Ben, Belgium, and Behavioral Finance

This week we had the pleasure of sitting down with Ben Granjé, a behavioral psychologist. Ben has worked for Morningstar in the past, and is now the managing director at Beconomics, a consulting firm in Belgium. He’s focusing on the financial industry to highlight the difference in money mindsets around the world, and to help planners push their clients toward positive change.

Ben has some fascinating insights in this episode, and we were thrilled to chat with him at the FPA Annual Conference. It’s always exciting to see what the financial planning industry is up to on an international scale.

If you haven’t yet, make sure to join our brand new FPA Activate Facebook Group! We’ll be hosting ongoing discussions about this episode, and all things financial planning.

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“I usually tell young planners to go out and fail…Because experience is the thing you gain just after you needed it.”

 

Things You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • How behavioral psychology applies to financial planning.
  • How money mindsets differ between the US and the rest of the world.
  • The different ways student loans impact different cultures.
  • How financial planning looks on an international level.
  • What stays the same across cultures when it comes to financial goals and setbacks.
  • How we can help our clients achieve positive change.
  • Why it’s important to fail early (and big) early in your career as a financial planner.

Loaded by Sarah Newcomb

WAARDE(N)VOL! LOADED

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Institute of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University

 

Show Transcript

Ep66 Transcript


 

Ben:                       No portfolio is an island. You may have the best asset allocation, the best portfolio in the world, but it only makes sense in the wider picture of a person’s life. You can be 100% correct technically, and tear this family apart. The human aspect of financial planning, to me, is that much more important.

Hannah:               You’re listening to You’re A Financial Planner: Now What? The podcast to help you fast-track your career by bringing you meaningful conversations on topics that influence new financial planners, their careers, and the lives of their clients.

Charlie:                 This episode is brought to you by FPA Knowledge Circles. Be a part of FPA cross border knowledge circles were you can hear voices from around the world, like today’s guest and others like

Robert:                 Hi, my name is Robert van Beek. The knowledge circle is the place to be, not only physical but also online. We have a nice sharing place of experiences, knowledges, and also not only know-how, but know-who. I think that’s a very important thing, so it’s a network of passionate financial planners, professionals.

Hannah:               We’re back from the FPA Annual Conference, the largest international gathering of CFP professionals. Recorded and interview with Ben Granje. Ben stopped by the NextGen lounge to talk to us about behavioral finance and financial planning in Belgium and around the world. Ben has worked with Morning Star, he’s helped translate Sarah Newcomb’s book “Loaded” for Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg and continues to help advisors with tools to serve their clients better.

Financial planning transcends borders and Ben’s interview highlights that. He shows how we can be better planners by truly engaging with our clients right where they’re at. It’s a great interview. Here’s Ben.

Ben:                       Good afternoon. My name is Ben Granje. It’s a French name, in the US you would pronounce it Granje. I have trained as a psychologist around 25, 30 years ago and somehow ended up in the financial industry, so I worked for an investment bank, which was Citigroup at time, as an investment advisor and wealth advisor. From there, went on to a fund house which was Investo, you might know that here in the US as Amvescap. And from there to Morning Star which I’ve done for the past 12 years.

The reason you cannot find me online today is simply because I’ve just left Morning Star and started my own business which is called Beconomics. B for Belgium, for behavior, and for Ben which is my name. Together with a business partner, we have a consulting office called Bias. Bias in this case stands for Bias, Insight, Applied, and Sourced. What we want to do is take all this research that is available, but bring it to the advisor who often wonders, “This is all great, but what does it for me? What’s in it for me and my practice? How does it help me grow my business?”

Sourcing means that we know the software available, that we know the people available, and we try to help both institutionals, advisors, and retail investors, individual families or what have you to do better with their money, feel better with their money. In that sense, I’d like to sometimes refer to myself as Chief Happiness Officer because in the end, the pursuit of happiness is the reason that we would invest.

Hannah:               Yeah, well that’s a huge vision and mission for what you’re doing. I mean, talk about changing financial advisors, institutions, and the clients, that’s great.

You’re from Belgium, so what would you say, because you kind of have an interesting perspective between countries. What is the biggest differences that you see between Belgium and the United States when it comes to financial planning?

Ben:                       I would say that it comes down to the belief in social security. In the US, people are raised to believe that they have to take care of themselves in terms of pension and wealth planning, while in Europe I would say as a whole, but Belgium also specifically, the government has always provided a pension which was sufficient to live on. I do not, I am not convinced that that is still the case, but most people still live in that idea that they are working now, saving up for their pension, and by the time they retire, I would say at least a minimum living wage.

I do not believe the money is there simply because of the demographics. You used to have five working people let’s say for one or two retired people, but that is shifting to where you have maybe two working for every four or five retired people and that simple is unsustainable in terms of the taxes you have to levy on the working folk in order to pay for the retired folk. In that sense, we are training them, bringing the message that they have to invest, they have to provide for their own pension.

The problem is not that they wouldn’t understand, the problem is as it always is, in their head. Very famous investors have said before in the past, “You are your worst enemy.” I would switch that a little bit around because I don’t want to be so negative. We try to keep it upbeat and positive. It is, “Man is the measure of all things,” and people can only react and interpret by what they know. Because they have always know this retirement system in Belgium to be true and correct, they want to believe that and it is hard to overcome that, I would say, resistance to change.

Hannah:               I think this is a great question for a behavioral expert. How do we help clients overcome that resistance to change in that situation?

Ben:                       It has to do with the confirmation bias, mainly. Well, two things. I am going to talk about confirmation bias. The other thing is something called [foreign language], which basically means you do not know what you do not know and this is, I would say, the main problem in Belgium.

Step one is education. We are doing that with adults. I think we are failing that with young ones, with children in high school. I have worked 10 years for Morning Star. What we did is we go into middle school and high school and talk to children about money. We know that actually playing with money changes your mindset. There is something called Money Mind which changes your goal orientation which makes you more target oriented. All these little things help.

Once education is there, then we still have this problem whereby people glean from all the available information only those aspects that confirm what they already believe to be true. What we want to do and that is basically the basis of all presentations we do, is break off the blinds. We usually start by shocking people a little bit and saying something that they would not expect like, if you talk about pensions, I tend to start with, “Live fast and die young because the pension simply is not going to be there so if you want to enjoy your money, do it now.” Then everybody sits up and pays attention. “What is this guy saying?” Then we can start explaining to them why I’m saying this and how they can overcome this issue.

Hannah:               So you’re telling them to die early, and they’re like, “Oh. Okay. That’s a first time people have said that.”

Ben:                       Yes. You prefer to say this to the retirement industry and then they’re a bit, “Is this person insulting me here?” Yes, we are insulting you because it’s the way to get your attention, it’s the way to get you out of your safety zone, out of your comfort zone, and by that, open up your mind to actually listen to something.

Hannah:               So you talked about the money mind. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Ben:                       There has been some research, some experiments, AB experiments whereby they say, “What happens to you if you play with money?” This is all about the stories you know. Everybody has grown up with Disney movies or with stories. Somehow it always seems to be that rich people are not social, don’t care about anybody else, don’t want to help you while the poor people are all about loving, caring, about their friends and family. It’s cliché, but all cliches are somehow rooted in truth.

What we found is if you play with money, actual money in your hands, and then do a test versus if you don’t play with money but with anything else and then do the same test, those who have worked with money in their hands become more focused, more goal oriented, but also bit more ego-centric. They don’t want other people to copy off their tests while those who haven’t played with money would more easily allow you to look at their answers and sort of cooperate. There is a little truth to that. Working with money sort of makes you more selfish.

At the same time, if you then talk to them the next day, people tend to justify whatever situation they’re in to say, “Well, I wasn’t helped here. I’m just that smart.” I would say that in American politics today it’s funny to me, I had in the part, sometimes a hard time explaining these concepts, so I’m very grateful to the current administration because they make my life easier in that sense, to explain what justification means, to explain what the [foreign language] effect means.

We always say it’s difficult to win an argument from a smart person. It’s near impossible to win an argument from a person that doesn’t know because if they don’t know all those things that they don’t know, these are not elements that factor into their reasoning.

Hannah:               Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

No, that makes a lot of sense. I met you at the Knowledge Circle Summit here at the FPA Annual Conference. We were working through a case together. We were at the same table working through a case. Our table was tasked with finding the risks that were involved with the case that we were looking at and most of the people at the table were really drawn to the technical risks that they were seeing. Your point was that the human and the relationship risk was the most significant risk present in that case. In your experience, is that human and relationship risk often overlooked with financial advisors?

Ben:                       I would say it’s not limited to financial advisors. It is typical for experts in a certain field. By being an expert, it means that you’re focused on what you know best. That’s simply how the mind works. You seen any problem in relation to what you know to be possible solutions.

At this table, talking about the risk of a case study, everybody’s looking at the technical aspects. My point was exactly this and the reason I’m here at this FPA Conference. You can be 100% correct technically and tear this family apart. The human aspect of financial planning, to me, is that much more important.

One of the topics that we usually talk about is no portfolio is an island. You may have the best asset allocation, the best portfolio in the world, but it only makes sense in the wider picture of a person’s life. I think that is what focused experts sometimes forget. What we say now is that as a financial planner, I’m happy that you know your stuff. I’m happy that you understand all the technical aspects of it, but please take a step back and look at the broader picture, at the broader vision and look at the client in front of you. Is he happy?

Again, as you travel the world you will find almost all people have the same end goal, being to be happy, being to be safe, secure, in the love of their family. The strategy of getting there is different. In our consulting business what we do is try to change the strategies that people use in order to not irritate your significant other, your father, your mother, your children, whoever it may be but achieve happiness maybe outside of financial strategies.

For women, for instance, that are buying shoes to feel better, as long as you’re aware that that is what you’re doing, I’m saying that is fine. If you think you have to buy shoes to feel good, then you might end up with a problem because how many pairs of shoes can you buy in the end? If we can figure out how they make you feel and figure out a way to make you feel that way without having to buy shoes, then we are stepping in the right direction.

Hannah:               I’m hearing very much a values based approach to helping clients with their money.

Ben:                       It’s funny that you would say that because the title of our book, which is available in English through Ms Sarah Newcomb, Dr Sarah Newcomb I should say, is called “Loaded.” We translated it, my partner and I, in our language which is Dutch slash Flemish. The subtitle is actually “How to live a life of value without losing your values.” It’s a bit of a play on words but it’s exactly that. It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you’re not happy with it. That’s the whole point. Do not allocate power to money to make you happy or unhappy. It doesn’t have that. It’s an instrument, but you have to feel happy with who you are in your circumstances. That’s where we want to help you and I believe that that is, in the end, the purpose of financial planning.

Hannah:               You talk about, you said Chief Happiness Officer is kind of how you identify yourself. You brought this idea of happiness routinely. Is happiness found in just living out your values or how do people identify happiness, if you would?

Ben:                       Well, that’s wherein the problem lies. There was an American writer who died a couple months ago, Robert Pirsig who wrote a book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I would say he wrote something about the metaphysics of quality. Everybody knows what it is but if you try to define it, you lose it. The same is more or less true for happiness.

When are you happy? Are you happy 100% of the time? I don’t think so. But are you content with your life? What we’re trying to say it, if you strive towards happiness, the chances of being happy, feeling happy, are increased tremendously. If you’re not even trying to be happy, then it’s going to be very difficult. It’s a conscious choice, being happy.

I try to use as many examples of every day life as I possibly can. There’s another movie about a lady that has to go to a wedding. She’s quite famous again because she plays the lead character in Will and Grace and she needs a date for the wedding. She hires this male escort. He says, “Every woman has the love life that she chooses.” Of course all women in the movie theater stand up and say, “That’s just not true!” Well why not? You have chosen the guy you’re with or the guy you’re not with. If you’re not happy with your current love life, change it.

Same applies to money management. If you’re not happy with your current financial situation, then we have to start thinking about, “What do we need to change in order to feel happy?” But maybe, and that’s my whole point, it’s not just about money.

There’s a lot of stress. We’ve seen a couple of researchers here discuss how financial stress is the cause of a lot of divorce in the United States. I would say that is probably true, but the money stress aggravates whatever underlying stress was already there in the marriage or in the relationship and if we can take away that financial stress and teach people how to talk about strategies rather than goals, then maybe we can help save a couple of marriages here.

Hannah:               I find this interesting because we’re talking about happiness. It’s almost like you’re saying that we should be focusing more on contentment and people really being able to take responsibility and control of their situation. Would you say that that’s a fair assessment?

Ben:                       It comes into it, but I do not want to sound too sappy. In the end, I’ve spent 25 years in the financial industry advising and I do want to stress we’re in a business environment. I’m not here as a psychologist to have you talk about your relationship with your mom. I do want to stress that if you live your life in line with your values, then it’s easier to feel happy.

Now here’s the problem. Your values, where do they come from? They’re partially culturally defined. They’re also defined by your story, your life. A lot of people are not aware of this but often you grow up with the ideas of your parents, your teachers, your uncles, whoever that may be that are instilled in you without you ever having thought about it. They may be an obstacle in your life or a help.

We have people try to come up, write down, tell the story of what money is in their life. Is it a support like a sidekick character or has it been your adversary all the time? If it was your adversary, we need to figure out why and rewrite that story, find examples of where your preconceived ideas are not true.

This is what happens when you have very smart people who still make mistakes and sabotage their own financial life. It is not that they’re not intelligent, but as we have seen, Professor Clontz just gave a presentation about 90% of the decisions you make are made in your lower brain, meaning that before you start being rational and clever, most of the information has already been filtered, qualified, and only the things that get past your lizard brain are used in your rational evaluation of information. No matter how smart you are, those things that are ingrained on a deeper level determine a lot of your decision making process. It’s hard to change. It takes work. It’s not necessarily easy. If you are aware of that problem, I would say knowledge is half the game.

Hannah:               As financial planners, what can we do to help our clients in this situation? And where does it, planning versus counseling?

Ben:                       Okay-

Hannah:               Obviously we’re not counselors.

Ben:                       Okay, so any presentation to financial planners start with that same sentence. “You are the problem,” because you are here to say you want to get to know the client, but do you really know yourself? All the advice you give, any conversation with your client, you are talking from your own framework and your own experience. First, get to know yourself. Know what you are, who you are, what you want, what your story is. Then you will find that if you have clients that share your values and stories, it’s a lot easier to relate to them.

