Cognitive Dissonance

In our last blog, we identified the reason why many corporate executives suffer a form of cognitive dissonance due to the unspoken concern that the evolving complexity of their lives and expanding finances may have outpaced their existing advisors’ consultative capabilities. Their golfing buddy is a wonderful person, but professionally speaking, he/she just isn’t proactively cutting it any longer.

We used air flight as an analogy: with higher altitude and greater flight speed (props to jets), any pilot would agree that one’s thinking and forward vision must expand to provide time for optimal and if necessary, corrective flight management. Unfortunately, clients generally assume that “their guy” flies at the same speed and altitude as they do. Unless their advisor specializes in working with Senior Leaders, we frequently discover that a client is flying a compensation jet at 500 mph and 38,000 feet. However, their advisor, while a great friend, runs an advisory practice predominantly working with folks flying Cessna prop planes at 140 mph and 10,000 feet. Herein lies the reason for the disturbing cognitive dissonance that eats at prospective clients.

In our opinion, if you discover that your present advisor is not capable of proactively focusing on the following types of topics, you may confidently assume that the modest pain of making a change in advisory alignment will be well worth the change. Our team skillfully helps clients make the change as easily and comfortably as can be accomplished. In fact, we are masters of change with many of the local F500 companies’ comp and benefit details laid out in a preexisting benefits grid that enables our team to mesh with a new client’s benefit structure without the client having to review the enormity of the details with us. In essence, once we understand the goals and objectives of a given new client, we are empowered to consult with them on how best to optimize the existing compensation structure to best achieve their objectives. A prospective client does not begin a relationship with our team under the burden of teaching our team about how their compensation system operates. That’s refreshing!

Essential Topics for the Pre-Flight Checklist

Organization + Decision Empowerment Focus

  • There’s not always enough time to focus on all aspects of your finances. We bring organization and intentionality to your finances.
  • Build a comprehensive financial model that permits collaboration and the creation of alternative scenarios which empower families to make more confident financial decisions based on improved insight.
  • Examine alternate retirement dates and objectives by modeling work-life scenarios to develop your retirement plan and timeline.
  • Provide access to a custom, encrypted client website containing an array of financial data, summary reports, and an electronic storage vault for vital documents.

Employee Benefit + Equity Compensation Focus

  • Craft the ideal option exercise strategy using statistical and wisdom-based modeling.
  • Optimize benefit elections for maximum company contribution and goal alignment.
  • Prepare strategic open enrollment election recommendations.
  • If desired, obtain a 3-year income tax review from a qualified professional via our in-house tax team.

Risk, Cost, + Allocation Focus

  • Coordinate your company-sponsored investment allocation with your non-company investment allocation to achieve optimal alignment across your entire portfolio.
  • Outline the difference between risk “tolerance” and a more beneficial perspective known as risk “preference” and how this new knowledge impacts portfolio allocation decisions.
  • Develop an investment strategy or “worldview” which coexists with market volatility.
  • Provide insight on tax diversification and the cost-effectiveness of your current investments.

Estate Plan + Risk Product Focus

  • Deliver a review of your current estate plan.
  • If appropriate, provide direction to bring your estate and legacy plans into the 21st century using the latest design opportunities and the best jurisdictions, like South Dakota. Your new plan will most likely incorporate asset protection planning and self-settled trusts.
  • Provide a thorough review of all risk products and asset protection techniques given the context of your present and expected financial circumstances, including life, disability, long-term care, property, casualty, and liability insurance

Retirement Cash Flow

  • It is important, regardless of net worth, to understand how to sequence cash flow for annual retirement income needs (in all market conditions).
  • Develop a tax-effective cash flow plan for your retirement income objectives.

Concentrated Wealth Positions

  • Equity compensation is a valuable segment of a senior leader’s overall compensation structure.
  • Too much concentration is a risk. We are experienced with diversifying concentrated wealth positions.


  • Understand your wishes – both present and future – and optimally execute your philanthropic aspirations.
  • In many instances, thoughtful use of Donor Advised Fund contributions helps in managing the concentration of wealth risk and improves the net tax effect of reordering a portfolio allocation.

Holding Requirements

  • Holding requirements force us to consider the most tax-effective way to diversify and continuously conform to company requirements and SEC regulation constraints.
  • Maintain separate technology to continuously measure and monitor holding requirements and available shares.
  • Assist in creating the most tax-effective plan to meet your holding requirement while using Trading Plans to create and customize an optimal diversification strategy.

Compensation Forfeit Value

  • Last but certainly not least, we represent the client’s family and NOT the company for whom our client works. As such, our team has massive experience at measuring the Compensation Forfeit Value of an officer’s current compensation plan. This knowledge helps us help our clients negotiate the maximum possible new compensation in the event one of our clients finds themselves interested in an alternative job offer.

Of course, all the above cannot be tackled all at once, but our advisors take a proactive approach and will demonstrate early on in a new client relationship that we skate to where the puck is going, not to where it currently is.

Stoddard Barnhill, CFP®

Sarah Leitzke, CFP®

Phillip Barnhill, CLU®


The Bahnsen Group is registered with Hightower Advisors, LLC, an SEC registered investment adviser. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply a certain level of skill or training. Securities are offered through Hightower Securities, LLC, member FINRA and SIPC. Advisory services are offered through Hightower Advisors, LLC.

This is not an offer to buy or sell securities. No investment process is free of risk, and there is no guarantee that the investment process or the investment opportunities referenced herein will be profitable. Past performance is not indicative of current or future performance and is not a guarantee. The investment opportunities referenced herein may not be suitable for all investors.

All data and information reference herein are from sources believed to be reliable. Any opinions, news, research, analyses, prices, or other information contained in this research is provided as general market commentary, it does not constitute investment advice. The team and HighTower shall not in any way be liable for claims, and make no expressed or implied representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the data and other information, or for statements or errors contained in or omissions from the obtained data and information referenced herein. The data and information are provided as of the date referenced. Such data and information are subject to change without notice.

Third-party links and references are provided solely to share social, cultural and educational information. Any reference in this post to any person, or organization, or activities, products, or services related to such person or organization, or any linkages from this post to the web site of another party, do not constitute or imply the endorsement, recommendation, or favoring of The Bahnsen Group or Hightower Advisors, LLC, or any of its affiliates, employees or contractors acting on their behalf. Hightower Advisors, LLC, do not guarantee the accuracy or safety of any linked site.

Hightower Advisors do not provide tax or legal advice. This material was not intended or written to be used or presented to any entity as tax advice or tax information. Tax laws vary based on the client’s individual circumstances and can change at any time without notice. Clients are urged to consult their tax or legal advisor for related questions.

This document was created for informational purposes only; the opinions expressed are solely those of the team and do not represent those of HighTower Advisors, LLC, or any of its affiliates.

About the Authors

Stoddard Barnhill, CFP®

Private Wealth Advisor

Sarah Leitzke, CFP®

Director of Risk Management

Phil Barnhill, CLU®

Senior Wealth Advisor

For nearly 25 years Phil has worked exclusively with senior leaders of public and large private companies. Over the past seven years Stoddard has been carefully mentored in this niche market and is now mentoring Sarah, leading to a highly-specialized practice knowledge within the team. This focus on corporate executives and their family dynamics comes with significant insights into executive compensation, stock concentration, equity monetization, and the full life-cycle of a career in the C-Suite.

Looking for something specific?

/* Use the Inter Font */ @import url(''); #printfriendly { font-family: 'Mulish', sans-serif !important; font-size: 18px; }