FPA Journal in the Round: the Next Generation of Planners Shifting the Paradigm

In this week’s #YAFPNW we’ll be working with FPA’s Journal in the Round podcast to discuss changes in the financial planning industry for planners and clients alike. We sit in with Yusuf Abugideiri, Russel Kroeger, Lisa Kirchenbauer, and Andrew Mehari to discuss how millennials are changing financial planning, different job roles in the industry, and what we might expect in the not-so-distant future.

hannah's signature

“We want to give these young folks something to focus on and a way to be intentional about living their lives.”

What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • How millennial planners and clients are changing the financial planning industry as a whole.
  • The different career paths that are opening up within financial planning.
  • How larger firms are changing to serve millennial clients by integrating new, strategic planning service models.

Omega Wealth Management

Yeske Buie

Paradigm Wealth Architects

Jude Boudreaux, CFP®



Journal of Financial Planning

Financial Planning Association





Show Transcript

Ep64 Transcript


Hannah:                               We’re going to start off with Yusuf and Russell on their article of serving millennial clients with a three-step model. The first question for both of you all is, what caused you to want to write this article? Why was this important to you?

Russell:                                 Yusuf and I actually presented on the article FPA Far West Roundup in Santa Cruz in early August and made the comment that we wrote the article in an effort to bring real financial planning to people like us. That does mean millennials, but it also means those outside of the wealthiest 10%.

In a conversation with Dick Wagner, he challenged that the financial planning profession wouldn’t be able to become a profession until more than the top 10% were served, and he said, “Can you imagine if doctors only served the wealthiest of us?” That challenge is very personal to Yusuf and I because we both grew up without much money.

Honestly, the primary reason is that there are a lot of ways to serve young professionals and do so profitably. We hope that we’re encouraging people with some of our ideas so they can go out and work with communities that are important to them. I think one of the most poisonous comments I hear from our profession is that serving a particular demographic isn’t “profitable”, because what that really tells people is that they are unfit or are not deserving of our profession’s time or help that our skill sets provide. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve talked to a young professional and they would say, “Oh, well, we don’t have much money to invest. Once I get that, I’ll work with an advisor.” No, that’s actually the exact opposite, you should feel the right to work with someone before you have money to invest to make sure you get money and keep that money.

Hannah:                               Well, I think that’s really interesting, this idea that the words that our profession is using to talk about this issue is actually hurting the general public and really hurting our profession if we’re really going to mature into this greater profession that we all want.

Yusuf:                                   Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that Russell and I spoke about during our presentation was the fact that part of the problem here is millennials and other folks and other demographics just don’t view themselves as ideal clients and don’t know how to get help otherwise.

The way that we designed our framework, we made it effective in that it’s a three-step model that addresses all six steps of the financial planning process, but it’s also efficient and creates a space for the client to connect with the advisor when there are changing circumstances in their lives to determine what the next best step is without having to redo their entire financial plan. So being able to serve folks who need help without having to reconstruct their plan from scratch every time something changes.

Hannah:                               What I really liked about your article is that you guys are really challenging what is a financial plan, you’re still using that six-step framework, but what is the actual deliverables that are available? You guys have hit on this already, but are millennials looking for the service? Is this a need that already exists?

Yusuf:                                   Absolutely. With the millennials that we’ve brought on as clients this year, it’s been our experience that they’ve done their research, they’re looking for financial planners, they’re comparing the different service offerings that are out there and so they’re absolutely looking for it.

Yeske Buie started providing financial planning for millennial as an organic way to develop business and strengthen relationships with our existing clients just looking to build relationships with our existing client’s children in the service model developed from there for us.

Hannah:                               That’s interesting because your article is largely neutral on business models. Can you walk through examples of what this would look like practically and profitably? Get into the specifics of it. Like, hours of the lead advisor and they would actually spend with the clients, are clients doing a lot of the work on their own or the advisers are doing it?

Yusuf:                                   Certainly. As far as the lead advisor, in my experience in working with several of these clients, I’m supported by one of our financial planning residents with any millennial client that I work with, so I don’t do much work other than show up for the meetings and then maybe add a line or two to the follow-up emails afterwards. Aside from that, all the analysis, all the work is done by a junior advisor, someone who’s working in support of myself.

We’ve tracked how many hours of our time, we being the financial planners, that it requires to put together one of these financial plans, and it’s less than 15 combined man hours between the two of us. Reason being is, we insist that the clients send us all of the pertinent information that we need before we move on with the plan. So we’ll have the initial meeting, we’ll do the discovery and then we won’t prepare the financial plan until we have all of the information that we need to do so. That’s one of the ways that we try to keep the time commitment as far as creation of the plan down. I don’t know if that answers part or all of your question, Hannah.

Hannah:                               Yes. For those 15 hours, how much is a client paying out of pocket for these services?

Yusuf:                                   As it stands right now, we’re billing clients on an Assets Under Management engagement. For a client who is building up their assets up from zero, obviously, that’s going to be a very small fee, and we’re using that fee structure in this initial year of the formal launch of our millennial program and we framed with all of our clients upfront that we’re very likely going to be renegotiating the fee in year two once we have a larger sample of folks that we’re working with and can really look at the nuts and bolts of what the service offering requires from us, but right now we’re doing it as an assets under management structure and our wealthier clients are effectively subsidizing program.

Hannah:                               You’ve been very upfront with clients, telling them this?

Yusuf:                                   Yes. Yes, absolutely.

Hannah:                               The wealthy clients as well as the new clients?

Yusuf:                                   Well, that’s just an understanding with respect to within the business how financial planning firms work, it’s always the wealthier clients that are the subsidizing service offering that’s given to less wealthy clients if you’re using an Assets Under Management fee structure.

Hannah:                               We’ll get to that in just a little bit. Russell, do you have any thoughts on this?

Russell:                                 Yes, I actually do the traditional ex-wife planning network approach where I have an annual fee that’s-

Hannah:                               Wait, wait, can I just say we just said traditional method that the ex-wife planning network used, I think that’s a pretty incredible comment just right there of how far our profession has come.

Russell:                                 Yeah. No, exactly, in a short number of years. Definitely-

Hannah:                               Sorry to interrupt you, I just wanted to make that point because I think that’s amazing.

Russell:                                 Yeah. No, I definitely agree because it would’ve seemed strange, I think, maybe a number of years ago for me to say this, but I charge a fee, an annual fee, that’s broken out on a monthly or quarterly basis, whichever is most adjustable by the clients, and I have minimum fee that I charge, and it goes up from there based on complexity or the number of times that a client wants to or needs to meet. It basically is dependent upon what the client needs from me.

There are other models out there that I really like. Jude Boudreau has an interesting one, I think it’s 1% of income and then 25 basis points on net worth that I thought about using, and I might end up switching to that at some point, but right now I just have the basic fee and the price goes up from there.

Hannah:                               Well, I love this idea of testing these models out and seeing what works and being really … Yusuf, like you said, just very upfront with the clients like this is going to change, it’s likely to change. You don’t have to have it all figured out right away.

Yusuf:                                   We found that that’s very attractive with millennial clients, they’re hyper-aware of all of the different options that are out there and they very much value transparency and communication above all else.

Hannah:                               One of the lines from your article, you say that for a millennial at the beginning of their financial journey, rebuilding their entire financial plan with each change is not an effective use of time for the planner or for the client. This leads into the need to build financial planning policies with clients, so when ad adviser adopts your framework, what are the actual deliverables given to the client? Or, perhaps a better way of asking that is, what does a financial plan tangibly look like?

Russell:                                 The deliverable for me has generally been more illustrations than it has numbers. The idea is that if discovery is done well enough people are anchored to what’s important to them, so as long as the policies are explicit and what goals or values they support, the illustrations do a good enough job of helping people evaluate trade-offs and then measure their progress once they’ve decided on a path forward.

Yusuf:                                   Yeah. Just to add onto Russell’s response, for Yeske Buie, when we’re working with a millennial client, we always prepare a tax projection and a cash flow projection, and what that gives us an idea of is what the client’s free cash flow or available surplus is at the end of each month. Once we’ve identified that number, then we start “bucketing”, and so identifying different vehicles they can use for saving, for different goals and working from there, but it’s all about identifying their free cash flow and then we’re able to build from that.

Hannah:                               Are you guys tracking their cash flow on your end or how do you know that the numbers that you’re getting are accurate?

Yusuf:                                   Everything that we present to the client in that first initial financial planning meeting is a draft plan, and we always confirm that they can sign off on any of the analysis or numbers that we’re showing them in the way, and then the way that we encourage the continuation and actual behavioral aspects of the financial plan is we set up an automatic savings into the account that we manage. So whether or not the spending numbers are 100% accurate is irrelevant as long as they’re not racking up debt and the monthly or weekly or quarterly deposit to their account is occurring, then the cash flow analysis is reflecting an accurate depiction of their financial situation.

Russell:                                 Just to add on to that, I know Carl Richards advocates for a one-page financial plan, and some people may think that’s a little ridiculous but that’s actually the simplicity that policies provide. You don’t need a lot of numbers. Obviously, they’re working in the background, but once people know where their money is and why it’s there, simple statements and rules about what they’ve put in place, serving as guardrails, seems to be effective.

Hannah:                               Cash flow seems to be this driver for much of the policies that you guys have outlined in what we’re talking about, Yusuf, you’ve talked about this a little bit, but what is your approach towards cash flow when you work with clients, specifically with those clients who don’t have the skill set to manage their cash flow on an ongoing basis? Are you having to actually teach cash flow budgeting skills to clients or are you just getting clients who already have that skill set?

Yusuf:                                   It’s mostly clients who already have that skill set. A lot of the folks who come to us know they need financial planning and are sophisticated enough to be able to make that assessment themselves. Often times what we’ve experienced is they’re professionals who are familiar with either budgeting or some type of cash-based analysis for work, and so they already have those skills and we haven’t had to teach them much. We focus more on exploring ways that they find to be most effective to organize their cash flow or be more organized about their money general, and then from there we build the structure up after we’re all on the same page.

Hannah:                               Russell, how about you? How do you approach cash flow?

Russell:                                 Yes, so I’m generally pretty upfront with clients in saying that I think budgets are a terrible idea, they drain a lot of time and mental energy, as is the case with basically all policies. There are calculations running in the background that support the reasoning for the policy, for example you need to know how to do the time value of money calculations to figure out how much needs to be saved for a specific goal, but cash flow is more about building habits than it is about goals. Since budgets are backward looking, we can pull out themes of spending and then have a conversation with the client around what that looks like relative to what they said was important in the discovery meeting. When there are discrepancies, we can talk about how to establish policies to help allocate resources towards things that are actually fulfilling to the client.

Hannah:                               On the final step, you guys outlined the importance of building confidence through collaboration, and you say at each check-in meeting, the planner must vigilantly look for signs that progress is sputtering, so in your experience what are examples of this, especially considering just how fast life changes for millennials and job changes and life changes? How do you assess that? Do you have examples of that?

Yusuf:                                   I don’t know that there’s going to be a empirically substantiated response, Hannah, but I’ll just speak from experience both in my own life and from the standpoint of observing and other millennial’s lives. The more transitions, the more likely you’re going to have progress sputter. For example, I’ll speak for myself, my wife and I are expecting our first child here in about three months, we just moved recently, my role at work is changing, et cetera, et cetera, and she’s got a lot going in with her as well. You’re so exhausted at the end of the day, just processing all the learning, all the new information, trying to assess what behaviors are going to continue until your new normal, which behaviors are going to stay left behind in your old life, when you get to the end of the day, you have no energy to think about money or saving or the future, or what have you, you’re just trying to get to bed so you can turn around and then be productive the next day. We observed the same kind of thing with our clients, and what’s why it’s so critical to have these regular check-ins and say what’s changes since the last time we walked? How is that supporting or inhibiting your progress and then going from there.

Russell:                                 Yeah. I’d just like to go off of what Yusuf was just saying, the reason check-ins are so important is because goals become outdated very quickly when the landscape is shifting as it is for young professionals. If the strength of an anchor to a particular policy decreases as the goal becomes outdated, people can get distracted by other things and not tend to that policy, and check-ins give the planner the opportunity to ask whether or not goals need to be changed, policy should be tweaked or if someone was just losing track because of everything going on in their lives. Check-ins also reveal changes in the client’s life that may lead to proactive planning opportunities, which can then add value to the client relationship.

Hannah:                               How often are you guys doing these check-ins?

Yusuf:                                   I’ll speak from my standpoint, it’s really a function of the client’s needs. I mean, we’re available whenever there’s something to be discussed. We insist on at least one meeting per year, but the millennial clients that we’ve brought on this year, for example, we’ve had about two or three meetings, when I think about the various clients in the fold there, and it’s just because they got a raise and so cash flow changed, or so-and-so is actually considering a job change, how would that affect their savings plan? That type of thing. So it’s a function of need.

Russell:                                 Yeah, and I would just echo that. I have roughly six months of running my own firm and having my own clients under my belt, so I can’t speak to that as much, but it’s more or less what the client needs. I generally tell them that we’re going to meet more than you want to but less than I want to.

Hannah:                               That’s great. Excellent. Well, thank you guys. Great work on getting this article written and published. I think it’s great for our profession and, hopefully more advisers will consider working with millennial in this way.

Okay, so next we have Lisa and Andrew. Lisa, you wrote that choosing a career path is not always client-facing, and what I think is so interesting is that you guys paired it with Andrew, your article on choosing the analytical role of young professionals experience. Lisa, starting with you, what caused you to write this article? Why was this important to you?

Lisa:                                       All along in my career development, I’ve really believed that you need to have somebody who is good at the client service/operation’s role not somebody who’s just passing through, and what I’m seeing and hearing in some of the financial planning programs is that people are only … I love that we got financial planning programs now, that they’re only being groomed to be advisors, and because I’m a student of people, I’m very much into assessments, I’m an assessment junkie, I’m very interested in how people are different and what their different skills and strengths are. It’s not a one size fits all that everybody was meant to be an adviser. This is something I’ve been passionate about, I’ve been talking about and … With Andrew in place at our firm for the last couple of years, it just felt like it was time to really put this down in paper and get that message out there and start open a new dialogue about what career paths are in the financial planning profession.

Hannah:                               Lisa, can you give the listeners a better idea of your firm, the size, employees, your structure?

Lisa:                                       Yeah. We have five people, I’m the senior advisor, I have two associate financial advisors, one is a millennial, the other one is a baby boomer who’s a career changer, we have an office manager, and then Andrew Mahari is our operations analyst. We have about 85 clients, we are managing almost 100 million, under management, we take a financial life approach and we have a retainer/smaller AUM business model.

Hannah:                               Okay. Great. Just in your experience, especially this important that is operation’s role, so looking at the lifecycle of these financial planning businesses that many of them are starting out as the solo advisor, entrepreneur, and then they’re hiring an assistant, in your opinion, what hires should the operation’s role be?

Lisa:                                       Well, I actually think that they’re probably the next person that you should hire because if you’re trying to be client-facing, as the sole advisor planner, the sooner that you can get out of the operation’s role, the more effective you can be in going and finding more business, meeting with clients. If you’re spending a lot of your time trading, dealing performance, dealing with getting money out to clients, all that kind of stuff that tends to fall in the operation’s area, you don’t have time to keep growing the business. I think when you realize that you need to expand, is 25 million, is that 50 million, whatever that number is, if it’s a assets or revenue, the operation’s role really should be the next role in line-

Hannah:                               That seems so much aligned with this idea that we need to be a business of financial planning not just … There’s a business side and then there’s the craft side.

Lisa:                                       Amen. Right. You have to start to run a business. I mean, that’s the e-myth idea is that you come into financial planning, you want to do financial planning, but you’re a business owner and at some point you have to start to work on the business not just in the business, and having somebody who can handle the operation side of your business-

Hannah:                               One of the things that was in, it was either your article or Andrew’s article, where you talked about the career steps for operations, with these smaller firms, how do you build out that career path where somebody would want to stay with you for a long time?

Lisa:                                       Well, to be fair, really, Andre did the work on this. I had created a career path for a financial planning associate, so that’s the entry advisor level role, which then leads to associate and lead adviser and then advisor senior, which is me. I had said to Andrew, “Look, I don’t have a career path, but here’s what we’ve done for the financial planning associate role, can you re-create?” Bless a soul, he took that and shifted it to operations. He can talk more about that, but just to give credit where credit’s due, I got the inspiration for creating what we have created as the steps, what are the qualifications and what do you need to do to move to the next level from a talk that Rebecca Pomering gave at our local financial planning association-

Hannah:                               Andrew, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. Working within a smaller firm and building out their career path, is it just additional responsibilities and compensation that’s tied to that or how do you view that?

Andrew:                              Yeah. It’s a mixture of all those things. I came in here and I was doing the general ops responsibilities and, obviously, I wanted to progress within the firm once I was offered a full-time position and I wanted to know, “Okay, what does this progression really look like?” Yeah, Lisa had told me that, “Look, we don’t have an ops career path, but here’s the advisor career path for you to look at so you can get an idea,” and that sort of thing. I used the advisor career path as a steppingstone and outside of that, I talked to some other firms, I looked back at my internship at another firm, I talked to some colleagues, looked at some Schwab firm surveys, just gathering that sort of data, what does compensation look like after a few years? What does compensation look like after five or seven years? What kind of certifications do ops people typically try to obtain? What kind of roles or what kind of responsibilities come with the role as you move on from one position to the next? So taking that all into account while using the advisor career path as a reference point or a steppingstone. That’s how I came up with the ops career path. After presenting it to Lisa, she really liked it, and after I guess a few edits, it became the ops career path our firm at least for the foreseeable future.

Hannah:                               Andrew, you feel like you have a career path now within this five-employee firm now?

