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Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples: Addressing Unique Challenges and Leveraging Digital Tools

Estate planning is a critical piece of the puzzle for anyone leaving a financial legacy, but same-sex couples can face unique questions and challenges.

That’s because while same-sex marriage is now widely legally recognized, couples can still encounter hurdles that can complicate estate planning. Financial advisors at trusted institutions such as credit unions and community banks are in a great position to help.

While it’s always the right time to build relationships that benefit both clients and providers, Pride Month is an excellent time to examine how trusted advisors can help meet the unique circumstances that committed same-sex couples—legally married or not—might encounter.

These can include:

Legal Variability: Despite federal recognition, state laws can differ significantly, impacting inheritance rights and spousal benefits.

Family Dynamics: Same-sex couples might face resistance or complications from family members who may not recognize their relationship, leading to potential disputes over assets.

Parental Rights: Establishing and maintaining parental rights can be more complex for couples with children.

Health-Care Directives: Ensuring that medical decisions are honored often requires clear, legally binding health-care directives, which can be particularly crucial in jurisdictions less supportive than others of same-sex relationships.

While everyone’s situation is unique, and there are limits to what a financial advisor can do to address matters beyond finances, there are some very good ways to help provide peace of mind to same-sex couples regarding their estate planning.

The Necessity of Wills and Trusts

To protect their rights and ensure their wishes are honored, same-sex couples should prioritize creating wills and trusts. Here’s why these documents are indispensable:

Wills: A will ensures that assets are distributed according to the will creator’s wishes, reducing the risk of disputes and helping to ensure that partners and non-biological children receive their intended inheritance.

Trusts: Trusts offer additional benefits such as avoiding probate, maintaining privacy, and providing for complex family situations, such as ensuring ongoing care for a partner or children.

Power of Attorney: Establishing power of attorney is critical for managing financial and healthcare matters, particularly in emergencies where one partner may be incapacitated.

DIY Estate Planning Tools: Empowerment and Efficiency

Naturally, many couples are interested in using the internet first. A feature-rich online estate planning solution allows clients to do what they want independently. At the same time, you stand ready to provide individualized, in-person assistance whenever they need it.

This dual approach begins with powerful, sophisticated, and user-friendly estate planning tools like those from OneDigitalTrust. The platform’s features include:

User-Friendly Interface: Clients can easily navigate the process of creating wills, trusts, and other essential documents.

OneDigitalTrust allows LGBTQ+ users to:

  • Choose a marital status specific to their state, including registered domestic partners, civil union or legally married under state laws

  • The platform notifies users of elective share information that may apply per state-specific laws on minimum inheritance requirements including relevancy to same-sex couples

  • Accurately reflect gender pronouns for people in the system designated as “non-binary”

Comprehensive Support: Advisors can assist clients at any stage, from initial planning to finalizing documents, helping to ensure that all legal requirements are met.

White-Label Solutions: Financial institutions and advisors can customize the platform to reflect their branding, reinforcing their role as trusted advisors.

Securing Their Legacy While Growing Your Bottom Line

Careful estate planning, including airtight legal documentation, is crucial for all couples to ensure that rights are protected and wishes are honored.

Digital platforms like OneDigitalTrust not only simplify the process, including for same-sex couples’ challenges, but also enhance the client-advisor relationship by offering accessible, efficient, and comprehensive solutions.

Financial advisors who embrace these tools can better serve all their clients, helping them meet the desire to financially protect and support loved ones that is common to all of us regardless of sexual orientation, racial identification, religious affiliation, or any other demographic.

OneDigitalTrust’s technology achieves this while also giving your organization a double bottom line: you’re helping your clients secure the execution of their final wishes while generating a reliable flow of fee income for your organization.

170M Americans need an estate plan. OneDigitalTrust offers a white-label, turnkey estate planning platform with pricing options tailored to the needs of individual credit unions and financial advisors.

Contact us today to learn more!

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From Management Consultant to Entrepreneur, Sonny Kapoor Finds Opportunity in Estate Planning

CEO Sonny Kapoor and co-founder Rocky Mehta founded OneDigitalTrust, a pioneering digital estate planning platform, to spare families the stress and strain of dealing with the costly and time-consuming process of a loved one dying intestate, or without completing their estate planning.

Through their own experiences, they tapped into a little-known opportunity to address the needs of the mass affluent who are underserved in this area. Many believe it’s too costly to be worthwhile, and others don’t think they have enough of an estate to worry about.

Sonny sat down with Sarah Snell Cooke, co-founder of The Credit Union Connection, to share insights into his mission, vision and B2B model for OneDigitalTrust.

Sarah Snell Cooke: What’s the origin story of OneDigitalTrust?

Sonny Kapoor: I have worked as a management consultant for financial institutions for many years. During an engagement to overhaul the strategy for a credit union-owned RIA (Retirement Investment Advisor), we proposed digital estate planning as a new, innovative offering with the potential to deepen family and financial wellness for members.

The recommendation received much acceptance, but instead of building it themselves, the institution asked if I would build it so they could license it. And OneDigitalTrust was born.

