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By David GordonDirector, Eaton Vance Advisor Institute

It is not uncommon for advisors to develop tunnel vision since they can only see some of a client's assets, so they advise as if those are the client's only assets. Assets held elsewhere may be crying out for your perspective — advising on all of a client's assets today could lead to managing all of a client's assets tomorrow.

The first place to look for unadvised assets is in your clients' retirement accounts. Understanding clients' retirement plan assets provides important context for your own work with clients' taxable assets. To help you uncover a client's full balance sheet, here are five of our favorite questions assist you in seeing the big picture, along with some thoughts on what you can learn by asking them.

1. What contributions do you and your employer make each year to your plan, and in what form?

  • Your client might be missing out on employer matching or compounding opportunities by making insufficient contributions
  • You can learn whether the employer contributes cash, employer stock or something else

2. What is your current asset allocation in the plan, and what is your retirement account value?

  • This helps you calculate whether the client is saving sufficiently to meet retirement expectations
  • You can also learn about the client's risk tolerance with retirement assets, and whether that differs from assets you manage on behalf of the client

3. How much of the value of your plan is employer stock, and what is the cost basis of those shares?

  • This is where you uncover concentration risk and the potential for solutions such as net unrealized appreciation
  • Most retirement plans can tell you average cost basis, but a few (even some very large plans) actually keep specific records of the cost basis of every share

4. When would you like to retire, and when do you expect to retire?

  • This provides a window into whether the client's expectations are realistic
  • You may also learn whether the client plans to continue working after retiring from the current employer

5. Given your other exposures to the financial health of your employer (employment income, health benefits, etc.), what exposure to employer stock seems reasonable to you in your retirement plan?

  • When you uncover a concentration (as in Question 3, above), you need to make sure the client recognizes it as a risk
  • This can also pave the way to discussions about which exposures to employer stock are tax-advantageous and which are not

A client's answers to these questions — which may take time for them to research — will give you plenty of information to work with as you construct a more comprehensive plan for the client. When you really think about it, no other advisor is better positioned than you to provide the client with advice on their full balance sheet.

Bottom line: A retirement plan administrator cannot see a client's full financial picture, but you can — if you just ask.