How Advisors Use Caribou: A Conversation with Russ Thornton, Wealthcare for Women

Caribou Team
April 19, 2024

Ever wonder how other financial planning firms use Caribou’s healthcare planning software? Or maybe you want to hear from an advisor, rather than the Caribou team, what the benefits of offering healthcare planning are. We’ve got just the thing for you! 

Our team sat down with Russ Thornton, Retirement Advisor at Wealthcare for Women, to ask him about his experience with healthcare planning thus far. But before we get into how Russ uses healthcare planning, let’s get to know him a little better.

“I have been a financial advisor for a little over 30 years now. I started fresh out of college. I started with a big, big brokerage firm and I didn't really have a natural network at the time cause I was a 21-year-old and didn't honestly know what the heck I was doing. I literally cold-called people for the first handful of years. And I can't say that I thrived, but I did survive in that environment. Despite that, I fell in love with the business because of the relationships I built with clients. There are some who I've been working with almost my entire career now. So, that's been really fun and rewarding. It's been great to see these people kind of evolve and age through different transitions and periods of their lives. To play a small role and help them move forward financially with comfort and confidence has been truly rewarding. I can't say that I knew coming out of college that I wanted to get into this business, but I'm so thankful and blessed that I did because it's something that I really enjoy.”

Wealthcare for Women is part of Wealthcare Capital Management, an SEC-registered Investment Adviser. Although he doesn’t work exclusively with women, Russ found himself working with a majority of women. Particularly women who are widows, nearing retirement, divorced, or who just want to feel confident and comfortable with their financial plan. This, and a personal experience involving his mom, led him to the decision to fully embrace a brand centered on women.

“I don't work with women exclusively but at a certain point in my career, I decided to embrace a brand focused primarily on women. So my parent company, Wealthcare Capital Management is the RIA that I work under and Wealthcare for Women is my own brand for my clientele and the marketing that I do. There's a bit of a personal story tied in there too. My mom and dad got divorced right when I was graduating. My mom stayed at home and took care of my two younger brothers and my dad had been very, very successful. He's now retired. Long story short, my mom got a lot of assets, spousal support, and child support for my two younger brothers who were still at home at the time. But today she is in her mid-seventies and is more or less broke. She gets Social Security and she gets a little bit of a pension for my dad, which she was awarded back during the divorce. But she's kind of gone through all the assets and other financial resources that she was rewarded in the divorce. My brothers and I have seen firsthand how that could have, and probably should have, turned out much differently and much more positively for her. So that personal story and personal experience, which I'm continuing to live by today and help my mom as much as I can, combined with this kind of natural market that I developed working with women led to my niche.”

Today, over 50% of Russ’ book are women who are divorced, widowed, single, or on their own in some way. The rest of his clients are couples in which the woman is very much engaged in the family finances. There are one or two single men that he works with, but otherwise, Russ has found genuine joy in working with and serving women; particularly those who are in the pre-retiree or retiree phase. 

“I've seen things like investment management become increasingly commoditized. I'm always looking for different ways to add value and help my clients have more peace of mind and comfort around their future finances. Increasingly, I've had clients tell me that they're concerned about their future healthcare. Anything from their ongoing healthcare and health insurance coverage to, ‘How does Medicare work? How do I transition to Medicare? What if I have long-term care needs later in life?’ That's something that is on everyone's minds. I think for a lot of my clients who are women, it's even more of a topic of focus for them because many of them are or have in the past been in a role where they've had to take care of their aging parents.”

These client concerns are partly what prompted Russ to partner with Caribou.

“I appreciate the fact that Caribou takes an objective role. They're not here to sell clients a policy at the end of the process. They're there to help clients make the most informed decision for whatever their particular situation may be. And then, Caribou can instruct the clients on ways to get the coverage. Something I’ve noticed is that a lot of the vendors, particularly Medicare consultants in the financial advisory space, if you scroll down to the bottom of their webpage there's a disclosure or a disclaimer that says something like, ‘We're not able to offer every Medicare plan available in your geography or your zip code.’ That's because they’re registered with these underwriters to sell policies and they either can't or don't want to be registered or licensed with all of the available carriers in all zip codes. So they're limited in the scope of what they can offer. In my opinion, I think that these brokers can't truly offer a service that aligns with my fiduciary responsibility like Caribou can.”

Although all clients benefit from healthcare planning, Russ shared that Caribou’s healthcare planning software has been an especially important value-add for Medicare-eligible and retiree clients.