Andrew:                              Right, right. Before, I didn’t really have a career path and I didn’t really know what I needed to do to get to the next level, I didn’t really know exactly what my compensation would look like after being promoted, that kind of thing, so the career path helped solidify that and made me more confident and made me feel more secure about moving forward.

Hannah:                               In your career path that you’ve lined out, there are compensation benchmarks tied to that, is that what I’m hearing?

Andrew:                              Yeah, relatively. I can’t remember if they’re actually written down number for number, but I think Lisa has a system where there’s relative points tied to the advisor career path in the same way.

Hannah:                               Lisa, how does a compensation differ or does it from an operation’s role to an advisor role?

Lisa:                                       At our firm right now, everybody’s on salary. I have certainly used Angie Herber’s approach to having bonuses. Again, one of the thins … Because I’m very much into how people are built and what motivates them, we found after a while that having a bonus was not really motivating anybody, it was really just turning into salary, and so we went to full salary for everybody who’s currently with us.

One of the things that I’m going to have to revisit is as we get to the lead advisor role and there’s perhaps business, new clients being brought in, that’s, I think, when we’re going to have to reassess things, In the meantime, I’m not treating the operations versus advisor role or career path any different from a compensation stand point. The operation’s role is critical to the firm, as I talk about it in the article, this is increasingly an area of liability. The whole first party, third-party wires and having to verify them, and if we accidentally allow money to go out to somebody it shouldn’t have gone to … We’re completely liable for that. This is a really important role and it shouldn’t be compensated any less than the people who are sitting face-to-face with a client as far as I’m concerned.

Hannah:                               Yeah. Again, I think it goes back to this if we view it like a business, what are the roles and how do they all fit together as the greater whole?

Lisa:                                       Yeah, exactly. Everybody has an important contribution to make.

Hannah:                               Lisa, has this helped with higher employee retention rate? I know the operations career path is the new thing but you’ve had an advisor career path for a while, has it helped with retention?

Lisa:                                       I really think it has because it’s created … I mean, this important for most younger planners and even for the operations side, you want to have a sense of where you’re going and that’s why a lot of young associates leave is there is either no clear career path or it’s not followed or it’s arbitrary and capricious. People seem to be clear what they’re supposed to do, they’re focus on it as we meet quarterly and annually, they’re looking at what are the steps I need to take? They’re checking them off with me, so it feels like it’s working better for everybody, not just for me or for them. It’s a win-win for the entire firm.

Hannah:                               In the article, you highlight the need and the value of the Kolbe assessment, and I know you love the assessments, so you do this for all positions, right?

Lisa:                                       We do this with every client and anybody who’s going to be hired into our firm does a number of different assessments, so Kolbe, strengths-finder, Myers-Briggs, which was really valuable to understand about Andrew as well, and sometimes we use Emergenetics as well. It’s very, very important for us to understand how you’re built, what your strengths are, and then to try to put you in the right role that fits with your strengths.

Hannah:                               Lisa, can you talk more about how the Kolbe has helped enhance your firm and how the employees relate to each other?

Lisa:                                       We find that having this understanding of each of our own strengths, then understanding each other’s strengths, and then being strategic about the roles, the projects that people take on, we work as a much more effective team, a more efficient team. We avoid some of the emotional affective stuff that happens when people are different than you are. I’m very different than pretty much everybody else in the firm, and if we didn’t understand that about each other, we would have a lot more conflict.

Certainly, before I started using these kind of assessment, that easily could happens. You make affective judgments like people are being lazy or they’re not doing this or they’re not doing it well and they don’t care, all affective judgments rather than understanding that somebody is built differently and you need to respect that difference and you need to figure out how to work with those differences and strengths. It’s certainly true across the different roles of advisor versus operations.

Hannah:                               From your perspective, Andrew, as an employee in a firm that uses a lot of the Kolbe assessments and using that to hire people as well as shape the firm, what has been your perspective on the value of these assessments?

Andrew:                              I think they’re great because, really, they helped me specifically the Kolbe, I would say, helped me, I guess, know more about my strengths and how I work methodically and what benefits me the most in how I work. When I got to the firm, what I had in mind was doing some of that, the analytical operations and non-client facing work that I had enjoyed in my previous internship, and when I took the Kolbe and got my results back that I was very process oriented, very detail oriented, I followed through on the work that I would submit and deliverables, and that kind of thing, that just spoke to me and confirmed what I already thought about, I guess, my work habits and helped, I guess, provide some proof that I really do think this role is for me and if I’m successful with it. I think the Kolbe helps solidify that.

Hannah:                               Andrew, in your article, what I thought what so great was you hit on this concept about identifying and being aware of what you’re naturally drawn to. We make the assumption that everybody wants to be an advisor, and that’s just not true, were you exposed to the idea that there were other career paths when you were in your degree program?

Andrew:                              Not really. Honestly, not really. Maybe that’s part of the reason of that is because the profession is still new, or I guess newer than most other professions that have been around and right now maybe it’s just that because of that newness, the advisor role is the default role or role that’s talked about the most because it’s directly associated with the CFP nowadays, at least with all the commercials you see on TV now, but … Yeah. No, in my program, I didn’t really know or think about too much what I would be doing outside of school besides working in a financial planning firm and probably being an advisor.

That’s not 100% what I wanted to do, but that’s where my head was at because this is what they kept telling us in school. It wasn’t until I actually went out into the profession and actually got some experience with some firms that I realized okay, there’s more than just the client-facing role. There’s all these other roles that I can … Depending on what firm you end up working for and how many positions they have open for that role … I don’t have to be doing this or I could be doing this in a different way or there’s an art to it, maybe you can combine different responsibilities from each role and create something different for yourself if your employer allows it. It was more so me understanding that there is more to the planning profession than just a client-facing advising once I had graduated and done some internships, honestly.

Hannah:                               What has helped you in your transition from college student to being a successful professional? Really specifically, what has your firm been able to help make the transition smooth?

Andrew:                              Well, just first, from transitioning from being a college student to working full-time, I think, at least for me, that the things that helped me the most were, number one, keeping my finances in order. We’re lucky to come from the financial planning program so a lot of these strategies, whether it comes to budgeting, or cash flow, or learning to pay off debt, learning to manage your credit, that kind of thing we learned in our early planning courses is really applicable to professional life, especially right after graduation where you probably don’t have the best credit score if you were taking out student debt. In that aspect, I used a lot from what I learned in school to help build a budget, learn how to pay off my bills, learn to manage my credit more thoroughly and that sort of thing.

But aside from that, working with Omega has just been great in terms of the environment here is really supportive. I work with another millennial, Jared, who is an associate advisor here and … Yeah, it’s just been really great because I actually came in when we were in the middle of a transition from one custodian to another for the majority of our client accounts and I was … That was my immediate role when I had come in and … Yeah, since then, there’s been a lot of growth for me. Lisa is extremely easy to work with and she’s open to new ideas, and she was really open with the career path strategy that we came up with and whether or not I want to get my hands in different roles or different projects, has been really easy to do as well. So the openness, the firm environment, I would say the firm culture and learning to manage your money once you start working really helped me.

Hannah:                               You all have been listening to each other, talking about these articles, so I am curious, Lisa and Andrew, so it’s fair to say that a lot of larger firms are now looking at how to profitably serve millennials as they’re becoming a greater percentage of the population, from an established firm’s perspective, how plausible do you see that three-step framework that Russell and Yusuf outlined in creating and integrating a service model targeting millennials?

Lisa:                                       Yeah. Hannah, this is something that we have been talking for probably two or three years as part of our strategic planning and, actually have a fairly clear sense of what we’re doing and we’re also starting to beta it a little bit, so similar three steps but a little different focus, because we’re very much into assessments and we found that to be really valuable in sharing with people just starting their careers, understanding their strengths, figuring out what’s the best for them to take, that’s part of the beginning of our first step. Our discovery process is similar but different.

We also, because we’re very much into the life planning side of things, our goal is to use the kinder three questions, so to really start to give people, these young folks, something to focus on and be intentional about how they live their lives. For us, we see it as being part of an offering to the adult children of our clients, and so that’s a little bit different, perhaps, in going out and trying to reach other people, just have a separate offering or something. We call it Omega Financial Planning. I think I’ve got a new name for it, which I’m not going to share right now, but I have a new idea for.

The second step for us is more around, like Russell was talking about, habits not goals. It’s a little early to have big goals, especially before you’re married or buy a house, or anything like that, our focus is around building good habits. So introducing them to apps and strategies that help them build good financial habits, so things like cash flow … We’re interested in cash flow but we’re looking at it in a way of introduce them to Mint.com or to YNAB or to one of the budgeting apps that’s out there and get them tracking their expenses from the beginning, setting up auto investment, whether it’s into some sort of investment offering, or whether it’s just savings, or whether it’s into their 401(k) at work, and then credit score monitoring.

As it turns out, that’s a really hot issue now, but really building that basic skill because credit score is so important to employment, insurance, getting an apartment, getting any money for a car, or a place to live in, so we think that getting all of those pieces together early and easily, and starting to develop that relationship like they talk about in, really, the third step, we see ourselves as a thinking partner and as an accountability partner. A thinking partner is they go through various questions and rather than asking their parents, they’re asking us as an accountability partner. “Hey, we’re wondering if you thought about doing this? Hey, did you get that set up?” We see it a little differently but, I think, fairly similarly.

As far as the actual business model, we see it as a loss leader too. The idea is that these are the inheritors, eventually, that we like we understanding the whole family system, and so if we can understand the dynamics between parents and kids and grandparents in some cases that we can be more helpful advisors. The model itself we envision is an on-boarding fee, a one-time on-boarding fee to do the assessments and life planning and everything, may be paid by the parents and then have some sort of monthly subscription fee, no assets under management fee because that’s not really appropriate. Eventually, they might graduate into our regular three-tiered offerings, if that made sense, as they grow.

I think we have serve similar ideas and we’re pretty close to … Like I said, we’re practicing with different pieces of it, we just haven’t pulled the trigger on having an agreement for it and actually kicking off the monthly subscription piece.

Hannah:                               One of the things that Yusuf had said that they were a total of about 15 hours of work from the lead advisor or support staff that were involved with each client in the course of a year, does that seem reasonable to you?

Lisa:                                       I think it depends on what you’re doing. That’s part what we’re trying to walk through right now is we can vision, and we’re stealing this from other people, is that over a 12 month period, there may be months where they’re just listening to a webinar so it’s more educational and maybe a couple three times a year, probably two, that we would be checking in again for that accountability goal setting, that kind of thing. Annual goal type of stuff, not long-term goals.

Then, as Yusuf mentioned, and I think Russell mentioned as well, that it’s more on an as-needed basis, so trying to have some things, offerings, but as technology leveraged as possible. That’s the only way I can see this working to start, is that it’s got to be pretty highly leveraged.

Hannah:                               Russell and Yusuf, as you’re listening to this, what are your thoughts on what Lisa’s outlining?

Yusuf:                                   I’ll speak first. I’m just excited to hear that there are other firms that have been thinking about this for some time and see some validity to the ideas that we’re proposing. Our whole thrust was just to continue a conversation that we thought was happening but that needed to be happening on a broader level, and so it’s exciting to see that other firms are going to be diving in.

Hannah:                               One of the comments Lisa made was that this was really going to be like a loss leader for their firm, and I think a lot of firms are going to take that mentality, but you guys are proposing, maybe that it doesn’t have to be that loss leader. Is that just going to come down to business models or what are your thoughts on that issue?

Yusuf:                                   Yeah, I think it really is going to depend on the business model just because it starts as a loss leader doesn’t necessarily mean that it will continue to be one. Part of the deal with millennials is that they’re at the early part of their career and if you snag them now, the idea is that they’ll continue to accumulate assets and the relationship, aside from being fulfilling with respect to the client planner engagement, will also end up being profitable in the long run.

Lisa:                                       Hannah, to be clear, when I say loss leader, I don’t … We’re making an investment in the future. We know that it gives our main clients peace of mind to know that their children, their adult children, are getting good financial advice and are getting set up well, we’re really okay with that. We’re not trying to make money. I think we might break even if we do it right. It’s taking a long view, a multi-generation view to our business. Honestly, just from a very smart standpoint, we don’t want these assets to leave. If we don’t start building these relationships, the assets will leave. So, part of it is for us, a life planning piece that we really want to engage the next generation and we’re excited about that, and part of it is, honestly, just smart business management.

Hannah:                               Well, what I like about what you’re saying, Lisa, is that your ideal client is still going to stay the same, and this is just add-on service, if you would, almost.

Lisa:                                       Yeah, exactly. It just makes sense when we think ahead on the demographics. To go back to as Yusuf and Russell were talking about, you go back to Dick Wagner’s book, and he’s like, everybody starts this way. Now, the reality is that we can’t let go of the clients who brought us to the dance, but it’s time to pick up next generation along the way so that our younger advisors can be excited about the business and aren’t always just dealing with people who are literally 30, 40 and 50 years older than them.

Hannah:                               Andrew, do you have any thoughts on this, especially from an operational standpoint?

Andrew:                              No. I mean, I really liked Yusuf’s and Russell’s article, I think they brought up really good points with the millennials wanting to be seen and heard and want to feel valued, and the fact that we live in a space now where everything is digital and there’s no limit to how expressive you want to be online and there’s no limit to finding your niche and what you’re into, and I think that planners in the profession can definitely attest to those values or those niches, especially with all the stuff that’s happening around socially responsible investments and low-cost ETF index funds and that kind of thing to supplement those millennial wants and needs.

I also really liked the part about the financial policies. I think they called them compact decision rules. I think for millennials, especially these periodic policies make a lot more sense for them than overarching, long-range financial planning recommendations that are more suited for wealthier, more traditional older clients.

Hannah:                               Russell and Yusuf, you’ve been listening to and Lisa and Andrew’s portion, and as young planners yourself, what thoughts do have around the need for young planners to be aware and identify whether or not naturally drawn to, especially as it relates to their career?

Yusuf:                                   Yes. I think a lot of people, they’re attracted to financial planning because they like working with people, they like helping people and maybe they’re good at numbers and … I went to Virginia Tech, which is one of the top programs in the country, preparing people to sit for the CFP exam, but one of the things that I think even great education programs don’t do a very good job of is helping people identify what their roles are going to look like, and so when you graduate everybody’s looking for job but they’re not necessarily looking for a job that’s going to be a long-term thing. Trying to make partner track, obviously, for a lot of people that’s the idea, but if you don’t have much experience … Even internships really don’t do as much as we would like, but we don’t have a sense of what’s out there and who you want to be in the profession and you get that through experience. I think that having some flexibility and autonomy to figure that out is really important.

That’s one of the reasons why I joined … Or, actually, probably the main reason why I joined Yeske Buie’s residency program back in 2015 was because I wanted the opportunity to experience different aspects of the financial planning profession. I worked for 18 months before that and was getting pigeonholed into a certain thing that the firm wanted me to do and that wasn’t necessarily authentic to me and that was frustrating, so doing this residency program gave me the opportunity to explore different areas. Then, once I figured out what I wanted and I graduated from the program, I was able to start my own company because I knew what I wanted.

Russell:                                 I’ll add on just from a different angle. I think one of the critical things that a young advisor needs to do as they’re considering what kind of a firm or which firm they want to join, you’d better have your own personal investment philosophy ironed out. It’s not one of those things that you can just, “Okay, well, maybe we disagree on a couple of things here and there, but overall this is going to be fine,” you really need to know what your deal breakers are and then be able to match up with a firm that has the same approach because, obviously investments are not the only part of the financial planning engagement. In fact, it’s just one of five or six realms that we delve into pretty heavily, but it is the fuel that thrusts the financial plan forward, if you will. If you’re not clear on that and don’t see eye-to-eye on that with the firm that you’re joining or that you’re at, it’s going to lead to some problems.

Hannah:                               From an employee perspective or from a new planner’s perspective, how important is having that career path laid out at a firm, speaking to the people who are actually going to be hiring these new planners?

Yusuf:                                   Yeah. That’s my opinion that having a clear, structured, nuanced career path is one of, if not the most important thing that you can have as a firm when you’re looking to recruit new talent because if you can’t tell a young person where they can expect to be or where they should be if they’re performing well in a year, in three years, in five years, in 10 years, then, at some point, it’s going to become … There’s going to be time wasted and there’s going to be frustration because expectations won’t be aligned and that’ll lead to issues.

Hannah:                               Looking at the idea of employee retention, losing an employee is just incredibly costly, Yusuf, from your perspective, do you have a career path laid out in front of you?

Yusuf:                                   Yes, yes, all the way from entry-level planner to what someone would have to do to become a partner or a managing adviser at the firm.

Hannah:                               Your loyalty to your firm is going to increase dramatically because you have that laid out?

Yusuf:                                   Absolutely, because I know that if I do A, B and C, that’s going to lead to the role, and the career, and the function that I’m aiming for, that I’m dreaming about as a young planner. Speaking from experience, having that career ladder is what got me through, maybe a frustrating period or a difficult period where I wasn’t quite doing exactly what I wanted to be doing but knowing that if I just continued to chip away at it, eventually I will end up where I wanted to be.

Hannah:                               You were able to see proof of this from your firm as well? I mean, it’s measurable, you know if they’re lying to you or if it’s real.

Yusuf:                                   Right, and that’s the thing about having that agreement, the career ladder effectively serves as a contract of sorts between the firm and the employee. As the employee moves up the ladder, if they see that the response from the firm is in line with that, then it’s another signal of trust that continues to build as the relationship grows.

Hannah:                               Well, as we wrap up, are there any other thoughts that any of the four of you guys have about these articles or this conversation?

