groups. One of these is The Best, run by Bo Eason, who says that the key to success is not only being the best at what you do but always striving to be the best person you can be. It’s important that we’re constantly working on ourselves and growing in a great variety of ways.”