The challenge of designing a platform that would be simple and affordable especially resonated with me because my father died intestate when I was 17 years old. I experienced first-hand the challenges my mother and I encountered in settling his estate, working through age-old estate planning laws.

SSC: Why are people not completing their estate planning? What’s the problem with that?

SK: Why such a remarkable proportion of the U.S. citizenry does not have a legally valid plan in place is a complex question. Up to this point, the easy answer was that the process was expensive and cumbersome.

This issue should be materially addressed with the advent of digital estate planning platforms like OneDigitalTrust. Yet, between 2023 and 2024, a 6% decline was recorded in Americans with an estate plan.

The more complex answer is buried in the deep psyche –estate planning makes individuals confront their mortality. Nobody welcomes the anxiety that accompanies such a task. Much of the avoidance is due to mortality salience – an awareness of the inevitability of one’s death creating anxiety, which triggers a powerful defense mechanism to side-step such thoughts (e.g., trivializing one’s likelihood of death or amplifying one’s ability to boost longevity, etc.). As a result, thoughts about our death are banned from persisting in our awareness and estate planning remains de-prioritized.

SSC: Who is OneDigitalTrust’s target audience? Why did you choose B2B?

SK: Our platform is intended for use by the mass affluent – all of those who do have some assets to pass down but suffer sticker shock at the lawyer’s fees or don’t even know where to start. Many don’t realize the thousands – or tens of thousands of dollars and more – that can be lost to a family legacy when someone dies intestate (without an estate plan).

Our platform streamlines the process, removing complexity through a custom-built, proprietary design, to offer affordable estate planning to many who never thought it would be within their means. We’ve lowered the barriers to entry to both price and users being overwhelmed by the complexity of it. OneDigitalTrust has built-in features to help users optimize their probate exposure so that more assets go into their beneficiaries’ pockets.

With so many – more than 65% – avoiding planning their estates, it’s crucial that we get our platform out to as many people as possible. This is why we decided to leverage a B2B, or business-to-business structure and sales model. By partnering with banks and credit unions, financial advisory firms, wealth management companies, insurance agencies and employee benefits companies, OneDigitalTrust can quickly touch many more families’ lives to save them from the head- and heartache my mother and I endured.

Digital estate planning is an ideal offering for institutions that desire to deepen the value of their own brand. Since estate planning goes to the very core of personal and family wellness, our B2B capability allows institutions to offer it as their service.  As a result, users credit the brand of their trusted provider with the peace of mind they feel when they complete their plan. This amplifies the brand loyalty for the institution like very few other offerings can.  Further, it is through our unique B2B partnering model that we can offer institutions a real option to generate a new non-interest income revenue stream to counterbalance the fee income that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and others are chiseling away.

SSC: How does OneDigitalTrust connect with companies to offer your platform?

SK: At one level, we have integration partnerships, such as Mastercard/Finicity, Zillow and others, that enrich the capability and functionality of our platform. We’ve also partnered with leading digital banking platform providers, like Jack Henry, Q2, Temenos and more, including proprietary integrations to embed OneDigitalTrust in their clients’ digital banking experiences. There’s no heavy lifting required for banks and credit unions; within days, they can reap the rewards of developing even more meaningful relationships with their customers and members.

SSC: What are the benefits to the institutions you partner with and serve (credit unions/banks/financial advisors/law firms/benefits providers/insurance companies)?

 SK: First, we are a B2B solution provider. Our objective is to focus on deepening our partners’ brand instead of promoting the OneDigitalTrust brand. Our powerful white-label capabilities deliver exceedingly well on that objective.

Second, unlike referral models, we offer our partners the ability to garner an exceedingly healthy margin while keeping the platform highly affordable for end-users. This helps our financial institution customers generate a durable new revenue stream to offset the loss of overdraft and debit interchange non-interest income that’s been slowly eroding.

Third, our customers can deliver an essential, highly desirable end-of-life planning capability to safeguard the legacy of their customers and members – quite literally, everyone needs an individual plan.

And finally, our partnering model extends beyond platform enablement. Our Partner Success team helps customers with ongoing support, from custom implementation playbooks to data analysis to sharing and cataloging best practices to webinars and training to various marketing support activities to measure and monitor utilization and performance.

Financial institutions are often seen as slow to adapt and less tech-savvy than fintechs. By partnering with an innovative platform like OneDigitalTrust, banks and credit unions can break free from that reputation and bring more attractive services to younger customers and members.

SSC: Any final comments or thoughts?

SK: Humans have an instinctive and ongoing existential fear of death. This ‘death anxiety’ can create cognitive distortion, which makes people act irrationally, such as putting off essential estate planning. The paradox is that having completed their estate plan, the same individuals reduce the intensity of such death anxiety and amplify personal and family well-being enormously. We believe financial institutions are best suited to deliver estate planning to their customers so they can deepen their brand among the communities they serve.

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3 Rs to Prevent Elderly Financial Abuse: Red Flags, Relationships and Respect

Consider financial education comprehensively for National Financial Literacy Month

Recent lawsuits point to both the vulnerability of many older Americans to the scourge of online financial fraud and the opportunity that engaged financial services providers have to help thwart such pernicious crime.

