Category Archives: Trust & Investment Group

Important information regarding trust and investment topics, industry updates, and helpful tips in planning for your future.

Brexit: What Does It All Mean?


Elizabeth S. Pierson, CFA

On June 23rd, the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to exit from the European Union (EU) with a 52% to 48% in favor vote.  Breaking down the vote, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London proper voted overwhelmingly in favor of staying in the EU, while rural areas of the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU.  This vote was essentially about immigration and trade. Similar to other nations, the rural areas have experienced more disruption by globalization as the world economy continues to be sluggish resulting in economic hardship for those further away from the cities.  This has led to an increase in nationalistic and protectionist movement.

Although it is no surprise that the markets reacted negatively to the news, they were very orderly with no major disruptions in trading and liquidity.  There was shock and disappointment by the financial markets, leading to an emotional response and a potential overreaction in the equity markets.  A flight to quality was spurred, moving the dollar higher versus other currencies and sending U.S. treasury yields to lows not seen since 2012.  As the news settled in, these markets rebounded slightly but still left investors with a sense of concern.

What does this mean for the future of the global economy and investing?  Following are key points regarding the long-term impact on portfolios.

  1. Two years for implementation – The effects of today’s vote will not be felt immediately. The United Kingdom’s exit from the E.U. will be a gradual process.   Once the UK has triggered Article 50 (the article that states the wish to exit the EU), there is a two year time frame for full implementation.  The process of negotiating with the EU may be challenging as the EU does not want other member countries to think it is easy to break away from the Union.  This is likely to cause more volatility in the market.
  2. Slower growth – The United Kingdom’s rate of economic growth may slow, potentially leading to a recession.  The British pound has weakened and may continue to weaken leading to several positive outcomes including cheaper exports and lower interest rates. European economic growth may be negatively impacted but the U.S. economy should not.  The United Kingdom is only 4% of the World’s GDP and because full implementation will span two years, it provides time for transition and adjustment.
  3. Low interest rates – Interest rates will continue to be suppressed.  The Bank of England has pledged to provide liquidity and will potentially lower rates.  A rate cut is being priced into the market as of this morning.  The disruption in the markets and the potential impact of this change likely allows the Federal Reserve to maintain rates at current levels for a longer period of time and move future rate hikes to later this year or early next year.
  4. Volatility = long-term opportunity – Market volatility provides opportunities to long-term investors.  We expect increased volatility in currency and equity markets due to this recent decision but believe that the U.S. economy will continue on its slow growth trajectory, providing growth for long-term investors.

This action creates risks to the political and economic landscape.  Despite the increased volatility, we believe the rewards outweigh the risks for long-term market investors.  We will be closely monitoring this situation.   If needed, we will make appropriate adjustments to our portfolio.  As it stands today, we do not believe changes are warranted as a result of this vote.

Elizabeth S. Pierson, CFA, is SVP, Chief Investment Officer at Alpine Trust & Investment Group. She’s a Chartered Financial Analyst and has more than 31 years of experience.

Investment and insurance products are: not FDIC insured; not guaranteed; and, may be subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal.

Time Can Be a Strong Ally in Saving for Retirement

ABANK_16_Facebook_v4Father Time doesn’t always have a good reputation, particularly when it comes to birthdays. But when it comes to saving for retirement, time might be one of your strongest allies. Why? When time teams up with the growth potential of compounding, the results can be powerful.

Time and money can work together

The premise behind compounding is fairly simple. Your invested dollars may earn returns from those investments, then those returns may earn returns themselves–and so on. That’s compounding.

Compounding in action

To see the process at work, consider the following hypothetical example: Say you invest $1,000 and earn a return of 7%–or $70–in one year. You now have $1,070 in your account. In year two, that $1,070 earns another 7%, and this time the amount earned is $74.90, bringing the total value of your account to $1,144.90. Over time, if your account continues to earn positive returns, the process can gather steam and add up.