“Most of my clients are 55 plus, so if they're not already retired, they'll probably be approaching retirement soon. I’ve had some situations where clients retire at 60, and they need some kind of coverage between 60 and 65, since you can’t enroll in Medicare until you’re 65. With the help of Caribou, we've looked at their options and my clients have been able to make informed, confident decisions about their healthcare coverage. But, primarily, I used HealthPlanner for my Medicare clients.” 

“And, I wanted to also share the approach I’ve taken when it comes to guiding clients through the healthcare planning process. I don't just introduce the client to Caribou, wish them luck, and tell them to knock themselves out. I deliberately stay very involved in the process. So I invite the client to HealthPlanner (Caribou’s platform) and tell them they'll receive a questionnaire. If after a week or so that hasn't been filled out, I'll follow up with them to see if they have any questions and offer to get on the phone with them or get them on the phone with Caribou to help them fill out the questionnaire information. Once Caribou notifies both the client and me that the HealthPlanning Analysis is complete, I'll reach out to the client and schedule a consulting call between my client and myself to spend an hour to go through their analysis, make sure the client understands it, and answer questions they have. And these have been tremendously valuable conversations. Clients always walk away, even clients that maybe have been on Medicare for a year or two already, walk away and say, ‘I learned something. I never knew that.’ It’s just been a great experience.” 

When it comes to incorporating the cost of HealthPlanner into his fee structure, Russ has chosen to take on the cost of the software.

“Most of my clients have a certain level of net worth that makes choosing to put them through the healthcare planning process a much easier decision as part of a cost that I bear relative to the revenue I receive from those clients. I’ve used Caribou with a variety of clients at all different levels of wealth and have gotten really great feedback from everyone who’s received a HealthPlanning Analysis.”

When asked to share a client story of a time when healthcare planning made a difference not only in a client’s financial plan but also in their life and overall experience as a Wealthcare for Women client, Russ shared a recent story:

“Just recently I was introduced to a potential client. The husband just retired and the wife is a few years younger than he is. He's eligible to enroll in Medicare, but she is not. So there was a question of, ‘Should she go on COBRA coverage from his previous employer, or should she look at Marketplace plan options?’ We went through the healthcare planning process with Caribou and had a great discussion. They gave me great feedback and, I don’t want to count chickens before they’re hatched but, I think they will likely become a client and if they do the HealthPlanning Analysis will have certainly played a big role in that.” 

“Another example I can give is about one of my wealthiest clients, who retired in the last year or so. He had to evaluate and make Medicare decisions. I think a lot of advisors (and maybe even myself, previously) would have assumed that healthcare planning is less important for wealthy clients because it's not going to weigh as much on their cash flow or their expenses. But this client was very engaged in the conversation, got a ton out of it, and has told me multiple times since his HealthPlanning Analysis that he really enjoyed the Caribou experience and having Caribou as an additional resource on his planning team alongside myself to help him make sure he's got the best coverage and cost for his situation going forward.”

To wrap things up, when Russ was asked how he would describe healthcare planning and Caribou to other advisors, he had this to say:

“I would tell them that healthcare planning allows me to take a more proactive role in helping my clients evaluate and explore their options for health insurance coverage. Whether that's pre-retirement, in retirement, pre-Medicare, enrolling in Medicare, reviewing their Medicare drug plans, overall Medicare coverage once they've been enrolled, or all of the above. It can also be as simple as a couple with a child who’s turning 26 and coming off the family plan, so the child needs to find suitable coverage. I've had that conversation with a couple of clients, and so from my perspective, healthcare planning is important to me as an additional way to demonstrate tangible value to clients outside of traditional retirement planning, portfolio management, that sort of thing. And clients really appreciate it, in my experience. They appreciate the fact that I'm being proactive. They appreciate the fact that I've partnered with a truly objective resource like Caribou. I've got glowing feedback and reviews from people who have gone through the Caribou consulting process.”

If a financial advisor were on the fence about offering healthcare planning, Russ said:

“If there's any advisor out there who is on the fence, or is thinking about including healthcare planning as part of their service offering or to their clients, I would absolutely encourage you to reach out and talk to the team at Caribou. Get an understanding of how they can help and how they can further elevate you and allow you to deliver more value to your clients.” 

“It’s been a game changer for the level of engagement and depth of conversations I've started to have with my clients. They've been super appreciative not just of Caribou and the service provided, but the fact that I brought Caribou to the table. So, it’s created a great client experience.”

To learn more about Russ and Wealthcare for Women, check out his LinkedIn here and subscribe to his newsletter here. You can also check out the Wealthcare for Women website here.

Want to speak to someone about how you can make sense of the complexity of healthcare? Click here to schedule a meeting.

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