Two such complaints are against a top 5 bank, which is accused of allowing two elderly women in California to lose more than $2 million to so-called “pig butchering scams.” Here, fraudsters posed as IRS agents to win the victims’ trust and trick them into multiple fraudulent transactions facilitated by the bank.

In another case, a top bank and credit union are accused of making 75 international transfers—74 of them alone through the credit union—by a retired naval officer totaling about $3.6 million. Unfortunately, many transfers were made even after concerns were explicitly reported to adult protective services in the officer’s home county.

The AARP says an estimated $28.3 billion is lost to what it calls elderly financial exploitation (EFE) each year in this country. Some 72% is lost to people the victims know, such as friends and family.

The emotional toll includes embarrassment and anguish and so much more, including, as in the California cases mentioned above, a person losing not only her life’s savings but also her home. Financial services providers are on the frontline in detecting and preventing this criminality, which targets the growing elderly population.

April is National Financial Literacy Month, and it can’t stop at teaching young children to save and spend their allowances wisely. We must consider financial education more holistically. So, what can a responsible, proactive bank, credit union, financial advisor, wealth manager or other financial services provider do?

Red Flags

First, make sure protocols to safeguard elderly clients are standard operating procedure. That begins with training staff to recognize red flags. Those can include unusual withdrawals or Not Sufficient Fund occurrences, newly added co-owners on accounts, or sudden investment decisions inconsistent with a client’s known objectives.

Indicators of the latter can include senior clients receiving excessive phone calls or visitors pushing dubious financial arrangements. Another indicator is a sudden change in beneficiaries and other terms in the consumer’s estate planning.

Relationship Building

Uncovering such situations requires an engaged relationship with the potential victims, combining a personal and digital touch. Financial services providers should initiate internal reviews and documentation when suspicion arises from unusual account activity. A best practice is assigning a dedicated team to investigate thoroughly. Potential steps include discussing concerns with the client privately, reviewing the legitimacy of transactions, and scrutinizing relationships with any new parties acting on the client’s behalf.

Again, that requires a trusted relationship with the member or customer and the determination to act. If your internal investigation uncovers likely malicious activity, cutting off access to the accounts and reporting your concerns to the appropriate authorities is imperative. State adult services, law enforcement and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau all have protocols for EFE cases. Become part of the solution.

Respecting Privacy While Protecting Everyone

We stress again that it takes an engaged relationship with the older adult and their family to be in a position to discover elderly financial exploitation. And, the digital capabilities of OneDigitalTrust’s platform are designed to undertake the heavy lifting for financial advisors to be aware of certain estate planning-related actions or events that imply potential financial elder abuse, like taking advantage of probable incapacitation or undue influence.

OneDigitalTrust empowers financial services clients to safely digitize and share estate documents, impact analysis, account information, and powers of attorney with a pre-approved network of family members and trusted advisors, such as financial planners.

We need to add that while vigilance is essential, you must balance privacy and client preferences against protecting them and your own institution’s interests and liability.

Indeed, there can be a fine line between doing too little and doing too much, between inaction and overstepping institutional authority. Digital services facilitate transparency and shared access to respect that shifting, evolving line and comfort zone for you and your clients.

Indeed, OneDigitalTrust can be a critical component of the seamless collaboration between clients, family members, financial advisors and other legal and medical professionals, which results in the best decisions regarding elderly welfare and assets.

This heightened visibility also reduces exploitation opportunities while honoring client desires for privacy and autonomy. The OneDigitalTrust platform brings elderly individuals’ entire advisory team into a secure, unified digital space where abnormalities or suspicious activities become readily apparent.

Elderly financial exploitation will always be with us, but proactive identification and coordinated interventions can curb its effect on your clients and your institution. Staff training, documented and followed escalation procedures, aggressive reporting of suspected crimes, and selective account freezes can disrupt fraudsters and protect your most valuable assets: the people who entrust you with their money, dignity and financial independence. Make relationship building, recognizing red flags and reporting elderly financial exploitation part of your National Financial Literacy Month celebrations in April.

170M Americans need an estate plan. OneDigitalTrust offers a white-label, turnkey estate planning platform with pricing options tailored to the needs of individual credit unions and financial advisors.

Contact us today to learn more!

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Break the Habit: Digital Estate Planning as an Essential Tool and Differentiator

The time and complexities involved in providing estate planning have long made it an outlier as a service. Investment advisors and wealth managers at traditional credit unions, banks, insurers and other financial services providers have been relegated to the sidelines as they refer their clients, customers and members to attorneys, as is the typical practice.

That practice, however, is changing as financial services continue to rapidly evolve in the digital world. Your organization will no longer have to pass your consumers—as well as the income they can generate—on to lawyers, keeping you from deepening those relationships.

Virtual estate planning platforms have been hard at work, developing their digital muscles, eradicating the need for attorneys, and even in-person servicing if an individual chooses. Empower your firm to break the habit of making third-party referrals and to deepen the personal touch and value they build with their clients, helping those they serve to navigate their financial lives and plan their legacies more holistically.