If you have clients that keep on annoying you, you may want to figure out A) Is this because of my perception and can I get past my own ideas to really listen to what my client is saying, then you can work with them, or you want to make a choice and say, “Well, I cannot relate to you. Our story is that much different.”

If you have a client that earns maybe like $50 million dollars a year and is unhappy, some people cannot get past that because they say, “I would really be happy with that money.” Some people can say, “Well, I understand. This person is convinced his father would have made $75 million dollars. He lives in the shadow of his father. Let’s talk about that. Let’s not talk about the actual numbers.”

Keep this in mind, it’s all about the numbers but it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the feeling. It’s about the experience you have with those numbers.

Hannah:               For financial planners, should they be naming those things with clients? Say I’m seeing that it seems like you’re living in the shadow of your father. That seems like a strong statement to say to somebody.

Ben:                       Ideally you would-

Hannah:               They would say it?

Ben:                       Yes. You might nudge them in the direction and suggest things that lead to that. I’m a big fan of oblique strategies. While I just said in a presentation you might want to offend the audience a bit to get their attention, in a one-on-one situation of course, I would say it doesn’t hurt after you have built a relationship of trust. I wouldn’t start off with a new client to say, “You idiot.” That usually doesn’t lead to the desired result.

At a certain point in time, you may make comparisons with other situations. You may use stories that they would know ranging from The Lord of the Rings, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. How do you get your money? How do you feel about paying the bills? How do you feel about, have you ever spoken about money with your father? Do you know what he made, how he felt? Was he really stressed by money when you were young? Talking about that situation, we can guide our clients to have an epiphany, to realize what money meant in their life.

I’m not saying it works every time, but I’m saying that talking about it, and yes, at some point in time maybe, pinpointing and labeling what is happening there may help the client reach a better decision process or at least, I would say, feeling better about the decisions he has made.

Hannah:               I like this idea of the clients the hero of their story and our job is to help them be that hero and be the ones to figure some of these things out.

Ben:                       I would say that in the US, you teach children and young people to be the hero of their story, but this is the funny thing that a case study that you get in psychology. It’s a story about a kid that goes camping with friends a counselor and they’re by the campfire and they’re eating peas and carrots and sausage. They ask this kid, “Who are you in this story?” The kid says, “I’m one of the peas because I have no influence whatsoever what is happening here. I’m just there. Things come, things go in my life and I cannot control them.”

Well there is a challenge for a financial advisor. I would suggest you need help maybe with other sorts of counseling as well there, but to teach this kid confidence to make decisions about money and to feel control over the flows of money, the streams of money in his life, that’s not a one session thing. That is a process that you go on.

Hannah:               Helping people guide them through their financial path, if you would, this is something that’ll take years, right? I mean-

Ben:                       It might. It might not because as you do in any … a doctor, psychiatrist, the first thing you want to do is fix the practical things. If a person is in debt, I’m not going to talk about you about how you feel about money. I can guess that being in debt is not a fun thing. Let’s first fix the debt situation. Let’s clean up the retirement situation. Let’s make sure that the family business is okay. That is your first, I would say responsibility then.

Two is if you’re going to work long-term with this client and you say, “Well now we have a path in front of us which we’re going to follow for I don’t know, 3 months, 6 months, five years, to clean up the current mess and to get ourselves moving in the right direction,” that gives us also the time work on the second phase. Here is the thing, if you help a person with a problem, he may or may not come back to you. If you help a person feel good about solving the problem, he will come back to you. In the end, like I say, we’re in business. We want to keep this client long-term, especially if we can solve the debt situation and make him a net worth client. This is how you grow your business, of course.

Hannah:               You said a minute ago, you made a distinction between strategies versus goals-

Ben:                       Correct.

Hannah:               And said that we need to be more focused on strategies instead of goals. Can you talk more about that?

Ben:                       Well, simply said, basically every human being has the same end goals: safety, society and group feeling, and happiness. The question is not so much, wherever you travel in the world, is anybody striving to be unhappy, that wouldn’t happen too much I would say, but how do you get to that feeling of happiness? So the example we use there is, you have a significant other. You first came to live together and you found that it is hard to merge these two visions about money. You come maybe from a family where every night you go out to dinner and to feel good you have to go to the theater and the movies and you have to really live. Money has to roll while the other person maybe comes from a family where they say, “Every penny saved is a penny earned.”

Both might have the same need: to feel good about their life. But if you tell the person that wants to go out, “No, you have to save all your money and stay inside,” he’s going to feel cooped up. If you tell the person that only feels safe if there’s enough money in the savings account, “Let’s go out and spend some money,” they’re going to feel unhappy, but you still love this person, you still want to be together.

The question is not, “Do you really need to spend money?” The question is, “What are you hoping to achieve by spending money?” So your strategy to be happy entails spending money, but let’s talk about the feeling you get from it and are there other ways for you to feel like that without spending money. Then you find sometimes it’s really simple. Reconnecting with nature is a very strange things that sets off endorphins in your brain that makes you feel good and tranquil and at ease with yourself. On the other hand, why do you really need to save every penny that comes in? Why are you so anxious about spending money? Is it something to do with your youth? Do you have these fixed ideas about what it means to not have money? You’re scared of being poor, you’re scared of not being able to do certain things up to the point where you do not even do these things when you would be able to do them. Then we have to figure out why this anxiousness and can we have you come up with examples where it’s not necessary to be so anxious.

You find a middle ground. Most couples do this instinctively and either end up finding a middle ground or end up getting divorced. I would say it’s that simple. If you cannot reconcile these two ways of looking at the world, you won’t stay together. The fights in marriages are always about the strategies employed to feel good. If you can tell people they’re not undermining your ideas, they just have a different way of achieving the same end goal. Let’s talk about how to achieve this end goal together. If you need to go out to restaurants, maybe it’s just you need to connect with friends. Well, can we invite those friends to come over and eat at your house or can you go eat at their house? It doesn’t cost as much money but it gives you the same result. Those are the kinds of strategies we try to help families with.

Hannah:               That sounds like a conversation that a financial advisor can have with their client if they’re really doing planning versus just focused on the investment work.

Ben:                       Correct.

Hannah:               In the meeting, how is this practically brought up with clients? Is it an agenda item?

Ben:                       Well, in the meeting it was a fairly specific case, but yes you can. I would say without going too much into detail, the question is this, you have first generation mom and dad, you have second generation the children. There were two children, two brothers. One was working in the father’s company, the other one wasn’t. So the question was, the parents decide to give the stock to their boys, but one boy isn’t working in the company gets 50% of the stock, the other one is working the company get 50% of the stock. He has a life insurance and his brother is the beneficiary. He’s going to get married. He’s going to have children so you can already see, even if this would be technically correct, which I would say it isn’t, that this is going to be harbor frustrations because, of course, if you get married and you have children, your first concern is for you nuclear family.

Do I understand the mother who says, “I want to make sure that both my children are taken care of”? Of course. But is this the best strategy if you can, I mean maybe this is a really exceptionally close family and it’s always possible, but I would say that there would be resentment between the brothers if the one has to work in the company and sees money flowing to the other guy who doesn’t really do anything for the company. Basically, you have to tell the mother, “Do you understand that this is going to end up in a fight?” Maybe you have to tell the brothers, “Do you understand that your mom is only trying to look out for her both children and she’s anxious that if you get the whole company, the other brother is going to end up with nothing, or if she sells you the company, you’re going to have to put yourself in debt up to a level where the next 10 years are very risky for your financial future only to buy out your brother?”

We have to talk about the strategy to fulfill the mom’s need to take care of her children, for the one son to take care of his nuclear family, for the other son to be financially safe. I would say technically you can all this, but if you do not explain to the family, well explain to the family. I would say, help realize that there are feelings involved here, you could tear the family apart by doing the right technical thing.

Hannah:               It’s having the larger conversation-

Ben:                       Yep.

Hannah:               I mean, that’s discovery, that’s almost every meeting. You’re kind of bringing that perspective, too-

Ben:                       It’s the difference between an investment manager and a life, I would say a financial planner. A financial planner looks at your life, looks at your needs, your goals, your family and helps you build a financial situation that goes along with that. That doesn’t mean it can’t change because as everybody knows, you build a plan and as soon as the first shot of the war is fired, all plans go to hell and you have to adjust. Nonetheless, the making of a plan is an exercise that has value, is an exercise that makes you think about who am I, what do I want, where do I want to be in 10 years?

If you don’t have the plan, you’re just winging it. Some people might lucky. Not everybody will get lucky.

Hannah:               For the young planners who are listening to this and want to develop their skill set on that personal side of it, that bigger picture, if you would, of looking of a family’s life and that bigger financial planning, what would be the resources? Where can they go to help improve their skills?

Ben:                       I’m going to say something strange. When I teach at universities in Belgium and I also taught at a couple universities here in the US, I usually tell young planners to go out and fail. They’re like, “Why? Why would I fail?” Because you need experience and experience is the thing you gained just after you needed it. A planner that has never suffered a crisis, that has never seen things go south, you don’t know how they’re going to react if they can keep focus, if they can keep the path.

I would say that this generation currently being schooled as planners has this great advantage whereby they saw the crisis, saw what it did with their parents, with their peers, without it actually being their own money. It was a great exercise in experiencing a crisis without the actual pain. It’s a start.

I would say maybe go out and lose some money of yourself. Maybe not intentionally, but try some things, take a risk, see what gives. If you win something, feel how happy it makes. If you lose something, feel the pain. Now when you go to your clients, you can put yourself in their shoes. You know what it feels like to win. You know what it feels like to lose. If you’ve never experienced anything in your life, that’s hard to do.

My main advice to young people is travel within the US, outside of the US, around the world. Talk to people. The hardest thing that you find in these classes is a lot of planners are afraid to talk to their clients about feelings, about their money even. That is, I would say, if you’re afraid to talk about money with your client, I’m wondering why you’re in this business. If you’re afraid to talk with your client about how they feel about their money, maybe you’re better off as an investment manager and not a planner.

Hannah:               I love that analogy and I love how you’re drawing these distinctions between financial planner and investment advisor because I think that’s a very clear distinctions that aren’t being made well in our profession and what I’ve been hearing about people-

Ben:                       I would add one to that, one that usually strikes a cord all across the world is dieting. A financial plan has to somehow satisfy your client. If it doesn’t, it’s going to fail. If you go on a diet and it’s too strict, I’m from Belgium, we’re famous for french fries with mayonnaise and you might not like it, but it’s good. If you’re on a diet and it’s too strict, by Friday evening, I’m at the fry shop and I’m eating the greasiest thing I can possibly find because it makes me feel good. In your financial plan, I would say, allow for digression. Allow for sin. Allow for fun because that’s what human needs to be happy and if they’re not happy, if they’re not satisfied, it’s not going to work. I would say that if you just get out of school and you know how it’s supposed to be done, then every dollar needs to be saved and invested and what have you, I would say you’re right, but you’re so wrong.

Hannah:               This idea of these emotions and going out and experiencing failure and experiencing what it feels like to win and lose, I mean it’s almost this idea that all of these emotions are very universal, like everybody experiences that and once you can experience it yourself, you’re going to be able to relate better to your client.

Ben:                       I would say that is very correct. It’s the strategies that are more culturally defined. The way you have learned, maybe even by commercials, that you need to spend money in order to be happy. I’m specifically saying this because I think in the US, that is even more so than in Europe, also we’re not far behind there. Living on credit has been the engine maybe of the American dream. I would advise against it. I would advise that if you want something, work for it, save for it, buy it when you can actually afford it. I’m not saying that you should never buy something on credit because you also want to establish your credit history, of course. Maybe do small things on credit and maybe save up for it first, whether it be in little envelopes, whether it be in savings account or these little money pigs that you have. Have the money, then buy it on credit, knowing full well that you already actually have the money to pay for it. That’s how you establish a good credit.

Buying something that you really cannot afford, that’s a risk that may leave you with bad credit and this short term decision that you have made to buy something that you cannot afford is going to haunt you for a long time.

Hannah:               You know as you were talking about this, student loans came to mind.

Ben:                       Yes.

Hannah:               And how that’s very epidemic in our country and with millennials. You can’t talk about millennials without talking about student loans.

Ben:                       Yes.

Hannah:               From your perspective, how do you view student loans?

Ben:                       We don’t have the same situation. Schooling in Europe is mainly subsidized. The amount of money I paid to go to college was, I may be exaggerating if I say a thousand dollars per school year-

Hannah:               Wow.

Ben:                       That is just the tuition of course. It’s not the living and food and beverage and what have you, but still. The schooling itself is subsidized because in our country, there’s belief that if you educate everybody to be conscious of the world around you, then you will build a better society, and in a better society, more people will have a chance to make a good life.

That said, we also are very aware that in the US, it is the best of all worlds and it is the worst of all worlds. If you can find it, afford it, get a scholarship, you can have an education here that is incredible and tremendous and out of this world. You have the smartest possible people and educators here, if you can afford it.

Herein lies the problem. If you have to put yourself in debt for the next 30 years in order to have that education, I don’t want to say there’s something wrong with that, but it is maybe not conducive to a society where the American dream which is in essence upward mobility, is available to everyone. If it’s not available to everyone, you have these articles for the past few years by Americans saying the American dream is dead. Well why would that be? We still believe in the rest of the world, the American dream is alive because when we come here, usually we already had our education. If you have the education, well the American dream is alive. You can make it here much easier I would say, than in old world countries. Here it’s what you know, not who you know and that is an incredible advantage. I cannot stress this enough.

Young people here are privileged but up to a point. They always make this joke, “The sick stay healthy, the rich stay poor.” The other way around of course. “The sick stay poor, the rich stay healthy.” Sorry about that. It is true in education. It is true in your social environment and that may be even the hardest part. The American dream means leaving your current socio-economic environment behind and moving to a new one. That is the hardest part. If you win the lottery, suddenly you could move up to a different part of the ladder. That is mentally a very difficult step to take. I wouldn’t say that making money is the US is the hardest part. It’s learning how to live with the different socio-economic status that is the hardest part.

Hannah:               That’s so interesting. I love that. What, I know you’re active in research and everything right now, what are you working on that you’re really excited about?