Now consider how compounding might work in your retirement plan. Say $120 is automatically contributed to your plan account on a biweekly basis. Assuming you earn a 7% rate of return each year, after 10 years, you would have invested $31,200 and your account would be worth $45,100. That’s not too bad. If you kept investing the same amount, after 20 years, you’d have invested $62,400 and your account would be worth $135,835. And after just 10 more years–for a total investment time of 30 years and a total invested amount of $93,600–you’d have $318,381. That’s the power of compounding at work.

Keep in mind that these examples are hypothetical, for illustrative purposes only, and do not represent the performance of any actual investment. Returns are likely to be different each year, and are not guaranteed.

Investment and insurance products are: not FDIC insured; not guaranteed; and, may be subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal.

Retirement Plan Considerations at Different Stages of Life

Throughout your career, retirement planning will likely be one of the most important components of your overall financial plan. Whether you have just graduated and taken your first job, are starting a family, or are enjoying your peak earning years, your employer-sponsored retirement plan can play a key role in your financial strategies.

Just starting out

If you are a young adult just starting your first job, chances are you face a number of different challenges. College loans, rent, and car payments are competing for your entry-level paycheck. The decades ahead of you can be your greatest advantage for your retirement fund. Through the power of compounding, you can put time to work for you. Compounding happens when your plan contribution dollars earn returns that are then reinvested back into your account, earning returns themselves. Time offers an additional benefit–the potential to withstand stronger short-term losses in order to pursue higher long-term gains. That means you may be able to invest more aggressively.

Getting married and starting a family

You will likely face even more obligations when you marry and start a family. Mortgage payments, higher grocery and gas bills, child-care, family vacations, college savings contributions, and home repairs and maintenance all compete for your money. Although it can be tempting to cut your retirement savings plan contributions to make ends meet, do your best to resist temptation and stay diligent. Your retirement needs to be a high priority. While you’re still approximately 20 to 30 years away from retirement, you have decades to ride out market swings. That means you may still be able to invest relatively aggressively in your plan.

Reaching your peak earning years

The latter stage of your career can bring a wide variety of challenges and opportunities. Older children typically come with bigger expenses. You may find yourself having to take time off unexpectedly to care for aging parents. On the other hand you could be reaping the benefits of the highest salary you’ve ever earned. With more income at your disposal, now may be an ideal time to increase your contributions. If you’re age 50 or older, you may be able to take advantage of catch-up contributions, which allow you to contribute up to $24,000 to your employer-sponsored plan in 2016, versus a maximum of $18,000 for most everyone else.


Investment and insurance products are: not FDIC insured; not guaranteed; and, may be subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal.

Investment Planning: The Basics

ABANK_24_Facebook_v3Why do so many people never obtain the financial independence that they desire? Besides procrastination, other excuses people make are that investing is too risky, too complicated, too time consuming, and only for the rich. The fact is, there’s nothing complicated about common investing techniques, and it usually doesn’t take much time to understand the basics. One of the biggest risks you face is not educating yourself about which investments may be able to help you pursue your financial goals and how to approach the investing process.

Saving versus investing

Both saving and investing have a place in your
finances. Saving is the process of setting aside money to be used for a financial goal, whether that is done as part of a workplace retirement savings plan, an individual retirement account, a bank savings account, or some other savings vehicle. Investing is the process of deciding what you do with those savings. Some investments are designed to help protect your principal–the initial amount you’ve set aside–but may provide relatively little or no return. Other investments can go up or down in value and may or may not pay interest or dividends. Stocks, bonds, cash alternatives, precious metals, and real estate all represent investments.

Why invest?

You invest for the future, and the future is expensive. Because people are living longer, retirement costs are often higher than people expect. Though all investing involves the possibility of loss, including the loss of principal, investing is one way to try to prepare for that future. You have to take responsibility for your own finances. Government programs such as Social Security will probably play a less significant role for you than they did for previous generations. The better you manage your dollars, the more likely it is that you’ll have the money to make the future what you want it to be. Because everyone has different goals and expectations, everyone has different reasons for investing. Understanding how to match those reasons with your investments is simply one aspect of managing your money to provide a comfortable life and financial security for you and your family.