A Hybrid Advisor-Client Experience

“A streamlined digital estate planning platform delivered as a hybrid advisor-client experience provides a unique opportunity for advisors to expand their service model, amplify relationship alpha, power retention, and create advisory pathways to the next generation of clients,” a new report from Javelin Advisory Services reads.

Titled “Digital Estate Planning: A New Frontier for RIAs,” the think tank’s report focuses on the power of digitizing the creation and storage of relatively simple but vitally important documents such as wills, revocable trusts, and medical directives. It cites OneDigitalTrust as a leader in creating that new nexus of advancing fintech innovation and growing advisor value, as shown in the illustration below.

Javelin Research found OneDigitalTrust to provide advisors innovation and value.

The Relationship Alpha for The Next Aging Generation

Millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation in the United States. Those 20-somethings to 40-somethings are digital natives. They’re accustomed to living online – including working, shopping, learning, and banking – but they’re still real, live human beings, naturally, who can benefit from professional guidance and advice through their journeys.

Along with traditional matters such as raising families, forging and maintaining careers, caring for aging relatives, and the vicissitudes of aging, they also find themselves with their own unique set of stressors, as the Javelin report astutely illustrates in this figure below.

Platforms like OneDigitalTrust help to calm financial services providers clients' anxiety, Javelin found.

The “Demographics” section in the above figure includes “increased personal wealth,” among other factors that present an opportunity to RIAs and other financial services providers who can most seamlessly and effectively combine high-tech and high touch for this cohort of adult Americans.

As the report observes, all these factors imply that scaled delivery of personalized solutions points to demand for an enhanced user experience. Digital estate planning combined with direct conversations with clients about this particularly weighty topic helps cement that relationship with the client and potentially with the other stakeholders in the next generation, especially if they, too, join the discussions.

Ultimately, it’s about the effectiveness of advisor-client communication, a significant currency that makes financial advisors more than order-takers in a digital world of cookie-cutter, low- or no-cost options. That’s not a recipe for long-term success.

“The legacy [estate-planning] conversation is emotional, often covering philanthropic and generational aspirations,” the Javelin report observes. It points to this empowering feature in our platform: “OneDigitalTrust, for example, creates a client area where notes can be appended to the system, allowing the client to memorialize and express those aspirations and sentiments for advisors, kids and other beneficiaries.”

Differentiation and Commoditization

That vital communication feature – among others – helps OneDigitalTrust continue to push out the leading edge of humanizing digital estate planning and, most critically, the ability for advisors to differentiate themselves in the uber-competitive fintech world.

OneDigitalTrust, as the Javelin report observes, is also out front with integrating personal financial data into its platforms. That gives financial services providers the ability to wade through multi-party, multi-platform morass to add even more value.

Financial services providers are keenly aware of the commoditization of their products and services and the need to differentiate. A robust foundation for that is personal service that uses digital products to help leverage meaningful conversations around the unique access financial planners have to their clients’ assets.

That conversation should include how to distribute those assets when the time comes without sending that part of the business elsewhere. “Advisors must consider expanding their business model by leveraging digital estate planning solutions,” the Javelin report concludes. “New channels of dialogue are opened with beneficiaries and family members who can become clients and advocate for the advisor’s expertise.”

And that helps the advisor and their employer build their value and legacy.

170M Americans need an estate plan. OneDigitalTrust offers a white-label, turnkey estate planning platform with pricing options tailored to the needs of individual credit unions and financial advisors.

Contact us today to learn more!

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Digital Estate Planning Empowers Your Customers to Avoid These 3 Mistakes

Estate planning is a task easily set aside amid the demands of daily life. But life will indeed end, and your customers should have a proper estate plan in place. Even when their assets are modest and require a simple will, it is crucial for every working adult who would like to ensure what happens to their family and their assets after they’re gone.

Only about one-third of all Americans have created a formal estate plan. For the two-thirds who do not have one, that’s a serious problem for them and their families. It is also an opportunity for financial services providers, like wealth managers, financial advisors, credit unions and banks to step up with solutions that combine digital ease and personal touch to make estate planning accessible and affordable for everyone.

Your trusted relationship as a financial services provider gives you the perfect segue to help your customers and members avoid some estate planning mistakes that can cause their loved ones stress, conflict, expenses and other headaches down the road.

Here are three mistakes you can help your customers/members avoid:

1. Not Having an Estate Plan 

The biggest mistake – and most common – is doing nothing. About two-thirds of Americans do not have an estate plan, such as a will or trust. Without a legally valid estate plan, state intestacy laws require assets to be distributed by a probate court.

That costs time and money and heightens already frayed feelings. Family members and others with claims can tie things up over what others might consider surprisingly small amounts. Help your members and customers avoid that situation.

Also, not having a will can leave the court to decide about guardianship for minor children. A will or trust will establish the parents’ desires for who should continue caring for their children should they pass while the children are still minors.

2. Not Keeping Your Estate Plan Up-To-Date

Things happen. Customer and members’ life changes like marriage, divorce, new children and stepchildren, and changes in income and assets can change how a person wants their estate handled.