Ben:                       The last book we just published, and this is the Dutch translation of the book “Loaded” if you ever look for it, Sarah Newcomb wrote it. It’s Morning Star research. It talks about the step before financial planning and that’s why it was really interesting for me. I have great confidence that the financial planning aspect, we know. We know how to go about it and technically it’s all right. Then you make this wonderful plan and your client goes out and does something completely stupid.

Why? Did he not hear you? Did he not believe you or did something happen in his decision making process whereby this wonderful financial plan just didn’t stick? That is what we’re looking at, actually the step before the client comes into your practice, but who is he? What’s his story? What’s his feeling about money? What’s his … Maybe he already comes into your office with the idea that he’s not going to like you. It’s quite possible.

We just had an example of a lady that comes in with a financial planner. Financial planner starts paging through his solutions book and suddenly looks up, sees this woman staring at him with a blank stare and says, “Where did I lose you?” She thinks about it and says, “When I got in the car to come here.” He never stood a chance with her if he would talk about financial planning. He needed to talk with her about her.

Hannah:               Yep.

Ben:                       And that is the whole point.

Hannah:               It’s about the client.

Ben:                       It’s about the client. That sounds so easy. The title of one of my last presentations was “Investing: It’s Simple But Not Easy”. That’s the whole problem. Things could be easy except for you get in your own way.

Hannah:               Yep. It’s interesting you took a book and you translated it to Belgium. How does that … I’m just curious about that language difference and-

Ben:                       It’s exactly that if it were a book about the strategies, I might have a cultural issue. It’s a book that talks about the goals, the end goals, then talks about the different strategies people employ, case studies. I would say the strategy may not be universal, but when I first read this book in English, every page was like, “Oh my God, this is my mom, this is my dad, this my sister, that’s my friend, that’s my-” so I started handing these books out to people assuming that we all speak English and assuming that everybody would understand. They came back to me asking, “Well, what does this mean?” And “I do not understand this concept that you’re saying,” and it’s silly little things like I mentioned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Of course, the little boy isn’t called Charlie in my language. The movie is translated.

Basically, advisors told me, “It’s very interesting, but somehow I feel like I’m missing something in nuance.” They actually asked me, “Translate it. Explain it to me in the words that I understand.” This is a very important concept. We have this movement in Belgium right now, talks about [foreign language]. Basically that means, speak my language to me. Experts have this tendency to use acronyms, have this tendency to use concepts, assuming everybody knows what you’re talking about. I’m here to tell you, half of us don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

You’re talking about tax plans that I haven’t even heard about. You’re talking about young people … And this is one of the things we have learned, if you talk to somebody about something they need in their life, they will listen. If you talk to something that they don’t need in their life, it just flies over their head. Talk to a 17 year old about mortgages. He won’t even remember your words until he gets home. Talk to a 27 year old about mortgages, maybe they’re looking at houses. Maybe they’re thinking of going to live with their partner. Then they might listen. If they’re 35, oh my God, yes, they will pay attention because they know what it is.

The timing of your message might also be a very important factor. If the client comes to you in your office, at least there is some sort of question, a need for help. If you go out and have to find new clients, maybe. What is your message? The client might say, “I’m not interested right now in my life because I think,” and this I’ve heard a lot, “you need to have money before you go to a financial planner.” I would say no. Of course, as a business, I prefer clients with money because then I can do something. Actually the people that have money problems, might be the ones that you can most easily help. Millennials, a lot of university are offering peer counseling these days. I would say that’s perfect. You get to train on people with no money. Those are the most interesting cases. When you start your practice, make sure you get a couple of clients with money because they have to pay the bills, of course.

Hannah:               What would your advice be to young planners as they start out their careers wanting to do true financial planning like we’ve talked about?

Ben:                       Get a mentor. Do internship. Look at somebody that has been doing it. Try to figure out what you like about them and what they don’t like about them. One of the problems is nobody seems to know for sure what the difference is between a financial planner, a trustee, a trust company, a life planner, a wealth manager, a family office. All these people are doing, I would say, aspects of a total concept. Some are happy with just that aspect. If you’re not really, I would say, a people person, then money management might be just the thing for you. Maybe you need a partner that is better with the people to relate your very clever ideas to them and to connect with them.

If you do an internship with a trust company, I’ll say this. I visited a couple of planners and trust companies over the past week. There was something that struck me. I don’t think this is typical. I was with a trust company and during the conversation, they said, “Well, we don’t really like our clients to walk in the door of our office. We want to do the work.” That was strange to me because a trustee would be your most trusted advisor, I would say. While the planning office we visited said, “We like nothing better than that our clients walk in to tell us sweet nothings about their life. ‘Hey look I bought a dog. I got a new car. My daughter just graduated.’ Because most of our meetings are an hour long. 50 minutes of them are about their life and in the last 10 minutes, we say, ‘Okay, let’s do a quick check. Where are we with our plan? Is the plan still in tune with your life? Do we need to make adjustments or are we on track?’ That might only be 5 minutes but the whole basis of that plan is their life.”

I don’t want to say that trust company is wrong in what they do. I will say maybe they should, maybe they do, work together with planners that take care of the actual family and they do the trustee work. I would find it very strange. I don’t think I would feel comfortable with a trustee that doesn’t want to talk to me.

Hannah:               Right. Yeah. Great. Well, is there anything else or any final thoughts that you have?

Ben:                       This is my first time here. I am not a financial planner. I just started a business with a financial planner who I believe is already quite good with all this stuff and talking to people but still, this guy, and this comes again to the [foreign language] effect, he knows what he’s talking about. The more he knows, the more he realizes he doesn’t know enough. That’s why he asked me to join his company and say, “Help me think about the behavior of my clients. Help me help them think about their behavior.”

I would say a lot of financial planners have never thought about this and when I was at Kansas State University, the institute of financial planning, personal financial planning, the response I get from the students as well as the response I get from institutional advisors, anybody you talk about this, it reaches them because it’s about their life. If you do presentation, if you go to present yourself with a company you want to apply for a job, try not talking about yourself. I am sure you’re going to get questions about you, but try talking about them.

Look on their website before you go there and say, “I saw that you want to focus on this. That is just great. Tell me more about that.” At the end of a conversation of 30 minutes, 50 minutes, if the person in front of you has talked about their life, they’re going to think, “Wow, this was a great conversation. That’s a great guy.” If you talk about you, you may have given them a good impression or a bad impression. They won’t necessarily remember you. I would say do something to stand out. Say something to surprise them. Say something to get out of their comfort zone, but mostly, have them talk about themselves. That’s what people remember.

Hannah:               It’s all about making people feel good.

Ben:                       Yes. Make them happy. Pursuit of happiness.

Hannah:               Yes. Great. Well thank you so much for joining us.

Ben:                       Thank you for having me.

Hannah:               We hope you enjoyed this episode. Before we close, I want to invite you to join us in the FPA Activate Facebook group. There is a growing group of engaged, new planners who are helping to move our profession forward. Not only is this group a great community to be part of, we’re actually going to show you how to do financial planning and do it well. We’ll get into the nitty gritty of what that looks like and we’ll give you the tools that you need in order to be successful. So, go to Facebook and search for “FPA Activate” and join us. We can’t wait to meet you. And as always, thank you for listening. We’ll talk with you next week.

 

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Live Big with Dr. Dave Yeske

Today we are incredibly excited to have Dr. Dave Yeske, CFP® back with us on #YAFPNW.  He is one of the giants in our profession and was recently selected as the 2017 P. Kemp Fain, Jr., Award recipient.

The P. Kemp Fain, Jr., Award is the highest recognition in the financial planning profession. It’s a lifetime achievement award given by the FPA and the list of recipients holds our profession’s elite.

Dave loves our profession and his excitement about financial planning is infectious. He has a long list of credentials and his articles continue to help move our profession forward.  Dave is continually giving to our profession and helping to shape it as the Practioner Editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and as the director of Golden Gate University’s financial planning program.

In this episode, Dave shows us a blueprint to leaving our mark on the financial planning profession. He shares his insights on what the profession means to him and the importance of growing the financial planning community together.

hannah's signature

“People like to work with people who are excited about what they’re doing.”

Things You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • The why and how of staying passionate about financial planning.
  • The importance of finding your tribe.
  • The background of Dave’s research in Evidence-Based Financial Planning.
  • How financial planning does not simply involve the “art and science,” but how it’s the artful application of science in all areas, including the “interior” side of planning.
  • Where Dave sees the financial planning profession growing when we finally have the confidence in what we bring to the table.
  • How the big problems facing our profession can only be solved together.
  • Why “Live Big” is the tagline of Dave’s financial planning firm.

Elizabeth Jetton

CFP® Professionals

Michael Kitces

Dr. Wade D. Pfau, PhD, CFA®

Retirement Researcher

Michael Finke, PhD, CFP®

Foundation for Financial Planning

XY Planning Network

 

Show Transcript

Ep65 Transcript


 

Dave Yeske:                     Volunteering is kind of addicting, you know? Once you get wrapped up in FPA and any other ways in which you’re engaging with your profession as a whole, it’s not that easy to give up. Passion has a way of building momentum. And so then you just have to figure out how to do both: build your business and manage and maintain all the volunteer activities.

Hannah Moore:              You’re listening to You’re a Financial Planner, Now What? The Podcast to help you fast track your career, by bringing you meaningful conversations on topics that influence new financial planners, their careers, and the lives of their clients. I’m your host, Hannah Moore, a certified financial planner, firm owner, and practicing financial planner.

Today I’m excited to have Dr. Dave Yeske, the 2017 P. Kemp Fain, Jr., Award winner on the show. The P. Kemp Fain, Jr., Award is a pinnacle of recognition in the financial planning profession. It’s essentially a lifetime achievement award given by the FPA. It was started in 1993 and, needless to say, the recipients are some of the best of the best. As a bonus, we’ve Roy Diliberto on the show. He received the award in 2015 and is part of this year’s selection committee.

Thanks for joining us, Roy. Can you tell us why Dr. Dave Yeske was selected for the 2017 P. Kemp Fain, Jr., Award?

Roy Diliberto:                  He was one of the first presidents of the PA back in 2003. So, he served very well as president but after his presidency he went on to many, many other things. He’s a mentor for other financial planners in the residency program. As a matter of fact this year he will be the dean of that program. Very, very involved in academia, he’s a distinguished adjunct professor at Golden Gate University School of Business. And he’s the director of Golden Gate University’s Financial Planning program. They’ve just started a graduate program for financial planners, and they’re now taking candidates for that. He teaches Capstone Cases in the financial planning course at Golden Gate. He’s written many, many articles. And one of the things that I’ve noticed about David is that David is a frequent speaker at the National Conferences, and every time I hear David he has something new to offer. It’s usually very, very thought provoking. He has just given himself so much over the years that he, in my opinion, exemplifies what P. Kemp Fain is about.

And by the way, one of the people who nominated David Yeske this time was Paul Fain. And, as a matter of fact, let me see if I can find this, he said something I thought was really interesting. Ah, here it is. He said, in my 29 years in the financial planning profession, I have never met anyone, other than my father, who has impacted the profession in more ways, affecting more people, with more passion for financial planning than Dave Yeske.

That pretty much summarizes it, doesn’t it? So, I think it was an easy choice this year, for the committee.

Hannah Moore:              Thank you for joining us again today, Dave.

Dave Yeske:                     My pleasure, always happy to be here.

Hannah Moore:              First of all congratulations on the P. Kemp Fain, Jr., Award. That is such a huge accomplishment.

Dave Yeske:                     Well thank you so much. It’s all so humbling. You know, I went back and looked at the list of people who have received this and thought wow, I can’t believe I get to join that club.

Hannah Moore:              So, what was it like when you received that phone call?

Dave Yeske:                     You know, it was just hard to know what to think about it. It’s certain I have so many reasons I have to talk to various people in the profession including Shannon Pike, and so when I saw that he was calling, I didn’t really know what to expect. So it caught me quite by surprise, I’ll just say it felt wonderful. It’s one of those things that gives you the … just the sense that maybe the stuff I’ve been doing, maybe the stuff I’ve been passionate about really is worthwhile. It’s just nice to get that acknowledgement. And I think back, I had the opportunity to present the P. Kemp Fain, Jr., Award to Dick Wagner in 2003. He’s the one, for me he’s sort of been the epitome … I mean everyone who’s ever received it is worthy and impressive and has done great work to advance the profession, but Dick, for me, was a great personal thing. In a sense it makes me feel even closer to Dick, that I’ve been chosen for this incredible honor.

Hannah Moore:              Coming off of that, what does this award mean to you?

Dave Yeske:                     I’m about to use the word validation, but I’m not really sure that’s the right word. For me, I think it means that a lot of stuff I’ve been working on over the years, that really mattered to me, that I thought was important so I put energy into it. You don’t think about it, when you get swept up in something, whether it’s teaching or mentoring or the work I’ve done in the area of evidence based financial planning. Again, you don’t think about it, you just get swept up in it, and to all of a sudden have this award show up in my life. It’s like, wow, I guess the stuff that mattered so much to me maybe it’s real, maybe it matters to other people as well.

Hannah Moore:              So, I think it’s fair to say that the work that you’ve done, even just in receiving this honor, is just recognition that you’re very important to this profession. But, and I know that this may seem like an odd question, but how important is this profession to you? Like what has this profession meant to you?

Dave Yeske:                     Wow. Well this profession’s been everything to me. You know I was one of those people who went through a couple of careers before I found my way to financial planning and this is the one that is just so meaningful. I think I was always called to meaningful work, but I just didn’t know what that was going to be. And then I found financial planning and realized, oh I can do something that it certainly would allow me to make a living, support myself and my family, but it’s gonna be meaningful. It’s going to be something where I feel like I’m making a difference in the world. I call myself a financial planning evangelist, and it’s because I feel that way about it. I feel so deeply that financial planning has the power to transform lives for the better, and that we have a responsibility to use that power to make the world a better place. We’re dealing with incredible forces, when we’re dealing with financial planning.

