Rob Carpenter is Baltimore magazine’s Thought Leader of the Month

Baltimore-Washington Financial Advisors, Inc. (BWFA), was founded in 1986 and is headquartered in Columbia, Maryland. BWFA is among the largest and oldest independent, fee-only financial advisory firms in the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area. BWFA acts as a fiduciary and serves clients throughout the Mid-Atlantic area and nationally. Here, president and CEO Robert Carpenter talks about wealth management, retirement planning, and more.

Explain who BWFA is and the services you offer.
We are a fee-only, fiduciary advisory. Retirement and estate planning are core capabilities for us, and we provide planning for clients of any age and financial circumstance. Our clients are individuals, families, and organizations that want exceptional financial planning services, investment management, and tax services. 

What does it mean to be “fee-only” and why is being a fiduciary so important?
Fee-only means we don’t sell anything except our advice. We are strictly fee-only, meaning compensation for the services we provide comes solely from our clients. We do not participate in contests, commissions, or bonuses. When evaluating your advisory options, it is important to note that fee-only fiduciary advisors are able to stay independent from conflicts of interest and stay focused entirely on the needs of their clients. 

What is the “Retirement Zone” and what do consumers need to understand about it?
Anyone considering retirement within five years is in the “Retirement Zone,” though the newly retired can fall into the zone, too. For many, this is a chaotic, uncertain time, but it doesn’t need to be. Consumers need to ask themselves are they ready to retire? Can they afford to retire? Retirement is life-changing—are you emotionally ready for retirement? Your financial advisor should be there to guide you through this time of transition. Comprehensive retirement and estate planning is a careful, precise process. Our approach is to help bring clarity to our client’s goals, and identify issues, problems, and solutions so our clients feel confident that their goals are attainable. The end game is always peace of mind. 

“By taking a holistic view of one’s finances and anticipating and properly planning for the events in your life that generate large tax liabilities, you may be able to increase your overall wealth retention.”

BWFA integrates tax services into its wealth management advice. Why is that important?
Few people like the idea of turning over their hard-earned money to the government. An advantage of offering income tax planning services in addition to financial planning and investment advisory is that we’re better prepared to give wise tax advice in an integrated process. Wealth management, estate planning, wise investing—all these aspects of your financial life are interlaced with your taxes. When your advisor provides tax planning, you can avail yourself of their knowledge of estate and gift tax planning, and potentially avoid the various penalties that may apply to retirement plan distributions if taken incorrectly. Without a solid financial plan, individuals could pay more in taxes than would otherwise be necessary. By taking a holistic view of one’s finances and anticipating and properly planning for the events in your life that generate large tax liabilities, you may be able to increase your overall wealth retention. 

Where can consumers go to find accurate information to help build their financial literacy?
Client education is paramount. We live in an era of information overload and much of it can be complex or even erroneous, so it is essential that you get your information from a reputable source. At BWFA, we host a podcast channel where we offer information on everything from investing to taxes, we release weekly economic updates on our website, and we conduct as many as 180 online webinars a year on important topics like how and when to opt-in to Social Security. We offer that free to anyone, regardless of the client relationship, because we believe in the importance of financial wellbeing for all. 

When an individual or family is looking for a wealth management firm, what questions do they need to ask before trusting their money to that firm?
Is the firm a fiduciary? Is the firm headquartered in Maryland? Does the firm work in a team structure? Does the firm coordinate investments, financial planning, estate planning, and business secession planning into one integrated approach? Do I trust the people at the firm with my life savings? Today’s investment landscape is more complex than ever before. Increasingly, it takes a team of experts to successfully navigate that landscape. It is essential that you have a relationship built on trust and proven experience when you embark on this very life-changing journey of financial wellbeing.