What is the best way to invest?

  • Get in the habit of saving. Set aside a portion of your income regularly.
  • Invest so that your money at least keeps pace with inflation over time.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Focus on long-term potential rather than short-term price fluctuations.
  • Ask questions and become educated before making any investment.
  • Avoid the urge to invest based on how you feel about an investment.

Before you start

Organize your finances to help manage your money more efficiently. Make sure you have an adequate emergency fund, sufficient insurance coverage, and a realistic budget. Also, take full advantage of benefits and retirement plans that your employer offers.

Understand the impact of time

Take advantage of the power of compounding. Compounding is the earning of interest on interest, or the reinvestment of income. For instance, if you invest $1,000 and get a return of 8 percent, you will earn $80. By reinvesting the earnings and assuming the same rate of return, the following year you will earn $86.40 on your $1,080 investment. The following year, $1,166.40 will earn $93.31. (This hypothetical example is intended as an illustration and does not reflect the performance of a specific investment).

Consider whether you need expert help

If you have the time and energy to educate yourself about investing, you may not feel you need assistance. However, for many people it may be worth getting expert help in creating a financial plan that integrates long-term financial goals such as retirement with other, more short-term needs. However, be aware that all investment involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.

Investment and insurance products are: not FDIC insured; not guaranteed; and, may be subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal.

Three Rules for Retirement Savings

Michael St. John, CPA, CRPS®, Vice President & Retirement Plan Services Manager

Michael St. John, CPA, CRPS®, Vice President & Retirement Plan Services Manager

For most of us, saving for retirement is a necessary step in ensuring a comfortable lifestyle as we grow older. Despite competing demands for our money, ultimately we must commit ourselves to saving for retirement.

You likely have an employer sponsored retirement plan at your place of work where you can save a portion of your paycheck directly into an account set aside for your retirement (401k, 403b, SIMPLE). And don’t forget about Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). If you do not have a retirement plan at work you might consider regular contributions to an IRA.

Follow three basic rules to boost your retirement savings.

  1. Start Early

Save as much as you can, as soon as you can. The sooner you start, the longer compounding can work in your favor. Don’t assume that you can put off saving for retirement and make up the difference later with larger contributions. Waiting too long to start saving can make it very difficult to catch up. Only a few years could cost you tens of thousands in accumulated savings at retirement age. Start saving today!

  1. Increase Contributions

Sometimes we cannot save as much as we should early in our working years. If you are not saving as much right now, make a plan to increase your contributions each year or every time you receive a raise or promotion. Always be aware of employer matching contributions. Your first goal should be to contribute the amount that will ensure you receive the maximum employer match.

If possible, you should increase your contributions enough over time that you reach the maximum allowable contribution in your plan. Increasing just one or two percent of your pay each year can quickly get you on your way to a savings rate that can make a big difference in reaching your retirement goals.

  1. Don’t Stop

It can be tempting to reduce, or even stop contributing when we change jobs or experience other life changes such as getting married or having children.  It’s easy to stop, but much, much harder to get started again.

We may also feel inclined to stop saving when investment markets take a downturn. Downward trending markets can actually signal a great time to even increase your contributions. By investing consistently through down market cycles, you purchase investments at a lower cost, buying more shares with each dollar, and allowing for greater potential growth of your account in the future.

Reducing or stopping retirement savings in your employer sponsored plan can also reduce employer matching contributions. Make sure you contribute at least enough to receive the maximum match allowed under your plan.

Make saving a priority! By saving what you can now, increasing your contributions over time , and remaining consistent with your current plan, your savings can really add up over time.

The information contained in this article does not constitute tax or investment advice.  The above statements do not include all rules that may impact your contributions and tax benefits. To confirm what options are available to you, please consult your tax advisor or one of our wealth advisors or retirement planning specialists.

