Financial expert Paul Merriman focuses on retirement

Stepping aside from a profitable investment management business, he's busier than ever, promoting financial education

Former investment manager and business owner turned financial education guru, Paul Merriman retired from his wealth management company, Merriman LLC, last year. He was not content to just stay at home and play golf, however.

A self-proclaimed workaholic, Merriman is releasing his seventh investment book in a few weeks. He spent the past year filming a PBS special called "Financial Fitness After 50;" he has a weekly investment podcast and is about to start releasing educational financial YouTube videos.

This 69-year-old dynamo also is developing a college investment course for senior non-business majors at Western Washington University to help them understand what they need to do with their first 401(k) plan.

The founder of Merriman, a Seattle-based investment management firm with about $1.5 billion in assets under management, said he retired from his previous career at age 40.

He started his own investment management company because he wanted to help people and he didn’t want to work as hard as he had been.

“I was only going to find a couple hundred clients. I was going to develop a group of people who would follow my advice,” he said. “Nobody knew me as an investment advisor; $1.5 billion in managed assets was never my plan,” Merriman said.

When he started out, his company was fee-based rather than commission-based and his clients could invest as little as $2,000. By the time he retired last summer, Merriman was still fee-based but had raised its minimum to $500,000, a far cry from the company’s initial $2,000 minimum.

As the company grew, it raised the minimum so that its advisors could spend more time working with a few clients than less time working with more clients.

Merriman’s internal company motto is, “we’re committed to passionately empowering people, outside the business, investors, clients or do-it-yourselfers. We tried to help both and do the right thing for the people who work for us,” he said. “It has been a joy, both in building a company dedicated to its people and dedicated to the people who we’re serving.”

Merriman Investment BookHe admits that he really enjoys working with the folks who have less money to invest because they need more help in figuring out the best options for their money. That’s why he decided to spend his retirement focused on educating the investors that need his help the most.

“I love the process of helping people take the next step. I’m a real believer that our industry really sets out to confuse us or not tell us the truth. But even when they tell us the truth, sometimes there are so many different truths, moving parts, it becomes confusing even with the truth,” Merriman said.

When he retired, Merriman asked the company if he could maintain the rights to his financial podcast, “Sound Investing.” They agreed. The educational side of the business has always been his passion.

“Most of the people who need help are the do-it-yourselfers. They need tons of help,” he said. “If anybody needs somebody to believe in it is a do-it-yourselfer.”

Most of these folks jump around from idea to idea forever and never get the returns they want, he said. “So often people are really into this process and are so engrossed in it they keep looking for a new solution, something that would be better. Often, what would be better is misunderstood, and often it is presented as way better than it is.”

His biggest fights over the years have been against illiquid real estate investments and high commissions.

“My belief is that our industry sells to the path of least resistance always. More resistance means you have to educate somebody. That is a much more cumbersome process than selling,” Merriman said.

He recommends that everyone who wants to improve their retirement savings should enlist the help of a qualified professional for at least one year.

“The people I worry the most about are the ones near or in retirement because there are so many decisions they don’t even know they should be considering in planning for that major transition,” he said.

Many find themselves taking care of adult children and grandchildren later in life or overwhelmed by health care costs. If these people can address these issues 10 to 15 years before they retire, the “likelihood of having a successful retirement, financially and emotionally, is much better,” Merriman said. Financial advisors can help individuals work through those major forks in the road.

Merriman takes a different approach to investing as a whole. If you look at his own portfolio, he includes half buy and hold and half market timing, but not market timing that tries to predict the future, he said.

One philosophy does well in a bull market and the other does well in a bear market, so since 1995, his portfolio has done very well, he said.

Every investor is different and has a different risk tolerance. “You have to figure out what is likely to work for them. A lot of people will say they believe in buy and hold and then use the worst market timing I know—I can’t stand it anymore—based on panic and fear,” he said. “For those people who won’t stay the course in an equity portfolio, I’m a big proponent of diversification.”

He loves target date funds because if somebody isn’t going to make the tough decisions about what to invest in, target date funds are very diverse, with a good mix of stocks, bonds, international, small and large value and growth funds.

The bad part of TDFs is that they “are way too aggressive for some investors and way too conservative for other investors at a certain age,” he said.

In his “How to Invest” series of books, Merriman has tried to address a specific audience, like first-time investors or women investors or topics such as mutual funds or 401(k) plans.  

On his personal website,, he touts his investment books and his renowned podcast, “Sound Investing,” in which he has been advising listeners on money and retirement issues since 2001. Before that, he did the same show on a Seattle, Wash., radio station for 10 years. He also sells his investment books online.  All proceeds from the sale of products on his site are donated to Global Help, an organization that provides health care information to developing countries and helps to make medical knowledge accessible worldwide.

Merriman started his career as a Wall Street broker in the 1960s. After that he helped small companies raise venture capital. In 1979, he became president and chairman of a public manufacturing company in the Pacific Northwest. He retired from that job in 1982 to start his own company. Merriman served as president and chairman of the board of Merriman until June 2011.

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