You're A Financial Planner; Now What? Exploring the world of financial planning Thu, 22 Feb 2018 04:37:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 You're A Financial Planner; Now What? 32 32 Hannah Moore, CFP® interviews influential financial planners and explores topics relevant to those starting out as financial planners. From designations, to business models to the history of financial planning, find the resources and knowledge that you need to be a successful financial planner. Join Hannah as she explores the world of financial planning and finds resources and tools to help you become the best financial planner you can be. Hannah Moore clean Hannah Moore (Hannah Moore) Exploring the world of financial planning You're A Financial Planner; Now What? Weekly Virtually Serving Planners Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:19:26 +0000 0 Charesse Hagan believes it’s time to challenge the narrative that the only career path within financial planning is working toward being a lead advisor. Through her experience as a paraplanner and operations consultant, she has learned first hand that there are countless exciting opportunities for people to find their fit within the financial planning community. Charesse Hagan is a testament to the fact that there are many different career paths available to professionals in the financial planning industry. After working for two years in the advisor world as an associate planner, Charesse began to feel that working for a wealth management firm wasn’t necessarily for her.

Feeling confident in her experience, she struck out on her own. At first, Charesse exclusively involved herself in paraplanning work. Over time, her business model evolved to offer both operations consulting and some light paraplanning for long-term clients.

In the financial planning profession, we’re often fed a narrative that the best (or only) route for young professionals to take is to work toward being a lead advisor at a large firm, or to launch your own RIA. Charesse, however, believes that we need to challenge this narrative and highlight all career opportunities within the financial planning industry so that everyone can find their best fit.

Charesse has had colossal success running her own consulting and paraplanning business, and she’s excited about the possibilities that are still open to her in the future. By committing to the entrepreneur lifestyle, she has the potential to live and work as a digital nomad, add additional services to her business model, hire employees – the opportunities are endless.

Tune in to learn more about Charesse’s journey, and how you can find your own space within the financial planning community.

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I think the industry is also okay with you creating your own career path. If you don’t fit the mold, then I think there’s an opportunity to move at your own pace. @charesse_hagan

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What You’ll Learn:

  • Different career opportunities within the finance industry.
  • What kind of education or experience you should look for if you’re considering launching your own business that serves financial planners.
  • What technology Charesse finds valuable for financial planners.
  • The difference between an associate planner and a paraplanner – and how you can determine which is a best fit for you.
  • How staying organized and building out processes can help you to implement strategy.
  • How providing the best customer experience possible is often all the marketing you need.


Simply Paraplanner

Charesse Hagan






Show Transcript

Ep86 Transcript

Hannah: So I love your story, and I love how much you’ve been able to do in such a short amount of time. So for our listeners, you’ve had two internships and two shops over the course of about two years before jumping out on your own to really do paraplanning and operations consulting. What really was a motivator for you wanting to jump out on your own?

Charesse: Well, this was not something planned for me. When I first decided to jump out on my own, it was really like just trying to find clients. So basically, I was working at a wealth management firm. They had about two billion in assets, and I was there for like a year and a half. At that point, the mentor I had at the company, she parted ways, so it was just really hard for me. I was traveling between two offices and trying to find like a good fit with another advisor with the company.

Basically, their team structure was kind of siloed, so you only worked directly with one advisor rather than being paired with two and helping service their clients. So I was working at the main office, and they had about 40 employees. I ended up moving to a smaller office, but in a better location, and there were only five to six employees. The office fit wasn’t good for me.

Then I moved on to another firm. They had about four billion in assets, 20 associates, and a lot of responsibilities I had at my first job were taken away from me. I couldn’t attend client meetings anymore, and the firm I was at, they were using something called Lotus, which Lotus is like Excel before Excel came out. When I was at my previous job, we used Money Guide Pro, so my job became very manual, like a lot of input, data entry, way more than you would have to do with a financial planning software, so I was just spending 40 hours a week just sitting there typing in information to Lotus, and they took away the attending client meetings too.

Then I reached out to maybe 25 to 50 advisors, just looking for another opportunity. One woman I reached out to, she’s an XYPN, and I told her I was interested in a job, and then she told me she doesn’t have the capacity to hire anyone full time, but she would hire me as a part-time contractor.

So then I tried to work with her and my full-time job, but due to the conflict of interest, I wasn’t allow to. Although she didn’t have AUM, they still didn’t allow me, so I was so miserable there, I just decided to leave.

