By: Jason D. Nickerson, CFP®, EA, Executive Vice President &Chief Operating Officer, John G. Ullman & Associates
There is a reason cybersecurity is recognized as one of the critical issues facing businesses today. The security of your personal finances is just as important and this area of financial planning needs much more attention than it is getting in large part because most advisors do not take the time to get a full understanding of their client’s full wealth. Outside of adjusting your investments when the market seems shaky, when was the last time you really thought about mitigating risk for you and your family? If you have thought about this recently, did you take any steps to address it?
Below are a number of items that we often overlook, yet in many cases are easy to address.
Umbrella Liability Policy: You would be surprised at the number of families we come across that either still do not have one or they have one that does not come close to adequately covering their level of risk. Does your insurance agent know your net worth? Have you discussed ALL the risks of liability in your life with them? It’s not uncommon for insurance agents to be given enough information to get their policies in place, then move towards a “set it and forget” position and it’s too late when they find out their coverage isn’t adequate.
Credit Freeze: Recall the 2017 Equifax breach? This is an institution that serves as the gateway to our credit score and therefore has all our precious information. It is becoming our standard practice to take a hands-on approach with our clients and put credit freezes in place. If left to their own volition to handle, it typically doesn’t get done. We do this because it has gotten much easier to temporarily “thaw” your credit and re-freeze when you decide to look at new lines of credit.
Credit Card Alerts: Generally, credit card companies will cover you in the case of fraudulent expenditures. However, if you are not paying close enough attention the process may become onerous when you catch charges months down the road. As a way to be more proactive, set alerts on your card(s) to receive text messages when they are used. Consider setting low limits for the alerts as fraudsters tend to test their scalping of card information with some small purchases before they go for the big one.
Footprint: We are often conditioned to think “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Have you applied that concept to the number of financial institutions with which you have relationships? You might have, even inadvertently. You think that if there is a breach with one of those companies, you still have others available to you. What if you turned your thinking and made yourself harder to find in the first place? Reducing the spread of your information and financial transactions may be a more secure way to operate.
What else? Our advice and work with clients in this area goes further and is an active part of our relationship. Here are a few other ideas for you to consider:
- Virtual Private Network (VPN) on personal devices: Yes, this can be very beneficial. There are companies both very well-known and lesser known with great subscription options to protect your online dealings through personal devices, including your cell phone and tablet.
- Credit Monitoring Service: Maybe. You would be providing a substantial amount of personal information to yet another company. We have worked with clients to set up simple systems to monitor this on their own, without the use of one of these companies, with a combination of tactics mentioned above in addition to some others not mentioned.
- Two Factor Authentication whenever available: Yes, and the old advice of changing passwords regularly still applies as well.
I believe this area of financial planning does not get enough attention and it needs to get much more. You see, we believe in protection planning first, then growth. Why? You cannot grow what is not there.