Lisa:                                       Well, Hannah, I just really appreciate the opportunity for us to be in this dialogue. Over the years, I’ve been a little frustrated that across generations we’re not having open dialogue about where planning is going for the profession in the future and what the career paths look like, and I’m very excited about what Yusuf and his firm are doing and excited for Russell. There’s lots of different opportunities and, hopefully that’s what’s going to have come out of this whole podcast is that there’s different paths, there’s a lot of exciting opportunities if you’re coming into the profession right now.

Hannah:                               Great. Well, thank you all for being here. We appreciate it and hope everybody enjoyed the conversation.

Yusuf:                                   Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew:                              Thank you.

Lisa:                                       Thanks, Hannah.

Russell:                                 Thanks for hosting.

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Finding Your Fit in the Financial Planning Profession

Eric Roberge, owner and founder of Beyond Your Hammock, had a long journey in the financial planning profession. He shares his story and how he doesn’t regret testing out several different roles before finding the one that fit his lifestyle best.

The financial planning profession is expansive – and there are so many opportunities out there for new CFPs to experience. Eric encourages everyone who is just starting out to find the role that allows them to live the life they’ve always dreamed of. He is living proof that there isn’t a single cookie-cutter model of financial planning career – and that that’s a good thing!

hannah's signature

“Showing what all the possibilities are in that it doesn’t have to be a cookie cutter approach to create a career and a business for yourself that actually is both gratifying because you’re helping people, but also gratifying because you get to live the life that you have dreamed of along the way.”

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Different roles that Eric worked throughout his career as a financial planner (even before he took his CFP® exam).
  • How he decided what motivated him – and how he applied that to his career choices.
  • What he did to become more involved with the profession.
  • How he has been growing his career and his practice.
  • How he evaluated his own values and how they impact his work as well as his clients’ lives.


The Wall Street Journal

FPA NexGen Gathering

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®

Sophia Bera, CFP®

Beyond Your Hammock

Creative Advisor Marketing


Show Transcript

Ep63 Transcript

Hannah:               Well thanks for joining us today, Eric.

Eric:                        Oh, you’re welcome. This is, like I said to you before, this is gonna be a great conversation with a fellow planner, so I’m excited.

Hannah:               Yes, absolutely. So for the listeners who don’t know, Eric is the owner and founder of Beyond Your Hammock, and we’ll get to more of that story of how that firm came to be, but I wanted to first learn, how did you get into financial planning? What was your first entry point into, I guess the investment world, or financial planning?

Eric:                        College. The Wall Street Journal, specifically. In college, that was, I got a free Wall Street Journal in my dorm room every week. So I was started to read that and I became very interested in the trading world. Didn’t actually end up being a trader out of school, I ended up going into a couple larger banks, like State Street Bank, and JP Morgan, the first part of my career. So I stayed in financial services, but it wasn’t until 2007 when I actually dove into financial planning, as we know it, so then there was another journey from thereon.

Hannah:               So what sparked, so you’re working at these big banks, what sparked the interest in financial planning?

Eric:                        I think the … it’s really weird because I’d like to look back and say, well it was this thing that sparked it, and then I made this move because I’m so motivated and focused that I know exactly which steps to take next, and it wasn’t like that. I think it was more about, I wanted an opportunity, outside of JP Morgan because I didn’t want the corporate culture anymore. I was getting sick of that. And there was an opportunity that popped up with a friend of mine who said, “Well if you want to leave there, you can still stay in financial services, become a financial planner.”, because I was doing more analysis than planning at JP Morgan, and he said, “I will sponsor you for your Series Seven, and your Series 66, and your life insurance license, and we’ll see how it goes.”

So it was just a void in not knowing where to go, this opportunity coming up, and me saying, well, I like finance, I like personal finance. Let me just give it a try, and a worst case scenario, I leave and it doesn’t work out. So that was the impetus for me to go into personal financial planning.

Hannah:               So when you made this transition, was there a pay cut, or what was it like financially for you to make that transition?

Eric:                        I don’t know if there’s a word, ’cause certainly pay cut doesn’t give meaning to what actually happened to my finances. It was more like an avalanche of just in tune emptiness, ’cause I had no money coming in. When I left JP Morgan, my salary stopped, and then it was all based on commission and fees at my new financial planning job, and I was not very good at it and I didn’t make any money.

Hannah:               And so while you were at JP Morgan, what were your expectations of what it would be like when you moved to becoming a financial advisor?

Eric:                        Yeah, that a good question, because I guess that was the reason I finally left JP Morgan. I didn’t know what to expect, there were a few things though that actually had me go. One of them being the roof was taken off my income potential, right? So at JP Morgan, and at State Street Bank, I was constantly feeling like I had to convince my boss about why I deserved more money. And as a financial advisor, the way it was gonna be set up, it was if I produced, I would get more money, so I could do good things and really make an impact, and have my income be reflected in that impact. So that was cool to have that ceiling removed.

One of the other things that was there for me was, I didn’t really like the whole cubicle environment. So finally, after five years, or … yeah, five years in cubicles, I was going to be able to create my own schedule, and do my own thing on a daily basis. So that freedom, that thought of freedom was something that was very enticing to me. And the third thing was just being able to finally be removed from the corporate environment. Being client facing and being able to work with people one on one, to be able to help them with their finances and see the impact of my skills and my experience with a client, helping them see things they didn’t see before, and then enjoying the fruits of that. So that was the icing on the cake for all of the, all of it.

Hannah:               Is that when you started looking into getting your CFP®?

Eric:                        I didn’t really know what a CFP® was at that point. I was just learning about what a Series Seven was, and what a Series 66 was, and I was moving into a hybrid broker dealer model, so I was able to sell insurance, I was able to manage assets. So I needed a Series Seven, a Series 66, and my life insurance license. It wasn’t until a little, a few years down the road that I actually started to look at the CFP®.

Hannah:               So we talked about what your expectation was of this, stepping into this financial advisor role, so what actually happened when you … You’re at that new job now, what was that like?

Eric:                        Oh man. That was an eye opener for me, because I didn’t, so I didn’t know what to expect, so I couldn’t say that it really fit my expectations or it didn’t, I was just there now. So I did have an office space that I was using in this new company’s office. I was basically renting space from them, which is basically giving them part of my revenues that I brought them in. But we’d have meetings and just kind of … Actually, you know what the first thing that happened, which was very exciting, too, I left JP Morgan and I was telling people that I was working with that I’m moving to this new company, and the first thing that we’re gonna do is head out to California and we’re gonna go to an insurance seminar.

So people were like, “Oh, I want a job like that. I want a job where I can actually travel and do things.” And I said yeah, this sounds really great. So I flew out to California for a weekend with a friends of mine, with the guy I was working with, and we went to this life insurance seminar. So that was really cool, but overall it was very tough, because I soon realized that it wasn’t as easy as just talking to somebody that’s interesting in financial planning, and then doing work with them. I had to go find the people, and then convince them, or so I thought, that I was the person that could help them. And then they would say yes, and then I would do the work. That way, it was a really, really tough process. And, mind you, this was the end of 2007, so if anybody’s familiar with the stock market, and the crash of 2008, this was when it started to crash.

So I fell into this world in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression. And it was a huge learning experience for me. Not all good stuff, but great experience.

Hannah:               And so were you able to build up a book at that location?

Eric:                        No. I was not. I was really not. What I did was, they had some connections to teachers and firefighters, and a lot of the municipalities in town, so I was initially going to middle schools and sitting in the cafeteria, hoping that a teacher would come up to me and ask me about 403 B Plans. I didn’t want to be the guy walking around interrupting lunch, ’cause I wasn’t rude, yet sitting around waiting for something to walk up to me was not actually working. ‘Cause they didn’t really …

Hannah:               People didn’t want to …

Eric:                        They don’t know. Teachers don’t know about retirement, most of the time, they’re busy teaching their kids. So they’re like, oh, the 403 B guy’s here, great. I’m not gonna talk to him. One of the other things, too, that … this was like more of a cool story, not a cool story at the time, but cool story looking back. We had sent out flyers to, or postcard to a bunch of people that fits the, I don’t know, they were probably like 65 years old or more, taking social security, and the postcard said, we can help you save taxes on social security. So, really looking back, what it was, the door opener to try to get in and sell an annuity.

And so all these mailings went out, and then it was my job to follow up with these people by phone, and try to set up a meeting. And I am the worst, I am the worst cold caller you will ever meet. So this was the most stressful part of my job, trying to call this list. I would probably end up after a day of looking at the list, I would call five people. I remember one night, I was in the basement where I had my, I had a desk in the basement of this building, and it was six o’clock PM, nobody was there anymore, and I had to finish this list. So I was doing push-ups to sike myself up, jumping on the call to try to get somebody on the phone, holding my breath while I was talking, and trying to get a meeting, and hanging up the phone.

And I would do this, just to try to get myself siked up to do the phone calls. It was really, really awful.

Hannah:               And that was really the … I mean, that’s how they teach people how to do it. Obviously, probably not the push up part, but the … you send out a mailer, you make the phone calls, you get the appointments, and then you work your close right, and that’s how you get clients.

Eric:                        That was it. That was the broker model. That’s what you see on TV, the Wolf of Wall Street and these people that are just making calls and closing deals. Always be closing, right?

Hannah:               As you’re going through this, what was the point where you were like, this isn’t working?

Eric:                        I don’t know that I ever said, well, this I guess, defining this. This as a career move, I never said that it wasn’t working. This as in, well this company may not be working out for me, just the set up doesn’t fit, that started to happen pretty soon, maybe six months in when I was not making any money. I was making very little money. Certainly not enough to support myself. I had just before I left JP Morgan, coincidentally, I had to move out of my, the place I was staying. And my friend was getting married, so he was like, you have to move out because my fiancé’s moving in. And, very selfish of him, but that’s what he said, so I moved up back to my parent’s house, at 27, just thinking that it was gonna be a short stint. Like two months, and I was gonna go buy a place. And that’s when I made the move, and suddenly I realized that I couldn’t move out of my parent’s place ’cause I didn’t have any income, so I was stuck.

So six months in, not making any income, now still at my parent’s place, something had to change.

Hannah:               And so what changed?

Eric:                        I started to do a lot of research on … ’cause again, most people, even beginner financial planners, don’t understand the full breadth of this industry. The many types of people, the positions, the job requirements, the way you make money. It’s so vastly different, depending on who you work for. I was just starting to realize that, after, you know, right? I had a degree in finance. I worked for State Street Bank, JP Morgan Chase, and then became a financial planner. And only then did I start to realize how crazy the industry was, because it was so desperate. Right? There was so many different types in there. So I started to do research about what I might want to do, and I came across a firm that, and so when I was working at this first firm, there was no real marketing funnel. Which means that, there was no way for me to consistently get prospects and bring them in and then create clients out of that prospect list, other than doing these manual things about calling people.

So I found a company that did seminars. So what they would do is they would send out similar mailings to people and then the people would opt in to a seminar, like a free dinner, and you would be there in front of the advisors, and the advisors would give you a presentation and then the idea would be to get them interested enough to have a meeting with you and then they become clients from there. So they had a successful process for doing this, and I wanted that. ‘Cause I said, well I can remove the marketing stress for me, because they have the marketing already. All I have to do is go over there and do my job. So I found that and I moved over to that firm in 2009, very early in 2009.

Hannah:               I’m always interested when broker dealers promote marketing as this is why you should come work with us. Was that successful?

Eric:                        It … well, for them, it was successful until 2009. So, my luck was running out, very quickly because 2008 was a horrible year for the market. By 2009, this seminar thing was no longer working. People were scared to death of anybody. Banks were crashing, so talking to a financial advisor was even worse. And no one would come to these seminars, so the company before, actually, saw this happening by the turnout of the seminars, they stopped. They said, I’m gonna not do this anymore, we’re gonna do back to our old marketing, which as basically what I was doing before I came to this company, so one month into this new company, they changed the reason I came over … I came there for a reason. They changed their marketing, and I was back to square one. So it was not working.

Hannah:               And so were you able to bring clients from your last broker dealer to your new one?

Eric:                        I think I could, although I didn’t have that many. I think, there were a few that I brought, but I think there were others that I got through the 403 B program, which I had to leave that behind me. So I really didn’t have any clients. I was starting over again, at this new company. And it was not, I mean, they pitched themselves as a financial planning firm. I mean, they had financial planning software, so they had to be a financial planning firm. And really what it was, is was a glorified sales technique to sell more annuities. So, I didn’t love that either. So now I was getting no clients and I was in a place where, they weren’t really doing what I thought was best for the clients. Because it was a lot of commissions being had by annuity sales.

Hannah:               So did you stay there long, or what was your tenure there?

Eric:                        Back then, it was a long time. It was about nine months.

Hannah:               The longest nine months of your life.

Eric:                        Yes. In that nine months though, again, I was learning so much. See, I would never change any of it, any of this, because it gave me so much experience, so much understanding. Making mistakes, finding opportunities, that I would never change any of it. But, in that nine months, I did realize that well maybe I can go out and find a small advisory firm that has one advisor, who is older, because I came to realize that the average age of a financial planner was somewhere in the 50’s, in their 50’s. So I could make a relationship with a single advisor, in their 50’s, build up my own clients, because they might have some sort of prospect funner, or some marketing technique to bring in new clients. And then, potentially, if all worked out, take over that business down the road.

So I was seeking that out, and because I was seeking that out, something came across my desk, and I make my next move in 2009 to a small broker dealer firm, under Commonwealth Financial Network. An amazing broker dealer, by the way.

Hannah:               Yes, very good one. Do you … So, you found an advisor. Did you go into it, were there conversations about being a succession plan, or was it just something you assumed with the age, that that conversation would eventually happen?

Eric:                        I think a little of both. I was clear in that, ’cause it, at this point, this was my third financial planning job, so I knew what I didn’t want. And I made sure that I expressed what I ideally did want. And it wasn’t … So the positive was that I did express it. And he did say yes, that seems like a good idea. The negative was that there was nothing on paper that said that that would actually happen, but I was okay with that, because it was just an opportunity for me. Going back, I may have approached it a little differently, ’cause of course, it didn’t work out, but that was the goal. And we both understood that that could happen, maybe, down the road.

Hannah:               What did you learn at that firm?

Eric:                        That is probably where I learned the most about what a financial planning job could really be. Because it wasn’t about selling annuities or life insurance. It was about doing planning for clients. Using financial planning software to actually help clients understand how much money they would need to retire and live throughout retirement without running out of money. So we focused on people that were 55 or older, that had at least several hundred thousand dollars of investible assets, but they were really looking to understand how to make the transition from working years to retirement. And as you know, that’s a big transition, and there’s a lot of planning that goes along with that. So I was really able to understand how to communicate with clients. How to do real planning for clients. And how to really run a business. ‘Cause I was the back office, running this business. And I got a lot of really good experience.

That’s also when I was exposed to the CFP® … Well, no, I take that back. I did start taking my CFP® classes in 2008, but I put it on hold, because I’d made so many transitions that I didn’t know where I was gonna be. That’s when it came back up, and he said you should really get your CFP®, ’cause he had his. He had had his since the ’90’s. He said it’s a good thing to get, so he sponsored me, or paid for my CFP® program, as long as I passed the test.

Hannah:               So your employer really encouraged this CFP® program and building that out.

Eric:                        Yes. He understood that that education, you’re gonna get nowhere else, and it’s the exact education that you need to be able to do comprehensive planning.

Hannah:               So were you building your own book at this point, or were you just like a straight employee, working with his clients?

Eric:                        That was a point of contention. I was not actually building my own book. I think at some point in my working years with him, there was a non-solicit agreement that I signed, which meant that any client that I brought on board, I could not take with me for a year after I left. So it really did mentally block me from freely bringing on potential clients. ‘Cause I was like, if I bring on a friend, what if I bring on a friend and then I leave? And then he’s stuck there for a year? He’s gonna hate me. So I didn’t want to do that, so I was really limiting myself to bringing on people that I didn’t know at all, potentially bringing them on, and then … Because if I didn’t know them, and I brought them on, then it wasn’t all that big a deal if I left. So I had one foot out the door a lot of the time, because it wasn’t like a clear path to move forward, which is very common in this industry.

Hannah:               People talk about you’re either an employee or you’re an entrepreneur. Did you identify yourself as an entrepreneur throughout this process for the last several years?

Eric:                        No. I would say that I was not that at all. I was, I felt more like a mouse in a maze than an entrepreneur. I was just trying to make it. I was trying to survive. I was trying to get to a point where my income was sufficient enough for me to live the life that I wanted to live. And that was not a place to do that. I was not in a position to do that. So even though I went to Babson College, which is known for entrepreneurship, so I think I always say that it was like osmosis, that I had the entrepreneurship bug leaked into my pores when I was there, and then it came out while I was at this firm, and I realized what I needed to do to get to what I needed to be, to be an entrepreneur, and to run the business the way I saw fit.

Hannah:               So that’s interesting. So you said you figured out what you needed to do, so can you talk about that?

Eric:                        At this point, so I worked for several different firms, with several different business models. Working with clients, different types of clients. I realized that I wanted the comprehensive planning position. I didn’t want to be the salesperson and … But I didn’t want to be focusing on older individuals. I was 30, 30 ish at the time, so I wanted to work with younger people. People that were more my age. People that I was naturally networking with when I went out to networking events. So that was what I … that was in my sights. I needed to do comprehensive planning for younger people. And how I did that was a question. Because that was not really done in this industry at the time. People weren’t just working with younger people. There might be clients kids that they worked with because their client was paying them enough money to make sense, to have that make sense, but for the most part, certainly, nobody was going out there and working with younger people unless you were trying to sell them a life insurance product.

Hannah:               And so you just wanted to do a straight financial planning fee for these young clients.

Eric:                        Yeah. I wanted to be honest. I wanted to be objective, and I wanted to help younger people.

Hannah:               Did you have conversations with your boss at that point about this vision that you had?