Then I ended up working with her, and another advisor hired me, so I started off with two advisors when I first started.

Hannah: So did you know coming out of college that you were more wired for that entrepreneur route, or was that something that you kind of just discovered in being unhappy at your jobs?

Charesse: I knew eventually that it was something I wanted to do. I just didn’t know it was going to happen this early.

Hannah: You had basically like two to two-and-a-half years of experience at this point. Did you feel like you had enough experience to make that jump?

Charesse: Yes because the experience, the two-and-a-half years of experience I had is focused on paraplanning, so that’s why I think this is a good transition for people that want to be self employed. When I was at the job I was at with my initial firm for maybe a year and a half, my job was to build out financial plans in Money Guide Pro, attend client meetings, take meeting notes, prepare the meeting followup, and there were very good processes in place to help me streamline that process and perfect it.

They gave me a lot of training since they were a big firm. They sent me to Money Guide Pro training. I got to attend a TDA conference, so I had the skill set in place to be able to do what I do now, and honestly, I’m doing the same thing, but just remotely. I work with five firms. I also do operations consulting, and that’s just due to working with big firms, and I’ve worked with 20 firms the past two years, so basically some people don’t need paraplanning, but they need help structuring their business. I really focus on learning the best practices of the industry.

Hannah: You’ve been on your own for what? A year and a half at this point?

Charesse: Yeah, so I started contracted February 2016. I officially quit my job May 2016.

Hannah: How did you build up the network to, first of all, be able to contact 20 to 50 advisors, and then second of all, to get 20 advisors as client. That’s really impressive.

Charesse: Honestly, word of mouth. I’m just … I tried my best to give my clients the best experience ever. I try to go above and beyond. We all do. Word of mouth mainly.

When I first started, it was really hard because no one knew me, but a lot of my past clients and current clients have highly recommended me.

I feel like with this, it’s all about word of mouth, so I feel like people, if they’re looking in to it, to really focus on structuring their business, how they can serve their clients to the best of their ability.

Hannah: One of the things that I think is a detriment to our profession is this assumption that every … If you want to have a career path, you have to be going towards the lead planner role, and you’re really kind of going more towards that operations and paraplanner role. Did you run into any issues or tension with that? Maybe the general assumptions of our profession versus what you’re doing?

Charesse: Yes. I just spoke at the TD Ameritrade conference, and our panel was focused on developing non-advisor careers in the industry, so this is something that’s really big. I spoke about a mindset shift in the industry. A lot of people are no longer on the advisor path, and that was my personal experience. I wanted to become an advisor, but I realize, when I was trying to do the associate planner route, I wasn’t being fulfilled, and I feel like the advisors could notice that, but when I started doing the operations and actually just perfecting the paraplanning service, I realized my clients are more happy with the work I’m doing, and I feel more fulfilled.

Hannah: From your perspective, what are the other non-advisor career paths that are out there for somebody to pursue?

Charesse: Client service manager. A lot of people are interested in investment management, working in that part of the business, like developing portfolios and keeping up with the research, and then some people are happy in their current roles, and they just want to become more efficient and provide better quality work.

Like me, personally, I really didn’t think I would add on the operations consulting, but now that’s the bulk of my business right now. I was just focused on services my clients for paraplanning more efficiently versus like creating a streamline timeline for where I want to be.

I also think if you’re not working in an office and you want to do the entrepreneur route, you can grow your business. You can add paraplanners to your team or you can move up. For me, I do operations consulting, but I know a lot of advisors are starting to ask about practice management, so that may be a direction I go.

Hannah: What’s so exciting to me, and I know I’ve experienced this personally and so many of my friends have as well, is once you start doing something and just really getting out there, doors just open. You don’t necessarily have to have a full path laid out. They just start opening.

Charesse: Yes. And back to your question I was thinking about, about the mindset shift and how not everyone wants to be an advisor. For me, a lot of my clients ask me what my angle is because they need an advisor on their team, so at first it was hard for me to say I’m happy with what I’m doing because a lot of people are like, “Well, what’s your angle, or what do you want to do?” And I’m doing what I want to do. I really enjoy what I do.

At first, I was really confused, and then I was talking to a friend, and she was like, Chareese, you know what you want to do, but you just have to tell me people.” And I’m like, it’s okay. I now know it’s okay that I don’t want to be an advisor anymore.

Hannah: Accepting that can sometimes … Yeah.

