Getting in Shape
Are you financially fit? Ask The Barlow Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
by Bill Donahue


Every Thursday at 5 a.m., Drew Barlow awakens to the buzz of the alarm clock, rolls out of bed and heads to the gym. By 6 a.m., he’s at the front of the Spinning® room at the Cornerstone Fitness Club in Doylestown, where he teaches an indoor-cycling class to fitness enthusiasts devoted to improving themselves, one rotation at a time.


Barlow, a certified Spinning instructor for the past eight years, has long been a devotee of indoor cycling—not only for his own physical health but also because he loves to lead and teach others. Interestingly, he sees a number of significant similarities between maintaining one’s physical fitness and one’s financial fitness, which he does as senior vice president and financial advisor with The Barlow Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Doylestown.


“Fitness training is not easy, and neither is creating and managing your retirement income,” says Barlow, who also coaches youth soccer at the Buckingham United Soccer Club. “I’m out there leading this rigorous training session because I enjoy it, but also because I think it’s important to help others get better at something that’s important to them. It’s the same with helping people get results in their financial lives.”


Brian McKeon, also senior vice president and financial advisor with The Barlow Group, is equally committed to fitness. Rather than Spinning, however, he hones his mind, body and spirit through the sport of boxing, which is an activity he began pursuing five years ago while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery.


“Boxing is an individual sport where you know right away if you’re doing a good job or not,” McKeon says. “And you can’t blame anybody else for not being prepared. That’s what I love about the financial markets, too. In order to be successful, you need to be prepared and disciplined.”


In matters of wealth and health for retirement years, Barlow and McKeon see four core characteristics common to both that a person must master in order to reach one’s goals—namely, discipline, endurance, flexibility and education. It’s about creating the kind of quality of life that will leave you feeling good about your finances and feeling fit.


Discipline: “In order to improve your fitness level you have to make sure you have a structured training program and a realistic nutritional plan that will become a lifestyle and that will produce consistent results,” Barlow says. “You can apply the same thinking to today’s financial markets, while maintaining focus and discipline is necessary to guide your portfolio through the most challenging markets. Investors need to maintain a strong risk-management discipline to help them deal with all the ups and downs and the inherent uncertainty of the financial markets.”


This can be challenging considering society’s focus on instant gratification. But there’s no room for so-called quick fixes in fitness or finances, according to McKeon.


“Rolling with the punches is critical for survival,” he says. “There are all sorts of changes thrown our way—and there will be more to come. You can’t out-trade the markets. Everyone is a trader these days, it seems. At the same time, trading is getting more and more sophisticated and fast paced. Trading is not an investment strategy, but it’s a disciplined approach executed over time that will likely give you the best results, using time-honored techniques like proper diversification, risk scenario analysis and portfolio stress testing.”


Endurance: In the physical-fitness realm, people can most effectively build cardiovascular endurance and strong muscles with a slow and steady approach, reaping small yet consistent gains along the way. Some people, however, are tempted to over-train and sometimes wind up getting injured in the process. The same can be said of one’s investment strategy.


“Diversification is not designed to protect against market movements in very short-term time horizons,” McKeon says. “It’s designed to provide optimal performance results over very long periods of time, and there’s nothing to suggest that that expectation will not be fulfilled. Instead of trying to immediately score big gains, people should be involved in the basic activities of having systematic investments and a retirement plan that is properly funded. You build that financial base over a period of years.


“It can require an extraordinary amount of time and energy to execute a successful strategy,” he adds. And, like exercise, there’s no age limit on seeing gains through sustainable investing.


Flexibility: Flexibility is incredibly important when it comes to participating in physical activity, especially as we get older. The same truth applies to the financial markets, according to Barlow. “Theoretically, as we get closer to retirement, the standard thinking is that maybe we should become more rigid and adopt a certain risk tolerance because you’re older. Remaining flexible and adapting to what is happening in the markets is more important than keeping a static risk profile.” No asset class or investment style is bullet proof, after all. Therefore, it’s critical to have the flexibility to identify changing markets and adapt a portfolio to avoid the pitfalls of being exposed to underperforming asset classes.


“Stress is a big part of the conversation, too, whether you’re talking about fitness or finances,” says McKeon. “While exercising, you’re constantly putting stress on your body and your muscles, and if you’re flexible you are able to avoid injury and improve your overall fitness level. With one’s finances, there’s volatility in the market that can lead to a tremendous amount of stress on a static market plan. The ability to be flexible is an integral way to deal with this stress.”


Education: Perhaps the best way to ensure a positive outcome is to hire the right professional—whether it’s a highly regarded personal trainer or a certified portfolio manager—to share the knowledge one needs to succeed.

“With your objectives in mind, you must first evaluate your current state,” says Barlow. “It’s the same with financial services. We utilize a variety of technical and fundamental research to determine the appropriate investments to implement into a personal strategy. We encourage investors to constantly seek out information to educate themselves on the issues that are important to them. Hiring the right financial advisory team can help to improve your chances of reaching your financial goals.”


The Barlow Group is committed to client education, as well as excellence in service and investment results, and regularly host events in the community related to retirement income strategies and portfolio risk-management techniques, among other wealth management topics. To get the education process started in gauging one’s level of financial fitness, Barlow and McKeon suggest people review the following questions as they relate to discipline, endurance, flexibility and education.


* What can be done to better connect to our future selves and make better financial decisions?

* What would happen to your financial situation if the stock market dropped 35 percent, as it did from 2000 to 2003, or 40 percent, as it did in 2008?

* How do we sort, filter, digest, interpret and condense the massive amount of information being thrown at us?

* Are you getting what you deserve from your financial advisor?


“When addressing your own financial situation, many of the aspects of creating a successful result are similar to going on a diet or joining a gym,” McKeon says. “Embrace the concepts of having a disciplined strategy to ensure your financial fitness, because there is no quick fix.”

In other words, pace yourself and get the support you need to improve.


“We all have retirement goals and we all have fitness goals, but leadership is in short supply,” McKeon says. “Not everyone has the support in place to meet those goals. Oftentimes people fall short of reaching their goals. Of course, we’re always here to help them get in shape.”


The Barlow Group can be reached at 4529 West Swamp Road, Suite 400, Doylestown, PA 18902, or 215-230-2910.


Drew Barlow and Brian McKeon are Financial Advisors with the Global Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Doylestown, PA. The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, Member SIPC, or its affiliates.