But wills are easy to set and forget, never revisited until it’s time for their execution. To ensure the plans are current, estate documents should be reviewed every couple of years or so and after significant life events.

A plan based on outdated wishes can lead to disputes between family members down the line. Offering estate planning documents that are easy to update will help keep your customers and members’ plans current and smooth out what could be a bumpy process.

3. Not Communicating the Estate Plan

Conversations about estates are always challenging, but they are ones we must encourage as responsible financial services providers. They are fraught with potential hard feelings about who gets what, of course, not to mention the difficulty of recognizing the eventual loss of a parent while both parent and child are very much alive. Not fun.

However, these conversations are essential for holistic financial wellness. Loved ones need to know what to do when that time comes. They should have access to critical documents and open conversations to avoid any confusion. That includes ensuring the documents remain up to date.

How Digital Estate Planning Can Create Winning Outcomes

As a trusted financial services provider, you can offer your customers and members digital estate planning solutions like OneDigitalTrust. We’ve built a robust platform that allows end users to create wills, trusts, power of attorney, healthcare directives and much more. Users truly appreciate the document tracking capabilities and digital vault for organizing the process and storing the documents.

Meanwhile, you are provided access to real-time, smart analytics to deepen relationships with customers and generate a new source of non-interest income. And because our platform is white labeled, you can offer it under your brand, and users know your organization is there to care for them and their families.

Many estate planning mistakes occur due to a lack of education and proper guidance, fear of acknowledging our human mortality, and consumers’ expectations of the cost of estate planning. OneDigitalTrust removes the lawyer from the equation, making creating legally valid estate planning documents much more affordable. We help you make it easy for the mass affluent to access compliant, responsible, plain-language estate planning. Integrating a trusted solution like OneDigitalTrust can help those who trust you achieve and maintain peace of mind around what can be such a sensitive and complicated subject, one all too easy to ignore otherwise.

170M Americans need an estate plan. OneDigitalTrust offers a white-label, turnkey estate planning platform with pricing options tailored to the needs of individual banks, credit unions, financial advisors, wealth managers, insurance companies, HR benefits providers and more.

Contact us today to learn more!

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Mourning Has Multidimensional Costs – How Effective Estate Planning Can Ease Some of the Stress

Effective estate planning is crucial to the people your bank, credit union, financial advisory or other financial services company serves, whether they have come completely to grips with that reality or not. Having the right plans in place helps reduce the burden that loved ones bear in settling an estate and can significantly reduce the painful wait for it to settle.

The grief that mourners are left dealing with only makes the burden heavier. The costs can add up, and they involve more than just money. For instance, a study by the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health found that people in that state were 1.5 times more likely to visit a doctor 20 or more times in the two-year period after the death of a loved one. Even more striking, those over age 50 were more than twice as likely to die during bereavement.

The researchers cited depression and stress from the bereavement itself – the effects of which can include reverting to bad habits such as smoking, drinking and ignoring medical conditions. All that can add up to missed work, adding to the physical and material costs associated with the bereaved’s own health and paying the bills the deceased left behind.

Working-Aged People Bear the Burden

Wherever they live, the psychological and physical burden is most keenly felt by working-age people, those most likely to be part of the sandwich generation – responsible for caring for children and parents alike.

Employers can help. While there’s no federal bereavement leave policy, some states have them, and so do about 90% of U.S. companies, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

But that time off is very limited, and one of the potentially biggest stresses, dealing with the liabilities and assets of the deceased’s estate can take months, not just a few days following a funeral. That time and uncertainty just add to the stress that, as we alluded to above, can take years off a person’s life.

That’s also one area where you can really step up as a holistic provider of financial services. A great first step is to offer streamlined, digital online estate planning platforms that are easy to use, simple but powerful, and complete. OneDigitalTrust is just that, as featured in new Javelin research. We provide single sign-on access to create legally valid wills, trusts, power of attorney, healthcare directives, guardianships, probate trackers and more, even a pet trust. It’s not just legal documents but we also offer estate analysis and optimization tools, plus hyper-personalized info to understand the implications of key aspects of the plan. These are all features that democratize capabilities previously available to the ultra-rich only. And, we provide a virtual vault for organizing all this, along with strategic guidance throughout your journey.

Cross-sell Effective Estate Planning Across Generations

Banks, credit unions, financial advisors, insurance agencies, benefits providers, and more can offer an easy-to-understand, effective estate planning process to help your organization attract and retain customers and members. Banks and credit unions that also have in-house advisors and insurers can use our platform as an opportunity to upsell your other services. That creates the opportunity for fee income while engaging with the consumers you serve in a highly valuable, personal and meaningful way. Our powerful platform also provides your organization with rich financial data on your members and customers so you can understand and better serve them. That’s a powerful cross-sell for you and a small cost many an aging baby boomer, Gen Xer, and even younger generations might happily bear when presented with the opportunity.

170M Americans need an estate plan. OneDigitalTrust offers a white-label, turnkey estate planning platform with pricing options tailored to the needs of banks, credit unions, financial advisors, wealth managers, insurance firms, employee benefit providers and more.

Contact us today to learn more!