Eric:                        I don’t really remember if there were specific conversations about that vision, ’cause I think that was slowly starting to grow as a vision inside of my brain. I didn’t know it exactly what it looked like yet, ’cause we were tying at the time to acquire other businesses, to … It wasn’t … We had no surefire way to bring on new clients consistently. The amount of clients we needed to expand as quickly as we wanted to, so we were looking at buying another firm, and we did come across a firm to buy, but that actually didn’t work out. There’s a lot of details there that probably aren’t relevant for this conversation, but it didn’t work out, and it really pissed me off, the end result of it. So I wasn’t all that open about that I wanted to do, because I didn’t trust that it would be met by somebody that would support my vision.

Hannah:               Yeah. You judge people by their actions, not what they say.

Eric:                        Yeah.

Hannah:               In this business, yeah. You have to.

Eric:                        Yeah, at that point I was three years into this new company and I’d learned so much. I am very grateful for the experience that I had with this firm and the owner of the firm, and how much time and effort he put into teaching me what he knew. But it was not a place for me to be long-term, so that’s when I was like, alright, I am here for three years, there’s no succession plan on paper yet, there’s no … I have no clients of my own. So it’s more risky for me to stay at this firm and have the owner change his mind about what he saw my path being, than it was for me leave and start over again. So for the third time I started over again, in 2013.

Hannah:               And so this is the Beyond Your Hammock, right?

Eric:                        There was a short stint of a six month period where I was leaving his firm. I wanted a fee-only firm to work with. I didn’t know if I wanted to start my own, ’cause I wasn’t really confident that I could build a book of clients from scratch, so I worked with a friend of mine who had a structure, he had an RIA, a registered advisor company, and he was an investment guy. He was a really small RIA. He probably had five million dollars under management at the time and he said, “I’m the investment guy. You have your CFP®, why don’t you come on board and do the financial planning, and maybe we can support each other and grow this business.” So I said that sounds great. So, basically I was working from home, and for six months, I was trying to do what I didn’t realize I was eventually going to do. Working with younger people, doing financial planning, but I was selling financial plans, basically. So I would say, alright, eighteen hundred bucks, I’ll give you a financial plan, and then, hopefully, thinking in my head that that financial plan would push them in the right direction, so eventually they would have assets, and then I can manage those assets.

But after six months I realized it was just a transactional type of setup, where I had to keep selling financial plans to make any money. And it just wasn’t working. And at that point, in June of 2013 is when I … Actually, when I met you, because I went to the Next Gen gathering out in … What was it, Minnesota? Is that where we were?

Hannah:               Yeah. St. Johns. Yup.

Eric:                        Yeah. Which was awesome.

Hannah:               I remember that.

Eric:                        And that experience from the Next Gen group was just like mind altering for me, because not only did it show me that other people were out there on their own islands, thinking about this, like that they were by themselves, I’m the only one that’s young and in this business, and that wants to do financial planning and I can’t get there. There were many people thinking that way and we all came together at the next gen gathering, and it gave me the confidence to realize that I could actually start my own registered investment advisor company. ‘Cause at the time, Sophia Bera, and Mary Beth Storjohann were both at the Next Gen gathering and I had met them, and they were both starting their own companies and I said, I want to do that. I can do that if they can do that. So I left in June, came back, told the guy I was working with that I wanted to start my own company.

He was a friend too, so he was cool with that. And by August of that year, I had launched my own RIA called Beyond Your Hammock.

Hannah:               How did you get the name Beyond Your Hammock?

Eric:                        That is a good question, because everybody asks that one. And I love when people ask it, because that’s why it’s there, right? I didn’t name it Beyond Your Hammock so it could just be like a white elephant in the room. It’s called Beyond Your Hammock because, number one, I needed to have a name that didn’t have people assume what I did. So Roberge Wealth Management, or Roberge Financial Planning, that was right out. That did not work because people would come in to me and yeah, “Oh yeah, I know five or six people that do what you do, they work with North Western Mutual, and New York Life, and bla, bla, bla …” and then, suddenly you’re down a path that you don’t want to be down, and you have to backtrack before you can actually build a story about what you do and why you’re different.

So Beyond Your Hammock, a name that was different, would start off from a blank slate. So people say, “What do you do?”, ’cause they don’t even realize that I’m in the finance industry with Beyond Your Hammock, right? So, that gives me the ability to, with a blank canvas, build the story about what I actually do and why it’s different. So I can say that, I’m a financial planner, or I don’t say that, actually. I take that back. I say I help people in their 20’s and in their 30’s, use their money as a tool to live a life that they love. So basically, I’m a certified financial planner, so I use that experience to do things a lot differently than financial planners do it. And now they’re interested. They’re like, okay. It’s different. Now, what does that mean? And then I get to build that story from there.

The second piece of it was making sure the name had an impact in a meeting. And for most people, Beyond Your Hammock has a standalone name, does not have a meaning. But, for me, Beyond was a key word, because I always wanted to look beyond society, beyond the every day. Doing things differently than the crowds. So that beyond really gave me a tingly feeling in my neck, to say yes, outside of the norm. The hammock part just fell into place as a cool word, because relaxing, who doesn’t like to lay in a hammock? So, the best part about this, and this is what really cinched the deal for me is when I put the words together and said Beyond Your Hammock, I didn’t really love it at the time, but I texted my brother-in-law, and I’ve told this story a bunch of times.

But I texted my brother-in-law, and I said what do you think about this name as a business name? And he said, “Well, coincidentally, I was out in my backyard the other day, and I was looking at the hammock that I have out there, and it’s tied between two trees, and I was looking to carve two sayings, one on each tree. And on the first tree I wanted to carve ‘Work Whenever’, and on the second tree, ‘Relax Forever’.” And I just sat there for a second, and I’m like that is so cool. That is the message that I want, whether it’s subliminal or direct. For all of my clients to understand that they have a choice as to whether they want to work or don’t, and that they can always relax. That is just such a cool place to be. So that sealed the deal. And that’s why I went with Beyond Your Hammock.

Hannah:               So you opened the doors for Beyond Your Hammock. You’ve had the struggles of trying to find new clients. You have this marketing message that’s different and unique now. Did that resonate right away with clients? Or what was that journey like to build your business?

Eric:                        I think there’s a piece that’s missing here, too, that really, really, really helped me gain the confidence I needed to launch the business, and then create a message that I wanted to use as a marketing message. And that was doing some personal growth training and development. So I was very much, like when I left JP Morgan, I was in a, I would say a dark place. Now, people have all kinds of definitions of what dark means. I wasn’t in a basement dissecting mice with a blindfold, I was just in a place where I was questioning what the future looked like, where I was going. And I was a lost soul, so as I was becoming a financial advisor, I just felt like I still hadn’t found myself.

It was like a quarter life crisis. So I was reading all kinds of books, self-development books and just anything I could get my hands on, I was trying to learn from. And it wasn’t all financial planning. It was actually very few financial planning books, and mostly, growth books, business books, personal reflection books. Think and Grow Rich was one of the ones that I read, which was an awesome book to get me to see things in a way that people didn’t normally look at their lives. And that led me to work, to find some programs that I could go to and work on myself. So for a couple years, as I was switching out of the employee to employer role, or at least employee to entrepreneur role, I was going through these programs, and reflecting on myself, doing a lot of work on myself. Seeing where I came from, why I do certain things, why I think certain ways. And really completing that past, and moving forward with again, an open canvas, and trying to create something new, because I could do that. Why would I not be able to do that? Every day, every moment, you have the ability to choose what you do next, and how you react to certain things, and how you proactively go out and build something.

So that was where my mind was when I started this business. And it was all about, it was all positive. It was like, what can we create here? So I just started to share, and this is one thing that I think is key. I was not selling at this point, in the past I had sold, I tried to sell things. In this case, all I was doing was sharing what I was doing ’cause I was so proud. I was so motivated to do this thing that was different to help younger people use their money as a tool that it just was like a wildfire going on inside me. So I would just tell people what I’m up to, and I think a lot of people miss an opportunity when they, when someone says, hey what’s going on? What’ve you been up to? To say, nothing, or not much, just totally, just lose so much in that conversation. Because what I would do is say, you know what actually what I’m doing is starting a business, and I’m working to build this new type of financial planning firm that’s actually helping younger people understand how to use their money now and in the future.

And it just, my own way of being in that conversation, and what I was saying, with such a different perspective than the normal person was used to when it comes to the financial planning industry, that it gave me so much room to have a good conversation, that I just kept having those conversations. And it slowly spread, and I started to develop a clientele. It wasn’t quick, but it was building one after another, after another.

Hannah:               Well, I love that. It’s like you let your passion show through to your prospects, and they felt that. They wanted to be part of that.

Eric:                        Yeah. That’s one key, I think that starting your own business, I think, can give you that. Because, and it’s not the only way. But for me it was the way that allowed me to really look at my business as part of me, and I’m very proud of who I am, so I wanted to make sure that what I was doing for my business, made me proud as well. So it was just this one big, I don’t know, circle. It was … I was my business, my business was me, and I had my life, and it was just … I was my brand. So it was very motivating to go out into the world feeling that way and sharing with everybody what I was up to.

Hannah:               Just following your story up to this point, was the business not sustainable for you?

Eric:                        No. No. Actually, when I left the employer, so the advisory firm with Commonwealth Financial Network, when I left at the end of 2012, I knew that I needed to find some income replacement, ’cause they had actually started to pay me a salary over there. Because in the past I hadn’t found income, I knew that that wouldn’t work, so I actually got a job, for the first time in my life, at the age of 33, as a waiter at a restaurant. And although I was going into that thinking that I would be the next Tom Cruise in, you know, be a bartender, and be like yeah this is great, I’m making money on the side, and I’m starting my business. And this is awesome. I slowly realized that, I quickly realized that I didn’t have any experience as a waiter or a bartender so nobody wanted to hire me. But I did find a job as a waiter in February of 2013. And I worked as a waiter for 10 months to give me some sort of income to survive as I was trying to figure things out. And that is a very key factor in allowing me to think through, even though it was stressful, think through without completely being stressed out of my mind, how to actually build a business effectively, and not just because I needed money.

Hannah:               Yeah, I think it’s so admirable when people do these side gigs, if you would, to really be able to build up their dreams. I also think it’s really interesting ’cause you were just talking about how you reached this place where you were just like oh my gosh, everything is firing on all cylinders, everything is going go great, and you were a waiter at that time, too. So it’s … usually when you hear the waiter, you tie that do negative thoughts of being like, oh they’re down on their luck. But for you, I don’t know if that was maybe the case.

Eric:                        Yeah. And this is a good point to bring up, because it’s all about perspective. Circumstances don’t run our lives, so we can’t let them do that, right? If we let them, they will run our lives, but they don’t need to run our lives. So when I looked at being a waiter, I said, yeah, I am a waiter now after a college degree, and working at big banks and really being successful in those positions, and now after 11 years I’m a waiter? For the first time in my life? This in itself is not right. It was a big hit to the ego, but I was looking at it from, as a stepping stone. I was not going to be a lifelong waiter, and I mean, nothing wrong with being a waiter, if you can do it well and that’s what you want to do, go for it. But that was not what I wanted to do.

So I wanted to use that as a stepping stone to be able to create income short term to allow me to get to that next level. And I always had the end goal in mind, which allowed me to work Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday as a waiter, and then start, and launch my business Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday every single week.

Hannah:               That’s such a great story, and I think such a great lesson for anybody who’s listening, myself included. You do what needs to get done in order to achieve your dreams.

Eric:                        Yeah. It’s always … Everything’s possible. It’s just a matter of how much you want to commit to it and how much hard work you want to put in, and how long you can do that before you see results that is going to make or break you.

Hannah:               So you have had Beyond Your Hammock now for, is it three years?

Eric:                        No, I had my fourth birthday in August.

Hannah:               Fourth birthday. Congratulations.

Eric:                        Thank you.

Hannah:               In the four years that you’ve had your own firm, what have you learned about your clients?

Eric:                        I’ve learned that my clients don’t know much about money. And that’s not their fault, it’s the fault of our education system, not actually having anything to do with financial planning, personal finance, or learning about how, what makes a dollar, a dollar, and what makes it grow. And how negative debt can be to someone’s life. I’ve learned that … so I’ve also learned that they are hungry, my clients, again, right now my client, my average age of my clients probably 35 to 38 years old. People in their 30’s are transitioning from like a … Their first part of their career in their 20’s, and now they’re hitting a point where they’re making good money, they’re getting married, they’re having kids, they’re starting businesses. There’s a lot of transitions happening and they just don’t know where to go to get objective advice.

‘Cause everywhere they’re turned, they’re getting sold a life insurance or disability insurance product, and not being given financial planning advice. So they are just ready to meet somebody to provide them with some direction, some clarity, some education around what they can do for themselves. And what’s the best thing for them to do for their situation based on their goals and their financial situation.

Hannah:               There’s a lot of talk and I know you’ve heard it more than I’ve heard it, about how it’s not possible to have a financial planning firm that targets people who don’t have assets, or who have limited assets. So from your experience, what you would say to that objection that I … that we hear often in our profession.

Eric:                        I’d say that is completely wrong to say that you can’t do it, because I’ve done it. Now there’s a lot of nuance to that answer, the details anyway. And that depends on what you need to do. What you are looking to do, who you’re trying to target, what are their needs? And then you can build a revenue model that supports their needs. And that’s just like any business, right? You find a need, you build a business to meet that need, and you create revenue by meeting that need. There’s no difference, it’s not different, it’s just different in our industry. So all you have to do is figure out what their revenue’s gonna be. The revenues can be a monthly … So I have a monthly subscription model, and this isn’t something I created, it’s been around, but I think it was never used for younger people, and never used as the sole way to do business before… for younger people anyway.

So I just developed it out of need, out of my own need. And lined up with how I was giving my advice to clients, like an ongoing, a personal trainer for your finances is what I call myself. So I was lining up with the way I provided my services, and it also allowed me to build a consistent income stream for myself, working with people that didn’t have a bunch of money to give me. And if you don’t have any money to give me, I can’t charge one percent and make any money. Right? It doesn’t take a financial planner to figure that out. So whether it’s a monthly subscription, an hourly service, or half of it’s under management or commissions, those are all ways to make money in this business. You just have to figure out who you’re going to target, what they need, and how you can align your revenue stream to your advice.

Hannah:               You make that decision based on your clients. The client situation is really what dictates how you build your business.

Eric:                        Yeah. Exactly. Right, ’cause it’s not the age. ‘Cause what if I was just working with 30 something millionaires? I could manage money just like anybody else does, and charge one percent, and make a great living. But if I’m working with somebody who has all of their money tied up in a 401K plan, I can’t manage that money, but I want to work with them, and they need my help, so what else can I do to create a revenue stream that works?

Hannah:               From looking back over your, well I guess it’s more than just four years of being a business owner, what have you learned as a business owner?

Eric:                        I’ve learned that my business is a business. And I think that doesn’t necessarily make sense until you’ve actually walked the walk, because a lot of times people just come from the world of being a financial planner or producer or whatever else you want to call yourself in this business. And you are a person, and you are a person that delivers a product, or a service, and that product or service creates an income, but there’s never a separation between you and the business. So when you start a business, suddenly there’s Beyond Your Hammock, and there’s Eric Roberge. Certainly I am the founded of Beyond Your Hammock, but I am not Beyond Your Hammock. And that’s a big differentiation between my mindset before, when I started the firm, and now. I have a business, that business is not me. I have the ability to maintain and grow that business, but I need to make sure that I am separate. I have my own personality, I have my own life to live, and my business will still run. So keeping those things separate is a key factor in having success, not only in business, but in life. That’s one big thing I learned in these years running a business.

Hannah:               So is that just having healthy boundaries in business of saying this business can’t consume my life, I still have to live my life?

Eric:                        Well, yes, that’s part of it. And it’s certainly one that I focused on this summer. Really saying that I do have a life outside of this business, and I don’t want the business to consume me because it could totally fill up my schedule if I let it. So blocking out time for me, to be able to spend time with my fiancé, my family, and travel is important. So that in itself is one piece of it, but I think there’s something bigger and looking at your business as a business allows you to put some structure in the business. Whether it’s looking at the entity type and saying, well I started off as the sole proprietor, it doesn’t make sense to be a sole proprietor anymore, I should be an LLC or an S Corp. And then, also being able to look at it as a revenue generator on its own.

How can this business generate revenue without me lifting a pen or making a phone call? So there’s the, there’s just the business running on its own, there’s … I don’t even know how to explain that any more than that, but the gears are in motion, the business is running, because I’ve built a structure. I’ve built the process, I have software, all these things are the heart and soul of my business, but those are things that I just added to the business. And … Does that make any sense, or am I just talking in circles?

Hannah:               No, I think it does. Well, I think it’s … there’s … I mean, I look at my role, I have two different roles, I’m the business owner and I’m also a financial planner. And those are very distinctive roles and distinctive mindsets that I have to have as I approach whatever problem it is that I’m approaching.

Eric:                        Yeah. Exactly. That’s … and that’s really tough to express, ’cause I don’t think I would have grasped that if I didn’t experience it first.

Hannah:               Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And making that transition between them, it’s not a seamless transition. It can be a hard mental shift to make.

Eric:                        Oh yeah. For sure, and many people don’t ever make it.

Hannah:               Do you have staff that help you with your business?

Eric:                        I don’t have staff. I started to look for interns and then some outsourced financial planning help for a stint, and I used some people to do some back office planning, like doing, putting my … the client data into a financial planning software and running reports for me. And that was fine, but I think what I realized it was a Band-Aid on me not being as efficient as I possibly could be, and my processes not being as tight as they could be. ‘Cause I was talking to somebody and they were a president of a large registered investment advisor company, and they said, you really shouldn’t be considering hiring anybody, especially full time until you have $300,000 in revenues coming into the business. And I thought that was an extreme number, but that wasn’t the point. I think the point was to have me look at things differently and see where I could maintain efficiency and maintain that single person company, and do it so well that I could expand my revenues and still do what I needed to do for my clients and new clients before actually expanding from an employee standpoint.

