mark leibman

This Land is Your Land

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I have an interest in some land adjacent to the Platte River, near my home. A fairly extensive parcel, it includes small lakes, good places to have a picnic or campfire or pitch a tent, and lovely hiking paths.

Have you ever been mesmerized by the sight of moving water? Ripples on a pond, waves on a lake, or a river flowing seem to connect with us on a deep level. This land offers ample opportunity for inspired introspection.

Walking it in different seasons provides a different experience every time. The leaves of the cottonwoods provide early color in the spring, spring and summer breezes murmur through them, and autumn winds make them rattle as they turn yellow and dry out, before they fall. When bare of leaves, the cottonwoods stand vividly against purple winter dawns and red sunsets.

The time I spend on this land promotes my well-being in every dimension: physically, emotionally, spiritually.

The other day I wondered how much it would cost to buy the parcel today. I was grateful that there is no need to do that; it would be quite expensive.

The interesting thing is, I never bought it, not any fraction of it. My interest in it arises from a state park annual pass. The pass covers the Louisville State Recreation Area, 65 other recreation areas, eight state parks and nine historical parks. Each of us has the same right to it, whether we leave a large mansion or a small apartment to access its wonders. Clients, the twenty states you live in each have something similar.

As we enjoy the present and plan for the future, we benefit ourselves by finding and taking advantage of the opportunities to enrich our lives that are free or nearly so. The ability to be cheaply amused, a valuable trait, is a great one to cultivate.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

All or Nothing

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We keep hearing reasons why financial advisors should have 100% of every client’s invested assets, instead of some fraction. This theory is popular with… financial advisors.

You might guess we have a contrarian opinion on this subject, like most subjects. Our theory is that we end up with all the business we deserve. Since you who own the money are the judge of that, we are relieved of the burden of worrying about it. We don’t want any money in our shop that doesn’t want to be here, after all.

There are sound reasons to consolidate assets in one place – including lower costs through volume discounts. But some may prefer not to do that, for whatever reason.

Our investment approach is different than most. Rather than use the standard pie chart approach of owning a little bit of everything, or outsourcing investment management to some third party somewhere, we do hands-on research and our own thinking, using individual securities as appropriate. So our work is a useful diversification, something different, from run-of-the-mill conventional portfolio management using investment products instead of stocks and bonds.

When somebody wants to allocate a fraction of their wealth to our care, it is fine by us. We already know how much business we will ultimately end up with: all that we deserve.

It turns out that remembering whose money it is not only respects the people who engage with us, but also reduces our stress.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

The Gong Show, Seminar Edition

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I spend most of my days working with you or for you on your investments and planning. A few days each year are spent at seminars and conferences, working to get better at working with you or for you.

It is great to find a new perspective or idea or tool that helps us with our work, especially delivered by an inspired and inspiring speaker. But sometimes things we see and hear are just not a good fit for our values and philosophies. The last seminar I attended had much that was helpful.

But the part that was not helpful was interesting. Reflecting on it, it had to do with a mismatch in philosophy.

One of the speakers was a consultant for a coaching outfit, one that works with financial advisors to help them grow their businesses. After the preliminaries, he began his presentation by asking attendees to visualize how much money they wanted to make, three years down the road, encouraging our ambitions. And then, write that number down in the notebook provided. Next, how many millions in client assets did we want, three years hence? Write that down.

Thinking about the future and setting goals is a familiar and valuable exercise. But it was what came next that made me think of The Gong Show.

(One of the first reality TV talent shows, The Gong Show featured amateur acts appearing before a panel of celebrity judges. A judge could end an audition by striking a loud gong.)

The next topic after the money exercise was about the importance of being client-focused. Before many words were said about how vital it is to be centered on clients, I heard the gong in my head and thought, “Too late. You already established that you are focused on money, not clients.”

We concluded long ago that the better off you are, the better off we are likely to be, down the road. So when I walk in the door of 228 Main each morning I think, “What can we do to grow the buckets?” Of course, that’s not the only thing. We also work on helping you use your resources in your real life, to spend well. It is all part of being better off. Our business objective is to improve your outcomes.

The better off you are, the better off we are likely to be. My income is a byproduct of how well or poorly we help you become better off. That fits the definition of client focus a lot more closely than having your results be a leftover effect of how much money I want to make.

There were other things in that seminar presentation that struck me as off, but if I had a gong I would not have heard them.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Making Money the Old-Fashioned Way

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Years ago, the Wall Street firm of E.F. Hutton advertised “We make money the old-fashioned way. We earn it.” This tag line evoked a world of indepth research into securities and markets, and investment analysis by experienced professionals.

E.F. Hutton disappeared into a series of mergers, and making money the old-fashioned way is increasingly scarce. One popular theory now is that security selection does not matter, only the allocation of money across the different sectors of the market.

