financial planning

The Two Most Important Elements of Financial Planning

As a senior analyst with CNBC and pioneering financial journalist, Ron Insana has seen a lot of ups and downs in the markets and how that impacts the average investor. And over the years he’s identified some key factors that separates those who do well… and those who fall behind.

Ron shares the two most important things you must be doing right now to invest in your future. And he has some specific advice for what to do when you have a “winner” in your portfolio – it might not be what you think.

We also talk about…

  • How to overcome the Main Street versus Wall Street divide

  • The one thing that could most affect your investments in the coming year

  • Why “balance” is so important in your financial planning

  • The impact – good and bad – of today’s 24-hour news cycle 

  • And more

Listen now…

John Curry: Hello, this is John Curry. Welcome to the latest episode of the Secure Retirement Podcast. Today I have the pleasure of sitting with Mr. Ron Insana. Ron is senior analyst and commentator for CNBC. Hello Ron.

Ron Insana: Hey John, how are you?

John Curry: Good. Good to see you.

Ron Insana: You too. Thank you.

John Curry: We've had two great days here at a conference dealing with retirement planning. In fact it's called Retirement Income Summit. So, Ron, tell me a little bit about your background so our listeners can know who you are. Your background, and then folks you're gonna hear some background noise, because literally I grabbed Ron.

Ron Insana: We're in a hall.

John Curry: And he's sitting with me in a hallway.

Ron Insana: A hotel hallway.

John Curry: And doing this presentation. So Ron, tell us who you are and why you do what you do.

Ron Insana: Well it's an interesting question with respect to the why. The why was originally accidental. I got a job at Financial News Network back in the early days of business television.

John Curry: Good old FNN.

Ron Insana: FNN. And decided to say for the next 34 years. So between Financial News Network and CNBC, I've been a financial journalist for more than three decades. And the conversations that I heard around me at FNN in mid 1980's really sparked my interest and my desire to figure out a way to explain the language of Wal Street in the language of main street, so that we could really make financial market and economic events meaningful to people at home for the first time on television.

That's something now that's been going on for several decades in a row.

John Curry: That has to be fascinating, because really you were a pioneer in that, because that wasn't being done at the time.

Ron Insana: No, FNN started in 1981. I joined in 1984. So Bill Griffith, Sue Horera and myself were among some of the earliest players in that space. And we were to be honest making it up as we went along. Not necessarily the content, but certainly the approach that we took. We ad libbed a lot of it. It was an underresourced facility way back when. But part of that process is it was really sink or swim. So you either learned the content and then went on the air and delivered the news, or you didn't make it. So learning the content was the most challenging part of it having not studied any of this in college.

I was a film major in college and I ended up being a business journalist. That's one interesting thing too about jobs and opportunity that I try to impress upon my kids, is that you don't know where you're going to end up, ans so that you should embrace every opportunity that comes your way because it could take you places you'd never thought you'd go. And you might actually end up in a destination that was better than the one you intended.

John Curry: And just be curious about people and other things. That's what I love about my work. 43 years now building a clientelle. I have clients from all walks of life. I learn something new everyday.

Ron Insana: Absolutely.

John Curry: Every day. And it's fun.

Ron Insana: And that's one of the interesting things about the news business and it's even on an accelerated basis today given the way in which media and politics have changed, and economics. There is no deadline anymore. There is no day. There is all day. And there is all news all the time and so.

John Curry: Everything's a deadline.

Ron Insana: Everything's a deadline. Every minute is a deadline, a potential deadline. So you really have to learn not only how to maintain that curiosity, but maintain the pace, and then also take all that information that's coming so fast these days, put it into perspective, and determine what's noise and what's news. And what's really important to people. Particularly in our field where we're talking about people making decisions about how to allocate their money. Whether it's for pure savings. Whether it's for education. Whether it's for healthcare. 

Sometimes they really do have to listen and they really can't avoid the news and they may have to make changes as a consequence.

John Curry: And quickly.

Ron Insana: And quickly. Sometimes. Yeah, I mean, usually you have enough lead time. I think the market sends you enough signals. And it's a pure belief of mine that the markets are message sending mechanisms. And sometimes they give you enough of a heads up that you don't have to be the last one out the door if something big is coming.

John Curry: I think that's so important because people who are listening to this are probably asking, "Okay, how do I go about building an investment portfolio?" And to make it clear, you don't sell investments?

Ron Insana: Correct, no.

John Curry: You're not in the business of selling them.

Ron Insana: I may someday again, but right now I don't. Yeah.