Michael St. John, CPA, CRPS® is a Vice President & Retirement Plan Services Manager at Alpine Trust & Investment Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in accounting, income tax and retirement planning.

Investment and insurance products are: not FDIC insured; not guaranteed; and, may be subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal.


Social Security Changes Eliminate Popular Strategies


Michele Griepentrog, CFA, CFP, CSSCS, Vice President & Senior Wealth Advisor

Social Security benefits are more confusing and complex than ever. Our Wealth Advisors are certified in Social Security claiming strategies, trained to assess and analyze the trade-offs of your options.

What Has Changed? Enacted into law on November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 accomplished several key objectives. The new law extended the nation’s debt limit through 2017, established federal spending limits for two years, avoided draconian across-the-board spending cuts (known in Washington-speak as “sequestration”), and sidestepped yet another threat of a U.S. Government shutdown. Also included were reforms to the Social Security Disability Insurance program to prevent impending cuts next year to disabled recipients and avoidance of a 50% increase in Medicare Part B premiums in 2016 for millions of seniors.

With virtually no opportunity for public comment or hearings, the new law also made significant changes to the Social Security program. These changes, which we discuss below, will impact lucrative claiming options used to increase Social Security monthly income for many married couples under current rules. Some popular strategies were eliminated with the passage of the new law and will become effective in 2016.

How Are Married Couples Affected?

“File & Suspend” and “Restricted Application” strategies were eliminated under the new rules. With a few notable exceptions, this change will primarily affect married couples, families and ex-spouses who are eligible to receive benefits on the primary worker’s record.

“File and Suspend” is a popular claiming strategy which allows a married couple to maximize their combined Social Security benefit. It is frequently integrated with a second strategy, “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits”. This combination permits dual-income married couples to double dip, increasing the cumulative value of their Social Security benefit during retirement. Here’s how it works:

“File & Suspend” allows a worker to file at full retirement age for his or her Social Security benefit based on their own work record and then voluntarily suspend the benefit. When the spouse (usually the lower earner) reaches full retirement age, a “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits” is then made. Delaying benefits based on their own work record after their full retirement age is rewarded with a permanent increase in their benefit amount called Delayed Retirement Credits (“DRCs”). This allows the spouse to begin receiving unreduced spousal benefits based on the primary worker’s record and also permits the records both spouses to continue to grow through DRCs. DRCs are equal to 8% per year up to the worker’s maximum age 70 under current rules. By age 70, the couple begins receiving their (much higher) Social Security benefit from their own work records as a result of the DRCs. Current Social Security rules allow a worker’s full retirement age benefit to increase by as much a 32% to age 70 as a result of DRCs.

Although not required to wait until full retirement age, applying at or after full retirement age allows couples maximize their combined Social Security benefit. Applying for benefits prior to full retirement age eliminates the best advantages of this strategy due to the deemed filing rule. The deemed filing rule requires an applicant who is applying for benefits before their own full retirement age to take the larger of all benefits they may be entitled to – and eliminates their ability to pick and choose which benefit they want now and which benefit they wish defer to allow to grow until later.

Assuming the couple has reached their full retirement ages, combining a “File & Suspend” application with the “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits Only” application can provide a significant increase to a couple’s cumulative Social Security benefit over their lifetimes.

Significant Changes to the File & Suspend Rule

The File & Suspend rule was eliminated under the new rules, with a few exceptions.

  • New Rules: Beginning after April 29, 2016 suspending a benefit (the “suspend” of part of a file & suspend application) will now halt all benefits being paid on a worker’s record until the time the worker chooses to begin receiving benefits. This includes all dependents filing for benefits under the worker’s record – spouses, ex-spouses, and benefits paid to the worker’s children. Prior to the new law, current rules allowed dependents to continue benefits under a worker’s record, even if the worker suspended his or her own benefit to collect valuable DRCs past full retirement age.
  • Exception: For those who already have begun a file & suspend strategy by April 29, 2016, nothing changes due to grandfather provisions in the new law.
  • Exception: The new rules allow a 6-month grace period that began November 2, 2015 for couples to act. Clients who are at least full retirement age by April 29, 2016 remain eligible to file & suspend, but must make a file & suspend application with SSA during this 6-month grace period, which ends of April 29, 2016. By doing so, the client leaves the door open allowing the spouse, if eligible, and qualifying children to receive benefits off the client’s record under the old rules – even after the new law becomes effective.