Combined with the idea that past patterns of volatility and past returns by sector should dictate what one should own for the future, many modern ‘investment advisors’ pay no attention to individual company stocks or bonds.

It seems to us that owning stock in a failing chain of department stores is a lot different than owning the world’s largest online retailer. A few automakers survived, hundreds did not. Buying a corporate bond for 50 cents on the dollar is a totally different proposition than selling it for 50 cents on the dollar. Owning some of everything is different than being selective.

Our experience says security selection DOES matter.

One of our strategies is to try to find ownership in great companies at decent prices, to buy and hold. Looking for cyclical companies at low points in the cycle is another strategy. And simply seeking bargains anywhere in the investment universe is a third.

This is not easy. Conditions are always uncertain. There are no guarantees. It takes a lot of effort and energy. There is no assurance that the old-fashioned way will make money, as E.F. Hutton claimed.

But we are trying.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

New Lifestyles, New Plans

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It seems that life used to be plainly segmented. First we got educated, then we worked, then we retired.

Financial plans followed suit: first we accumulated during our working years, then we spent in retirement – hopefully, not running out of money before we died.

Increasingly in the 21st century, life is sliced and diced. Periods of education may happen at any age. People remake themselves to meet the needs of the marketplace, or their own preferences. Stretches of leisure may be mixed in with periodic bouts of consulting or other work in the golden years.

Some people choose to retire to volunteering or a new business venture or employment in a more enjoyable field, or seasonally, or part-time. There are a lot of ways to live life these days.

In addition to changing lifestyle patterns, people are living longer than ever before.

In this new environment, financial plans and planning need to be more flexible, and serve different purposes. The key theme: flexibility.

1. Investment products that tie your money up for years are less appropriate than before, as changing circumstances could mean an unforeseen need for liquidity.

2. The accumulation of funds in traditional retirement accounts still makes sense. Adequate funds make work optional in later years, or enable volunteer work or even a business start-up.

3. It may pay to pay more attention to tax brackets, as shifting circumstances could change tax status from year to year. Techniques to take advantage of low-bracket years may reduce lifetime total income taxes.

The key, of course, is not what the trends are or what many people are doing, but what YOU want to do. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Warm and Fuzzy Productivity

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The last fifty years in business have seen the transformation from pencil and ledger to spreadsheet, the secretarial pool typing letters to email, research in the library replaced by internet services. Every process can be done exponentially better, faster, and cheaper than half a century ago.

With the incredible increase in productivity over this period, it is a wonder some believe that more increases in office productivity will fix the central issues we face. In our business, as in every business, cost pressures continually push us to do more with less.

It is the conceit of every industry that margin pressure is something that uniquely affects it. In fact, the whole history of human enterprise can be summed up in two words: shrinking margins. The first supermarkets had lower margins than the butcher, the baker and the dairy they replaced. The Sears catalogue had lower margins than the general store. Charles Schwab had lower margins than E.F. Hutton.

The way we see our work, honesty and competence are the entry requirements to the business arena. Beyond that, the productivity issues do not center around software and systems, but people and connections:

1. Do we have the empathy to put ourselves in your shoes and understand your heartfelt objectives, to learn what you can tell us about your needs and situation?

2. Do we have the creativity to collaborate with you on strategies and tactics that may get you closer to where you want to go, in light of all factors: market, economic, tax, everything?

3. Do we have the ability to communicate what you need to know in order to work effectively toward your goals?

‘Relationship’ is the word that sums up these points. Relationships are at the heart of whatever past success we’ve had with you, and whatever exciting future we may build. You, the best clients in the world, play a starring role.

In this view, the key technologies are not how fast some back-office process gets done nor the colors in the pie chart nor pages of dense calculations of statistical history. The key technologies are those things that enable you and us to communicate. When we get basic information to all of you at once, our one-on-one talks can start at a higher level and go farther.

Blog posts at 228Main.com, social media, videos, and our email newsletter are the ways we talk to everybody at once. (None of these existed fifty years ago!) Emails, phone calls, and meetings let us go one-on-one to work on your issues. We have worked diligently to master the technology that most matters to our mutual success: communications.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

For Those Close to Our Clients

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We believe there is an edge in playing the long game, and thinking long term. This applies to life and investing and planning, in our view.

In our work for clients, there is often a legacy aspect to it. Financially independent people tend to leave assets behind for loved ones or subsequent generations. This means that from time to time we find it necessary to work with a trustee or executor or beneficiaries or heirs of a client.

So those left behind face a lot of new things, and often need to try to gain a feel for what we are all about here at 228 Main – decide whether we are trustworthy – at the same time. Clients sometimes tell us they hope their children will listen to our counsel, and hope that we will be there to work with heirs.