John Curry: So if you would, take a moment and give our listeners your perspective on what to do with all the talking heads telling you do this, do this, do that. Just give some of your thoughts on what people should do when they're investing for the future.

Ron Insana: Well I think there are some people who are quite capable of doing it on their own because they've had some lifelong experience with it, or they come from a family that's very familiar with the investing process. And that's one way if you're lucky enough you can go about it. To me the thing that makes the most sense is having a trusted advisor, who is seasoned, who has experience. Who can first and most importantly, develop a plan. Everything that I've seen over the course of my career is that people with a plan tend to outperform people without a plan.

People who adhere to their plan with a great deal of discipline and patience again, tend to outperform people who just again, sometimes noise, and make moves that are inappropriate for the longer term goals. So I think that planning process is extraordinarily important. And it encompasses everything, from 401 K's to Roth IRA's, to insurance products, to everything else that you need to fully round out an investment profile that meets all your needs. Whether it's short term cash. Whether it's education for your kids. Whether it's retirement. Whether it's the end of life. All of those plans, if people are truly thinking about these things, they should take a holistic approach and make sure they're hitting all those marks so that they don't fall short of their goals when the time comes.

John Curry: I tell people that if you have a plan, a written plan of action, you're more likely to stick to that. And you're not going to be swayed so much by the news media, or your friend on the golf course saying, "Hey [crosstalk 00:05:29]."

Ron Insana: [crosstalk 00:05:28]. Yeah.

John Curry: Right? Or worried about the political arena. Because the truth of the matter is, I love how you talk about Wall Street and main street. The truth is people on main street do not have access to the information that's available on Wall Street. And by the time you take action, it's already been done.

Ron Insana: Yeah, although that space has shrunk a little bit over time as information's been a little bit more democratized. 

John Curry: No doubt. No doubt.

Ron Insana: But you're not gonna beat algorithms, you're not gonna be professional money managers who are advantaged in ways that are appropriate for their business. I mean their job is to sit there all day, interact with companies, interact with strategists and others to determine what's coming next and try to know a little bit ahead of time. And I don't mean that in a nefarious sense that some people use it. But their job is to be ahead of the curve. And most people who are working all day and raising kids and doing other things with times, coaching in the afternoon or what have you. You just don't have the time to dedicate to that process where you know everything you need to know all the time. That's what professionals do for a living.

And having done it myself on the news side, I realize there is still a gap between what most people know and what I hear. And that's true for investment professionals as well.

John Curry: I hear from clients, "I don't want to know that stuff. I might have the time to do it. I don't want to take the time to do it. Because I want to go with my wife. You help me find the right answers."

Ron Insana: Yeah, and your written plan comment is interesting because I'm a completely uptight list maker. That's how I live my life. And part of that is a function of my job. I started taking notes more so than I ever did in high school or college, about the news. And I used to go through pads and pads of paper every single day. We would take notes on everything that occurred. And I got into this process of not just taking notes, but then also making life lists. Still hand-written. It's a little bit archaic. I occasionally use my notes page on my cell phone. But I make lists and check things off. 

And I think that's made me more efficient in my work and even in my personal life, because I do feel accomplished when I'm taking those things off and I do know that they're getting done. And I think that's the same with a financial plan. The more that you can tick those things off and meet your goals, the more comfortable, the more relaxed your life is going to be.

John Curry: Amen. My team gave me a hard time, because you see I have a journal in front.

Ron Insana: I see that, yeah.

John Curry: I make notes all the time. And they'll laugh at me and say, "Why don't you just put it in the computer?"

I said, "Because I can't get my hands on it. I can't see it that way."

Ron Insana: Well I'll tell you, there's some interesting studies coming out about kids who are taking notes with their computers in school versus kids who take hand written notes. Retention levels are higher with handwritten note takers.

John Curry: Interesting.

Ron Insana: And there's some new studies coming out with that. I had this conversations with my kids. One of my kids actually had right, left confusion when he was young, so his handwriting was horrible. So he really requires a computer to take notes.

John Curry: Right.

Ron Insana: But absent that, literally writing things down is great for hard wiring your brain.

John Curry: Yes. I agree totally. I take a lot of notes at conferences like this conference I've got a book half full already. And then I'll have my thoughts also.

In the few minutes we have remaining, because we've got to get back to a tight schedule here.

Ron Insana: I think we're good. Yeah.

John Curry: Just talk a little bit about what you see as being the future from the standpoint of all the political unrest that's going on. The lack of civility if you will across the different industries, and political world especially.

Ron Insana: Well it does seem to be a unique time. I hate to use the word unprecedented, because you can go back into early American history and find things that are less civil than this in terms of the political distance.