Charesse: Yeah. And it’s the prestigious position that everyone wants. That’s what we’re trained to do.

Hannah: Like it’s what good advisors do with our clients, right? We say, “What’s your ideal life?” And sometimes that is taking … It’s not a step back, but just kind of going in a different direction against what the norms are.

Charesse: Yeah. I agree.

Hannah: So, one of the phrases that I’ve seen around is the digital nomad. Do you classify yourself as a digital nomad?

Charesse: Well, not really. When I first started, I would travel a lot. I think when you’re a digital nomad, you really don’t have a location. You are a remote worker that travels around the world, and I, honestly, spend most of my time working from home at this point. Eventually, my pursuit is to become a digital nomad though.

Hannah: And so for the people listening, can you describe what a digital nomad is?

Charesse: A digital nomad is basically someone who works off of their laptop, and they’re usually self-employed, and they travel the world while working remotely.

There’s a lot of programs now that help people work remotely and travel the world whether you’re self-employed or work for a company. They have like remote year. They have something called WeRoam, and there’s a lot of places like in different cities that have like coworking spaces and apartments that people can rent on a month-to-month basis, which is really cool.

Hannah: It’s very much a lifestyle decision.

Charesse: It is. It is. I was so focused on lifestyle when I started this. I was like, “Oh I just want to travel the world and work remotely with advisors.” And another reason why I started this was because I worked in wealth management, and all the clients were high net-worth, and I really wanted to work with advisors that served millennials, so when I started, a lot of the advisors I worked with were really young. I enjoyed it, but now I have a mix of clients.

Hannah: If somebody wants to go in this paraplanner role, or they’re just starting out in a paraplanner role, how can they be successful in that role?

Charesse: I think you have to be very open-minded when you are a paraplanner, and you’re not going to know everything, and it’s going to be okay.

Another thing, I feel like you have to be very organized as a paraplanner. A lot of advisors count on me to be fully prepared when managing their clients. Also, I think, having a background in finance whether you went to college or having prior experience is very helpful.

I would think like … A lot of people I tell, like having a checklist. Like don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to, but having a process in place for how you’re going to approach every case to make sure you’re not missing anything.

I feel like these things can be built out with an advisor. If you collaborate with your advisor and streamline that process, it’ll make things easier for you and the advisor. The advisor will have a clear understanding of how you are going through financial documents and building out the plan, and also you know the expectation of the advisor.

Hannah: With working with advisors and building out these processes, is that back and forth with the advisor? Do you bring that to the table? Is every client different? How does that usually work with multiple clients?

Charesse: Okay. When I first started, I usually just jumped in to the processes the advisor had in place for paraplanning, but now, after I’ve been working with so many advisors, a lot of them ask me what’s the best process. So usually, I think it’s always going to be a collaboration because at the end of the day, it’s their business, but I feel like they come to me for guidance more now.

It’s … I think, like just … It comes with building out workflows so one thing I built out for my longest standing client. She kind of lets me just handle my own processes, and she usually comes to me for a lot of things, but with her, I just built out a data entry workflow, and I presented the same workflow to another advisor I work with, and they like it as well.

It’s just … I usually work with advisors that use E-Money. I haven’t done one for Money Guide Pro, but it’s nice to just go into Wealth Box or Red Tail and see what you have to do and pick up where you left off too.

Hannah: And so, with working with advisors, do you get your own logins for everything? What does that look like?

Charesse: I have two services I offer. For the operations consulting, sometimes they give me my own login for the CRM, but usually we’ll just share, but that’s because it’s a short-term engagement. It may be like three to six months. But with the paraplanning clients, they usually give me my own logins for everything.

I really think it would be beneficial for me to probably get my own E-money login and just add a technology fee because with four E-Money logins, at that point, you know. They’re paying all that money, and it would be like a great service for me to add that to my services, but I don’t know any paraplanners that pay for their own financial planning software.

Hannah: If somebody has you as a paraplanner, what are you doing? What is your … What are the tasks that you do on a regular basis for advisors?

Charesse: So normally, I would check to see if we have all the documents on file to build out the upcoming plans for a client. I will build out the plan, obviously, and then if there’s any meeting followup, I will prepare that as well. Then there’s like research on different topics as well.

I think there’s a big difference between a paraplanner and an associate planner, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had this conversation with anyone, but just seeing what people are looking for when they list an associate planner versus a paraplanner, you can tell the difference, but some people think a paraplanner and association planner … Like they overlap at some extent, but they’re really not the same role.