Significant Changes to Deemed Filing & Restricted Spousal Application Rules

  • New Rule: The new law amended the deemed filing rule. Unless the age exception applies, a spouse filing for a spousal benefit after April 29, 2016 will be deemed to be filing for all benefits without limitation. The option of choosing which benefit, including a restricted application for spousal (and ex-spouse) benefits only while their own benefit continues to grow, will no longer be available under the new rules.
  • Exception: Clients age 62 or older on or before December 31, 2015 are grandfathered in under the old restricted application and deemed filing rules, and are not subject to the new expanded deemed filing rules. Through this age exception only, the restriction application for spousal benefits continues to apply.

Michele A. Griepentrog, CFA, CFP, CSSCS is a Vice President & Senior Wealth Advisor at Alpine Trust & Investment Group. She has more than 27 years of investment management experience.

Betsy Pierson Joins Alpine Trust & Investment Group

BPierson_09.15Julie O’Rourke, Executive Vice President and Senior Trust & Investment Officer, is pleased to welcome Elizabeth “Betsy” Pierson, Senior Vice President & Chief Investment Officer, to Alpine Trust & Investment Group.

Ms. Pierson joined Alpine Trust & Investment Group earlier this month.  She is responsible for overall investment strategy, as well as client relationships.

Ms. Pierson has been involved with the investment process, asset allocation and strategy decisions for over three decades.  She has worked alongside institutional and high net worth clients to help them achieve their long-term financial goals.  In addition, she has extensive knowledge in the fixed-income area, having managed bond mutual funds and a fixed-income collective investment trust fund for employee benefit plans.

She graduated from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana with a Bachelor of Science in Finance.  She attained her Chartered Financial Analyst designation, in 1991.

She has served on non-profit boards in the past and is looking forward to more opportunities to serve the community.

This is Not a Lehman Moment!

Certainly stock market declines of the nature that we have experienced in the past couple ofStockMarket days are unnerving.  Recollection of the 2007-2009 market decline is very fresh in investors’ minds. It is important to keep these events in perspective. The previous decline was a reaction to a financial system on the brink, a real crisis in confidence in the entire financial system. This is not the case today. In other words, this is not a Lehman moment!

So, what is going on?
>      This is merely a reset of global growth expectations. It’s becoming clear that the global economy, likely in part due to demographics, is going to be in a much slower growth pattern than has historically been the case.
>      If global economic growth is lower, then future earnings growth must be lower too. Earnings are what moves stock prices and that’s why stocks are going lower, to reset to new lower growth expectations.
>      Good news is that U.S. earnings expectations are not very high anyway, however, everyone has been suspicious of China’s reported economic data and given all the actions the government has been taking to stabilize growth, the suspicions are confirmed and China is likely growing slower than previously thought.
>      Market valuation is not at the same high level that it was in 2007, it is much more reasonable.
>      Our economy is still growing steadily. Our largest trading partners are Canada, China, and Mexico. China’s citizens are not heavily involved in their stock market so our exports to China may not even be impacted too much.
>      U.S. new home sales in July were at their highest level since July 2007; auto sales are at best pace in a decade; labor market improved.
>     Europe has become more stable despite Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras’ recent resignation.  European growth is firming, but certainly not robust. Recent Eurozone PMI came in at 54.1, signaling the best expansion in some time for the manufacturing sector.
>     U.S. has gone 1,418 calendar days without a 10% correction, the 3rd longest in the past 50 years. The DOW and S&P 500 have now corrected 10% from their May 2015 highs. 10% corrections are normal and healthy, even though they do not feel very good, especially when they happen as quickly as this one.
>     The Fed has not been clear on its direction and that has spooked markets as well. Market volatility may push off a rate hike until at least December.
>     Most portfolios are diversified and are not fully invested in stocks. Bonds have rallied so that side of your portfolio should have gained in value to help offset equity declines.