I’ve been working with Elizabeth Jetton on this new introduction to financial life planning class, and it’s just a constant reminder that, as Dick liked to say, money is the single most powerful secular force on the planet. It is the material force through which we interact with the world and with each other. And so it becomes very fraught, it’s a huge source of stress for people. It’s a huge source of anxiety. It could be a huge negative for people’s health. But flipped around, if people can come to terms with their relationship with money, with the help of a financial planner, all of a sudden now they can feel at ease. They can feel in control, they can know that they can care for aging parents, and educate their kids, and provide for a comfortable retirement. And not have this sort of ill-defined vague fear in the back of their mind all the time, that they don’t know the path they’re on. They don’t know how to control the money forces in their lives.

We as financial planners we’re, again I’m quoting Dick Wagner, we’re kind of the secular priests in this world of money. And we have to take that responsibility seriously. But it’s also tremendously satisfying. You know a month doesn’t go by, that a client on the phone or sitting across the conference table from me, doesn’t say something along the lines of, my life is better because you’re in it. And I know I’m not the only who has that experience. And I know I’m not the only one that feels that way. So, I guess I could go on and on, but that’s what it means to me to have found my way to financial planning and have the privilege to practice this art with my clients.

Hannah Moore:              I love that. So, have you always had this passion for this profession?

Dave Yeske:                     Well, you know, it’s funny. I’m gonna out myself. When I first started to make a move into financial planning, I had a sense of what it could be. I had been working for a company, the Paul Revere Insurance group, which long ago got absorbed into Provident Life and Accident, which got absorbed into Unum. I was a brokerage rep, which means I was calling on insurance brokers, stock brokers, financial planners, anyone with a life and disability license. I was representing my company’s portfolio products. And I fell myself more and more gravitating toward the financial planners, so the certified financial planner pros. And realizing that they seem to have my dream job.

I enrolled in a CFP education program, and I’m making all the preparations to start my own office and really at the time, becoming a CFP was kind of a checklist. It’s like, okay, gotta rent some office space, gotta buy some computers check, gotta have professional designation okay, gonna go for the CFP check, and somehow over the course of the, whatever it was, 18 months that it took me to complete my studies. I just had this utter transformation. Something about the process transformed the way I thought about what I was going to do. And all of a sudden it no longer felt like I was starting a business, it felt like I was entering a profession. And one that was meaningful, one that was where I was gonna make a difference in the world.

So, I guess by the time I opened my doors, yes I was feeling that way. I was feeling passionate about it, I was feeling like I going to be doing something meaningful, or was going to require me to find a few clients, and that took a while. Everybody goes through that if you start from scratch.

Hannah Moore:              So, what were some other of the key or defining moments that you had as a young planner that really helped shape the Dave Yeske that we know now?

Dave Yeske:                     Some of them were really getting involved as a volunteer. I remember I was at an ICFP retreat at Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Back in those days the retreats were always held on college campuses. I think partly because college campuses were represented inexpensive housing in the summer. Anyway, I was in a break out section, and Terry Simon, who I think was the president-elect at the time, was leading this break out section. I can be kind of mouthy, and I spoke up and said, hey, if there’s a San Francisco society of the ICFP it’s not on my radar screen. And Terry took two big steps across the circle and stuck his finger in my chest and said, you’re right, it’s a problem, and I think you need to fix it.

And the next thing I knew, he was hooking me up with some staffers. And then the next year of my life was devoted to organizing this San Francisco society. Pulling in friends and colleagues who were financial planners in the San Francisco Bay area. That was really transformative for me. It could be very lonely being a financial planner if you’re just sitting in an office by yourself, which I was. Sort of bouncing off the four walls. And all of a sudden I had a reason, I had a purposeful activity, around which I could gather some friends and some colleagues, and all of a sudden I had a community. And when you have a community it just deepens and activates your focus even more. And so we were now suddenly there were six of us and eight of us, then there were 100 of us that were all focused on moving this whole thing forward in a meaningful way.

I think that was a big part of it for me, was having Terry Simon stick his finger at my chest and say, you need to do something about this. And having an excuse to conjure a gathering of like-minded colleagues and then just building on that energy and building that community. In the San Francisco FPA chapter, is to this day a wonderful community that I’m proud to be a part of. We’re gonna have a chapter meeting this afternoon, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Hannah Moore:              So as you continued with your practice and you started finding clients, and building up your practice, was there ebbs and flows with that? Or how did you really find balance between your practice, your clients, and this passion that you have for the profession?

Dave Yeske:                     That is such a great question, and I’ll say that my commitment to the profession, my commitment to FPA, actually just kept growing, even as my practice was growing. And they seemed to go together. I think back to 2003, the year that I had the privilege of serving as president of FPA, and my practice actually grew at that time even though it was a time of maniac activity. I mean, I think the first five months of the year I figured out I’d been out of the office something like 60% of the time. On the road, doing various board meetings, and meeting with chapters, and meeting with people in DC and New York. And yet my practice was growing. When I thought about it, I realized it was for two reasons.

First of all, I’m a terrible procrastinator, and I heard someone, some time management expert at one point, say that, if you’re not getting your work done in a given day you should crunch the container. Actually artificially restrict the amount of time you’re working in the office. And that sometimes people get much more efficient. And I found that, for me, all the FP and volunteer work was crunching my container. I could put things off one day at a time forever, but all of a sudden if I’m gonna be out of town for a week, I’m not putting it off one day, I’m putting it off for a week. And so I would tend to get much more efficient.

But the most important thing, and I believe this has been true my entire career as a financial planner, is that these activities were so charging my batteries, that when I was back in the office, when I was talking to clients, and most especially when I was talking to prospective clients, I would get wound up. I’d get excited. I mean, their hair would be blowing back. People would say, my God, you’re really excited about this, aren’t you? And I’d say, yes, this is important. This matters. And what I discovered is that people like to work with people who are excited about what they are doing. And so anything that was charging my batteries, to the degree that this volunteer work was charging my batteries, it was actually making people want to work with me. I found, for me, it wasn’t really a trade-off, it wasn’t an either/or, they sort of went hand in hand.

Hannah Moore:              It’s a really good perspective and one I don’t know that I’ve heard before, of how volunteering and really channeling that passion can help you in your business.

Dave Yeske:                     It certainly worked for me. I will say I’ve had a lot of people over the years come up to me and say, well Dave, you seem to have done a lot of volunteer work, and it seems like you’re successful as financial planner, maybe I should volunteer, too, what do you recommend? And my advice has always been the same, and that is if you volunteer because you think there’s gonna be like a one to one relationship between your volunteer work and some subsequent success, it’s just not gonna work. In my experience, it’s the people who volunteer because they’re not capable of doing otherwise, because they are drawn to it. Those are the people who probably are gonna have some success in their profession as well, but it’s not because of the volunteer work. It’s the whole correlation does not equal causation. I think it’s not that the volunteer work causes the success, I think the people who are called to volunteer are also likely to be successful, just because they care, they are passionate, they have energy for it.

Anyway, I think I lost your question somewhere along the way there.

Hannah Moore:              I love what you just said. You used the word called, and I don’t feel like that’s a term … I feel like I hear people using that kind of on the side, and kind of in quiet whispers. But that there is almost a sense of calling when you really start looking at people who have done very well in this profession.

Dave Yeske:                     And it’s a calling that arrives, I think when you look around and you say, first of all, I didn’t create this thing, I have the privilege of practicing financial planning, but I didn’t create it. It was created by others. And it came out of a community of practice, and if we’re gonna be successful, if we’re gonna the impact on the world that we can, that I know we can, we’re gonna do it as a community. We’re gonna do it together. At some point you can’t, for me anyway, you can’t not feel like you owe it to the community to give back. I mean, I’ve been the beneficiary of countless efforts of so many colleagues over the last 45 years, and in whatever way I can I feel like I need to give back. I need to sort of pull my share of the burden. Although, it doesn’t feel like a burden. Everything I do in the profession just feels like fun. So I do think it’s a calling, and so many of my colleagues I’ve gotten to know over the years doing volunteer work, they clearly also feel it’s a calling.

And I love that. I love being around that maniac energy of people who just donate because they can’t not do it, because it’s important, because they feel like they are changing the world and they are. So, yeah, calling. I would definitely embrace that word.

Hannah Moore:              Even just the, you’re a financial planning evangelist, I mean those words are very, very powerful. And I think, I hope, a lot of the young planners who are listening to this can really relate to that on a very deep level.

Dave Yeske:                     I do, too. And I will say that I meet lots of planners of sort of all ages and all stages of career. Some of it through my work with residency, and some of it with my work with students, and I will say I see just as much passion, just as much sense of altruistic mission among new planners as among anyone else. And, in fact, I find that when I’m talking to fellow instructors or when I’m talking to mentors in the residency program, I will often counsel that one must be very cautious or, I’m not sure cautious is the right word, but you just have to be kind of gentle and caring when you talk about the profession around newer planners, or planner wannabes. Because they tend to have a vision of the profession as something really special, and you need to treat it that way.

I knew of a situation in a residency where a mentor made a joke that really upset some of the residents because their view of the profession was so pure and this joke was not so pure, I think it’s something to be cultivated. I think people show up with this vision of the profession as something truly special and something, and as a sacred trust. And so I think that that needs to be respected and cultivated to make sure it really takes root. There’s nothing worse than being cynical about what you do as a living, or what you do for a living. And there’s nothing better than feeling like it’s a calling as we’ve been discussing.

Hannah Moore:              Shifting gears a bit, you’ve been in this profession for a while. So, what are the greatest advances that you’ve seen us make as a financial planning community and profession?

Dave Yeske:                     I’m gonna say we’ve made huge advances on two fronts. I believe that there needs to be balance between the interior and the exterior if we’re gonna be effective financial planners. And, back in the 90s we saw a couple of big shifts. On the exterior side you might say the quantitative side … the work that Lin Hopewell did, to introduce the cast of modeling into our body of knowledge. And I talked to young planners today and they sort of can’t believe that it wasn’t always there, but the reality is that, as a profession, we went along for decades without that in our toolkit. And that turns out to be really important.

The other thing that really came together in the 90s was the emergence of financial life planning. And the recognition that you can’t do good financial planning unless you’re capable through both knowledge and skills of getting deep into the interior realm with your clients. The operating instructions for the plan, they live inside your client’s heads. And so if you can’t get in there with them, you’re not gonna know what the plan should look like.

I once heard a financial planner say, I know what my client’s need even before they walk in my office. I think there were a lot of financial planner at one time who operated that way. And the reality is we don’t know what our clients need before they walk in our office. We don’t know what our clients need in order to live satisfying, the kind of satisfying lives that they deserve, until we’ve done deep discovery. And probably return to it again and again and again, in building our relationship and building our understanding of the interior landscape of the client. Because financial planning is not about maximizing along some financial dimension. If that were the case we’d tell our clients never to retire. That’s not optimal. Now, from a purely financial standpoint, it’s about helping people take whatever financial resources they have and using them to the fullest in order to realize their vision for their life for themselves and their family. And you just can’t do that without deep discovery.

And the other piece that I’ll say is that at one level the quantitative part of what we do is easy. It’s change that’s hard. Individuals struggle with change. Whether it’s environmental change that’s imposed upon them, or there is a death in the family, or loss of a job, or gaining a new job, or an inheritance, it doesn’t have to be bad things. People comes to us to help them cope with that change. And it’s volitional change. People want to figure out how they can retire, how they can educate their kids, how they can achieve other goals. In every case, they have to adapt, they have to change their behavior in some way. And we’re called upon to be those sort of thought partners, those coaches, to help them change their behaviors in a way that allows them to realize their goals. To implement the strategies we come up with.

And that takes a special skill set. You have to be a little bit counselor, a little bit coach, a little bit strategist, and it’s the growing understanding of our role as not just number cruncher, but as strategist and coach and facilitator, that I think has been one of the most powerful shifts I’ve seen in the profession.

Hannah Moore:              You had said that there were two different changes, or was that the interior/exterior?

Dave Yeske:                     That was more the internal/external. If you look at the work that’s being done by MIchael Kitces and Wade Pfau, and Michael Finke, I mean there are a lot of people out there that are doing good quantitative work. They’re talking the work that Lin Hopewell did when he really shifted our understanding of what it means to understand the quantitative or exterior realm, and they keep taking it deeper and deeper. And that’s important. In my own doctoral research, I found interestingly I had built a model, and we’ve talked about this in a prior webcast, but I built a model that described the different aspects of a financial planner’s relationship with clients And it included the data driven realm, the sort of quantitative realm, and also the relationship driven realm. The life planning, financial life planning realm that involves deep interior work. And what I found was that when you’re measuring those modes of engagement against client trust or relationship commitment, that the data driven realm actually scored higher than the relationship driven realm.

When we’ve actually talked to clients one on one about it, they’ll say things like, well yeah, I want to have a good relationship with my planner, but I need to know they have a big brain first. And we need to remember that as financial planners, we need to be able to go into that interior realm, but we are financial planners and clients still rely on us to have the skill set to understand the numbers and to understand the numbers and the economy, and the markets, and how to analyze them in a really nuanced way. I’ve done some subsequent research in this area, where I’ve tried to measure the degree to which financial planners were balanced across the different realms, you had a balance between the data and the relationship driven modes, and the policy driven mode, which is sort of in the middle. And what I have found again and again is that as a profession we’re balanced. If you mush everyone’s results together, you see really nice balance across these different modes of engagement. But when you look at planners individually, we all tend to have these sort of strategic comfort zones.

And you’ll see that some planners are really skewed very heavily towards the financial life planning side, and they’re spending a lot of their time and resources and developing all of their skills in that area, where others are focusing entirely on the exterior quantitative realm. And everything my research is suggesting is that we need to have a balance. You can’t slip into your comfort zone.

Hannah Moore:              Well I think it really speaks to this idea that we have to continue to hone our craft.

Dave Yeske:                     Yes.

Hannah Moore:              And always be looking for ways to make ourselves better and if you’re too much on the interior side, our clients are expecting the competency of the exterior.

Dave Yeske:                     Right, and you have responsibility to bring both. We owe that to our clients. It’s this whole notion of also being evidence based. There’s a lot of talk about … we always hear about the art and science of financial planning, and historically that referred to … the way it was used often referred to the science being our understanding of economics and financial markets and portfolio theory, and tax codes, and all of that. And then the art was this sort of mushy relationship related stuff. And I always thought that was a mistake. That the interior realm stuff is also science. We have a lot of science related to communication theory, neuroscience, psychology, there’s a lot of science on the interior realm. When I think of the art, it’s more like the artful application of the best available science in both the interior and the exterior. There’s room for creativity, but let’s not suggest the human stuff doesn’t have as much science behind it as the rest.