So that’s where I walked up a couple steps, and then took a couple steps back when I had that conversation, and right now it’s me and I also am lucky enough to be engaged to an amazing online marketer, Kelly Hock, who is doing a lot of my online marketing and writing and blogs and social media posts, so that’s a huge part of the business, and it’s as you probably know, it’s a huge time suck, so it’s nice to be able to have that support, because then I can focus on running the business and managing my clients.

Hannah:               Well that’s great, your interests are completely aligned on that.

Eric:                        Yeah. It is perfect.

Hannah:               Oh the advantage of working with a significant other.

Eric:                        Bingo, yeah.

Hannah:               As we wrap up, what would be your advice to yourself back in the day, if you would?

Eric:                        I think it’s the same advice that I give to myself today. And it’s that you gotta focus on what you can control. There is so much noise out there, and so many things that impact you that you really have no control over. And we can either choose to spend our time worrying about those things, or cut them back and focus on the things that you actually can do, that can make a difference. So taking baby steps, and doing what you need to do. Especially, so as an example, you’re starting a business, and when you start a business, as a financial advisor you need to register that business with the state or with the SCC. You need to get some compliance structure and you need to have the documents you need, and you need to be able to have the website and your software, and if you start to look at all these things before you start any of them, you’re gonna feel overwhelmed and crawl into a hole.

All you can do is make a list of all the things that need to get done, and then go after them one at a time. And as you complete one task, you check it off the list. And you move to the next. So that’s the type of thing that I do in my business now, always understand what the priority is, and then do that thing and then move on to the next thing.

Hannah:               That’s great advice. And it’s so any point where you’re at, whether you’re always gonna be an employee, or if you want to start your own firm, I think that’s so great.

Eric:                        Yeah.

Hannah:               What are you looking forward to in terms of your business, or even the profession as a whole?

Eric:                        I think there’s so much opportunity and I thought this, coming into this business, there’s just so much opportunity for me at a personal level, but now that I’ve been in the business really since 2007 and have my own business, I think there’s so much opportunity as an industry to be able to create ourselves newly as objective guides to your personal finance. And being able to grow this industry to a way that we can help more than just the rich people, more than people that are just retiring, but also be able to educate the masses to understand the value of your money. And what you can do to put yourself in the best position possible. So there’s so much to go there, I think for me, personally, I’ve been focusing, and this is something that I’m doing with Kailey, is really focusing on showing how I follow my own advice.

So the things that I teach my clients are not things that I teach my clients because that’s what I have to teach them. It’s things that I believe in based on my experience, based on my education and based on my own personal situation. So I do the things that I tell my clients to do. So I’m trying to bring in the experiences that I have in my life, and associate them with good money management. So being able to go on a trip that actually doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, and to be able to enjoy myself because the values that I have for my life exist in that trip. So rather than going to Punta Cana for seven days, where I’ve done in the past, and didn’t really give me all that much gratification, I now might take Kailey up to Maine and we’ll go hiking for three days. And it’s probably a third of the price, and it gives us so much more satisfaction than it ever did before. And then I’ll take pictures, and create stories behind that, and show people how they can too to that thing.

Use their money to support their life and not the other way around.

Hannah:               Well it’s that whole marketing, you want to show, not tell.

Eric:                        Yeah.

Hannah:               And that’s exactly what you’re doing.

Eric:                        And I want to tie that, so the, my purpose of even saying that was to, I want to use that kind of thought to create a book. ‘Cause it’s been, there’s so many financial planning books out there, and money books. And I don’t want to be just another money book, so I want to bring in my own personality and my own life to it, so to tell stories about how money was a problem, how it’s been a solution along the way, and have that be a lesson, or an education for people who want to read the book, so they can get that basic money knowledge, but they have it done through my own personal perspective. So that’s the next thing I really want to do, and that’s gonna happen, at least start to happen, this fall.

Hannah:               Well is there anything else, Eric? Any other thoughts, anything that we missed that you want to be sure that we touch on?

Eric:                        I just think that we need to continue to have these conversations. Whether it’s to help people that are in the industry, or people that are looking in to the industry wondering if it’s a career for them. Showing what all the possibilities are in that it doesn’t have to be a cookie cutter approach to create a career and a business for yourself that actually is both gratifying because you’re helping people, but also gratifying because you get to live the life that you have dreamed of along the way. So this is, there’s such a great opportunity here, and I always want to keep these conversations going. So thank you for allowing me to have this conversation with you.

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A Wealth of Opportunity

In this week’s episode we get to talk with Blair duQuesnay, CFA, CFP®,  who has transitioned several times in her career. Blair highlights the wealth of opportunity that is in financial planning, whether you are interested in being a Chief Investment Officer, a financial planner, or being one of the architects of a new SMA (separately managed account).

Today, Blair tackles the ambiguous question of what is financial planning and shares her tips for lifelong learning and developing as a professional.

hannah's signature

“Be patient and give it time. Give your career time. Because to become a financial planner you need to learn from others… and sometimes you might have to learn from others on what is not the best team.”


CFP® Exam

Wealthstream Advisors

CFA Exam

ThirtyNorth Investments, LLC


Show Transcript

Ep62 Transcript

Hannah: Well, thanks so much for joining us today, Blair.

Blair: Thank you for having me.

Hannah: How did you get started in financial planning?

Blair: I first started in investments and about five and a half years into my career at a brokerage firm, it was 2009, and I was laid off. I was introduced to a financial planning firm by a mutual fund wholesaler who covered both the brokerage firm and the RIA, and that introduction led to a position. I was finishing my CFA charter at the time and learning financial planning from this firm and quickly took the CFP and have been a financial planner ever since. That was in 2010.

Hannah: Let’s talk about the brokerage firm that you were at. For a lot of the listeners who might not know what that means, can you tell them like what is a brokerage firm and what was your day to day like?

Blair: Sure. Brokerage firm, the biggest ones, the warehouses I was at UBS. Merrill Lynch is another one, Morgan Stanley, they’ve all merged. There used to be a lot more names. But a brokerage firm is a firm where advisors are registered representatives, and they are licensed to sell investment products to their clients. On the surface, it may look a lot like an RIA in that they’re giving advice to their clients, and they’re implementing potentially financial plans. There are CFPs who work in brokerage firms, but it is a business model that is based on commissions and production of fees from their clients.

Hannah: So you worked at UBS for those years, for almost five, you said five years?

Blair: Five and a half, yeah.

Hannah: Five and a half years, and so then you started working … So you’re laid off, you’re working at a financial planning firm. Were you looking for financial planning or did you kind of stumble upon it?

Blair: I stumbled upon it. It was a wonderful happenstance that I was introduced to Wealthstream Advisors, which is an RIA in Manhattan, and joined on with them and started learning financial planning. In my time at UBS, I had run financial plans through an early iteration of MoneyGuidePro, which the brokers at UBS had access to. I had some understanding of what financial planning was, but I would say it was on a very superficial level. So the happenstance of being introduced through this mutual fund wholesaler to this firm is really how I became a financial planner.

Hannah: When did you notice the difference between the two firms? Like after you started working for this new financial planner, what tipped you off that there was something different?

Blair: The first tip was in the interview process when they told me that I was going to lose my Series 7 license. That was a big shocker at first. I didn’t understand what that meant or why I wasn’t able to keep my license. Series 7 was a difficult test. It took me, it’s a six hour all day test, and I couldn’t fathom the fact that I would be giving that up by joining this firm.

That was the first tip off. Then from day one of joining the firm, I knew that it was not going to be a problem for me. I knew that I never wanted to go back to being a licensed registered rep, that I really enjoyed the process of being on the same side of the table as the client, and not looking at the client as a way to increase production or fees, but looking at the client as someone who I’m being paid to give advice to.

While on the surface for the client, it looks very similar from one business model to the other, I immediately felt the difference from the moment I walked in the door. Even in the interview process, I could tell that this was a completely different business model. I had never heard of the term RIA. I didn’t even know what it meant, so it was very interesting that all this sort of happened to me by luck and chance. I’m very glad that it did, because my career has only been on an upward trajectory since that day.

Hannah: You are at Wealthstream Advisors, and so that’s where you got introduced to the CFP exam and kind of that world. That’s where you got introduced to the CFP exam, right?

Blair: Correct. They quickly asked me to take the CFP. I joined Wealthstream in July of 2009. I had just finished level three of the CFA exam that June, and they said, “What do you think about taking the CFP?” I said, “Wow, I just finished all three levels of the CFA exam,” taking level three twice, by the way. I said, “Okay, I think I can do it.”

Luckily, I was able to be exempt from the education requirement for CFP, so I was able to just study for the exam and take it. That’s what I did. I took a few months off, and I ended up studying for the exam and taking it in March of 2010 and luckily passed, and I’ve been a CFP certificate ever since.

Hannah: Did you feel like the CFP exam gave you what you needed, or did you feel like you already had a lot of that information already with the CFA and kind of your previous background?

Blair: No. The CFA only covers investment related topics, and so while I had a huge leg-up on any of the investment related portion of the CFP exam, I had to learn a much broader array of information about financial planning. The hardest parts for me were insurance. I don’t come from an insurance background. It’s still confusing for me. Tax was also very hard.

I always say that the CFA exam is very deep and difficult from an investment standpoint, and the CFP exam is difficult because it’s so broad and it may not go as deep as the CFA, but the difficulty is having to study such a broad array of topics. Of course, I would still say that the CFA exam is much more difficult and rigorous process, but the CFP really does give you that broad array of topics that you need to be a financial planner.

Hannah: I worked at a brokerage dealer for a while, and they said they did financial planning, like it was kind of like back of the envelope type stuff, where they just have the conversations about insurance or about whatever it may be. Did you find that at UBS? Were you having … Were clients gravitating towards financial planning conversations?

Blair: The way that I used financial planning software at UBS was a way to sell the asset allocation recommendation. We would put in a minimum amount of information about the client, and the whole purpose of it was as sort of a back tool to confirm the asset allocation that was being recommended. I was really fortunate to always work with advisors at UBS who were creating asset allocation models of different managers for their clients.

They weren’t necessarily doing one-off stock picking or bond sales. They really were looking at full portfolio asset allocation. The financial plan was sort of a superficial, is almost not fair because we are talking about 2005, far back as that. But it was a simple way to confirm the investment allocation that was being sold to the client.

Hannah: Thank you for kind of going into all of that. I know sometimes defining what is financial planning and what is not financial planning I think is a really important conversation, and one that’s hard to define if you haven’t kind of lived in both worlds.

Blair: I agree.

Hannah: Yeah. You’re at Wealthstream Advisors, what was your next professional step?

Blair: I would still be at Wealthstream Advisors today if I had not met my husband, so it was sort of a life event. My husband is a native New Orleanian and lives in New Orleans, and after we met I made the decision to move down because although it was not an easy transition for me, it was easier for me to move to New Orleans than for him to try to move to New York. That is really the only reason I’m not still at Wealthstream Advisors.

I moved to New Orleans in January of 2011, and did not immediately have a job. In fact, surveyed the landscape of registered investment advisory firms in New Orleans, talked to what I thought was almost all of them and didn’t find a spot for myself. So I made the decision to go out on my own and try to build a book of clients from scratch. I wanted to replicate the Wealthstream model where I was doing both asset management and financial planning.

I partnered with a very small fee-only RIA in New Orleans at first because I was afraid of the setup of a firm. I didn’t understand what it took to register an RIA, and so I partnered first with a small RIA and then eventually went out and ended up creating my own firm a couple of years later.

Hannah: Can you tell me more of that process and what that looked like for you? Was it something that you … Did you know you wanted to be on your own, like be the entrepreneur or was it more of just there weren’t jobs to be had?

Blair: It was more there weren’t jobs to be had. I really prefer working with a team, and we can explain how I ended up at ThirtyNorth Investments later, but it was really that I wasn’t finding a home in New Orleans for what I wanted to do, which was to provide investment and financial planning advice for a fee. I just didn’t find a firm.

Most of the firms here are lifestyle practices or practices where there’s multiple family members, and they’re really just looking for support staff. So the reason I ended up founding my own firm was because I just wasn’t finding other opportunities in New Orleans. The process of registering my RIA, which was called Ignite Investments and Planning, and it was back in 2013 the only financial planning and investment advisory firm focused specifically on Gen X and Gen Y clients.

That process was … I mean, the paperwork was really easy. The hard part is acquiring clients. I am not a natural salesperson. I’m an introvert, and so my real challenge was trying to get from zero revenue up to a revenue that actually paid me any sort of salary at all.

Hannah: Were you able to find success like with the finding clients and developing that out?

Blair: I did have a small amount of success. I didn’t give it enough time, and the only reason for that is because not too long after I finally set up Ignite Investments and Planning and was kind of moving along with the digital marketing strategy, ThirtyNorth Investments called me. Their founder and CIO was leaving the firm, and they were looking for a new CIO and it was an opportunity with a team that I really respected. So it was almost too good to be true, and so I ended up taking my clients and moving to ThirtyNorth Investments.

That’s been four years now. I kind of went through two and a half years of a slog, never really got over the hump, but I just don’t think I had been doing it long enough to know if I was going to succeed or fail, and this opportunity to join ThirtyNorth came along. I’m very glad it did, because I really like working in a team environment.

Hannah: Did you work in team environments in the past?

Blair: Yes. At UBS, I was always on teams and of course at Wealthstream it was a one firm, one team solution so absolutely, I’ve always worked in teams. That was really a couple of years there where I was working on my own. It was sometimes working out of my home, which was not for me and then other times working out of co-working spaces, which was a little better but I was still working alone. I didn’t prefer it. It wasn’t for me.

Since I’ve been at ThirtyNorth, I’ve become a better planner, a better investor, a better … I’m a chief compliance officer, all because of the team environment and my team members asking questions and pushing me to go further and stretch the limits of my comfort zone and abilities. That’s where I really prefer to work is in a team environment.

Hannah: I talk with a lot of young planners, and some of them, there’s a lot of tension and conflict within their teams and where they’re working. What specifically about your teams or kind of how you approach your teams has made that a really successful place for you?

Blair: It’s really about getting in the right team. Team dynamics, it’s very important to understand that you have diversity of skillset, diversity of thought. Then you need buy-in from your team members of what you’re trying to accomplish, that you’re all on board with wanting to accomplish the same things, that you have the same values. That’s extremely important.

I think when people are feeling tension within a team, it’s probably that they’re on the wrong team. I’ve been in that situation. It’s not fun. It doesn’t mean that everything is utopia when you’re on the right team. You’re still going to have differences of opinion and situations that come up where you’re not always on agreement with each other, and that’s a good thing. You’re not supposed to have group think.

But I would just say to be patient and give it time and give your career time, because one of the things that to become a financial planner you need to do is to learn from others. Sometimes you might have to learn from others on not the best team. So I would just not spend too much of your effort worrying about the tensions of who you’re working with, especially if you’re a young planner.

Hannah: You talked about making sure that you had the same values and the same vision as your team. Did you have that sense throughout your entire career path or was that obvious? I mean, we assume it’s going to evolve, but kind of where did you start or what were the places that you went to, to really identify that vision and the values that you had as a planner?

Blair: I think I didn’t give a lot of thought to values when I first started my career. I have said in other forums and I’m embarrassed to say that what interested me about a career in finance was the kind of rah-rah competitive, go make money nature that was sometimes personified in movies. I didn’t enter this business necessarily with the right intentions and over time, I’ve just come to see I’ve been inside the sausage factory, I know what the wrong incentives can do, the client situations that can arise from being in a high sales based environment.

It was really my transition out of the brokerage firm into an RIA firm where I started to think about values and what mattered to me, an integrity and dedication to lifelong learning and all the things that the team at ThirtyNorth were all in agreement on. I would just say that that sort of evolved over time.

I graduated college. I was a magna cum laude with honors. I thought this is great. I’m ready to go out in the world and run things, and then boom, my first job is sales assistant at a brokerage firm where I’m taking messages and binding presentations. That was a real hard stop for me to start like that. So I really wasn’t thinking at that time about what my values were. I think that really came with time and with maturity into becoming a professional.

Hannah: One of the things you talked about is this idea of lifelong learning. What does that look like for you? What have been … Obviously you got the CFA, the CFP, is it just like the continuing education for those elements or where do you find yourself continuing to learn?

Blair: Yeah. If I didn’t need to be out in the world making money and earning a living for my family and myself, I would just basically go to school all the time. I love learning. Once I was done with the CFA and the CFP I said, okay I don’t have to prove to anyone else that I can take tests. I don’t need to take any more tests, but the investment profession, the financial planning profession, they’re not stopping with what I learned in my textbooks.

New textbooks are being written. New research is being done. So in order to keep up my skills as a financial planner and an investment advisor, I have to keep learning. Part of that is continuing education, another part of it though right now is I’m pursuing a master’s in financial planning. You would think that the CFP was enough. I just decided I wanted to get a master’s in financial planning. If I had all the time in the world, I would love to do a PhD in finance.

I enjoy learning. One of my personal goals is also at some point to become bilingual. We’ll see if I ever get around to that. A couple of us here at the CFA Society Louisiana were also interested in taking the sommelier exam, which is the one the people at the restaurant that recommend wines. The sommelier exam is probably the only exam in the world that has a lower pass rate than the CFA, so we’re kind of Type A in that way.

Hannah: Yeah.

Blair: But I just love learning, and so it’s a huge part of my dedication to being a professional and making sure that I keep up with the subjects as people continue to write papers and add to the knowledge base.

Hannah: Do you find yourself writing a lot?