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Finding Opportunity in 2024’s Challenges to Non-Interest Income

Through years of falling interest rates that dramatically compressed net interest margins, credit unions and banks learned to lean into non-interest income to keep the balance sheet, well, balanced.

Debit and ATM transaction fees and overdraft and Not Sufficient Funds (NSF) charges have become particularly important, especially as account maintenance fees such as monthly service charges and minimum balance penalties have lost popularity for competitive reasons and consumer disdain.

Regulatory and legislative actions, however, could sharply impact that cash flow and strategy as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) moves forward on its proposal to eliminate so-called “junk fees,” which includes overdraft fees, and a bid to reduce interchange fees is before Congress again.

Meanwhile, the potential for predictable, stable, and increasing non-interest income (NII) continues to grow. In this regard, offering customers and members access to an enterprise-grade digital estate planning platform can serve both – promote personal financial wellness while also producing a remarkable, new NII revenue stream. 

But first, here’s a bit more on the regulatory and legislative front as 2024 begins to roll out.

CFPB and overdraft fees

The CFPB is expected to issue a final rule soon that could accelerate the decline of overdraft and NSF income, which are already about half of what they were industry-wide before the pandemic.

The new rule is expected to say that overdraft fees should be considered finance charges under Regulation Z. That could result in regulators such as the FDIC, OCC and NCUA tightening the rules on the number of times an overdraft or NSF transaction can occur and how much a bank or credit union can charge.

Recent fines totaling hundreds of millions of dollars against mega banks all the way down to smaller banks and credit unions for their NSF and overdraft protections also point to the need for diversifying non-interest income.

The interchange fee fight continues

Congress again has before it two bills aimed at lowering the interchange fees that banks, credit unions and the card processing networks share for their role in card transactions.

Proponents, led by retailers and consumer advocates, say the Debit Interchange and Price Competition Act and the Credit Card Competition Act would benefit consumers by allowing greater competition in the payment card network space.

Opponents, led by the financial services industry, say expecting any savings for consumers is unrealistic and that the changes would make it more difficult for issuers to fund rewards programs and for smaller issuers to offer credit cards at all.

This legislative tug-of-war has been going on for years, and whether these changes finally make it through either chamber, much less to the president’s desk, is an open question.

The bottom line about these possible changes is that credit unions and banks need to prepare for potential revenue loss by diversifying further with other fee-based services, especially those that may be less volatile in such a shifting legislative and regulatory landscape.

Diversify non-interest income with estate planning

Now is the time to consider offering digital estate planning documents through a turnkey platform for consumers’ holistic financial well-being, as well as your bank or credit union’s revenue diversification. It’s a win-win strategy for serving an aging population: Families get the peace of mind that comes with legally valid estate documents from a trusted provider, while the provider benefits from the recurring fee income and deeper customer and member engagement and loyalty.

Further, that demonstrated commitment to your customers’ financial well-being also opens the door for successfully offering asset protection, wealth management and other personalized, value-added solutions.

An ideal way to begin is with a white-label digital platform that meets the expectations of your most tech-savvy consumers without the integration and maintenance challenges of doing such work in-house. OneDigitalTrust’s platform also integrates directly into a financial institution’s digital banking platform, making access and usage even more seamless and easy for consumers.

The coming year could be a pivotal juncture for banks and credit unions regarding overdrafts, NSF fees and interchange income. Deploying seamlessly integrated digital will and trust services is a wise investment your institution can make in the growth and financial well-being of your business and, as crucially, that of the families and individuals you serve.

170M Americans need an estate plan. OneDigitalTrust offers a white-label, turnkey estate planning platform with pricing options tailored to the needs of individual credit unions, banks and financial advisors.

Contact us today to learn more!

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Estate Planning Finds Purpose-Driven Entrepreneurship in Rocky Mehta

Sadly, most Americans have not done their estate planning or have let it get out of date.

That is part of the impetus for CEO Sonny Kapoor and co-founder Rocky Mehta to found OneDigitalTrust, a pioneering digital estate planning service, to help spare families during their darkest time, the complex and costly work of dealing with the estate of a loved one who died without a legally valid estate plan in place.

Recognizing an untapped opportunity to address the needs of the underserved and mass affluent, Kapoor and Mehta determined to follow their personal mission to build a platform that stands out in the competitive landscape by solving real-world problems.

Mehta sat down with co-founder of The Credit Union Connection, Sarah Snell Cooke, to share insights into the company’s mission and B2B model to help them reach more people quickly.

Sarah Snell Cooke: What’s OneDigitalTrust’s founding story – where did you get the idea for this company?

Rocky Mehta: OneDigitalTrust’s founding story has been the culmination of two things: Our CEO Sonny Kapoor and I have been in the financial services consulting space for most of our careers, and we saw this as an untapped opportunity for a digital estate planning service to meet the needs of the underserved and mass affluent.

Second, my co-founder and I have first-hand experience with family members with special needs, and we’ve seen a massive uptick in younger generations needing extra support. We felt we could make a difference by helping Americans afford to protect their families and legacies with our offering.

SSC: What problem are you trying to solve?