John Curry: They shot each other back then.

Ron Insana: Yes. Aaron Burr was around, and Mr. Hamilton was cut short at what, 37 years old as a consequence. And even John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had some wild political arguments amongst their campaign teams that are probably more like today than we want to recognize. But I think civility coming back to political discourse is either going to take a statesman or a stateswoman who redefines the process back towards what we're accustomed to. Or we might just spin off the rails into having these food fights on a regular basis in politics.

Now having said that, the US economy is in fine shape. The tax reform bill is helping some folks. De-regulation is helping some industries. So absent the political or geo political upset, the economy still looks good. I think we are getting to a point in the cycle where we're at peak growth, where the Federal Reserve may very well accelerate its interest rate increases. And we might have something of a downturn later this year, early 2019 that'll feel challenging.

So I think those are the things people need to pay attention. Mostly really in a lot of ways absent some geo political catastrophe, the Federal Reserve is the thing to watch. If rates start to go up more quickly than people anticipate, even though earnings are good, even though growth is relatively good, we know that rising interest rates generally interfere with stock market performance.

John Curry: Right.

Ron Insana: So there are times that you have to make allocation decisions based on what the Fed's doing, and I think that might be central to the conversation we're going to have later in the year.

John Curry: So what advice would you offer to people listening to this, that hear you say these things? Is it still develop your plan, stay the course?

Ron Insana: Well absolutely. And there are times, and there will be a time again, where you ... And in fact it might even be now, that if you have enormous winners in the stock market that have run up well more than 300%, the index's alone have done that since the bottom of 2009, that you recalibrate your portfolio. You re-balance, you bring the allocation back into what is your planned targets for stocks, for bonds, for other alternatives that you may have, and make sure that those remain in balance and they don't get too far out of whack with respect to the program that you've put in place.

So we've had a huge run up in the market, we've had a little correction. 10% peak to trough, which is normal. And in fact, well overdue in a certain sense. And if you have stocks that have gone absolutely ballistic or hyperbolic, or however you want to describe it, again, it's a good time to pare those back and find some other opportunities in the financial markets that are under-owned, under- loved, and under-explored. And your advisor often times can help you do things like that.

John Curry: That's difficult for most people to do.

Ron Insana: Yeah.

John Curry: Because they see it going up. I don't want to get out of it. It's going great. And then they wait too long. All of a sudden the market comes down. Now they're hurting.

Ron Insana: Well you don't have to sell it. You never have to sell everything. You take some chips off the table. You take some profits. You re-deploy the profits into assess that might be underperforming for a period of time. You might want to put a little more ballast in the portfolio by buying bonds or munies, or something along those lines. Upping your contributions to a whole life insurance policy. However you can meet your goals. You never want to let your portfolio get too far out of balance where you're riding on the back of just a couple of assets, a couple of stocks even.

And then all of a sudden if they do in fact run into trouble, you're going to have to make up that ground later on. So sticking to a balanced plan, however that balance is defined by you and your advisor, is most often the best way to go. 

John Curry: And I think it's key not to have all your money in the market anyway.

Ron Insana: No, I mean you have to have a little cash, a little dry powder.

John Curry: Have some liquidity.

Ron Insana: Absolutely. Look, that's part of that plan which is, how much emergency cash do you need? How much is dedicated to tax deferred savings? How much is dedicated toward even some speculative investments you'd like to make? Do you have what we like to call Vegas Money on hand so that if you see something that's interesting that you want to trade, you can feel comfortable doing that without worrying about the overall plan that you've already put in place.

John Curry: Absolutely. Let's talk a little bit about this conference we're attending.

Ron Insana: Yeah.

John Curry: We've had the pleasure yesterday of going over to Yale University and hearing some professors in the finance and marketing department.

Ron Insana: I'm surprised the divinity school didn't burst into flames when I walked in. But that's another story for another day.

John Curry: [crosstalk 00:12:54].

Ron Insana: It really was.

John Curry: But why are you here? Tell us why you have such an interest in doing what you've done. You've served as our MC this week for Park [inaudible 00:13:03] Securities, conference on retirement masters. Why are you here? Why do you have such a passion for this?

Ron Insana: Well it's an interesting format for me. Having become a contributor to CNBC, and I did go off and manage some money for a period of time after my full time work at CNBC. And I went through that process during the crisis. So it wasn't quite as fruitful as I had anticipated. So I came back, got back in the media business. And then expanded my public speaking business, which in a lot of ways is as fulfilling as my television job used to be.

