According the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in five people in the country have a disability, with more than half reporting that their disability is severe. Like everyone else, special needs families need to plan around their immediate expenses as well as for their financial futures, but their costs can be dramatically higher than typical families. According to Kiplinger, it can cost twice as much for a family to raise a child with disabilities—perhaps even much more if lifetime care is needed.
With such a sizable portion of the population with such significant needs, it’s perplexing that most special needs families are provided with such limited options. It’s one of the reasons why investment expert Todd Sensing founded FamilyVest, which is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) firm providing financial planning and investment management to young families, mature families, and families with special needs. As a veteran of the financial industry for over 20 years, Sensing wanted to apply his expertise to helping families, especially those with special needs.
As a father of two children diagnosed with Autism, he knows firsthand the major challenges that families with special needs children face. Equities.com had the opportunity to speak with Sensing to learn more about how he and FamilyVest aims to help them.
EQ. What is FamilyVest and what types of clients do you specialize in helping?
Sensing: FamilyVest is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) that serves gen X families with a specialty in Special Needs Planning. Most families have children entering high school and are starting to plan for college. Many families, but not all, have children with special needs. Next to purchasing a home the decisions that they make over the next 10 years will have a lasting impact on their quality of life. At FamilyVest, we want to be their trusted advisor.
EQ: What are some of the biggest financial challenges that special needs families face? What are some potential solutions to address or alleviate these obstacles?
Sensing: Families with special needs face many of the same financial hurdles that typical families with an additional layer of uncertainty. Families with special needs are not a homogenous population and the advice they need should be customized to their child’s abilities and dreams.
EQ: What are some differences in the way you’re better able to help these families and special needs clients that traditional RIAs cannot?
Sensing: Firstly, FamilyVest was founded to fill the void of fiduciary advice in special needs planning. We are holistic planners and we view each client’s situation from the bottom up. Of course, with over 20 years in portfolio management I’ve been trained to solve the difficult problems. We do not create cookie cutter plans, but a plan tailored to specific needs of the family as a whole. As a father of two boys on the Autism spectrum, I understand the stress and anxiety that these families live with. I am here to remove at least part of this stress by specializing in what they cannot. I am their financial advocate. Whether planning for college or special needs, we help clients pay less and get more from their resources.
EQ: Can you talk about your background and your inspiration and motivations to serve this segment of the market?
Sensing: I’ve worked in Institutional consulting and portfolio management for over twenty years. I went to start the planning for my own children’s future and I was not impressed with the offerings. Many of the financial advisors in this space were not fiduciaries. The last thing a family with special needs should have to deal with is to question the advice they receive. We remove the conflict of interests. We are advocates for families in a process that impacts the entire family both financially and emotionally. Helping remove the uncertainty and stress is our goal at FamilyVest.
EQ: As a fiduciary financial advisor, you do not accept commissions. Is this an important distinction you think clients should be aware of?
Sensing: Of course, it is. I do not understand how this type of planning could be done in any other way. It is my view that it is nearly impossible to become a trusted advisor if you are subject to conflicts of interest. As I stated earlier this is not a homogenous population. They deserve a customized plan for their loved one. When clients come to us we look at all options in planning and are unaffected by compensation. My view is that you cannot be a trusted advisor if at any time you best interests could conflict with your client. We do not work on a transactional basis. Families that come to us mean much more to us than that.
EQ: What are some of your favorite or most meaningful stories from clients you have helped?
Sensing: Raising a family can be difficult and for me the greatest satisfaction is when I can reduce the stress and anxiety level for a family. It could be paying for less for college or funding long term care for a loved one. Families can become overwhelmed by this stress. Families with special needs have a list of other stresses. When I can help solve a problem for a family in a way that they never thought of and it saves them significant money. That is my reward. That is a vacation or money for other goals. It becomes a domino in how families see their future. Tackling the tough problems and solving them empowers families to actualize the life that they want.
EQ: Do you have advice for special needs families, or families in general, that are in need of an RIA?
Sensing: These are big decisions and families need an unbiased and objective advocate on their side. Talk to a few firms and get a feel for their process to ensure that they can be effective and trusted advisors.