And so we need to be evidence based, we owe it to our clients, and if we make a recommendation, or we use a technique to try and help them affect change, that that’s founded on some reasonable evidence. They have a reason to ask, is this really the best way to do it, and why do you think so? And we better have an answer. So, the life-long learning, it’s critical, we need to accept it, we need to own it, we need to embrace it. And the life-long learning needs to be balanced. I’ve worked on developing some kind of a scoring system, and I need to probably go back to that, where planners can actually get a score that suggests how balanced they are across these different modes. And if they have slipped into a strategic comfort zone that’s skewed one way or the other, then that could be a wakeup call to go out there and start building up the other skill sets. So that there is that balance.

Hannah Moore:              When you get that done, let us know, and we’ll be sure to send that out. Because it seems like such a valuable tool of just self-assessment. Of saying, where do I need to grow? Do I need to grow in the technical space, or do I need grow in that communication space?

Dave Yeske:                     If you’re paying attention, it’s getting easier in that if you read the journal of financial planning, the research based contributions tend to be balanced over time, over the course of a year, they tend to be balanced across both the interior and the exterior realms. And if you go to a conference, whether a retreat or annual conference, both realms are well represented. I guess it’s just a question of making sure you dip into both realms and not concentrate on just one track.

Hannah Moore:              So we talked about kind of where you’ve seen the profession and your career, kind of the advancements that we’ve made. Looking forward, where do you see the profession continuing over the next 30 or 50 years?

Dave Yeske:                     I think that one of the things that’s going to become a bigger role for financial planners, is represented by what Dick Wagner called finology. And that was recognizing that people have a bigger relationship to money than just saving in their 401k and then trying to put their money into a 529 to send their kids to college. That our relationship with money goes deeper than that. And it’s quite ancient. Money is the second most frequent topic in the bible, and the bible goes back before money existed in the form we know it today. I think there’s a bigger role for financial planners to be the mediators of people’s relationship with money. Not just on specific topics, but in general.

And that means understanding money, in every manifestation. Understanding money more deeply, in terms of the literature of money. Money in art, the history of money, money as sociology. I think there are ways in which we can go deeper and deeper in our understanding of money, and therefore there are ways we can go deeper, not just with our clients, but with the world.

I don’t think financial planners have even come close to showing up in the wide world to the degree we could and should. The government just doesn’t come to financial planners and ask us to opine about public policy that involves money and finances and people’s relationship with it. And yet we are the ones who have a better understanding based on our relationship with clients and based on our special knowledge, of the impact and whether you’re proposing a change to the tax law, or just about any kind of legislation, affects people in a material way.

And we are the ones who are interacting with people, we’re the ones who are advising people on the material aspect of their lives, and so we understand what the impact is going to look like. And how it’s going to impact individuals, and how they’re gonna have to navigate that. And so the fact that we’re not consulted more often by government, by academic leaders, by non-profits, NGOs, it’s unfortunate, it’s a waste. And I think some of it is because we don’t feel grown up enough. I don’t think we have the confidence that we deserve. I think, as individual practitioners and especially as a profession, we need to step into that space. We need to grow up and be confidant, that our opinion matters. And people should be seeking it. And we should be offering it.

And so I think there’s a maturation that we have not yet achieved in believing in ourselves. That I think is going to be an important part of our future development.

Hannah Moore:              From your perspective, again looking forward, what is it gonna look like for us to actually mature in this way?

Dave Yeske:                     I think it’s going to involve financial planners showing up with confidence. And inserting ourselves into public dialogue more frequently. Inserting ourselves into public dialogue and saying, hey, you need to be listening to us because we’re on the front lines with individual human beings and families, and we know how these things are impacting them. And so we need to get noisier in our state houses, we need to get noisier in Washington, we need to get noisier with the academic community.

Economists get a lot of respect, not so much financial planners. And yet economists, their theories of how human beings interact with each other in a sort of material way, in the sense of material exchange, is so incomplete because it’s not grounded in experience. Financial planners, they know what the critical questions of the day are. They know what their clients are struggling with. They know the ways in which they’re struggling. If we think deeply about it from public policy standpoint, we can also ways in which our clients lives can be made better, could be aided by a better public policy.

And so I think we have to get a little noisier. And some of that is already happening. FPA, both nationally and through its chapters, has always had an important advocacy function. And advocacy means reaching out to both government as well as to the media and other channels to speak directly to the public. But I think we need to redouble our efforts. I really think this is where … First of all, we’re never gonna have them monitor resources to change the world. If you look at the money that gets spent in Washington, DC, by any single industry and, for that matter, by just about any publicly traded company, we can never compete with them monetarily. But if, instead, we say, hey, there are 25, 30,000 people who all sort of share this mission, share this purpose. If we can mobilize that, if we can mobilize the human energy, we can start to make things happen. And this is where young planners and old, really need to think in terms of not just how am I going to serve my clients, but how am I gonna serve society.

This is one of those things where it’s very easy to look at government, whether it’s in the state house, whether it’s in Washington, DC, and maybe especially in Washington, DC. And it just seems unseemly. It doesn’t seem like anything we want to be associated with. And it could lead to cynicism about the whole process and a desire to disengage. And I think that’s where we go wrong.

I think we need to lean in, we need to engage individually and as a community. And I think that’s one of the things I’m talking about when I’m saying, we kind of need to grow up, we need to step into our responsibilities as a profession. And not say, politics is unseemly, and nothing I see or read in the newspaper makes me feel any other way. We need to get past that, because we are the ones who understand how families struggle. And we’re the ones who know how we can help them through changes in public policy. And therefore, we need to have a bigger voice, not just directly with government, but through think tanks, and non-governmental organizations, and the media.

I think we need to have some financial planning think tanks. We need to have the equivalent of the think tanks that have been around for decades and centuries, devoted to public policy through the lens of financial planning. Because it’s a unique lens, and it’s a unique perspective. And it’s an important perspective. So, anyway, I could go on and on there. But I think those are some of the ways in which we could step into a new maturity and show up bigger in society, and show up in a way that we are doing more good in society.

Hannah Moore:              I love this. I keep going back to this idea, what does it mean for us to be a profession? And, I think what you’re saying is really that. Is how do we take the next steps? And one of the things that you have said, that we’re the front lines where all these individuals and families, and financial planning still needs to figure out how to serve people who are making $40,000 a year, not just million plus in assets.

Dave Yeske:                     I could not agree more. Now, I will say that not every human being is going to seek out financial planning help. We need to recognize that not everyone is gonna be amenable to that, whatever their income level. But I do think that we need to have different models, especially for the middle range. I mean those who have wealth, they’re always gonna find financial planning advice if they seek it. And then we have pro bono financial planning for those who are particularly in need. And the work of the foundation for financial planning to help facilitate the delivery of pro bono financial planning advice to those in need. And the work by so many FPA members and chapters to come up with programs and to marshal the volunteer energy to serve those in need. I mean that’s just been a wonder to see, and we need a lot more of it. But there’s clearly energy there, there are models for how pro bono financial planning advice can be delivered.

But to your point, if you’re talking about individuals or families, that are living on 30 or 40 or 50 thousand dollars a year, a lot of financial planners are not gearing their services to that group. And we do need to find a way to do that. And I think that people are, you mentioned XY planning network. I’ve not been unaware of the business models that have been emerging out of that group and similar groups. And those, frankly, look to me like some very viable models for serving those of somewhat more modest means.

Hannah Moore:              I keep going back to this idea of we’re a community. It’s not just one person has to figure this out, it’s our community, our body of knowledge. We, as a whole, have to figure this out. Everybody has their role to play in this.

Dave Yeske:                     I agree. We do have to figure it out as a community. The other thing is that we have to figure everything out as a community. It’s been my experience that we all just get better when we come together, and we share ideas, we share our own expertise, but we benefit from the expertise of others. Frankly, I find that when teaching a class or Elisa and I co-teach the capstone class at Golden Gate University, and we also both are deans and mentors in the residency program, and I find that every time I’m teaching a class, every time I’m deaning or mentoring at a residency, I end up coming up away a little bit more transformed myself. I come away as a better financial planner as a consequence of that engagement.

So it’s never a one way street. There’s always an exchange. And every act of mentorship somehow makes me better as a financial planner, every teaching act makes me better as a financial planner. And so that’s the other thing I would invite people to do is step into that role also as a volunteer. Be a guest lecturer at a class, or teach a class. Be a mentor in the residency program, be a mentor through your local chapter. Most every chapter has mentorship programs where more experienced planners can be paired up with newer planners. And I invite anyone with experience to volunteer to be a mentor, because it is an exchange. You will come away transformed. You will come away better for that act of mentorship than you arrived.

Hannah Moore:              And I think it’s important to say, on these mentorships, I mean we’re not saying you have to have 30 years of experience before you can mentor. I mean you can have just a couple years of experience and have the experience and advice to really enhance somebody else.

Dave Yeske:                     I completely agree. One of the things we do … here at Yeske Buie we have an in residence program where we hire new financial planning grads to come in and work for three years and then they graduate. We’re kind of like a teaching hospital. And one of these things as we do as they enter that third year, is we try and find them an external mentor. And very often the external mentors we’re pairing them up with are people who have only been in the profession for a few years.

But they may have a particular kind of experience that’s gonna be relevant to what this resident wants to do when they graduate. You make an excellent point. And the word should go out. You might only have two years of experience, you might have three years of experience, but it might be a really relevant experience for someone who’s just starting out.

Hannah Moore:              It’s such an easy way to give back, and to really help change the profession in very tangible way.

Dave Yeske:                     It really is.

Hannah Moore:              So, Dave, I want to … you talked about Yeske Buie. Your firm’s tag line is live big. So, I was wondering if you could just explain to us what live big means, or rather, how would you explain live big to your clients? If somebody was to come in and say, what’s up with this tag line?

Dave Yeske:                     So the thing about live big is there’s also a further tag line that we use that says, it goes, it’s about the size of your life, not the size of your wallet. And the notion of live big has always been … It doesn’t mean live large, it doesn’t mean be gross about money. What it means is to make the most of whatever financial resources you have, to live an expansive life. And this is the thing that we focus with with clients, is helping them dream their way into the most expansive life that’s consistent with their available resources.

When we started out, when Elise and I merged our firms to form Yeske Buie, it was January 1 of 2008, and we didn’t quite realize at the time that the world was about to come to an end. With the great recession and all of the fear and anxiety that went along with that. And so, we’re rolling out this new firm, this new identity, we’re talking about live big, and the world is coming to an end. People are terrified, and there was a real risk that that was gonna be misconstrued. Especially in a time like that.

And it turned out that we were able to leverage that into an identity that people really understood. So it was early 2009 and the worst of the recession and the worst of the market meltdown, although no one knew that. And people were still feeling traumatized. And Elise had this great idea of a post that was called, what does it mean to live big in these trying times? And what that led to was the Live Big List. We essentially invited people to think about things they could do that took little or no money, but would represent sort of an expansive way of thinking about the world and their lives. I mean it could be something like, write a letter to a soldier, take a dog for a walk around the block, borrow a dog if you don’t have one, invite some friends over and watch all those silly Netflix movies that you haven’t ever gotten around to. The list went on and on.  We actually had a family gathering and we asked everyone to add something to the list, then we floated it out to our clients and they added something to the list.

And it grew and grew. It just became this real focal point, where all of a sudden people were always, oh, live big, that’s not about money, that’s just about having an expansive notion of how to be in the world. And yeah, sometimes it involves making the most of your financial resources, but it really starts with vision. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Hannah Moore:              Well it’s just this essence of what is financial planning? And I think that’s such a beautiful way of just relating that to your clients and helping them realize money’s just the means.

Dave Yeske:                     Thank you for putting it that way. I do feel that way. It is the essence of financial planning. It’s having an expansive vision.  You know the problem is, and everyone who has practiced financial planning for five minutes has experienced this, people show up in our office and they have no idea how to think about money in their lives. They don’t know what path they’re on, they have no clue what path they’re on, and they’re walking around editing themselves constantly, often assuming the worst. And so what we find is that when we actually do bring the magic of financial planning to bear on someone’s situation, and we do it in service of their vision, their expansive vision of their lives … There’s a bigger vision available for the given resources than they ever believed.

And so we have a responsibility to help bring their dreams into full flowering, and then to help analyze their resources in light of those dreams, and then help them arrive at the biggest version of those dreams that’s possible with their resources. And, as I said, it’s almost invariably a bigger version of those dreams than they even thought was possible. This is the beauty and the magic of financial planning.

Hannah Moore:              And what’s so great is once people taste it, whether that’s clients, whether that’s professionals, and they really see this pure financial planning. It’s like you could never go back. You’re hooked.

Dave Yeske:                     Right, it’s true.

Hannah Moore:              So, your bio is very long and you’re getting the lifetime achievement award of financial planners, and there’s still more to come. At the end of the day, what is kind of the core of what you want to be known for as it relates to your career? What’s been most important to you?

Dave Yeske:                     I think I’d like to be known for sort of the evidenced based financial planning work. This idea of bringing more science to bear on the practice of financial planning. And building deeper and more integrated relationships between the community of practice and the academic community. I’ve done a little, I hope to do more. You can only focus your energies on so many things, and for me that’s a huge one, and that’s the one where I hope to leave a mark. Is, I guess, bringing an acceptance into our community of practice that, you know what, I need that better understanding of the notion of science, and how it can apply to how I practice. I don’t have to be a scientist, I don’t have to be a researcher. I should probably be a good consumer of research done by others, and I should probably understand that I need to have a better relationship with the academic community.

Because the financial planners are on the front line. They understand the critical questions of the day, but they don’t necessarily know how to get those questions answered. The academics have the formal tools of research, that’s their profession. But they’re not on the front line the way the planners are. They don’t know what those critical questions are. And so, we need to have a better partnership, and as practitioners, we still need to have a little bit of a foot in the academic side. So I’ve done a little bit of work in that area, I hope to do more. But I think maybe that’s what I’d most like to be remembered for.

Hannah Moore:              Thanks for joining us in this episode of You’re a Financial Planner, Now What? And congratulations again to Dr. Dave Yeske for winning this well-deserved award. As a reminder, if you haven’t joined the FPA Activate Facebook community, please do so. You can find the link on our website at FinancialPlannerPodcast.com or you can go to Facebook and search for the FPA Activate. We’ll talk again next week.

