Is Your Retirement Plan “Airworthy?”


Recently, I took a friend up in my plane for a short lunch trip. As we were cruising along, he asked me, “Bill, how do you know that this plane is mechanically safe? Is the battery charged up? Do you ever check the engine and other systems? How do you know that, structurally, this plane is sound and airworthy?”

At first, I thought he was kidding. But then I realized that with no training or aviation experience, my friend was asking some very good and pertinent questions.

In the world of aviation, we go to great lengths to make sure that our airplanes are airworthy for every single flight. Not only do we do a checklist-driven “pre-flight” before every trip, but we also are required by the FAA to have a thorough annual inspection of all our planes’ systems. Some aircraft owners are irritated by the degree to which these “annuals” are carried out, but I am grateful that my airplane is inspected with a fine-tooth comb each year and before every takeoff. When I’m piloting my plane, I want every advantage available when it comes to the safety of myself and my passengers. And I don’t just want to know that my plane is airworthy for my own peace of mind, I want my passengers to know it too.

Thinking about my plane’s inspection process reminded me of the similar approach we take at Keen Wealth to reviewing our clients’ financial plans. When it comes to financial planning (and flying), my mantra is and always will be: we must control the controllable and be “out in front” of every issue that we can be. A checklist-driven process for your financial plan, coupled with a thorough and deep annual review with a competent fiduciary advisor, is key to keeping your investments airworthy.

Looking for “A Certain Kind of Pilot.”

All our clients have unique lifestyle and family dynamics that affect their financial plans. Combine that complexity with the rapid developments in economics and politics these days, and the dangers to, opportunities for, and strengths of your investment portfolio can change in a heartbeat. Our clients deserve to have a pilot in the captain’s seat who gives them the very best odds of overcoming unexpected challenges.

“Technology is no substitute for experience, skill and judgment,” explains Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. When a flock of Canadian geese jammed the engines in Sully’s Airbus A320, he and first officer Jeff Skiles couldn’t rely on their plane’s highly-automated controls to keep their passengers safe. The “Miracle on the Hudson” was the result of two pilots putting their lifetimes of flying experience, preparation, anticipation, and focus to the best possible use under the direst circumstances.

Well-trained pilots are every bit as valuable to airlines as airworthy planes. Matthias Kippenberg, a former captain with Lufthansa who runs the company’s Airline Training Center Arizona, says, “We are looking for a personality that ensures good communication skills, that ensures leadership potential, the ability to work as part of a team, and low risk-taking.”

Equally important is the ability to compartmentalize and remain focused under pressure. Hugh Schoelzel hired hundreds of pilots when he worked at TWA (now American Airlines) as vice president of corporate safety. “If the wife filed for divorce or the kid was smoking pot or you had a bad score on the prostate test, the pilot can set that aside,” says Hugh. “It’s not that they don’t worry, but you can’t worry about that while making a takeoff on a 777. Not everybody can do that, but virtually all pilots can.”

I expect that same kind of level-headed focus from my team of fiduciary advisors at Keen Wealth. You have every right to be emotional about the money you work so hard to earn, and the long-term plans you have in place. But all too often, investors let their feelings about current events, politicians, or market volatility affect their investment strategies. In fact, according to a recent Vanguard study, one of the ways fiduciary advisors add real value to their clients’ investments is by acting like a financial coach, preventing their clients from making rash decisions based on external factors and keeping them focused on the big picture.

My team at Keen Wealth knows what to do when unexpected turbulence hits, and which levers to pull so your plan adjusts accordingly and remains airworthy.

A Successful Journey Requires Strong Equipment and the Best of the Best at the Controls.

Whether you are boarding a flight or navigating your personal financial journey, you always want the odds in your favor, and the probability of success high. But at the same time, investors and their advisors have to be nimble and prepared for every situation. A purposeful, up-to-date financial plan, administered by a caring and knowledgeable fiduciary expert, is as sturdy and reliable as Sully at the helm of an airworthy aircraft – especially when times are difficult.

Click here to read more about Why Airplanes Are Safe and the “certain kind of pilot” the big airlines want at their controls.

About Bill

Bill Keen: A fiduciary advisor can help pilot your retirement through the unexpected.

Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 24 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit

Keen Wealth Advisors is a Registered Investment Adviser. Nothing within this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Keen Wealth Advisors manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed here. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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