I get direct feedback from the audience. We do deeper dives without any commercial interruptions when we do interviews, when we do conversations. When I give a speech and then do Q and A with the audience, it's actually informative for me because I get to hear what people on the ground are thinking bout. Whether they're financial advisors. Whether they're an insurance business. Whether they're clients and we're doing client events in some cases. I get to go all around the country and hear what people have on their minds. And that's both in terms of what's happening in the economy and the markets. But it's also in terms of what they're thinking about politically and how they view the news media more broadly, which is always a challenging question I have to face when I'm in front of an audience.

So given the rapid changes in all those areas, it's great for me to hear the audience and hear their concerns or hear what they have going on in their businesses. If their businesses are running hot, how are they feeling about the economy. If they're feeling really hot are they telegraphing that to me in a way so I can use that as an economic indicator. It's really a boots on the ground experience for me that helps me inform some of the things that I still do for CNBC and MSNBC as well.

John Curry: Well, I've been fascinated watching you this week. You take the time to talk with people. You're a celebrity but you are down to earth. You talk with people. You're getting to know people. You're truly a people person. You enjoy getting to know people.

Ron Insana: Absolutely. And for a wide variety of reasons. One, I've kind of always been this way. And have never really shied away from conversations. I kind of like to hear what people are thinking. And it's funny. I used to watch president Clinton when he was in office and I interviewed him on numerous occasions. He had this, in addition to his insatiable curiosity about facts and figures and content, he also had an insatiable desire to talk to people.

John Curry: Right.

Ron Insana: And I always noticed that he drew energy from that. And it's not necessarily something that I added after I met him. But I always find it's informative to me. I make new friends and quite frankly and somewhat selfishly, sometimes you find new business opportunities in these conversations as well.

John Curry: Sure.

Ron Insana: I think shying away from the audience actually leaves you in a position where you get less out of the experience than you would otherwise. 

John Curry: Absolute.

Ron Insana: So some people like to hit and run. It's just never been my style.

John Curry: Same here. Keep on contributing, helping people. Let them grown. As we wrap up, anything you want to end with that you want to share with our listeners.

Ron Insana: I think the more informed they can become and the more aware they are of their circumstances around them locally, literally around them locally within their own companies or chosen professions, but then also more broadly with respect to the news and respect to what's going on with domestic and global events, then the less risk there is of getting blind sided or at least, the better chance you'll have of delivering informed questions to the people that you work with, your advisors. So that you feel comfortable that when you get a question answered, it's adequate to the situation.

So I think as much as people say information has been democratized, it's true up to a point. There's a lot of information but there's not a lot of wisdom. So I think people have to pay enough attention so they know which questions to ask, and also know that they're comfortable that they got their questions answered correctly.

John Curry: Very good. Before we go, tell people how they can tune in to catch your shows.

Ron Insana: Well see I'm on CNBC usually Thursday or Friday on Power Launch, which is one to three Eastern time. MSNBC is fairly random based on the news. They'll call me whenever they want me in. Very often times I'll appear on Stefanie Rules show which is at 9 AM Eastern time. And then we're coming out with a newsletter. Some colleagues of mine and I starting May 1st, called the FAQ, or Financial Advisor Quotient. That's gonna be FAQ, or That should be out may 1st I believe.

John Curry: Very good. Ron Insana. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Ron Insana: Thank you for having me.

John Curry: It's been a pleasure.

Ron Insana: Appreciate it.

If you would like to know more about John Curry’s services, you can request a

complimentary information package by visiting Again, that is Or you can call his office at 850-562-3000.

Again, that is 850-562-3000.

John H. Curry, CLU, ChFC, AEP, MSFS, CLTC, registered representative and financial advisor of Park Avenue Securities, LLC (PAS). Securities products and services and advisory services are offered through PAS, a registered broker dealer and investment advisor. Financial representative of the Guardian Life Insurance company of America, New York, New York. PAS is an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian. North Florida Financial Corporation is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS. PAS is a member of FINRA and SIPC. This material is intended for general public use. By providing this material, we are not undertaking to provide investment advice for any specific individual or situation, or to otherwise act in a fiduciary capacity. Please contact one of our financial professionals for guidance and information specific to your individual situation. All investments contain risk and may lose value. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Guardian nor any of its subsidiaries offer Long Term Care Insurance and Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents or employees do not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice. Please consult with your attorney, accountant, and/or tax advisor for advice concerning your particular circumstances. Not affiliated with The Florida Retirement System. 

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This podcast is for informational purposes only. Guest speakers and their firms are not affiliated with or endorsed by PAS or Guardian and opinions stated are their own. 

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