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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

 

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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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What We Wish We Knew Before Starting Over

We are excited to have Bill, Katie, and Dave back to continue our conversation we started in last week’s episode. This week we discuss what we learned starting over at a new firm and even starting out on our own.

Each advisor shares their perspective on what helped make them successful in starting over – from mentors to study groups to professional organizations. Even if you aren’t thinking of starting over, this episode is filled with tips on how to continue your professional development.

We hope you enjoy this podcast and this new format! Be sure to connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn or via email.

Your career matters and we are here to help you be exceptional financial planners.

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I think that’s the point of having mentors in the industry and having peers that are doing something similar to what you’re doing or ideally a couple of years ahead of you… because you don’t have to figure it out all by yourself.

Simonet Financial Group

Your Richest Life

Retirement Matters

Guiding Wealth Management

Become a CFP® Professional

Toastmasters International

The Financial Planning Association®

Sophia Bera, CFP®

XY Planning Network

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

NAPFA Genesis

Alan Moore

Sudden Money

Fox Financial Planning Network

 

Show Transcript

Ep59 Transcript


Hannah:               Let’s first talk … I think most of us have worked as employees. Bill, maybe … I guess you have too.

Bill:                         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hannah:               Let’s talk about what we wish we would’ve known before we started as employees for somebody else, and then we can go into what we wish we had known starting out on our own.

Bill:                         Okay. I’ll go first. What I wish I would’ve known as an employee, it’s how structured things may have been and I think really how the relationship worked. Through all the tools, and the resources, and the education that my employer was providing me, I used those to service and help my clients and really take them to where I thought it was most appropriate for them, guiding them through whatever the products or whatever the services were that we were talking about. I really wish we could’ve understood how the relationship was between me and my employer. Who was I ultimately beholden to and why? I think that would’ve been nice to know from the onset.

Hannah:               So who’s paying your paycheck?

Bill:                         Yeah, exactly. Working at the insurance company, the culture there is very in-depth. You gotta believe in the product, you gotta believe in the structure, you gotta believe in your district manager all the way up to the corporate office. The incentives to go on the annual trips are always great, but that tends to come first, and then we start talking about the clients. When I came into the position really understanding that it was a sales position and that at the end of the day I was doing everything that I could primarily for the company, that would’ve been good to know on the onset. I think it would’ve changed my expectations about working there, and it may have helped me better assimilate into that culture, at least for that time, versus thinking that everything was about the client and then when I ended up transitioning, it turned into more of a conflict than anything else.

Hannah:               Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Dave, how about you? Before you started working as an employee, I know you’ve worked at a handful of firms, what do you wish you would’ve known walking into those firms?

Dave:                    I think I’d have loved to have told myself just to slow down, appreciate everything that people are trying to impart to you in terms of knowledge or skills, and really understand why they’re telling you that. There’s a reason why you’re given someone who is maybe five, 10 years your senior because they’ve been through everything you’ve been through. If you get a good quality person who’s training you, you need to spend as much time as you can with them because they are going to make you the better advisor than what you are now.

I was in a support role for six years. I looked back and I sometimes think, was that long enough? Now I’m on the front lines and I’m dealing with client fires all the time. Could I have learned some other skills and maybe spent a little bit more time training and understanding how other people would’ve dealt with this who’ve been through it five to 10 years ahead of me? I don’t think that’s typically our generation. Our Gen Y generation is typically the on demand generation. They want things now because we can, but I don’t think that’s the right way to develop into this career. You gotta take some time.

Bill:                         You bring up a really good point, Dave. I think maybe not necessarily going straight into client facing is the right approach when coming into this industry. Maybe spending some time in operations and underwriting and client servicing, things like that, would be really good for an advisor to understand what the inner workings of a financial planning or investment advisory firm actually is. That would’ve been a nice progression into this field.

Dave:                    Yeah. It’s definitely frustrating when you go through it because you want to get to the end goal. You want to be that client facing person, but even if you jump forward five years, if you think you’re gonna be starting your firm at any point in the future, if you don’t know how to open an account with a custodian, you’re not serving your client well. You need to be able to learn all of that back office stuff before you can have an adequate conversation and follow through with it in the future.

Bill:                         Or decide whether or not you’re gonna hire someone, right?

Dave:                    Yeah. Oh yeah.

Hannah:               But even when you have somebody, it’s like the buck stops with me. I review the paperwork before it goes out to my client. I still have to know that.

Katie:                    I agree. It’s the same thing I tell my clients in financial planning. I’m like, “You, as a client, have to know enough to be able to call BS if somebody pitches you something and it feels funny.” I feel like it’s the same way as a firm owner. I have to know enough to be able to oversee somebody else because, like Hannah said, the buck stops with me. If something goes out wrong, I can’t be like, “It was this person that works with me, la la.” That excuse works once, maybe, and then after that they’re like, “Hm, are you really very organized back there?”

Bill:                         That’s a great point. Yeah. Am I doing this right? Is this the right form? How many documents does it actually take to complete a rollover?

Hannah:               Or promising things to client in the meeting that … I know when a client’s going to have to sign off on something in the meeting, so I can just prep them for that. Be like, “Okay, we can do this, but I need you to sign this form,” is a lot better at setting client expectations than, “Oh by the way, I forgot to tell you.”

Bill:                         That’s one aspect that I missed from my previous employer or having an employer being with the company. Having the back office support, that’s one of the benefits of working for a larger organization or being with a company. The back office support and the structure is already there. I don’t have to go back and recreate it and figure out what pieces need to go where. How did you guys tackle that when you guys started your firm? Was it you do your client meetings and then immediately after the client meetings you’re going through your paperwork, and then you’re contacting your custodian? What did you do to tackle the workflow issue of being, let’s say, a single-person shop?

Katie:                    I let everybody else go independent before I did, and then I asked them a million questions. Thanks, everybody else that went independent before me. I appreciate it.

Bill:                         Smart.

Katie:                    I didn’t say it was the right way to do it, but that’s kind of how I tackled it.

Bill:                         Yeah. Go ahead, Dave.

Dave:                    As you’re going back to one thing I mentioned, I think I actually just record exactly what I did in a support role and actually tried to replicate that as much as I could, and weed out the bad things I didn’t like, and incorporate the good things that I thought worked well, and then try and fill in the gaps where I could. I think that’s why I’m gonna harp on about this whole support role first because that’s the mainframe of the business. If you can find a good way to do it, then it’s easy to copy.

Hannah:               I worked for a solo advisor. When you’re the assistant to a solo advisor, you’re doing everything from washing the dishes to presenting plans to a client. Because I had such a wide variety of experience working with her, it was just natural. I was like, “Oh, I’ve already been doing all of this.” It’s just she’s just not in the picture anymore.

Bill:                         Did you feel weird when you had to take on that full responsibility on your own?

Hannah:               I think I had been prepared for it. I say that now. I always joke about how when … I tell this story. I got married and then 10 weeks later, I bought the business, so we had zero money. I would just pace. I think there was a high level of stress, but I think it was just everything, so much change all at once. I do think that it affected me, but I do think I had these logical processes and everything kind of already mapped out.

Dave:                    Yeah. I would say if you don’t have that or if you haven’t spent enough time mapping out, what am I gonna do when a client opens an account, what’s my process gonna be, it adds another layer of, what am I doing? If the client comes to you and says, “Okay, I’ve got my 401(k) to go, and I’m gonna move it to you,” and you’re not 100% sure exactly what’s gonna happen, you don’t want to be sowing those little seeds of doubt in your mind and also theirs. You want to be able to just jump on the ball and say, “Okay, let’s do this, this, and this.” As much as you can keep that client in your court and don’t have them doubt you at all, it just makes for a strong relationship. By doing that homework anytime you can, whether it’s another company or on your own downtime, that is gonna serve you in the future.

Katie:                    That’s also the point of having mentors in the industry and having peers that are maybe doing something similar to what you’re doing or that are, ideally, a couple of years ahead of you in opening their own firm. It’s because you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself. This industry is pretty open. If you have those relationships going into it … There are a lot of people that are a year or two behind where I was opening my firm that will call or text or email with questions. They’ll be like, “This is a silly question, but,” and I’m always happy to help them out with those questions because they might be trying to figure some stuff out on the fly and I already was there. Why not help them kind of get ahead of the curve?

Dave:                    Katie, your phone number is?

Katie:                    555, 555.

Bill:                         1234

Hannah:               I think one of the other really cool things about starting over is you get to do it your way. Like Dave was saying, you get to create what you want. It’s this really cool opportunity to really … For me, the firm that I took over, they kind of said they did financial planning, but it was all back of the envelope like, yeah, we’ll have those conversations with you but nothing was ever really … It’s in the gray area of what financial planning was. When I bought the practice and really took it over as my own, it was like this is my chance to actually do financial planning. It was a really cool opportunity. For me, starting at your own firm is really exciting because of all the possibilities that it brings.

Bill:                         Absolutely.

Dave:                    Agreed.

Bill:                         That might be part of that transition as well. What type of services are you gonna offer when you become an independent or when you break out to do your own thing? Are you gonna start primarily as investment management? Is that your strength or your core offering? How comfortable are you with actually providing or producing plans, and will they be written? What’s your business model gonna actually look like? That took some time for me to figure out. As a matter of fact, that took me almost a little bit over a year and a half after going independent, to really figure out and hone in on my business model, almost two years really, before I got it down to a system that I thought was best for the type of client I wanted to work with.

Katie:                    This is my second go around of leaving a firm to go start my own firm. I did the first generation and fell on my butt, and then decided a couple of years later to try it out again, and it worked a lot better the second time around.

Hannah:               What made the second time around be more successful?

Katie:                    I think the first time around I kind of took people at their word. I didn’t do as much research as I should have. I joined a group that was affiliated with an independent broker dealer thinking that they would be outsourcing a lot of their planning work to me and so that would be my kind of work that I could do, my side hustle essentially, that would bring the money in. Then I was excited to be able to work with them because I could bring them in on meetings and kind of learn along the way a little bit better with sales. It didn’t work very well because at the end of the day, they were still pretty annuity heavy even though they were with an independent broker dealer.

It’s something where I didn’t ask enough questions at the beginning to know that was how they ran their business model. After the first or second client that we worked with together, and I was like, “This is not how I envisioned running the relationship with clients or the products that are being offered,” they didn’t quite have enough financial planning business to have me doing outsourced plans to begin with. It didn’t work on a lot of different fronts, but I’m gonna take 99% of that responsibility for not asking enough questions before I jumped in.

Bill:                         Yeah, that’s a good point. What questions do we ask?

Dave:                    Or do you even know what questions to ask? I think that’s something that you only know with experience, right? Katie, I’ll ask you that. Did you know what questions to ask on your first time around?

Katie:                    I guess not. I had worked alongside these people, so I guess I kind of thought that I knew how their business was being run. It was kind of a, “Oh, well I know them, they know me, we’re good,” without actually sitting down and being like, “What is the breakdown of the revenue that comes into this firm,” which is the question I should’ve asked, in hindsight.

Dave:                    I think that comes with experience, right? I think if you’re a career changer, you’re almost at a disadvantage starting off starting your own firm right away because there’s so much you don’t know, no matter how much research you can do, because you’ve not been in the trenches yet. Whenever someone starts off as a career changer, I can give them a lot of credit because it’s just a steeper learning curve, not one that can’t be overcome, but I give them an extra pat on the back and a lot of support as they go through it. I think as you are in other roles in other companies, whether they’re support or client facing, the more you’re around, the more you know what’s going on, and the more good questions you can ask if you want to transition.

Hannah:               I bought the practice. Recently, I found a handwritten budget sheet that I had written out for the business side of it. I looked at it and I was like, oh my God, what was I thinking? This is insane for various reasons. Just looking at that, I was like … It was about two years prior to when I actually bought the business and it was like, if I would have bought the business at that time, it would have failed because the numbers just weren’t there for a variety of reasons. I didn’t have the experience or really knew what was going on to really have that perspective.

Bill:                         I think for me, figuring out what questions to ask came primarily from what questions were my previous employer not asking or not answering. If I was asking them why we’re doing planning in this direction or why I have to pass off certain clients to other advisors in the office, why were we doing that and not getting an answer to that really made me hungry for more knowledge and figuring out how I needed to do this on my own. What answers were they not giving me or why were they not giving me the answers in that space? As I went about finding out what those answers were for me, it became a stronger and stronger motivator for me to move out and do things on my own.

Katie:                    Because that’s the way we just do it, Bill. That’s the way it’s always been done.

Bill:                         Yeah, exactly. Just follow this system and you’ll be okay. That’s all you need to know. Yeah, I get that, but it might not necessarily fit for all clients. That’s okay. If it doesn’t fit, then you just show them how it can fit. Oh, okay. We can always fit a square peg in a round hole somehow.

Dave:                    Katie, I give you a lot of credit for doing this twice. Why did you come back and do it again?

Katie:                    Oh, because I’m the world’s most stubborn person. Plus, I realized the first time that I was trying to do it kind of the easy way. I was trying to just go tag along with somebody else who had already started their business, who already had a broker dealer affiliation. I realized that I was trying to just, instead of roll up my sleeves and do it the way it should’ve been done, I was trying to kind of do more of the easy way, but the easy way wasn’t in line with my values and the way that I wanted to be working with clients. I kind of realized that later on and that’s kind of what gave me, I guess, the courage to try it again. Plus, I’m really stubborn.

Hannah:               Katie, one of the things I really admire … Because I knew you both times that you started, and the second time you started you’re like, “These are my clients. I know my clients and this is what they need. I know these clients, who I want to serve, I know what they need and they’re not being served somewhere else.” I love that client centered … That’s what I think really started your firm and what has made you successful, is because it all started and ended with the client experience.

Katie:                    Yeah. Dave, to kind of put a little bit more on that, the first time around I was kind of going with everybody says you need to work with 65-year-olds that are selling their business and have a whole lot of money. That was my target client because that’s what everybody else said that my target client should be. That’s not necessarily who I work with now that I’ve restarted my business. I work a lot with 30 and 40-year-olds, very rarely with 65 and 70-year-olds. It was just a very different … I was kind of trying to go the easy route, do what everybody else told me I needed to be doing, and it didn’t work for me.

