Broker Check

List of Advisors Physicians Need in a Financial Plan

May 04, 2024

The advice physicians give is known for its endless teamwork with generalists and specialists evaluating and auditing patient care under various circumstances. In some cases, the patient enjoys seamless integration in an inpatient setting, while sometimes the onus is on the patient to schedule with outpatient specialists. In either situation, it’s a great reminder that one person can’t know everything. What a primary care physician doesn’t know, she asks a colleague who has a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

It has recently occurred to me that even the beginning years of a physician’s financial lives are incredibly complicated. In residency or fellowship, for example, a physician’s finances can be a difficult task to manage with just the following financial pieces alone:

  1. Student loans that are constantly evolving, both in balances and in regulations,
  2. Credit card debt that carries tricky interest rates,
  3. Incomes that barely support survival,
  4. A future job contract that needs to be understood,
  5. And a schedule that demands full focus.

The resident’s finances are complex. Add an attending physician’s salary, benefits, and spending to this situation, and you can quickly generate a messy financial picture. Not only is a physician managing complicated patient care, but they are also managing many complicated financial institutions; yet the physician is trained to handle only one of these items. This is one area where endless teamwork can greatly benefit a physician’s livelihood.

The field of financial planning is heavily dependent on teamwork, and the referrals between financial and legal advisors can work smoothly. For a physician to build a financial team, there are some foundational advisors that are often necessary for a comprehensive approach to financial planning. While a patient can begin with primary care physician, he might add more physicians to his care as his health needs become more complicated. This principle is similar with physicians seeking financial advice; a generalist is a great starting point. Here are some of the advisors a physician might consider when developing their financial planning team.

Financial Planner

A financial planner is normally considered akin to the primary care provider in a financial plan. You will likely communicate with your financial planner more often than any other advisor. The financial planner will help you identify objectives to consider, potential hazards to avoid, and outfit you with education to apply to your specific situation. The financial planner will help to educate you on how the other advisors fit into your world, and they also help to translate what the other advisors do – or have done. If you don’t already have your financial planning team assembled, the financial planner can help you develop these relationships to complete your team. If you already have some or all your team established, the financial planner will work to highlight the benefits of each team member and to improve the relationship between you and each team member. If there is a team member fundamentally lacking in their respective department, the financial planner can either get that team member moving forward as they should or seek to replace the team member with a more focused one.

Accountant

For residents or hospital employees, an accountant’s role might be self-fulfilled alongside a tax filing software; however, there comes a point where a physician’s taxes can get somewhat complicated. That point of complication varies from person to person, as complexity is wildly subjective. If you have a W-2 only, then filing taxes can be basic. If you have rental property, taxable investments, business entities, or self-employment income, then the tax situation might warrant utilizing professional input.

Choosing an accountant doesn’t have to be difficult. If you don’t have an accountant, you might ask a colleague for a referral. If you have other advisors helping you, such as a financial planner or insurance agent, you can get their recommendations as well. One thing to consider when selecting an accountant is this: what kind of services do you want and what kind of relationship do you want with the accountant. If you just want tax filing services, a generalist accountant might be a good fit. If you run your own clinic or have real estate property or have some kind of complex financial situation, you may want a more specialized accountant. There are some accountants that handle certain transactions, such as real estate transactions and maintenance, as a specialty. More than likely, a specialist will be a bit more expensive than a generalist in any service provider, but if you fit the specialist’s client profile, there’s a good chance the added expense may be money well spent, either as a time-saving factor or a money-saving factor (or both!).

Attorney

Like physicians, attorneys often specialize in their respective fields. Attorneys can be compared to the surgeons of a financial plan; they are necessary when you need them, but you only need them during specific circumstances. Attorneys are generally called into action on a transactional basis, such as creating a trust or purchasing a business. Typically, the first time a physician will encounter an attorney might be to review an employment contract or create a will and a trust. These initial transactions improve the confidence in utilizing an attorney on a more frequent basis. Even though you might not reach out to your attorney very often, having the confidence and comfort in the relationship is paramount when it’s time to get the attorney involved.

A physician will likely have a relationship with two different attorney specialists throughout their career: an estate planning attorney and a defense attorney. The estate planning attorney works with the other advisors to set up a formal estate plan that coordinates with the financial plan. Finding an estate planning attorney that specializes in estate planning is the key to this relationship. These specialists help the planning process go smoother and they can more efficiently provide education and advice to decisions that will last for 100+ years in some instances.

A defense attorney – specifically one who defends physicians – is an important contact to have on hand, even if there is no present need. When you need one of these attorneys, you really need one. Most of the time, you might contact this attorney once every five years to see if you need them or not, and normally, you don’t – but let them tell you that! If you work for a hospital, the hospital has their own attorneys, and it can appear that the hospital's attorneys are your attorneys, but that's not the case. The defense attorney ensures that your interests are considered when the hospital's attorney gets involved.

Insurance Agent

There are two primary types of insurance agents: Property/Casualty Insurance (P&C Insurance) agents and life insurance agents. The P&C insurance agents handle the car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, umbrella insurance, and they sometimes even dabble in term life insurance. If you run your own clinic, own a business, or own real estate, your P&C insurance agent can be useful in originating and managing the insurance contracts that are appropriate for your situation. The value a P&C insurance agent brings is the contracts they have with insurance companies. Some P&C insurance agents are captive agents, permitting them to offer insurance policies from only one company, while others are independent insurance agents, offering insurance policies from multiple insurance companies. I don’t have preferences or recommendations on which is better – captive or independent – as long as they are able to provide you the insurance policies you need.

Life insurance agents handle life insurance, disability insurance, long term care insurance, and annuities. Many of the even offer investment services. These insurance agents often call themselves financial advisors, and they normally work for some kind of life insurance company. If they label themselves as advisors, they often try to over-emphasize the important of insurance in a financial plan; this action can be a conflict of interest, as it is an attempt to generate more commissions on insurance sales. These insurance agents are necessary, but they should be used appropriately. Far too often, I see inappropriate products generated from this group. A lot of physicians have been taken advantage of from captive life insurance agents who have tricky sales quotas to fulfill. While these insurance agents have some specialized training in estate and retirement planning, their training normally revolves around insurance products instead of strategies in financial planning fundamentals. I’m not stating that these advisors are inherently bad, but the nature of these relationships can get a bit tricky due to commission-driven compensation combined with the nature of the advice they normally give.

Physicians have many unique financial planning situations they encounter on a normal basis. Developing a solid foundation in their plan and walking through decisions that are designed to last for multiple generations is an important task that often needs some specialized guidance. These advisors bring their own value to the table to help physicians address specific needs. Some of the advisors are more relational, while others are transactional. Finding the right advisor can be a task in itself, and one good advisor can lead you to piecing together your team of professionals.