RM: All Americans should have their end-of-life affairs in order. No one knows when the worst could happen to us, but death and taxes are unavoidable. For whatever reason – putting off a morbid necessity or thinking you don’t have enough assets to worry about or trying to avoid the high cost of an attorney to create an estate plan, Americans don’t plan their estates.

Depending on who does the survey, an astounding 65% to 70% of Americans don’t have estate plans in place, or if they do, it needs to be updated. Both scenarios can lead to stressful and expensive work thrust upon their survivors. That’s the problem we’re solving!

SSC: Tell me a bit about your background.

RM: I come from a technical engineering and computer science background, and I went to business school afterward, which allowed me to serve as a liaison between technology and business. That helps me work with all of our teams from technology, legal, operations and sales & marketing to enable us to run a successful business to serve our clients and, in turn, their members or customers.

SSC: How are you planning to reach all Americans?

RM: I mentioned our mission is to support Americans to protect their lives and legacies, but it can be incredibly difficult to reach each of them individually. This problem has proven rather obstinate as the needle has barely moved over the last decade, which is why we believe that delivering estate planning through institutions (versus the status quo) will be the turning point when this needle moves. From the start, we knew we needed to work with other trusted businesses to enhance their services to their customers and members. Our partners are in the financial wellness field and include credit unions, banks, financial advisors, insurance companies, and employee benefits providers. This business model helps us to reach everyone faster and ensure they complete this vital task to protect their legacies and not leave a mess behind for their heirs to resolve. That can be very painful and expensive, as we all know from celebrities who’ve passed on without proper estate planning, including the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and billionaire entrepreneur Howard Hughes.

SSC: How are you different from your competitors?

RM: The good news is that there is competition, and in the last two years even more competitors have entered the business. That means more people recognize that not having an estate plan is a massive problem that must be solved.

There is room for several players in this emerging market to help solve this brewing crisis across America in their own ways.

We have many unique advantages. We are an enterprise-level solution, and we partner with institutions to provide them the flexibility to configure, brand and price the value-proposition as they see fit to best serve their mission, target audience of ideal members and customers, and style of how they want to serve. With 170M Americans lacking an estate plan, OneDigitalTrust offers a white-label, turnkey estate planning platform with wholesale pricing options tailored to the needs of individual credit unions, banks, financial advisors, insurance agencies and HR benefits companies.

The real-time analytics capabilities offer our partners insights to better understand customer needs and identify opportunities to cross-sell and upsell. OneDigitalTrust provides financial services providers and financial institutions measurable opportunities to better support and understand their customers and members’ needs. I could go on and on with the capabilities and benefits of our platform, such as the plain-language documents, affordability, and extreme value. Still, the best way to understand our platform is to request a demo to show how OneDigitalTrust can best help!

OneDigitalTrust fulfills a burgeoning need to ensure more Americans complete their estate planning and keep it updated. We will further document estate planning need-to-know information, OneDigitalTrust, and the founders’ personal mission and entrepreneurial journey, so please be sure to sign up for our newsletter in the footer of this page and follow us on LinkedIn!

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Why is it important for credit unions to ensure members have a will or trust?

A death in the family ushers in a time that can be fraught with trauma and confusion. Questions around how to distribute that loved one’s assets via a will or trust, and who’s in charge of doing that, can be a particularly volatile part of the problem, even with modest estates.

Credit unions have always specialized in serving everyday people, and they can play a unique role in helping their members by making it easy for them to create estate planning documents, such as wills and trusts.

While there are some key differences, wills and trusts achieve the same end: They ensure the deceased person’s belongings, financial assets and real property are distributed according to their wishes. Without that, a person has died ‘intestate’ and state laws on ‘intestacy’ kick in, and that means leaving those crucial decisions up to probate courts and wrapped in red tape.

Wills are usually the first choice to consider for estate planning, and while they typically must go through probate, a concise, legally created will generally makes that a simple process. More complex situations, such as blended families, special-needs dependents and business assets might benefit even further from a clearly outlined trust.

Estimates are that about two-thirds of Americans don’t have a will or trust in place. Helping to ensure families address this critical aspect of financial planning in advance is yet another way your credit union can promote members’ financial well-being.

A natural next step in member service

Credit unions were established for people who otherwise could not obtain credit from banks to pool their assets and offer loans to each other. In recent decades, credit unions have greatly expanded their range of services and their commitment to providing complete financial care for members’ holistic financial wellness.

Indeed, your credit union may offer financial education materials already to improve members’ money management. Adding estate planning into the mix is a natural next step. A surprising number of adults do not have these end-of-life documents in place and education is a huge part of moving the needle in the right direction.

Encouraging members to outline an estate plan can prevent your staff from being caught in the middle of a traumatic financial and familial nightmare after the death of a member without proper documentation.

Instead of acting as a neutral third party trying to sort out a messy situation around account funds and asset distribution, you can point grieving families to the member’s documented wishes. This allows you to avoid emotionally charged conflict during an already difficult time.

A digital solution checks all the boxes for this generation and the next

Millennials are now the largest generation, they’re also often homeowners and parents at the stage when estate planning becomes particularly crucial to ensure proper distribution of assets and care for minor children should the unexpected befall them. It should be part of their overall financial awareness and action. And, as the generation who hit this stage of life during a global pandemic, it’s likely top of mind for them, too.