Recently a client expressed these kinds of wishes, and the hope that her children would get engaged with us, and perhaps use their inheritance wisely.

This makes sense. We all want the best things to happen. Our work is not finished until we have done what we can to make the best things more likely.

Here’s an idea that can help you and us improve the odds of success in this legacy work. Provide us with the email addresses of your children, heirs, trustees, executors, and other interested parties. We will add them to our weekly email newsletter list. By reading the blogs and watching the videos, others can gain a sense for what we are about. Convenient, on their schedule, people have told us it is a great way to get acquainted.

We don’t have time to bug people on our list, and it is very simple to unsubscribe. Nobody will get unsolicited spam or phone calls as a result of being on the subscriber list.

So if you are a client wishing to acquaint others with our work, please get us names and email addresses so we can add them to the list. If you are receiving emails from us and don’t know why, this is it. Unsubscribe if you would like, you’ll get no hassle from us. We are busy trying to grow the buckets entrusted to our care.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Takeovers Mean Turmoil

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Recent news in the investment industry touched close to home in Nebraska. Charles Schwab is to buy TDAmeritrade, and move the headquarters to Texas. How many of the 2250 jobs will be left in Nebraska is uncertain. A lot of things will change.

The first shares of stock I ever bought were at the discount brokerage firm Joe Ricketts founded. At the time, the place had fewer than twenty employees. It was in a second floor walkup office in a second-rate building in downtown Omaha. The lobby had a most amazing gizmo: a little Quotron machine. You could punch in a stock symbol, and it would show you the current price.

Those prices were not in dollars and cents, but dollars and fractions. XYZ might be selling at 27 ½ , ABC at 9 ¼.

Before personal computers, before the internet, stock quotes were something you got out of the newspaper or called your broker for. The afternoon paper had noon prices; the morning paper had the previous day’s closing prices.

But in the Ameritrade lobby, a dozen patrons stood in an endless loop of a line, waiting for a turn at the Quotron. They punched the symbols in, looked at the prices (some wrote them down), then went to the back of the line to wait for another turn. Daytrading took more patience then.

Later, the firm pioneered getting information to the people by making stock quotes available from any touch-tone phone. (Kids, ask your grandparents what I’m talking about.) Then the internet made a lot more things possible.

It is not for me to judge the takeover transaction; it evidently makes sense to the people who are making the decisions. We will do our best to help affected employees, of course. We will always remember the typically American story of innovation and success that Ameritrade represents.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

20/20 Foresight

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The New Year is upon us. Like Opening Day of baseball season, the first day of school, or any other beginning, it is a good time for plans and planning.

We’ve been able to focus on strategic issues in recent weeks, ones that will shape our work for you in the years to come. The general theme? Build an enterprise that will serve you well, and be durable enough to outlive me.

While we work ON the business, of course, we also need to work IN the business, taking care of things for you. Fortunately, we know exactly what the stock market and the economy are going to do: go up and down, same as always. Time tested principles and strategies will always be the foundation of our work with you. They do not eliminate the ups and downs, but they improve the odds we will survive them and come out on the other side.

The items on our list are wide ranging. The more significant ones: finding and developing more good people to join the team, figuring out office space, determining whether we need to form our own Registered Investment Advisor, guiding the evolution of our offerings, and building a more robust financial planning process.

But enough about us. What about your strategic issues? If you want to talk about retirement, changing where you live, sorting out who should get what after you are gone, or simply where to invest for the long run, email us or call.

Where Did the Decade Go?

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We experience life as a series of moments. The future approaches, then becomes the present for a moment, and passes into history.

The dawn of the third decade of the 21st century is upon us; the current decade is nearly history. The moments we had!

In the first days of 2010, my wife Cathy flew to Florida to furnish and outfit a newly purchased condo; I joined her after a couple weeks. We began our life as snowbirds, skipping some cold weather weeks in Nebraska. (Planning to work to age 92, we had to figure out how to have some fun along the way.)

Our Office Manager Greg Leibman agreed to help in the office here at 228 Main during my absence, January 2010. It did not take long for me to get a glimmer of the potential of that association for the business.

Our planning, disruptions, and adaptations led to surprising growth and development. We focused more tightly on investment advisory business, performed under the auspices of LPL Financial’s RIA (registered investment advisor). That side of the business now accounts for over 70% of assets, $70 million now. That structure elevates our desire to serve your best interests to a binding obligation upon us, the way we like it.

The family health challenges we worked with for most of the decade brought us to a revolution in communications, forced me to learn how to delegate effectively and figure out how to build a team to serve you. The lesson I learned from my life with Cathy, make the most of what you have, enabled us to keep things running so we had the health insurance and resources she needed in her illness.

We had more than full measures of pain and joy in the decade. That is what life is made of.

And now a new decade looms. We hope to be able to make an interesting report to you about it, ten years hence.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.