Investors in the equity markets know that long term value is achieved only when a long term perspective can be maintained. Volatility like this is difficult to tolerate over the short term but might be easier if the media was as vocal about the gains in your bond portfolio that were serving to mitigate some of the short term equity declines.

Investment and insurance products are: not Alpine Bank products, not FDIC insured; not guaranteed; and, may be subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal.


Alpine Trust & Investment Group Officers Promoted

JO_ML Bill Roop, president & CEO of Alpine Bank, has announced the promotions of two Alpine Trust & Investment Group employees, Julie O’Rourke and Michele Lind.

 Julie O’Rourke, CFA, CFP® was promoted to Executive Vice President and Senior Trust & Investment Officer.  Ms. O’Rourke joined Alpine Trust & Investment Group in 2004 and has over two decades of investment management experience. She Chairs the Investment Strategy Committee, is responsible for monitoring the economy and markets, and leading department-wide portfolio strategy decisions.  Ms. O’Rourke supervises the team of investment professionals and manages the investment and financial planning processes.  She works with institutional and high net worth clients.

Prior to joining Alpine Trust & Investment Group, Julie spent 15 years serving as portfolio manager, working with both large institutions and individuals at all stages of wealth. She successfully led a team of equity research analysts as they worked together to manage equity mutual funds. Julie has counseled many different types of institutions regarding the construction of investment policies and appropriate asset allocation.

She has been quoted in several print publications and has appeared on both television and radio to speak about investments, the markets and the economy. She has presented to the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII), the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office Smart Women / Smart Money seminar, as well as to numerous economic and financial market outlook symposiums.

Julie graduated from Rockford University with a BS in Finance and attained the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation in 1995 and the Certified Financial Planner TM (CFP®) designation in 2008.  She is a member of United Way’s Impact Council and the Boone County Council on Aging Endowment Committee and volunteers at St. Mary Parish.

 Michele Lind, CFP® has been promoted to Assistant Vice President & Investment Officer.  Ms. Lind joined Alpine Trust & Investment Group in March 2009.  She manages portfolios of individual trusts and guardianships, investment agency accounts, and 401(k) plans.  She is responsible for monitoring the economy and markets as a member of the Investment Strategy Committee.

Prior to joining the investment group, Michele spent 20 years in the financial planning and investment industry with various positions in administration and marketing, sales and project management, and bank brokerage management.

Michele is a graduate of Rockford University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics/Finance.    She earned the Certified Financial PlannerTM designation in 2005 and holds Life and Health Insurance licenses for the state of Illinois.

Michele currently serves on the Finance Committee for Womanspace of Rockford.

Chris Johnson Joins Alpine Trust & Investment Group

JohnsonChris_05_2014Bill Roop, President of Alpine Bank, has announced that Chris Johnson has recently joined Alpine Trust & Investment Group as Vice President and Trust Officer. Mr. Johnson brings with him nearly 20 years of experience in the financial industry, with 16 of those years in trust and investments. His office is located in the Alpine Bank location at 600 South State Street in Belvidere.

Mr. Johnson grew up in the DeKalb area and attended Northern Illinois University, where he received his Bachelor of Science in Finance and Master of Business Administration (MBA).  He, his wife and four children are excited to be back in the area to serve the communities he calls home.

“On behalf of Alpine Trust and Investment Group, I am pleased to welcome Chris to our team of trust experts,” said Lee Mayer, Executive Vice President and Senior Trust Officer. “His expertise and commitment to his clients exemplifies our fundamental principle of people helping people.”