Additionally, your credit union can become an integral part of the “great wealth transfer.” What is that? It’s the $72 trillion in wealth currently held by baby boomers, much of which will be inherited by their millennial children. There’s ample opportunity for your credit union to provide a valuable service to these members, as well as be compensated for it in a way that is not interest-rate sensitive: non-interest income.

Millennials are also the first wave of members who expect to accomplish most everything digitally first. Providing a secure way to create and manage wills, trusts and similar documents through your credit union’s digital banking provides a new level of service to them and stickiness for you.

With a white-label digital solution fully integrated into your existing platforms, you can take credit for providing an innovative service that members will appreciate through one of the interfaces they already use and trust – your digital banking. Keep pace with the technological expectations of your younger members while building loyalty!

Delivering value while promoting responsible planning demonstrates your commitment to your members’ overall financial well-being. Digital estate planning checks all the boxes for why credit unions exist and how they can best serve member needs today. OneDigitalTrust delivers white-label, turnkey estate planning capabilities for legally valid documents in all 50 states, plus DC, with the highest data security and enterprise scalability. Is your credit union ready to take the next step in holistic member well-being?

170M Americans need an estate plan. OneDigitalTrust offers a white-label, turnkey estate planning platform with pricing options tailored to the needs of individual credit unions and financial advisors.

Contact us today to learn more!

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Credit Unions Have Education and Opportunity Around Estate Planning

Death and taxes are two of life’s inevitabilities for credit union members and everybody else. But being prepared is optional, and that means opportunity for member-owned financial cooperatives to help make a difference when it comes to members’ estate planning.

A recent survey of more than 2,400 American adults conducted by YouGov for Caring.com found that only 34% had estate documents in place. The same survey found that people ages 18 to 34 are now 63% more likely to have an estate plan than they were in 2020. That points to growing interest from a sweet spot for growing engagement: the younger set.

As not-for-profit financial institutions whose core principles focus on financial wellness and opportunity, credit unions can build business and deepen relationships with all generations by including estate planning in your lineup of products and services.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Even if it’s a trust.

Wills and trusts have the same goal – distribution of the deceased’s assets (investments, savings, property and possessions) per their wishes legally and efficiently. But there are some key differences to note.

A will is a legal document that names an executor to oversee the liquidation of the estate and lays out how to distribute the assets among family, friends, charitable causes, etc., as well as such matters as naming a guardian for minor children.

Further, a will only takes effect after death, and in most cases a probate court must validate the document before the assets can be distributed. This can be a very lengthy and stressful process for your members if they have not planned properly.

Trusts, meanwhile, are also legal estate plans but with some significant differences. For one, people can serve as their own trustees while they are still live. That’s often the case with what’s probably the most common type of trust: living, or revocable, trusts. They are what they sound like: You can revoke and alter them to reflect your changing wishes and feelings as time goes on and circumstances change.

You also can use the assets placed into the living trust any way you want while you’re still alive and in charge, as well as name in advance who manages your financial affairs if you become incapacitated before death.

A will is typically simpler and less expensive than a trust, but the latter can provide faster distribution of assets and greater privacy. Trusts don’t go through probate. Probated documents, including wills, are typically public information.

Education and opportunity for your credit union and your members.

As a trusted financial partner, your credit union can play a vital role in encouraging and facilitating effective estate planning for your members. Helping them understand the importance of having a plan in the first place, providing a clear view of their options, and then helping make it happen are all crucial inflection points in which credit unions can play a role for their members.

Of course, you don’t have to go it alone. Consider integrating a robust, comprehensive estate planning platform into your shop’s digital financial planning and wellness offerings or provide it as a stand-alone service.

The younger generation of members and potential members are already showing a growing interest in estate planning and they’re also digital natives, who will expect to do as much as they can on their own and online.

The older crowd, too, are used to doing more and more online since COVID and increasingly open to using such a digital platform to create and maintain legally valid wills and trusts.

The benefits include:

  • Peace of mind for members: Providing tools for legacy planning gives your members peace of mind knowing their heirs and chosen causes will be gifted as the member chooses.
  • Enhanced member loyalty: By helping members secure their financial future, credit unions foster deeper, stickier relationships and long-term trust.
  • New revenue streams: As credit unions move away from overdraft and other fees, estate planning represents an opportunity to replace other declining non-interest income.
  • Increased digital engagement: Integrating estate planning services into your digital platforms can boost mobile app engagement and provide lead generation among high-net-worth members for your credit union’s wealth managers.

Choosing between a will and a trust is just the beginning. By actively educating members and empowering them to make wise choices while taking advantage of digital services, credit unions boost their own bottom line, deepen member relationships and trust, and, as importantly, better empower their members to build a secure and well-managed legacy.

All these things matter to today’s forward-looking credit union.

170M Americans need an estate plan. OneDigitalTrust offers a white-label, turnkey estate planning platform with pricing options tailored to the needs of individual credit unions and financial advisors.

Contact us today to learn more!