Blair: I wish I had more time to write. Writing is an excellent way to learn. I have committed to writing our quarterly letter here at the firm, so once a quarter I write a market commentary. I’m also committed to writing one blog post a month, which sounds really sad but when you think that there are four of us doing it, we are blogging on our website at least once a week it’s not enough. I wish I wrote more.

I enjoy it. I sometimes have to force it though because I can really easily find myself trying to write something and then looking over at whatever the latest news is on Twitter or getting distracted in some other way. I really do have to force myself to write. I think it is a skill. I’ve talked to some of the more prolific writers out there and they say once you just get used to writing something every day or multiple times a day, you get better at it. So I would love to increase my skills in that way, so maybe next year.

Hannah: Let’s talk about Twitter, because you’re really active on Twitter. How did you get started in that space?

Blair: When I moved to New Orleans and I was out on my own for the first time with zero clients, and had never really sold before. I was always in a support capacity at the brokerage firm and at Wealthstream, I was looking for ways to basically confirm that I knew what I was talking about. I was also still under 30 at that time. I thought no one is ever going to give me the benefit of the doubt because of my age. I couldn’t wait to turn 30 so at least I would be 30 so that might seem a little more confirming to people.

I really struggled with what I called reverse ageism when I was younger, which really I just needed to be more patient. Anyway, in 2011 when I moved to New Orleans, I was blogging and so I had heard about Twitter and opened a Twitter account and started sharing when I was writing and then realized that Twitter was so much more than just a place to post your own information.

It was a way to connect with other advisors. It was a way to follow news more efficiently because you can follow the actual reporters instead of the publications that they work for, and just started connecting into a community there and really started using Twitter as a tool to be my morning newsfeed. It’s amazing the things that I’ve done on Twitter.

I always tell this story. I was back in New York visiting a friend one weekend and I wanted to go to a concert and I just kind of put it out on Twitter, “Hey, this concert is sold out. Does anybody know anybody who has tickets?” I linked this ticket account and they reposted it, and within like 30 minutes I had somebody saying, “I’m going to meet you out front and I’m just going to give you three tickets.”

So I ended up getting free tickets to a sold out concert because of Twitter. So Twitter is the most amazing communication tool, a way to really connect with so many different types of communities. I call myself a little bit of a Twitter evangelist because of that, because not only has it helped me meet other people, I’ve been asked to speak at conferences. I’ve been asked to be quoted in publications. I’ve created relationships with reporters, where I can be experts for them. It’s really opened doors for me in such an amazing way that I can’t suggest more to people to just give it a try, because it’s amazing.

Hannah: That’s really neat. It’s so funny to me, but advisors really love Twitter. It’s one of the most active places that I found.

Blair: Yeah, they do. I think there’s probably all these other pockets of Twitter, which are really even more amazing and other communities that we don’t even know of, because we’re not looking there. I suspect that there’s probably some really unbelievable things going on, on Twitter if you’re in different communities. But yeah, the advisor community is one of those sub-communities which is just really amazing.

Hannah: That’s great. It’s obviously helped with kind of building those relationships with reporters and things like that, but from a career standpoint, you’re speaking in conferences and I guess that does help your career. Have you found it helped with your relationship with clients and kind of the actual product of financial planning?

Blair: People always ask me do you ever get clients from Twitter? I would always say not directly. My experience with client lead generation and referrals has always been introductions through networks. Any time I’ve ever had somebody call me just off the internet and come in and want to meet, they just don’t become clients. I don’t know what it is. I know other planners and advisors have tremendous success, I just haven’t seen it as sort of a lead generation tool.

But what it is, what your online presence is, is a confirmation because most clients today are going to Google you before they even pick up the phone to call you or schedule a meeting. All of this online presence is a way to confirm to prospects that you are legitimate and that you are a thought leader really. I don’t have any way of connecting it with the business, but I will tell you that I’ve had some really interesting just anecdotal situations.

There’s an individual who works in my office building who is a prospect right now, and I’ve been walking out of the office and had a comment, “Oh, have fun in Denver.” I look up and I’m like, “Okay, thank you. How do you know about that?” That’s because of Twitter, because I had just wrote, “I’m out of here, going on vacation,” and tweeted that. I know people are following me, and so I think it’s added there, but I just don’t have a way of quantifying it in a way that maybe some other planners and advisors do.

Hannah: So building your presence online, so you started when you were kind of out on your own looking for a job, but you have been able to continue it while you’re working for somebody else. Have there been compliance issues or kind of what from the employer, employee relationship has that been like?

Blair: I’m really lucky in that I’m at a small firm. We don’t have entrenched ideas about many things at all. We have a social media policy that we all adhere to. We review every year what our policy is and what we’re agreeing to not put on the internet. There’s a leniency there that may not exist at a larger, more not established is not the right word, but a firm that already has a lot of processes in place.

If we grow and add more people, we will probably have to think about what our social media policy is. But right now it just happens to work. We haven’t had any issues with employees posting inappropriate things on social media. So it’s working for now, and hopefully it will continue to work that way.

Hannah: You don’t have like a personal website or anything that you’re kind of building up outside of your firm?

Blair: I don’t. I did shut down my website when I rolled into ThirtyNorth because we really just wanted to keep a one firm, one brand sort of website out there, and so that was just a decision that we made.

Hannah: From your perspective, obviously you’re with a firm that you really enjoy working with and is successful, do you think that there’s a place for advisors to maintain outside web presence outside of their firm?

Blair: Oh yes, I’ve seen it work really well with other advisors. It may be something that we would revisit again, because I think that there are so many things going on out there with digital marketing or having a presence, whether it’s advisors that are on television. There’s all sorts of business models where having separate websites is absolutely working for people. So I don’t think that just because we’ve decided not to do that, that it’s a bad decision.

Hannah: Before we get to kind of talking more about what does your day to day look like and what is your job function right now, you mentioned this reverse ageism, and I think that’s a really big issues for young advisors of feeling like if only I can get to 30, like you said, so I can say I’m in my 30s when clients ask how old you are. What are your thoughts on that, especially speaking to the young advisor who may be in their early 20s working in this profession?

Blair: Yeah. I would just say that careers are long and the time is going to pass so much quicker than you would ever imagine. I know it seems like a lot of time when you’re in it, but afterwards, you’re going to come out the other side and you’re going to wish that you were still 23 years old. So be patient.

I remember talking with someone, a colleague at UBS and saying, “I’m never going to get anywhere. It’s taking too long. I’ve been an assistant for four years. My career is going nowhere.” He looked at me and he said, “Aren’t you taking level three of the CFA? You’re going to be a CFA charter holder by the time you’re 27. Do you realize how amazing that is?”

At the time, it just seemed like it would be forever till anything was going to happen, but it does eventually happen. While you’re in that learning phase, that new professional phase, take the time to learn from others. Experience is worth something. Even though you may have new and better ideas, that doesn’t replace the fact that the people that you may be working for or working with have had real life experiences that you can learn from.

Don’t be afraid to learn other things. I mean, there are so many skills that I learned in other jobs that I thought were completely useless. When I went out on my own, I had to know those things. I had to know all the paperwork required to open different types of accounts. I had to understand operations. I had to understand compliance, and I did because that’s what I did in the brokerage firm in my first job. I did all the groundwork and luckily I knew how to do it and it wasn’t an issue for me.

I would just say be patient, try to soak up as much knowledge as you can while you’re in that situation, and enjoy it because once you kind of break out of that and you become a senior advisor or a senior planner or partner in your firm, there’s going to be a lot of big decisions with a lot of weight that you’re going to have to make. That responsibility is going to come and those aren’t always fun decisions, so just enjoy not being burdened with those kind of things right now while you’re young.

Hannah: Such good advice. Can you tell me more about ThirtyNorth and how it’s structured? How many team members are there? Yeah, general structure.

Blair: ThirtyNorth Investments, we are a firm that has a genesis from 1997. We are 20 years old. The current management kind of purchased the firm from the founder back in 2010, and we had a name change and so that’s when the name ThirtyNorth came around. We’re located in New Orleans. We have another office in Baton Rouge.

There are five people total at the firm, three partners, which are myself, Suzanne Mestayer, and Fritz Gomila, and then we have another advisor and a client service manager. So very small. We have basically three areas of business, wealth management, which is where we work with individuals on investment management and financial planning. We have retirement plan advisory, where we working with plan sponsors and even sometimes plan participants on 401(k) plan design and investment lineups, and a whole other slew of retirement plan consulting services.

Then we have a newer area of our business, which is asset management. That stems from a project that Suzanne and I started working on over two years ago, looking at buying the stocks of companies that have more women in leadership. We did a lot of research on this and so we ended up launching a separately managed account called the Women Impact Strategy back in April 2016. So we are building up our assets in that strategy now that we have a one year track record, which is still too short for a lot of institutional money, but that’s a new and smaller part of our business.

Hannah: On your day to day, how much of your time is spent between the wealth management, retirement plan, and asset management?

Blair: That is a good question. Every day is very different. I wear a lot of hats, as do we all. I mean, when you’re in a small firm, we always laugh, like somebody has got to unload the dishwasher. Our coffee cups keep getting used and somebody has got to eventually unload the dishwasher every day. So there’s just a whole lot going on.

My typical day, there’s really not one. So maybe it’s a typical week, I might be working on finishing a financial plan for the morning and then scheduling client meetings in the middle of the day, trying to figure out when I’m going to do client reviews or plan presentation meetings or 401(k) plan review meetings. Then as the head of the investment committee, we have quarterly investment committee meetings, and so I might be working on a research project to present at the next quarterly meeting.

I might be having conference calls with investment managers to sort of learn more about the strategies that are finalist that we may be considering. I might be writing the quarterly letters. I’m on the Bureau of Labor and Statistics website downloading spreadsheets of all sorts of data trying to create charts and figure out what I want to say about something like that.

So it’s a very wide variety, and on top of all that, I’m also the compliance officer, so I may have to be reviewing our cyber security policy or on boarding a new employee who has to sign all of our paperwork. So it is really all over the place. I’d say 40% of my time is in client meetings or talking to clients. It should probably be more than that, but I do hold down a lot of the operational aspects of the firm because I’m one of the ones that’s not out there trying to do business development, so I have to do a lot of the operational work as well.

Hannah: So many interesting things here. Okay, so you’re not out there going and finding new clients, but you have ownership in the firm and I think that’s kind of a unique element, if you would. How did those ownership conversations happen and how did that kind of unfold?

Blair: I think it naturally happened because I had a very small book of business to bring to the firm, and it only made sense to sort of compensate me for that. But in addition to that, the original founder ended up selling 100% of the business and so we had one owner, and it was not her intention to be 100% owner and so she wanted to make sure that there was a strategy in place to sort of start to begin to bring in other partners. I think it was in 2014 when I became a partner, and so over time, hopefully I will be acquiring more of a percentage ownership in the firm.

Hannah: I guess you buy into the firm, but how would that … So going forward in the future ownership, obviously it’s not through bringing in business. So will it just be buying more shares or kind of taking on more of a leadership role?

Blair: Yeah. It would be purchasing more shares, and there’s many ways to do this. It can be financed by the company, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a cash upfront, although it could be. I could offer cash. But yeah, it’s a purchasing process to bring in more partners.

Hannah: Are you the only CFA on staff?

Blair: I am, yes.

Hannah: You are? Okay. Let’s talk about this Women Impact Strategy, because I think it’s so interesting. How did you even get interested in this? How did this get started?

Blair: Yeah. This is kind of what I alluded to, one of the things I alluded to, when I said being on a team has stretched me to do things that I never would have imagined. I was really ingrained in. I am an investment advisor and financial planner. I do asset allocation. I do holistic investment management advice. I pick whether it’s indexes or active managers to implement my asset allocation strategy. It’s long-term. It’s strategic, and of course I don’t pick stocks.

But we started reading some research about women in corporate leadership, particularly a Credit Suisse report that looked at over 3,000 companies globally and they’ve issued three different reports. Every two years they come out with another report, and they kept looking at stock performance of companies with more than zero women, right? Unfortunately, there’s not a whole bunch of companies that are like 75% women. We’re talking about having one woman on the board versus zero or 25% of the board being women instead of zero.

The stock performance was better, and I’m very skeptical. I believe that there are certain maybe tilts that you can take in a portfolio, but in general I’m pretty skeptical of active management. So we did our own research to try to confirm what we were reading, and we looked at the S&P 500, we pulled the board composition of the companies in the S&P 500 10 years ago, so at the time that was 2005. We looked at how many women were on the board and then we created hypothetical portfolios of companies with zero women on the board, companies with at least one woman on the board, and then another portfolio of companies with at least 25% women on the board.

We ran the numbers and found that the companies with more women outperformed. We’re also looking at that now from an executive standpoint, because the Women Impact Strategy, which eventually came out of all this research, looks at both the board and executives. So we’re working on that whitepaper now, but we ended up writing a whitepaper about it and then we sort of started coming up with a methodology for, if we wanted to do this as a separately managed account or any other kind of product, what would it look like?

So we started building the rules of the portfolio. We didn’t want to be a market cap-weighted index offering, so we decided to take a value tilt and a small-cap tilt, and also look at profitability of the companies and ended up coming up with a methodology and launching the Women Impact Strategy with seed money in April of 2016. Then we began marketing it in April of this year to individual investors, institutional investors, family offices. We’ve really just begun.

Another thing we probably need to do is market it to other advisors. The performance hasn’t been bad. At the one year anniversary, it was quite strong. We do have a small-cap tilt and small-caps have underperformed this year, so you might expect that it isn’t beating the benchmark net of fees this year, but it’s not trailing by too much.

Now I’m a portfolio manager in addition to everything else, but it’s a role play strategy. It’s an evidence-based strategy. I’m not trying to meet with management or make any … I’m not creating models at what target stock prices would be. It’s really just looking at fundamentals of a company and the gender makeup of their leadership and building a portfolio around that.

Hannah: Using that very kind of like evidence-based, when people build out their portfolios, what portion of their portfolio would this Women Impact Strategy kind of fit into?

Blair: The portfolio is an all-cap core. We have small, mid, and large companies. There’s 50 stocks in the portfolio. It depends on the client. We do have some international holding, so it’s majority U.S. but some developed international companies are in there. We look at it as an investment manager and say, yes, it’s sort of a concentrated portfolio, at least more concentrated than what we’re using with the ETFs and the mutual funds that we invest in.

So it should only be a portion of the stock portfolio for clients allocation. So it just depends on the client, but it is a core holding. It is not a satellite holding. It can really fit into that stock portion of a client’s portfolio pretty nicely. We benchmark it to the Russell 3000, because it’s all-cap.

It’s had an R-Squared to the benchmark of about 72%. So it’s not acting like the benchmark, and it really just depends individually. I mean, we can’t do it for less than a certain amount of money so certain clients can’t invest in at all. That’s really on a case by case basis.

Hannah: That’s so interesting. Have you found that people are really open and receptive to this?

Blair: Yes. All kinds of clients and potential clients have been interested in it. People are assuming that we’re only talking to women, but men are interested too. Because anecdotally a lot of men will start telling us these stories, whether it was their mother who was a professional or they have a very successful wife or even a daughter. So it really resonates with all people. We’ve had a lot of excitement. It’s one of those things that you know you’re onto something when you don’t really get very much pushback at all, even when you talk to 100 people about it. There’s been a very warm reception so we’re very excited about it.

Hannah: Yeah. It’s such a great way to implement a lot of the socially responsible investing in a really kind of thoughtful and unique way.

Blair: It is. It’s a different slice. When I first started investing, socially responsible investing was a place where investors went. They were willing to accept a lower return to align their investments with their values. Today, it’s been rebranded as ESG investing, and what we’re seeing is that looking at ESG characteristics is really a risk tool, and it’s not about accepting a guaranteed lower rate of return. It’s really that some of these metrics are ways to identify ways to reduce risk in a portfolio and potentially even add alpha.

Hannah: As you kind of look forward, what’s next for you? Kind of in your evolving career, what are you working on that you’re really excited about?

Blair: Yeah. What’s next is we need to grow this firm, and it needs to get bigger. We want to grow all three areas, wealth management, doing more financial planning. We’re always looking at technology. I mean, that’s a huge, huge thing in our business. How do we make it easier for clients to do business with it? How do we make it more efficient or just more beneficial through technology?

So we want to grow wealth management and financial planning. We also want to grow our retirement consulting business and advisory business has really taken off. We have recently begun offering to be 3(38) fiduciaries for plans, which really just means we’re taking discretion. Rather than just going to a plan sponsor and saying, “Here’s the fund lineup that we recommend,” we have discretion over that.

So that’s a new offering for us that I don’t think a lot of firms in this area are offering. Then of course the Women Impact Strategy, the sky is the limit there. We’re full speed ahead on PR and marketing for that, so we really want all three of these areas to grow and hopefully become a much bigger firm.

Hannah: Looking back on your career, are there any changes or anything that you wish you would have done differently?

Blair: I wish that I had been more patient and more optimistic early in my career. When I started working at Wealthstream, I really learned from the founder there, Michael Goodman, about this concept of the power of positivity. I was kind of a pessimist before then. I always kind of tended to see the negatives in all the aspects. The day that I sort of flipped and became an optimist is sort of the day that everything just got better in life. So, if I could have been an optimist from the beginning, I think that that would have been a wonderful change to have made.

Hannah: Is there a book or any resource specifically that people could go look for if they kind of want to explore that idea more?

Blair: I don’t remember off the top of my head. I definitely saw an amazing speaker once that it is just not coming to mind the name who spoke about happiness. It was really fascinating. But I’m sure if you Google happiness and the power of positivity, something good will come up.

Hannah: It’s so great to be in the internet age.

Blair: It really is.

