For more than four decades, Murray Solomon has been advising Columbus-area residents on ways to secure a solid retirement or steadily accrue savings for some other important need in their lives.
The last 25 years he has had a bird's-eye seat at the corner of 10th Street and Broadway, watching downtown Columbus grow through the windows of his office. He's watched as the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts came to life across the street, as Columbus State University expanded its presence in a major way, and as the business district evolved and reinvented itself.
Still, the New Jersey native hasn't had enough. He wants to continue helping people reach their financial goals, while also keeping an eye on the growth of the downtown.
"I think it's a challenge," he said. "I love helping clients understand what the market is about. And I'm in good health and I've got a great staff, and I love to do it."
The Ledger-Enquirer sat down with Solomon recently to talk about his job and to get his thoughts on investing and the economy in general. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity.
Describe your job as a financial adviser?
I'm very fortunate to have a large client base that I've built up over the 42 or 43 years I've been in the business. I watch their accounts on a daily basis. Not everybody at once, but rotating through portfolios and seeing where we need to make adjustments based on what's happening with the market.
One of my philosophical things is I believe communication with a client is so important. We try to stay on top of communicating with them even if it's a letter once a month to my client base, sort of explaining what the market's doing and why.
Do you have to so some hand holding, so to speak, for those who are nervous?
Yes. It's because we've been so volatile the last few years. Older clients are certainly trying to be more careful because a lot of people that planned to retire in 2008 find their 401(k)s were 201(k)s and have had to work longer.
How do you calm them down?
Everybody's a little bit different, every situation and every person. I try to listen: What are their concerns? What are their objectives? What's happened within the family that might necessitate some investment changes? Then I apply my knowledge to their situation to try to advise them to go into a particular direction based on what they're telling me, what their suitability is.
Some people want to gamble. Others say they don't want anything like that. If they really want to gamble and they're age 60, I say go to Vegas. I try to temper them, because sometimes human nature drives us to be our own worst enemies.
Are financial advisers really necessary for most people?
I think today, that what I do and what my peers here in Columbus do, is more needed than ever. Some of the clients don't realize it, but things have gotten more complicated. Planning for retirement, say, back in 2005, the word was take 6, 7, 8 percent out of your assets to live on, on an annual basis. Well, with all of this (economic uncertainty) going on, that's been reduced to don't take anymore than 4 or 4.5 percent, because we're living longer. So there's a commitment from the investment community to make that known to clients and expand their thought about how long they're going to need money, and to be more conservative with it.
Are we through the worst of the economic downturn?
To the best of our knowledge, we're back from the brink. And we literally were about to go into worldwide economic collapse. We were that close, an eighth of an inch. ... You had General Motors and Chrysler about to go bankrupt. So we're back from that and there's liquidity.
At that time, one financial institution or another didn't know if a trade that they agreed upon would actually get carried out. Confidence is one of those things that greases the wheel of the financial industry, and there wasn't any grease. It was grinding. Confidence was zero.
What's your outlook going forward from here?
Companies are doing well now. But we've got to get more people back to work. We are slowly losing the middle class, and the middle class is really the driving force of our economy. They're the folks that have the extra money to go out to the theater, and take a vacation. It's coming back slowly.
But the activities of both parties in Washington have taken a bit of confidence away from companies to really take that step and agree to build a $10 million manufacturing plant, or commit money to other things that might expand their business. Because, if one party or another decides that they want to corrupt things for a little while, then that move might be very costly for that company.
There's a lot of money in the savings accounts of big companies that's not committed because they're afraid of what the Affordable Care Act might cause, and a lot of other things floating around out there.
What do you think about the affordable care Act?
My overall opinion on the Affordable Care Act is that as we move forward in it, it may be more expensive, but more people are going to be covered. And when things settle down, maybe four or fives years down the line when things get implemented, it's going to be cheaper for everybody.
I've got a son-in-law and daughter in Charlotte and they're paying $2,800 a month for health coverage, and they have an 18-year-old and a 12-year-old. That's so punitive.
What are your thoughts on downtown Columbus and what we still need?
The first thing that comes to mind ... Chili Thai opened down the street and last weekend it rained a great deal and his kitchen got flooded. The water company says it's the city's fault, the city says it's the water company. So who does he talk to? (They need to streamline the permitting and inspection process to make it easier for businesses to open downtown.)
Downtown has come a long way since you've been here?
It's been wonderful to see. The college is great down here. It's wonderful to see all of the students walking around. We still need more eating places. The closest we get to a real good local eating place, in the medium price range, I think, is The Loft. But then you've got the Subways and the pizza places.
I have to ask. At what age do people need to see a financial adviser?
I tell them at any age where they may have a little bit of money. Just begin the process. Most brokers will talk to them and begin to build a philosophy of investing. The key thing is to start early, and be aware of how the financial system works, what investing and owning stocks means.
I wonder if you were to see a 20-year-old or 25-year-old in the street, and you asked them what's a stock and what does it mean when you invest in a company, how many of them would really have any idea? They'll probably tell you, well, we'll never have any money anyway, so it won't make any difference.
What's the No. 1 thing not to do financially?
Listen to somebody who has no basis on what to do about buying a stock or a bond, the rumor kind of thing. Don't do that. Check it out. You can go (on the Internet) and get some information about companies. ... I say to a lot of folks: Do you like this company? If you had all of the money in the world and you could buy it out, would you want to do that? And if the answer is no, why buy 100 or 200 shares?
Any closing thoughts?
I would like to encourage folks to learn about how money works, how investment works, and don't take it for granted. If they're in a retirement plan at their company, to understand what their investment represents ... the mutual funds, the annuities, to understand what they are.
And if they can't get information from the HR department at the company, to seek out professional advisers and try to get some answers. Just don't take it for granted. It can mean having enough money to retire comfortably, or having a little bit of money and having to reduce their standard of living.
Name: Murray Solomon
Hometown: Born in Keene, N.H. Settled in Columbus in 1970
Current residence: Columbus
Education: Bachelor's degree, Emory University, 1959
Family: Celia Cohn Solomon, his wife of 52 years; three grown children -- son Andy, who lives in Atlanta and is a traveling accountant for several musical performers; daughter, Susan, a homemaker living in Charlotte, N.C.; and daughter, Julie, a homemaker and pastry chef residing in Atlanta.
Previous jobs: Once was a traveling salesman for his family's furniture company based in Brunswick, Ga. Entered the brokerage business in 1970 in Columbus, starting out with A.G. Edwards before opening the J.C. Bradford office here in the mid-1970s. Moved to Raymond James Financial Services in 1987.
Of note: He is a former chairman of Uptown Columbus Inc. and has worked closely with the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He also has served on the city's library board, and is a member of board with the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley. He currently chairs the Columbus Technical College Foundation.
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