Bill:                         You know, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Hannah:               Go ahead, Bill.

Bill:                         That brings a thought to me. There are a lot of students now, a lot of people who are going to college and coming right out of college and going into the financial planning business. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think that there should be some level of experience prior to if someone is coming out of college, or do you think maybe jumping right into that private or solo practice is a good path to go?

Katie:                    It all depends on how many people you know and how many people your mom or dad knows. I remember when I very first got in this industry, and I would call up my dad and be like, “Why didn’t you decide to go into financial planning so I could just take over your practice like all of these other young 20-something-year-olds in my industry?” He was like, “Sorry, I went into law. I don’t think you should go into that.” I was like, “Okay, just wondering.”

Hannah:               I think it also depends on, who do you want to serve? Somebody coming straight out of college with financial planning education and they’re like, “I want to service people who are a year behind me.” I think that makes sense to me because it’s like you’re close to it, you know the situations, you can compensate through mentoring, through a lot of other ways for the places that you don’t know, but somebody coming out and wanting to give advice on maybe some more really complicated financial planning stuff, I may be hesitant. At the same time, people always surprise me.

Bill:                         Talent can come from anywhere. I wish I would’ve had that more direct path, not necessarily going financial planning and then straight into a financial planning private practice, but having that formal education and the financial planning process before I got into the business to begin with, I think, would’ve been a tremendous help at building my business, at least being more confident in the advice I was providing.

Hannah:               One of the themes that I’ve been hearing from people, whether that’s students or people who are new or have several years of experience is this lack of confidence new advisors have. What, from your perspective, helped give you confidence? Do you still lack confidence? What are your thoughts on it?

Katie:                    Bill definitely needs to go first on confidence.

Bill:                         Obviously it’s something I have problems with.

Katie:                    We can totally cut this part out.

Bill:                         My confidence was in pricing and determining the value of my service. I knew I was valuable, I just didn’t know how much. I had issues there, figuring out how to price my service. I never had any issues with going out and meeting people, I didn’t have any confidence issues in talking to them and sharing that I had value, I just didn’t know how to price it. That was hard to figure out. Integrating what level of services I was gonna offer, especially when I delivered my first financial plan, I think I charged $800 for it. It was with an engineer. I originally priced it at $1600. It was just a number that I kind of pulled out of my hat based on how much time I thought this thing was gonna take. He ended up talking me down to $800 because he said, “A lot of this stuff I can do myself. I just needed someone else who had the time to do it.” I was like, “Aw, how sweet. How nice.”

Katie:                    Yeah, I bet he did it himself on his own spreadsheets that he sent you. What is this?

Bill:                         Yeah, so that’s where my issue came in. I struggled for a while, and then I developed a pricing model that was scalable and repeatable. Now, that doesn’t balk me at all. That was where my issue was. I don’t have that issue at all anymore.

Dave:                    I’ll give the flip side to Bill. I had a lot of confidence issues. I have all the way through growing up. The only way I counteracted it was through two ways. One was just by being someone who I wasn’t, which worked in the short-term and didn’t really work long-term, but time just actually helped get over myself. It was a case of A, I understand what I’m doing, but why would anyone want to hire me? I’m just me. That doesn’t make any sense. You’ve got that hurdle to get over. Then it’s that once people start working with you and you actually need to charge more, then you’re like, why would people want to pay more to work with me? That doesn’t make any sense. Then you have to go through that hurdle of explaining why your price is going up.

Now I’m getting to a point of saying to people, “You’re not my ideal fit client.” Why on Earth would I insult someone like that? That’s kind of where my mentality is coming from, but you just go to plow through it. You gotta go through and say, “I’m not the best person for you, but let me give you someone who is.” It’s just those mental blocks. For me, it was time, just going through various different scenarios again and again, whether it’s real or in my head, which is way worse, and just pushing through. The more times you go through that situation, the more comfortable you feel, and you actually understand, I’m good at this. I can charge for it. Let’s just keep going.

Katie:                    Yep. I like that. I think I realized a couple of years into it that the CFP, as much as I really appreciate the credential and all of the background education, it teaches you essentially how to be a financial engineer. It does not teach you how to actually have conversations with clients when they inevitably always throw a curve ball at you. It always comes out of left field, and you’re always like, “Well, I didn’t anticipate that.” I liken it to dancing. If you’re dancing and you have a dance partner, you cannot plan everything out beforehand. For the first couple of years in this industry, I was essentially trying to plan everything out beforehand. I would say this, maybe the client would say this, but it would drove me insane when they would come out of left field with that curve ball. It was frustrating, and I finally realized I can be prepared as much as I can be prepared, but I also have to learn the skill of being light on my feet.

I think that’s something where … Personally, I enrolled for Toastmasters, which is speaking. It has nothing to do with financial planning. They do a lot of exercises in there where they do a round table where you have to be really fast on your feet, and think of answers to stuff, and still have them structured and sound really good. I think that type of business training could really help a whole lot of financial planners to be financial engineers that actually have a good bedside manner instead of financial engineers with a really horrible bedside manner.

Hannah:               To add onto all of this, I remember being in one of these You’re A Financial Planner; Now What? seminars several years ago. Patrick and Trudy were talking about how when clients work with you, they’re paying for you. They want to work with you. What’s different? Obviously, I like to think that there is different elements of my process that make it more attractive for my ideal client, like yes, but at the end of the day, people are working with me for me. I remember just about having a panic attack as I was sitting there listening to it because I’m this 26-year-old kid, and I’m just like, oh my God, all of these people are here for me. Don’t they see who I am? Don’t they see how little I have to offer? That was, I think, a really big hurdle for me.

Elizabeth Gilbert has this saying with fear of like, once you recognize it, fear’s a good thing. What I’ve started to do is when I sense that fear, it’s just like you name it. You say, “Okay, I’m afraid. Now I have to take it, and I have to set this aside and keep going. I still face that. Even in the last several weeks there have been times where I’m just like, oh my God, this is terrifying. Don’t they know? Don’t they see what a fraud I am? Not a fraud, but like, they shouldn’t be doing this with me. They should be talking to another advisor who’d be better and more qualified and all of these things. It’s like, okay, there’s that fear. Set it aside and move on. It’s kind of how I’ve had to process some of that. I think that’s pretty …

Dave:                    I think this actually ties back into the question that you’re asking, Bill, about what should you be … Damn, I forgot the question now. All about should you be doing the support role, should you be solo? A lot of that comes into self-awareness. Are you aware of how confident you are? Is it something you need to work on? If you’re not as confident as you think you should be, if you don’t think you can close a sale, don’t open your firm next week. Maybe you should be in a support role to actually gain confidence and actually understand how a client meeting works. How does an initial prospect meeting work? Then you can take that into your own firm and say, “I’ve seen this work before. Now let me do it.” I think gaining that confidence by watching it and practicing it actually will help your firm grow faster.

Bill:                         I absolutely agree. One of the most interesting things that … This past Friday, I participated with another firm in just doing what we called an information sharing session. I had the operations manager come in and sit down with me and my assistant and an assistant that we’re bringing on soon, just kind of walked through their systems. We swapped ideas, we swapped planning processes, we swapped technologies in terms of how we work with some of the tools that we share. It was incredibly valuable. I was able to show them how some of the integrations that they have and we have in common, how they can work together, and they were able to show me some of the documents that they used and that they created in house to simplify their processes. Being able to have that partnership and working with another firm to build our own individual businesses is incredibly valuable.

Hannah:               I’ll say if you’re listening to this and you’re like, oh my God, I wish I had that, and I’m looking for that and I can’t find it, keep looking because those people are out there who want to share that information and be that collaborative with you. Sometimes we’re just in the wrong circles and we need to just keep looking until we find those people.

Katie:                    I’ll add to that. Don’t be afraid to … This is hard stuff. It takes a while to hone it. If you’re starting from scratch and you don’t have any of this stuff, don’t be afraid to pay for it. Please put that in your budget. If you need to tap into a network to be able to start your firm up, don’t be afraid to do that. If you need to pay for initial processes, don’t be afraid to do that.

Hannah:               Yep.

Katie:                    There are great resources out there that may not cost any money, but then again, there are things that might accelerate your progress that do cost money. As long as you’ve factored it in on the front end, that’s less time that you’re going to go around trying to figure it out.

Bill:                         I will say one caveat to that. I absolutely do not believe in paying for leads. There are a lot of things you can pay for, definitely systems, processes, but I would, and you guys may disagree with me on this, but I would definitely tell you that in this business, paying for leads is probably worse than literally taking money, throwing it into a trashcan, filling it with gasoline, and setting it on fire.

Dave:                    Sounds like you’re talking from experience, Bill.

Katie:                    Darn. I can’t sell you my list of closely honed prospects that I have in the Austin area for you?

Bill:                         Well, you can give me introductions. How about that? We’ll do the introductions and I’ll take you to lunch.

Katie:                    Yeah. I think it depends on how generic or non-generic that your firm is. I know for me, if I were to pay for leads, I would get a bunch of people that weren’t a good fit for my firm in the first place. I would’ve just paid for prospects where I wasted their time and emotional energy, and I wasted my time and emotional energy, and I had to pay for it.

Dave:                    An interesting thing that goes along with that is if someone is working at a firm or they’re thinking about starting their own, it is really valuable to do some market research on who you want to be working with. I know there’s a lot of firm owners who say, “Yes, we work with doctors who have student loan debt,” and all of this, but I was actually turned off when I started my firm about working with pre-retirees or retirees rolling money over. I was like, everyone’s doing that. Why would I do that? You actually realize why you do that, because they pay money.

Bill:                         They have a unique ability to pay.

Katie:                    Mind blown.

Dave:                    It’s crazy. Yeah. My initial niche was teachers in Illinois. I still have a passion for them, but they are slightly less willing to pay than someone who is going through a retirement transition who has a boatload of questions. I probably should’ve done a lot more market research on that niche first, and I actually did and ignored it because I was stubborn, but there are reasons why planners have opened firms and served that market first. If you try and buck against that, you can do and be successful, it just may be a little harder because you’re trying to do something that either has been done and hasn’t worked before, or you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before-

Bill:                         Pick up, going back to pricing as well-

Dave:                    And you’re gonna be a trailblazer.

Bill:                         Certain clients are comfortable paying in certain ways. Some clients would rather write a check and pay a project-based fee and be done with it. Other people don’t want to see the money coming out. They don’t necessarily want to write a check or pay a bill on a month-to-month basis. Other clients want an audited tracked report for every single dollar that they spend with you. Your business model and the clients that you serve should fit with how you want to operate, how you want to charge, who you want to work with, what types of services that you want to offer, and how you plan on growing the business from that point forward.

Hannah:               I love that mentality. It’s so client focused. We start and end with the client. That’s why we do the business. These businesses, yes, I hope that I benefit from my business, but at the end of the day, the clients are what’s important.

Bill:                         Right.

Hannah:               That’s what I love about what you’re saying. The business model centers around the client, not what can I get from it?

Bill:                         Oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead. I was gonna ask if everyone’s identified a niche specifically that they work with-

Hannah:               So … No, go for it.

Bill:                         And how they got to that point. That’s just to piggyback off of what Dave was talking about.

Dave:                    Oh Bill, how long do you have? Katie, I’m gonna let you go first.

Katie:                    Whenever I started my firm at that point, I had about 10 years of experience under my belt in the financial services industry. It was funny because I actually had a preconceived notion of who I did not want to be working with, which has changed over the last three years since I’ve opened my firm. Just from previous experience at a wealth management firm, I was about 99% sure that I did not want to be working with any doctors because I had doctor clients before, and they were a hot mess, and they were always very stressful. I actually now work with probably about 30% of my practice is doctors, either women physicians or couples that both work in the medical industry. Three years ago I would’ve been very adamant about there’s no way that I’m working with doctors. I feel like the niche was something when I started, and I kind of experimented with it. I gave myself a deadline of about a year and a half to figure out if that was gonna work or not, and I had to reiterate and then reiterate again.

I do have clients that are mostly in their 30s and 40s. For the most part, both spouses are working, but not all of them. A lot of the times, they work in either medicine, finance, law, and I do have a couple of architects and creatives as well. That’s my not super defined niche, but also I really like being able to work with people that I like. I think that’s the qualifier that I usually have is, am I gonna have a good experience or are they gonna have a good experience? Do I like working with these people, and talking with them, and are they gonna value my advice?

Hannah:               Katie, I’ll jump off of that. One of my biggest things is I only work with nice people now. I worked with some not very nice people in the past. When I started my RA, I was like, I’m only bringing nice people. One of the advantages of working with so many clients before is I really got to find who I worked best with and who worked best with me. I had two client personas written up. I call them my Successful Sallies and Retiring Ricardos. I have very specific elements about them. Not all of my clients, but most of my clients kind of fit in either one of those camps.

When I’m having conversations with clients, and they say something, and I’m like, oh my God, that’s so on point with what other people like you are saying, I’ll come home and actually just pull out my document that I have, just a running of characteristics of my groups, and just add those quotes in at the bottom. I feel like I’ve gotten a really good picture of who my ideal clients are just from conversations and just having it be a continual running document that I keep adding to. The only way I found that out was working with clients and seeing where was the natural fit. A lot of my characteristics, they are demographic, but it’s more like psychographic of how they view the world, what are some common traits about them.

Bill:                         I find it very interesting that you have that written down in terms of statements that they may make that appeals them to you or endears them to you and you’re looking at emotional responses versus a career path, or financial status, or anything along those lines. That’s a very interesting way of building out your practice. Then the documentation is really where the strength lies there. You have it written down, here’s the type of person I want to work with.

Hannah:               Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Dave:                    I actually think our industry has done a disservice to the word “niche” in the last five years because when we’re saying, “You need to work with a niche,” it’s like, “Okay, great. I’ll pick dentists.” Okay. Yes, you’ll streamline your practices, but you could be working with a group of people you really don’t like. What have you gained there? You’ve gained a streamlined practice, but you hate your job. You’re worse off than when you were before just being a generalist. I really think “niche” needs to move into the way that you’ve just described it. It has to be psychographics and emotional responses versus, where do you live, what do you do for a job, and how much do you make? That is not a niche, and that’s how we’ve been portraying it for the last X years.