Hannah: As we kind of wrap up here, is there any … Looking back and knowing audiences being newer planners, whether they be new to the profession straight out of college or even career changers, what advice would you have for them?

Blair: Be hungry, be seeking of information, take it all in, read books, spend time on the things that matter, spend less time on the things that don’t, and get excited because the demographics of our industry are such that there’s just not going to be enough planners and advisors around to take on the business once the Baby Boomer generation retires.

Just by sheer numbers, we should be excited because a lot of business is going to come our way and if you’re just set up in a way that you know which kind of clients you want to service, and you have a good offering for them, it’s going to be a really wonderful career and opportunity. When I first started, when I graduated college, I so badly wanted to be an investment banker.

I just thought I wanted to be an investment banker and work 100 hours a week and I interviewed with all of them. If you’re familiar with that process, I went on these super Saturdays where they make you do 20 interviews after they take you out the night before and try to get you to drink too much alcohol and I really thought that that was the thing for me, and I was so depressed because none of them offered me a job.

I had to go into retail, which I thought was just not exciting and nobody was going into retail and the pay wasn’t as good. Lo and behold, I wake up 10 years later, we’ve had a financial crisis and retail, what I now call wealth management, is the place that everyone wants to be because all of a sudden now it’s a great career. It’s a work-life balance that is just so much better. I would just say be excited about the future, because it’s going to be a really exciting time.

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Stumbling Into Financial Planning

Amy Hubble stumbled into financial planning accidentally – and she’s never looked back. In this episode, Amy shares how she got started in financial planning as a trust officer, and what her path to founding her own RIA looked like. If you’re thinking of making the leap into launching your own RIA, taking the CFP® exam, Amy’s advice on what credentials to get and how to fearlessly take on big challenges will inspire you.

In addition to her practice, Amy focuses a lot of her effort on charitable giving. Specifically, she has founded Heartbeat for Hope, a charity that provides small capital to maintain education centers in Africa for impoverished women. This is a big part of both her life and her business, and we love seeing a financial planner incorporate giving into her organization.

Amy has been named one of Investment News’ 40 Under 40, and has been a long-time advocate for fiduciary planning.

We hope you enjoy her story and embrace some of the wisdom she shares here!

hannah's signature

Get in meetings with as many people as you can. That is absolutely what I think was the most valuable thing to me is that I was able to be in meetings with people who I consider to be the very, very best at taking care of clients in the world.


Radix Financial


Show Transcript

Ep61 Transcript

Hannah:               Well, thank you, Amy, for joining us.

Amy:                     Yeah, absolutely. I’m glad to be here, Monday.

Hannah:               Yeah. Can you tell us, how did you get into financial planning?

Amy:                     Well, like I told you, I kind of fell into it completely by accident and didn’t even trip and fall into it. Maybe I was pushed, I don’t know. I got a business degree and I had no kind of background in financial planning, didn’t know what a financial planner was, didn’t really have any direct desire to go into money business at all. Maybe I did, but I really had no idea when I graduated from college what I wanted to do, and I got very, very lucky in that I had worked as an intern for Evan Energy, which Oklahoma City, much like Texas, very oil and gas heavy, so you either go to the oil and gas industry or move somewhere else. I had decided that I didn’t really feel like that was the right move for me and I was about to graduate with no job, and a guy that I’d actually, it was very interesting.

It was just one of those universal things is that I’d gone on a mission trip over spring break with the president of Heritage Trust Company’s son just randomly, and I guess he, when we had the roundup of that mission trip, he had come to that and he just randomly handed me his card. This is after spring break by senior year. I’m about to move back in with my parents and be a bank teller or something, and he just hands me his card and he’s like, “I don’t know what you’re looking for or if we’re even hiring, but if you even just need some practice interviewing or would want to talk to me, here’s my card. Give me a call.”

I had no idea what a trust company was. He had credentials. He had a CTFA and he had a CPA and I was like, “I’m not an accountant,” but just on a whim I went to talk to him because I didn’t have a job and they basically created a position for me, which was basically the receptionist, but I was the marketing assistant and was kind of helping getting some of their president and the chairman and the marketing guy all organized, so they hired me, and I went to work for a trust company. Eight years later, I was basically the head of trust and head of relationship management and then a portfolio manager and they’d done a lot of great things for me, and so that’s kind of how I accidentally became a financial planner.

Hannah:               Oh, that’s great. For the listeners who are listening to this and may have heard of a trust officer or a trust company or maybe they even haven’t heard of that, can you just tell them what is a trust company and what do you do as a trust officer?

Amy:                     Yeah, exactly. I had no idea what that was either, and so I went to work there in 2007 in the good days, you know? I had sat at my reception desk and I just started googling what a trust was basically, which is very embarrassing to admit, but I just didn’t have any background in it. I don’t have a trust fund of my own, unfortunately. A trust company is basically an asset management company that can take in assets and not just monetary assets or stocks and bonds or things like that, but they can manage real estate, they can manage oil and gas interest. They can manage priceless artwork, they can manage cars. They can honestly act as you in whatever situation that you might find yourself. Maybe it’s a situation where you don’t have any family and you need to go into a nursing home and you need somebody to make sure that your bills are paid. Maybe after you’re gone, you think that your children might fight and so you want to go ahead and put in a third party to kind of be the referee in a lot of those situations.

In honesty the most of what we work with is high net worth financial planning is really what it is. You don’t have to name a trust company as trustee. You don’t have to hand it over to them. They can be your agent. They can pay your bills for you. They can manage your assets. They can really do anything that a person could do for you or that a financial planner could do for you. It’s actually a bank. It is a bank. They are the custodian, and so it’s kind of a different model than the traditional RA route or the traditional financial planning situation.

You do things for people that you would never believe. I at one point had to push a car, a Corvette, out of somebody’s driveway and jump it in my heels and then drive it to CarMax and get it appraised and everything else. I’ve had to pull up in little old ladies’ cabinets and get their 16 guns that they’re hiding in there. I’ve had to actually purchase underwear for a client that was in a nursing home, did not have any family and was struggling being able to get to the store. It really is the whole gamut. It’s a very interesting business and very, I think, fulfilling business, but that is definitely my background and what I still really enjoy doing.

Hannah:               As a trust officer, those are pretty intimate things to be involved in a client’s life with. Was that to you, it’s beyond just the money side of it. It’s really into the day to day taking care of somebody?

Amy:                     Very much so. You think about what it takes to take care of somebody. If that means paying their taxes, if that means making sure that they have home healthcare coming in and you’re paying them, that you’re paying the bills. Whatever that means of taking care of somebody, that’s the service that we offer.

Hannah:               That sounds more high touch than some RAs I know.

Amy:                     Very high touch, very high touch.

Hannah:               Then how does the trust company get paid?

Amy:                     Trust company gets paid, number one, assets under management. That’s how they got paid. It’s fee only. There’s certainly no commissions. There’s no insurance sales or anything like that. It is the definition of family. It’s the original fiduciary. We’ve just now kind of heard this fiduciary word coming across the pike, and obviously RAs have been fiduciaries forever too, but trust companies are kind of like, “How come this was never an issue that we were driving this?” That’s kind of the drive. Trust companies really should’ve been pushing that fiduciary push all along because they’ve always been trust companies.

Hannah:               Tell me what it was like to be coming straight out of college and basically be working at the receptionist’s desk. What was that experience like?

Amy:                     Like I said, I got lucky. This company, it started actually in 1998, and a big bank had come in and purchased another smaller bank that use to be very local, and they just didn’t really like the way that their customers were being treated, the fee structure that was coming in, the big bank push for additional products and additional proprietary pushes, so one of the major families partnered with several of the trust officers from that particular bank, and they started this company, and so I came in about within 10 years after they got started, and I was really the first hire that they had under 40, for sure. I was the most interesting thing. Regardless of what I did, I was the most interesting thing that was going on, which was kind of fun. I actually, I got several dads out of the situation, especially you think about coming in and working for a company who at the time only had about 13 employees, and guys that knew exactly what they were doing, have been doing this for decades, and the opportunity to spend time with them, the opportunity to learn from them.

It really, the situation that I was in and being very, very lucky and just being the first kind of young person to come in really, really benefited me. Now, that company has a beautiful downtown office and they employ 45 people, so it’s definitely a different and probably at least now 30% of those people, maybe more, are younger people now.

Hannah:               Oh, that’s great. You started there. Did you start studying for your CFP® exam right away? Is that something that you pursued or what were the designations or exams that you took?

Amy:                     Yeah, I obviously have a love for designations and education I guess. I hopefully am coming to the end of is my goal. Somebody tried to ask me about a new designation the other day and I was like, “No, no more.” I had never really heard of the CFP® exam in general. Again, I hadn’t ever thought about financial planning as a profession or as a job or as something that I would want to go into. I obviously knew kind of what stockbrokers did, but that wasn’t even kind of the idea that I had in my mind of what a stock broker even was. I thought investment bankers were the same as stockbrokers.

Again I was not at all learned in this area, but that what kind of got me was the reason I started pursing designations is because I was … Yeah, obviously in a unique position to be able to see how the entire business was working because it was so small at that time, and I didn’t know what I was doing, and so I had moved out of the, I was promoted, I guess, out of the receptionist job pretty quickly and I went to be a trust officer’s assistant basically, and I was assisting three of them, and so I was in a lot of those meetings, and I really just felt uncomfortable with myself of not knowing what the rules were or what they were talking about or what solutions that we could give, so again, I got on Google and started looking and seeing what educational programs might help me with that.

I came across the CFP® exam and brought it to my bosses and I said, “This might just be,” they had sent me to trust school, which ultimately took the CTFA exam, which was through the Institute of Certified Bankers, but ultimately I went and I said, “Can I start taking these CFP® classes? I just think that they’d be a good educational background for me personally so I can feel confident in these meetings, so I can eel like I know what I’m doing, and I’m really enjoying this business. I really am on board with what you guys are doing and I like this. I think that it is something that I’d like to invest in if you’ll invest in me.” They said, “Yeah, absolutely. We’re very excited that you want to learn more about our business and that you want to be educated.” My employer was very, very glad to support me in the CFP® courses, which I took online and then ultimately took the CFP® exam in fall of 2008.

Hannah:               Very nice. Did you feel like the CFP® exam gave you that confidence that you were looking for?

Amy:                     Yes, absolutely, and that’s what I tell people all the time is I know sometimes, especially as a younger person, especially as a woman, you are in those meetings and you’re just, whether or not you know your stuff or not, I think the CFP® designation does a lot to boost your own knowledge, to boost your own self-confidence there, even if you’re handing a card to somebody. I don’t know what age I look, even today, I don’t know what age I look. I was at the gym last week and talking to somebody, and of course I’m in my early thirties, and they were saying, “Oh, well I thought you were in college in at UGA, like as an undergrad.” Which, I’m at the gym so I probably don’t look great, but at this point in my life, that’s a compliment, but I think even when I was 22.

I had braces when I was 22. I probably looked about eight when I was 22, and so even kind of getting that confidence through at least myself knowing what I was knowing, that I knew was talking about felt like I could then expand and make the people that I was talking to feel like that I knew what they were talking about because that’s ultimately, especially as a trust company, you’re talking with people that have millions and millions of dollars and expect that level of service and expect that level of expertise, so it is a little scary if you go in, especially in a meeting by yourself where you may not have that self-confidence right off the bat.

Hannah:               Oh, that’s great. You have more credentials.

Amy:                     Yes.

Hannah:               And more exams. Can you kind of walk through on a timeline the various, because you have your MBA and your PhD, you’re in progress for that, and you’re actually teaching a course right now, so can you walk through what inspired you to go back and get your MBA?

Amy:                     An MBA, regardless of that I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do, an MBA was always just kind of one of those things where I was like, “Well, I’ll have an MBA.” I just felt in my mind that I was an MBA type of person. I didn’t know exactly what in business I wanted to be in, but I knew that I wanted to be in business and I knew that I wanted an MBA. I looked around when I had, I think I had finished the CFP®. I must have finished the CFP®. I’d even applied, you’re making me think here on my timeline, but I had applied for an MBA program, a couple MBA programs right out of college because again, I had no idea what I was doing or where I wanted to go work, so I thought I’d just keep going to school because I’m pretty good at school. The programs that I’d really wanted to hadn’t worked out.

My GMAT score was not super stellar, so I’d kind of put that on the back burner anyway, and then once I guess I’m just a sucker for feeling like if I’m sitting still for a second that I need to go and look and see what other educational endeavors I can pursue. Yeah, once I had taken the CTFA and the CFP®, I think the MBA was just my next conquest, so I again, talked to my employers, and I had thought about going full-time at first and then they said, “We’ll help you with the MBA process if you want to continue working here and do the MBA at night.” That ended up working really, really well. I got an MBA through the University of Oklahoma and did classes at night and gained a lot of friendships and gained a lot of relationships through that and feel really, really good about that process and how that worked, and again, was able to keep working and keep getting better at what I was doing at my employer too.

Hannah:               With that MBA, do you feel like it helped you in your relationship with clients and beyond just the confidence level or knowledge, I guess, working with clients?

Amy:                     I don’t know. The MBA was a little bit different because it’s not as focused on exact … The CFP®’s so practical. You learn the rules as they are at that time, and you’re able to honestly apply whatever you’re learning at the rules at the very beginning, whereas an MBA is much broader on the technical side or the business strategy side, so I got a lot more expertise in accounting practices, got a lot more expertise in negotiation. Again, made some amazing relationships with people that were also working at the same time and also wanted to be there in school, which was a completely different, not that people don’t want to be there as an undergraduate, but in a master’s degree where everyone else is working full time during the day, you just really get a caliber of people that do want to be there and so you get to make those relationships and understand their industries better and understand your own industries better and see how other people’s business trajectories have gone, and so that’s really the most value that I got out of it.

Hannah:               You knock out your MBA, and so the next logical choice is a CFA?

Amy:                     Of course. That was the next logical choice. At the time, I was a portfolio manager for my employer, and so that was kind of an understanding is that they were hoping to get all the portfolio managers at the trust company to be CFA charter holders. I graduated my MBA in 2012, and took level one of the CFA that same month and just by accident passed that very first level, which is very, very difficult. Then went on through the process of the CFA program, which was, I will tell you, the most difficult thing I have ever done and probably will ever do. In all of my educational pursuits, the CFA program is certainly the hardest.

Hannah:               At this point with the trust company, you are a portfolio manager. Could you talk about what does a portfolio manager do and kind of what is that job function?

Amy:                     Yeah. Portfolio management is, I was not necessarily on the side that was buying underwear at this point. I was on the side that I was buying stocks, I was buying bonds. I was actively on the investment committee. I was contributing to stock selection committee. I was looking at stocks on a much deeper level. I was actively talking to bond brokers every single day looking for, and these were in the good days where we could buy bonds with yields. I was actively talking with clients. In our firm we had, every client was assigned a portfolio manager and a relationship manager, so any time that there was a quarterly review or any kind of performance review, an investment officer would be brought in obviously to speak to that. Some clients need more of that. Some clients need less of that.

Some clients, it goes the gamut of whichever side is needed, and obviously a lot of clients don’t necessarily need a portfolio manager in the room if that’s not the main focus of the meeting, but a lot of our clients were much more focused on the portfolio management side. That was working through the CFA program, being a CFP®, coming out of the MBA, that was a new challenge that I was very excited about, and then ultimately I had moved back over to the trust side after a couple years of great investments.

Hannah:               Those are really two separate job functions within that trust company. Those were two very different roles.

Amy:                     Completely. Same clients, but definitely different roles. Different day to day, different expectation level.

Hannah:               You were at the trust company for eight years, is that right?

Amy:                     Eight, yeah, eight years.

Hannah:               What kind of prompted you to want to make a move?

Amy:                     Yeah, I would not have said that right off the bat that it was something that it was my goal to own my own business someday, but after I had become a CFPN and gotten involved in FPA and especially been involved in Next Gen, which I know a lot of our friends and a lot of listeners are very involved in Next Gen. That’s how we all kind of met and that’s how we all built our businesses was just talking to people who knew what they were doing, talking to people that were using other softwares, and ultimately just getting to the point where I was working a lot for the trust company at the time, and it was an issue that was causing some negative feelings in my life, just from an issue of time that I was spending there and just from the level of stress that I was experiencing, and I was 30, almost 30 years old at this point.

I really had some good advice from a good friend that told me if it was something that I did want to do, which was ultimately run my own business, that I should quit before I couldn’t afford to not quit. I certainly have wonderful feelings for that company and everything they did for me, continue to have wonderful friends there, continue to think that they are doing exactly what they need to be doing, but at that time, it was really an issue that I did need to go ahead and step away and try to get some flexibility in my life and trying to just have a new adventure at that point. We, I think, parted on pretty good ways and I was able to go ahead and start my own business and ultimately add, get a PhD as one of my hobbies.

Hannah:               I feel embarrassed of my hobbies now.

Amy:                     Well, when people have to ask me what my hobbies are, I’m like, “Well, working and sleeping, and that’s it.”

Hannah:               Okay, so let’s talk about your PhD. There’s so much here. Your PhD, and it’s in consumer economics. Is that right?

Amy:                     Yeah, it’s in consumer economics and financial planning.

Hannah:               From University of Georgia?

Amy:                     Yeah.

Hannah:               You live in Oklahoma, right? Are you doing this virtually, or how is this working?

Amy:                     Yeah, I live in both. I’m actually in Georgia right now, and I’m in Georgia for the majority of the school year, but I go back and forth pretty often. I try to be in Oklahoma at least a couple days a month in the office working and seeing people, but most of my business during the school year is digitally done, which is not very difficult in today’s environment, honestly, and just the sheer numbers of clients that I have is just nothing like the number of clients that I had working at a trust company. You’re able to do that a lot easier. Yeah, going back and forth. I’m in Georgia today. It’s the eclipse day. It got really dark, but I dragged my feet on getting those glasses, so I couldn’t actually see it.

Hannah:               Me too. You’re in Georgia. You’re going to school for the PhD program, and you’re also teaching a course.

Amy:                     Yeah, I’m co teaching a seminar course, and we were talking about this a little before we started, but Georgia has a clinic here. It’s called the Aspire Clinic, and they actually offer pro bono financial counseling, financial planning services to the community, and so anyone from the community or teachers or students or graduate students can come in and they can sit down with one of our students, undergraduate students or graduate students. Then every week, these students hold a seminar, and so I kind of help facilitate this seminar in that they’re bringing their cases or the issues that the people that they’re seeing in their financial counseling meetings, they’re bringing the issues that they’re having and then together all of us, there’s about 10 students in the seminar.

We’re coming up with creative ideas. We’re coming up with people that’ll know a good resource to reach out to. If one person’s kind of weaker on what to recommend or what might be a good strategy, we all work together to come up with that strategy, and obviously I’m able to bring a little more knowledge to the table as far as what strategies are and hopefully disseminate that knowledge throughout the students. It’s really rewarding. I really enjoy it, and actually it’s stretched me quite a bit too because the people who are coming in for pro bono counseling are really coming in with different issues than say people that are coming into a trust company are coming into, so I’ve actually learned a lot through the process too, so I really enjoy it.

Hannah:               That’s really neat. With your PhD program, are you doing research? Are you contributing in the research world?

Amy:                     Yeah. We’re doing a lot of really exciting research. Through the clinic even, it’s a research clinic and we’re able to collect a lot of data from people that are coming in and getting the financial planning services, so it’s kind of a dual situation. I’m involved in a lot of the research projects that are going through there, and then hopefully in the spring, I’ll be starting my own writing my dissertation process. I’m finishing up my coursework this semester and then I’ll be full time dissertation in the spring and hopefully graduate in May.

Hannah:               Can you share what your dissertation is about or what you want to study?

Amy:                     I don’t actually have it finalized, no, but there’s a lot of good questions that are being asked out there. There’s a lot of issues that I’m especially close to. HSAs are one of them. Investments biases. A lot of the behavioral things that come into investment portfolio choice, risk tolerance. I can’t say exactly what it will be on exactly, but it’s starting to come together on some of those questions that I find interesting and that I think that I can dig a little bit deeper through.

Hannah:               One of the things I’m also harping on is if we really want to become a profession, we have to figure out how to integrate this research with our day to day practices, and so my question for you would be as a practitioner and as a researcher, for the people listening to this podcast, maybe newer in their careers or just starting out or just starting their own firm, where can they go or how can they start getting exposed to a lot of this research that’s happening right now?

Amy:                     It’s so hard, and I actually harp on these guys all the time because academic research is not fun to read. It’s not fun to write either. It’s very hard when, especially in the academic research realm or in the academics research literature where a lot of these solutions are basically written in math. That’s really difficult or be able to take away. I have been trying to contribute to as much even writing process as I can in the literature that I’m being asked to look over or some of the implications for financial planners that I can look over and trying to at least point out some of the issues that are coming up and some of the findings that we’re finding. The research is really, it’s a very slow moving process. It takes one step at a time and one researcher bouncing off of another researcher and then another idea coming off of another idea.

I look at journals like the Journal of Financial Planning that does a really good job of at least presenting it really well in a nice colorful magazine that’s a little bit easier to read and I think is much more pushed towards the practitioner standpoint, without being too overwhelming. Make sure that the graphs are readable and things like that, and I think that’s hopefully what journals would move towards. That would be my desire. I don’t know that that’s the desire of the academic world, but I’m one vote if I ever get to do it. I have the same problem. That stuff is hard to read and it’s hard to especially make time in your day to weed through it.

Hannah:               Yeah, absolutely. You start eight years at a trust company and you start your own firm. What was that experience like?

Amy:                     You learn a lot about yourself, what you know.

Hannah:               Isn’t that the truth?

Amy:                     Yeah, I always considered myself to be an introverted worker and especially when I worked with so many people around me, I would go to work and obviously do my work and then sometimes I would go to the gym and then I would come back to the office after I went to the gym when everybody was gone, and that’s when I would actually get my work done, so I always thought that I’d be really good at that. Then it turns out that when you actually just have an entire day stretching in front of you that you really have to set some traps for yourself to kind of understand how you work and how you understand in that I did learn that I do not work very well alone, that I actually need somebody to monitor me and know that even setting an expectation that you’re going to see somebody, setting an expectation that you’re going to be at the office in a certain time, that you’re even going to take a shower and not wear yoga pants to the office is one of those things that you’re going to change.

I had to do a lot of shuffling and trial and error on how my office situation was going to be set up and how I was going to spend my day and when I was going to be in the office and how I was going to conduct myself to find that sweet spot of how I work best. That, I think, is the most important thing to realize because you do, once you’re on your own, you are responsible 100% for how you’re going to eat that day. You do have to hustle and you got to get it done, but there’s nothing necessarily, you don’t have to report to anybody. There’s nobody reporting to you. There’s no accountability beyond the goals that you’re setting for yourself, so you do have to be, or at least get good at that and find a way to push yourself that way. I don’t know if it was the same for you, but that was a big challenge for me.

Hannah:               Oh, a huge transition. Absolutely huge transition, and I think compounding, I don’t know if people who start out who don’t have the revenue, it’s just stress on stress on stress that you don’t really know. Did you bring clients from the trust company to your own practice or did you really start from zero?

Amy:                     Yeah, some of the clients did come over with me, so I was lucky in that manner. It wasn’t even, and this is my own perspective. It wasn’t necessarily the revenue that I was most worried about, but it was just kind of a personal vendetta that I wanted to make sure that I did not fail at this, and that was probably a bigger driver for me in that yeah, revenue was happening, but I also knew that I had enough money saved that I was not going to starve necessarily, even if I was just able to get even half the clients that maybe I thought might come over. That wasn’t too big of an issue for me, but the issue of I am going to be able to do this and that I’m not going to fail at this was probably a bigger driver than even the dollars and cents issue.

Hannah:               When you brought the clients over, did you have to pay for them or you were just able to do that and they just changed advisors?

Amy:                     They changed advisors and I really was very careful because there were certainly non-competes in place, and I also wanted to stay in good graces with my former employer. I did not want to just light those bridges on fire as I walked away. Oklahoma City is a small wealth management community and I, again, had so much respect for the company that I worked for that I did not want to do it the wrong way. I probably could have hammered harder maybe, but I also wanted to make sure that the clients were going to be in the best place for them too, and so I do think that was a little bit unique of a situation in that there’s a lot of clients that I couldn’t bring.

A lot of them were trust clients and I don’t have trust powers, and I didn’t really want to partner with a no name somebody that was renting me their trust powers. Really, if they needed trust work, they needed to be at a trust company. I tried to keep that as a driver of when I was creating my clients. Yes, clients did come over and I certainly answered the phone when they called and encouraged them to come over, but I did try to at least do that as delicately as possible because I have a lot of respect for that former employer.

Hannah:               Yeah, it’s such an interesting transition when you move companies and we’re in such a unique field where you can take revenue, some places you have the opportunity to possibly take revenue, but how do you do that well?

Amy:                     It’s hard and it was an issue of that firm is actually purchased by a large kind of regional bank, and so a lot of the people that I’d kind of grown up working with were retiring, so when that transaction happened, it was actually a good breaking point for me to go ahead and cut ties, not 100%, but at least cut my employment ties and feel like I at least left them in a place where they were going to be in a good place and I was going to be in a good place, and it was going to be better for me, and I think a lot of people understood that too.

Hannah:               Are all of your clients in Oklahoma City?

Amy:                     Majority are in Oklahoma. Especially at first, they were all in Oklahoma. I do have a few scattered about, but they all for the most part either have a connection with me personally or in Oklahoma in some way.

Hannah:               Your client base, are they more that high net worth client like you had at the trust company?

Amy:                     At first, they were because all the clients that came over were really the trust company side, but I also wanted to make sure that I was able to serve really anybody that was going to be willing to do what it took or willing to do it right, and I think that was the breaking point is at the trust company, you’re mostly working with people who had already made their money and were kind of in the distribution stage of their life or of their financial situation versus I did want to start working with people who maybe hadn’t made their money yet but were dedicated to saving. Really, the RAA model uniquely, I think, gives you the opportunity now with technology to be able to work with people who are willing to save a certain amount every month, even if they don’t necessarily have a big pot of money already just waiting to hand you and to cash a million dollars.

That’s always great when you can get one of those, but I also wanted to work with people that were my age. I wanted to work with people who were just trying to do the right thing, who were excited about their future, that wanted to really collaborate with me on a longterm plan. That was very a pillar of what I wanted to start the firm to do too.

Hannah:               With clients like that, how do you service them and how do they pay you and what’s your structure for that?

Amy:                     Yeah, I have developed a little mini robo. It’s a robo that I kind of run, but it’s I say bare bones, but it is trying to eliminate any of that customization that I run with a lot of the bigger portfolios, whereas a lot of the bigger portfolios, I do run a stock portfolio. I will purchase individual bonds. I will individually look at your tax loss harvest situation versus I run now what I called the Accelerator Program, and the minimum deposit every month is $500, so I’m able to keep up there as far as being able to grow the account in addition to if there’s not necessarily any money there, and so it’s automatic rebalancing. I work through TD Ameritrade and I use ETFs that are commission free. I use iRebal and automatic rebalancing, automatic ACH payment pools, and then anything beyond that asset management side I do hourly consulting.

Hannah:               Very nice. Do you do for what these younger people who have that $500 to invest, is it a flat fee that you charge them? Do you do the monthly retainer model or what does that look like?

Amy:                     It’s AUM, and it’s for any asset level under 180,000. It’s 1.1% and it’s deducted just like all the rest of my AUM clienteles.

Hannah:               Interesting. Do you do a financial plan for them?

Amy:                     Not typically. I will do a little bit of just right off the bat starting off what type of accounts we need to open, but if they are really looking for a full financial plan, then that’s hourly on top of that.

Hannah:               Very interesting. What’s so exciting to me is how you can really design whatever service model fits the client and really fits you in this business.

Amy:                     Yeah, and that’s exactly what I hear from a lot of people. A lot of people focus more on the financial planning side. I tend to focus more on the investment side just because that’s my background. Would like to get back into more financial planning, but that’s just not possible when I’m living in two states right now, but hopefully next year when I’m a little more centralized, I’ll be able to focus a little bit more on the planning side, but in the investment, the investment side is really my bread and butter and building in models and making sure that asset allocation is correct and specifically asset placement. What type of accounts are we investing in? I’m able to do it very cheaply, for me and for them.

Hannah:               Right, by using the iRebal and various software.

Amy:                     Yeah, I try to take as much of that out of the equation as possible. I don’t want to spend my day, as you know, spend my day doing unnecessary paperwork or trying to mess with something that is not going to be either in my best interest or their best interest. I want to use my time well, and I think I’ve developed a good pipeline to be able to do that.

Hannah:               One of the things that I find so interesting about you, especially being in your early thirties is the Heartbeat for Hope. Can you tell people what this is about and how it got started?

Amy:                     Absolutely. Heartbeat for Hope is a nonprofit 501-C3 organization that I got involved with. Through college and then after college, I actually had a friend who had moved to Ghana to work in an orphanage called The Village of Hope, and she had been over there for a couple years, and I love to travel, and so an opportunity came up, and this was when I was young and poor that somebody had donated to her two Delta buddy passes to be able to come to Africa. Me and another friend who had been supporting her with as much money as we had every month or so in her work over there, we were able to go and visit her. Seeing what the need was there and what the situation with the orphanage was was really a eyeopening experience for me.

I’d never been to Africa and certainly never been involved in any kind of business transaction that was outside of the United States, but when she actually came back, there was some opportunities for us to get involved with vocational training for women, which has really been a big push to be able to try to empower women, to be able to pay the school fees for their children, and then ultimately create sustainable models of living, and there’s just not, the infrastructure doesn’t exist over there in Ghana where they can just graduate from high school and then go get a job. That’s just not a thing. There’s not huge companies that have come in and invested in factories or manufacturing Ghana like there is here or even in some of the other developing countries, so it’s really a very entrepreneurial workspace.

Trying to offer training to especially people that were not necessarily going to have the opportunity to then goes into empowering them forever. Then we were able to partner with Heartbeat for Hope to try to get more structure and get more ability to raise money and now we do some work with another vocational training school that actually takes teenagers off of the street and gives them a two year basically training program in textiles, in auto mechanics. They choose a major. In catering, in skills that are able to market and skills that they’re going to be able to make a living at. That is money that you’re basically putting in one, as an investment, and then the training center is able to continue going on its own because they can make the products, sell the products, and then that can be re recycled.

That’s been a big issue for me is always trying to keep centralized the money that we’re putting in there. We don’t try to take over a lot of things. If we’re purchasing things, we want to purchase things over there, help another person who’s in entrepreneurial and just let that wheel round. That is a big part of my life. I’m going again in January, I think, so I’m very excited to go again and see where we are on that stuff.

Hannah:               Is this a microloan program?

Amy:                     Yeah, we’ve done a little bit of microloans. I won’t say that we have perfected it yet, but we have made some microloans to people that we know and to people that have provided us with very well-written business plans that we can track and we can follow and we really feel like we can be involved in the microloans that we’re making. We’ve made some microloans for somebody buying a taxi. A taxi driver over there has to rent their taxi every single day, and some days they’ll make enough money to pay for the rental of their taxi that day and some days they won’t, but you not ever really get ahead that way, so by making a loan, they can buy the taxi. Then they’re paying the taxi back. Now they own the taxi and they can actually use it to make money over time and to build up, but it’s very different cultural mindset, I guess. Over there, saving is really not anything that’s valued like it is here. It’s not necessarily something that’s like, “Oh, they’re a good saver.”

They’re very socialistic and environmental, so if you’re saving, you’re really almost thought of as selfish because you most likely have a family member or a friend who’s in the hospital or may need your help, and so it would not necessarily be socially smiled upon for you to just be hoarding money, so a lot of times their savings goes into building a house and they, because the loan situation doesn’t work like it is over here, you’re literally building a house brick by brick as you can afford it. You can afford a brick, you go buy a brick and you put it on. It’s almost as simple as that, but trying to integrate that savings culture that we have over there just doesn’t work, so a lot of trial and error as far as what works and what can ultimately make the most difference has been the biggest learning experience for me. I won’t say that I have it figured out yet.

Hannah:               I find this so, I think it’s such a good example where you just had this passion and you just kept following it. Has this, not that this is why you do any of this, but has this helped your business and your relationship with clients?

Amy:                     A lot of my clients know that I’m involved with Heartbeat for Hope. I have certainly not hidden that, and then I also, I make a pledge for any of my clients that 10% of the gross investment management fees that I collect actually goes back into basically a nonprofit of their choice, and that serves a couple good reasons. One, it’s a great marketing technique and people really love to partner with a company who’s also involved in the community, and then people, I want to know what my clients are interested in. I want to know what they’re passionate about, and so it allows me to connect with my clients on another level and it allows me to offer some guidance on a charitable giving standpoint. Then it also allows me to partner with another charity either in Oklahoma community or another charity that my clients might be interested in, and so that’s a good partnership for me, that we’re able to build that local community too.

Then any time that there isn’t necessarily a charity that somebody’s passionate about, I let them know that for me, my passion is Heartbeat for Hope and this is what I’m doing and so any time anybody doesn’t necessarily have a charity that they are passionate about, that 10% goes to Heartbeat for Hope too. I try to be as open about when I’m going and what I’m doing and what the needs are and what the support level is with my clients too.

Hannah:               Oh, that’s really neat. As we’re wrapping up, what’s next for you? I feel like you have so many different interests. What are you working on that you’re really excited about or what’s coming up for you?

Amy:                     Well, my number one goal this year is to finish my dissertation, and so that is a lot of people asking me what’s next for me, and I know that I am not going back to school, and that is 100% what I can say, but I do think that I would like to do a couple new things with my business. I’ve got a couple ideas on the consulting side, and I think I would like to even partner with other financial planners that may need some help on the investment side, knowing that working with somebody who has the same mindset as them and that has the same values as them and has the same passions as them, maybe bringing someone to do my planing for me that has more passions for financial planning and doing more partnerships like that, I’m really excited about.

Hannah:               Oh, that’s great. For the listener who is just starting out, whether they are studying for the CFP® exam or kind of within those first couple years of their career, what advice would you have for them?

Amy:                     Get in meetings with as many people as you can. That is absolutely what I think was the most valuable thing to me is that I was able to be in meetings with people who I consider to be the very, very best at taking care of clients in the world. I was able to go and be in meetings and hear how other people approached situations, hear how other people kind of not spin, but can approach a certain problem in a way that can make a client feel very much taken care of, very comfortable, what even body language you need to pay attention to.

There’s just so much that you can’t read about in a book that you need to get as much exposure as you can possibly ask to, even if you’re just going up to somebody that you know is a rainmaker or that you know takes care of their clients or know does things well. Just say, “Hey, if you ever have a meeting, would you mind me just sitting in? I would really like to learn from you,” and just soak that in as much as you possibly can.

Hannah:               Where did you go for this? You had other advisors outside of your firm that were letting you sit on meetings?

Amy:                     No, within my firm, so if you work for a smaller firm, that’s harder, but within your firm. Even if it’s not your direct report, if you do have the time, if your employer will allow that, just see if you can get as much exposure to what works well and who works well and that will pay dividends certainly.

Hannah:               Well, is there anything else as we wrap up, Amy?

Amy:                     Yeah. Get educated and get that experience, and this is an amazing career. I’m extremely happy that I tripped and fell into it.

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