Hannah:               Dave, just to jump off of that, I keep harping on this idea when you talk about the niche, what’s your motivation behind doing it? Is it for you? I think if we don’t have successful businesses, obviously we can’t service our clients, or is it truly client-centered, I know my clients better than anybody else out there and this is what they need, or is it about us? I think what I’m hearing from you is kind of that divide of saying where we’ve done a disservice is we’ve made it about us and our business instead of, how do we service our clients best?

Dave:                    I don’t know about that. I’m taking it to the extreme because I’ve lived the worst case scenario of what a niche is. I’ll give you the backstory. I was a generalist support advisor and then moving into client facing for six years. Then I threw all my eggs in a basket and opened a practice that focused on teachers. Was that focused on me? In part because it made my practice easier because my clients were all the same and had the same benefit plans, but I really had a passion for teachers, and I could not find anyone who was adequately servicing them that I wanted to join their practice. So I did it myself. The resounding feedback I got from that community is, where have you been? We have a lot of snakes in our field and now you’re just giving us pure advice. The disconnect was, we can’t pay for it the way you’re laying it out, but it was the way I had to lay it out if I actually wanted to get paid, and not accept commissions, and actually not work with 1,000 clients to make a decent income.

However, I’ve now transitioned into … I would say I straddle now. I still have that passion for teachers and work with them, but my practice is more focused on the retiree market. I haven’t niched down to say, “If you’re retiring from X company and you make X dollars, you’re my ideal client.” My meetings very much go, “If you’re in that retirement head space, let’s talk,” and then I will understand what type of person you are, and if I want to work with you, and if we’re a good fit because I don’t want you saying, “I’m in retirement, that means you’re a good advisor for me,” because I’m really not a good advisor for some people who are in retirement. I really enjoyed what all of you said about it needs to be a certain psychographic emotional response head space that prospect is in for it to be a good space versus where they’re working at and that’s my niche, or what profession they have. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Katie:                    I will say it does make it easier for marketing purposes the more defined that you have who you’re working with. I think that’s a lot of times why people kind of bang on the drum of, you have to have a niche going into this. It’s really just because of word of mouth. If you work with a particular school district, the teachers probably all know each other, the principals all know each other. It’s easier for you to leverage that and having a niche being able to work with teachers. It does make it easier if you have a well-defined niche, but I always tell people that just because you have a niche does not mean that you can’t work with people outside of that, it’s just really the way that you go about your marketing and kind of showing who you are and who you want to be working with. It doesn’t mean that if somebody shows up on your door and says, “I want to work with you,” that you have to turn them away. You don’t have to turn them away. It’s just a niche is a way of identifying who you’re trying to attract.

Dave:                    Yeah.

Hannah:               I think we have to be adaptive. If something’s not working or if you’re hearing common themes, it just like you said, light on your feet, Katie.

Dave:                    Even having a niche doesn’t mean you’ll have a successful business. Let’s take it to the extreme here. You may pick the wrong niche, that niche may not be ready for you, you may be an ineffective marketer. There’s all these things that yes, a niche makes things easier, but it may not work out. Would it be easier for you to be a generalist because your circle is so big that you can just pick up a client pool like that? That may be the best way to do business. I think, going back to being self-aware of your situation, where are you? And is in your situation that makes it best for your business?

Bill:                         Yeah, I would agree with that. I like the idea of specialization versus saying, “I have a niche practice.” I can work with anyone, generally speaking, but I can specialize in business owners who are three to five years into their business making X amount of dollars and are looking to integrate corporate retirement plans. That provides a specialization, but it’s not a niche. It’s saying, “Here’s an area where I have some specialized expertise in, but generally speaking, I can work with anyone that needs concrete and solidified high quality financial advice.” I think that’s where the industry needs to go. That’s the way the conversation really should be structured, in my opinion.

Dave:                    I agree with you, Bill, 100%.

Katie:                    All right, let me start that over again. I always think of it as if I had a friend who was starting a law practice and they said, “Do you know anybody who needs any legal advice?” that would bring to mind no people, zero, or even worse, it would bring to mind somebody who really needs advice because they’re in a poor situation, which may or may not be a good fit for that business owner. If somebody was a friend, and they were starting a legal practice, and they said, “Hey, I’m looking for couples in their 50s that have kids from different marriages and they got remarried and I specialize in helping them out with all of the complexities of having a mixed family,” I would immediately think, who do I know that kind of fits into that that I could introduce you to?

I kind of feel like it should be the same way in financial planning as well. A niche is just a way for you to explain to people who you like to work with that might actually prompt them to think of a specific person and not just a big sea of, I have no idea who actually fits into this broad categorization.

Dave:                    I think we’ve been using the word wrong as a profession. If you go outside of our profession and you’re a niche doctor, a niche doctor is an ear, nose, and whatever specialist. They’re not gonna help fix your knee, which means that they aren’t a generalist with a specialization, they’re actually niche. They have a specific skillset and they do not deviate from that. If we take that into our profession and say we’re a niche professional, that means that we only work with a set specific number of people with a set situation. Should we be using the word “niche”? Should we be using the word “specialist” like Bill said? It’s interesting. I think maybe it’s time to back away from that word a little bit.

Bill:                         Yeah.

Katie:                    What I really want to know, is it niche or is it niche? Because it drives me-

Bill:                         I think it depends on what part of the country you’re in. If you’re in the south, it’s niche. I’m kidding.

Katie:                    Yeah.

Dave:                    Being British, I have that problem with about half the words I say.

Bill:                         That’s a conversation for the next day. Is it ER advisor or is it OR advisor? Which one is it really? No, go ahead.

Hannah:               So … Oh, sorry. Go ahead.

Dave:                    I was just gonna make a stupid comment, so you’re fine.

Hannah:               I was about to change the topic a little bit, so I’ll let you go ahead. Oh. Kind of pulling this conversation together, one of the things that seemed to be a theme earlier on was this idea of reaching out for help when you needed it. I think what I’d like to post to y’all is when did you reach out for help, and who did you reach out for, and what are the resources-

Bill:                         I’ll go first.

Hannah:               That you relied on that other people can tap into?

Bill:                         I joined the FPA first. I joined the Financial Planning Association. That provided me with a wealth of advisors who had either transitioned or came into the financial planning space. That was very helpful. I used the internet and YouTube and listening to what other advisors were doing. I sent an email to Michael Kitces early on when I was still at my insurance company to talk to him about what the transition would look like. Then I talked to a couple of other advisors that are fairly well-known now in the industry.

I actually brought on a mentor. I talked to a guy who, at this point in time when I was making my transition, he had been three years removed from selling his practice of 10 or 15 years for three to four million dollars. He was a wealth of knowledge to talk to when I was making my transition because he said, “Think with the exit in mind.” Think with the ending in mind or start with the ending in mind. It was incredibly helpful to think, how do I want this to grow, and progress, and where do I see it ending up? That’s what I did. Go ahead.

Hannah:               Did you pay for it? Did you have to pay for that mentoring or was it all free?

Bill:                         It was beer, and pizza, and sandwiches, and lunches, and lots of dinners. Hey come on, let’s go grab a quick drink. By the way, while we’re out, I might ask you a few questions. Don’t mind me, just keep on eating. That worked. So no, not directly.

Katie:                    I think the first time around, I mentioned that I tried to start my own practice the first time around, I didn’t have a network or I didn’t know who to reach out to. I think one of the things that I maybe would’ve done differently was I only had the two people where I was trying to join their practice. Obviously, they have a conflict of interest in me asking them questions about what’s right or what they did because it’s their practice. The second time around, I mentioned that I had other people that had started their own practices that I kind of leaned on and asked questions of. Sophia Bera was really helpful to me. Hannah, you are always really helpful to me. We’re pretty sure that Hannah’s brain is hardwired exactly opposite of how my brain is hardwired, but it’s good because it means that she can call me up when she needs me to remember some random detail about continuing education, and I can call her up when I’m locked in my little think box and can’t get out of it.

I was part of the Financial Planning Association for about 10 years, or maybe it was about eight years, before I launched my own firm. It wasn’t like I joined the FPA because I needed to go latch onto people to give me business advice. I kind of had been in there for a while. I had volunteered with some people, gotten to know some people really well. From that, there were people that were willing to answer questions that I had when I emailed them or called them up. That was really helpful to me, to be able to kind of lean on people. I feel like this time around, I’ve leaned on a lot more people. I also joined XY Planning Network when it was kind of in its infant baby phases just because I figured it was easier for me to be a part of a group that was trying to figure it all out together as opposed to just being my one lone person on a rock. I have used a lot of the resources and templates and whatnot and conversations that go on there to help out with my business.

Dave:                    I think when I launched, my mental process started about four years beforehand. It would go in ebbs and flows of, I don’t really like the CRM we’re using at my office. What other options are there out there? Then finding the best one and saying, “Maybe I’ll use this one when I launch.” Then just doing that with different pieces of the process. The same with deliverables. I have a problem with deliverables because they’re never the way I want them. Then I started my own at home. I’m like, “You’re such a dork, just watch the TV. What’s wrong with you?”

Going through that process and then launching, I had kind of an okay idea of what I wanted things to look like. I was heavily involved with Nafa before I launched my own firm. Took about 18 months before I launched my own firm. I started Nafa Genesis. There were some younger firm owners in there, and I just asked them any question I could under the sun just to get their perspective on what their firm looked like. I worked with Alan Moore on the board, and he launched six months before me, and would call me while I was at work. He was saying, “I’ve got some down time. Let me tell you exactly what I’m doing.” I was like, “This is not the best time, but I can’t hang up the phone because I want to learn everything that you’re doing.” Just hearing people’s stories.

As I then launched my firm, I actually had an informal mentor that was helping me with marketing. She had actually opened her firm as well. She was about three years on from where I was. As I was going through various transitions in what I was doing inside the firm, I would try to find people three years removed from the position I was in because I wanted their experience to be really fresh. I know that contrasts to what Bill says. I don’t think that takes away from the value of what you’ve gone through, Bill, because I’m sure you’ve gained someone who has a lot of experience.

The thing I had when I went through Genesis was when I was asking people, “What do you do in your career?” if they were 20 years removed from that, I didn’t feel like their answers were as fresh as someone who was three years removed and could give me a great story behind exactly what they’ve gone through. I think having someone who is closer to the experience helped me more because I knew they’ve actually recently gone through this. Now I can understand exactly what they did, and it’s actually, not still relevant because I think a lot of people who are further along in their career, everything is still relevant, but it just meant a little bit more to me. I’ve tried to find people, as I’ve gone through various transition points in my firm, a couple years out just to see what they’ve done and take experience from that.

Katie:                    I feel like I learned something from a lot of different people. I’ve had mentors, kind of informal, but mentors that are probably 20 years older than me that have been in this industry for a really long time. I feel like I learned something from them. I had a study group where everybody’s kind of in probably about the same place in their business, and I learned a whole lot from them. I’ve also kind of latched onto advisors that are two to three years further along in the business. I do always make sure I can bring something of value to them, and then I’m not just holding onto their ankle while they’re trying to run with their business. Even people that I mentor, I feel like I learn stuff from them because they have a fresh perspective that maybe I had years ago but maybe I don’t have now. It’s kind of great to be able to see it through a lot of different people’s eyes, and then kind of put that together into what works for you.

Dave:                    I’d agree. I went through the first year of my firm without a study group. I think what you just said there is important. That was a lonely time. Ever since being in that study group now, and just finding the good people that are in that group, again, very similar situations to me professionally, it really helps. The amount you can learn from those people is incredible. Likewise, you’ve got to provide value into that group as well. It’s a case of these are your people. They’re right with you in the trenches. They are doing the same thing you’re doing. You’re not an island, you’re really not. In my eyes, a study group is essential. You have to do that if you’re starting out because it is lonely at times. Being in that study group is essential.

Hannah:               Yeah. I would say when I first started, my story’s a little bit unique because from day one I knew that I was the succession plan. I think that added a lot of pressure, but I went through the local FPA. They did a mentor match, and I just remember being devastated when I missed the opening. I had to wait nine months before I could get matched, but when I did, it was an advisor who had probably 20, 25 years of experience on me, very successful. She ran one of the most successful financial planning companies here in Dallas. I think what that did for me, we went over business plans and everything, but it gave me so much confidence. I think it really hit at that issue of, do I have anything of value to offer my clients? She was really like, “Are you joking? Yes. You have no idea how much value you have to your clients.” That was really valuable to me.

Where I was at, the broker dealer where I was at, a lot of the firms were run the same way. I realized that was not how I wanted to run my firm, but that was the only thing that I was exposed to. It was to the level of people’s business checking accounts were with their personal accounts and they thought I was crazy for wanting to set up a separate business account. That’s the level that we’re talking about. It was a lot of the local, a lot of the national FPA stuff, but I was able to find Patrick Dougherty. I saw how he ran his business and I was like, that’s what I want, Bill, kind of to your point of the end in mind. For me, I was like, that’s the business I want. I don’t see that anywhere else, so I’m gonna latch onto him and learn as much as I can from him. I did, and I think a lot of how I run my business is mirrored after how he did his practice.

I’m so grateful, but I would agree with all of you, it’s so many sources. My study group has been incredibly valuable to me. National conferences meeting up, having those conversations. I’ve done Sudden Money, some of their processes. The Fox Financial Planning Network, those have been some of the resources. I’ve also paid for coaches when I’ve needed them, and that’s been really helpful. Sometimes it’s just a one-off thing, and it just kind of helps me get past my mental block. Other times I’ve done it more extensively, but I think it goes back to a little bit of that self-awareness of what you need and where you can get it.

Bill:                         Yeah, I would agree with that. You have to have a good sense about you to say, “I need help and I want help.” This business can be very lonely, to Dave’s point, if you’re working in your own office by yourself. Some days I get stir crazy, and I have someone in the office with me. Some days I’m like, “Jerry, let’s just get out of the office. Let’s go grab a cup of coffee, or let’s go grab lunch and we’ll work remotely,” because then it allows me to kind of get out of my head, get out of my space, and work on growing and taking this to the next level. I absolutely believe in working with other advisors and other planners, much like everyone here on the stage, because this is how ideas get shared, and this is how growth happens. In order for us to become truly a profession, we’re gonna have to collaborate in this regard more and more.

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