I would consider myself like an associate planner with one of my advisors, so basically I have client contact, and she’s the only person I have client contact with. I will reach out to the client myself if we need to request more information, like making sure the risk tolerance questionnaire is up to date, and then for the meeting followup, if I need to reach out to the client, I will as well.

Hannah: Is the distinction between the associate planner and the paraplanner basically just client interaction or how else would you make that distinction?

Charesse: I would say it’s more client interaction. I am not an expert on this, but so basically I’m just basing it off of how I see other paraplanners work.

Attending client meetings. Like some paraplanners don’t want the client facing aspect, but some are willing to do it. I have in the past, and I don’t mind doing it, but now that I’m working with five firms right now, I usually have my own meetings, like 10 meetings a week, myself, so I really couldn’t attend client meetings for all my advisors, or my schedule would be crazy.

Hannah: And so those 10 meetings, are they with the advisors?

Charesse: Yeah, so some are … Usually they’re with the advisors or just situations like how I attended … How I spoke at a conference. If I need to book a meeting for that. Mostly are with the advisors, so that can range from five to six meetings.

With my operations consulting clients, I will schedule calls with them to demo a new technology if they’re interested. Normally that would push me over like my weekly meetings that I usually have with all of my clients.

Hannah: For the advisors who are listening to this who are really … Well, I guess it goes both ways, the advisors or somebody kind of in your path, what do you charge in the range or what’s the going rate, if you would, for working with a paraplanner or an operations consultant?

Charesse: For paraplanning, I would say at a minimum maybe $30 to $35 an hour. For the paraplanners that already have the CFP designation, I see them charging between $50 to $60 an hour normally. There are cases where I know someone personally that’s charging $85 an hour.

Then if you think … But you also have to think about the experience, so I’m sure a lot of people have heard of Delgated Planning. Her services are over $100 an hour, but I know she’s offering a lot more than what the normal paraplanner does.

For the operations consultant, I really don’t know anyone else that’s an operations consultant with like my experience. I know there’s larger companies and more experienced people who may have 10 plus years that are doing it, and I honestly don’t know what they’re charging.

Hannah: So if somebody is hearing your career path and is like, “Oh my gosh. This is what I want to do.” Where do they start?

Charesse: I think it’s very beneficial to pursue the registered paraplanner designation or the CFP designation and just start taking the classes just to become more familiar with the financial planning process. I definitely think people should do the research. That’s something I did not do when I started. I was charging very little compared to what I could’ve.

Also, creating a website so people can find you, and Simply Paraplanner was a really good resource for me when I started. I think I got about two to three jobs off of that website, so that’s a good resource as well.

Just thinking through your services and what you actually want to do, and write a business plan.

I waited a year in to write a business plan, and once I did, it provided a lot of clarity for me, and that’s when I realized that I want to continue growing this business.

Hannah: I like it so much that your clients are advisors, so it’s … Yeah.

Charesse: It’s awesome. It’s very profitable, and there’s a big need. I’m actually hiring someone at the end of this month to start helping me with the operations consulting mainly, and then probably data entry, so I like reached out to universities that have the CFP program to see if anyone’s interested, and then just people I’ve mentored along the way to see if they want more experience.

Hannah: So you get to see a lot of technology working with all these different advisors. You get to basically test drive all these various technologies. What are features of products that you just love working with? Especially with advisors?

Charesse: Features or softwares?

Hannah: Either-or, or both.

Charesse: Okay. I really like CRMs. I think they’re very resourceful, and I’m pretty sure all advisors have one, but honestly, there are some people I started working with, and usually the solo advisors, they’re not using it. They have it, but they aren’t maximizing the automation integration with it. I love technology integration just to help eliminate steps and save people time.

I really love helping advisors find the value in their technology because if you’re a virtual firm, or even if you have an office, technology is expensive, so it’s like good to maximize on it.

I really like what the CRMs are doing. I mainly work with Red Tail and Wealth Box, and they have an email feature that I think is very useful. You can build out email templates within the CRM.

Before Wealth Box started that feature, I would have advisors add their email templates into canned responses. The problem with that is if your team starts to grow or you hire anyone, they’re going to have to do the same step over again. But now that the CRMs have this built in, I think it’s great.

E-Money has been doing amazing. That’s just one financial planning software I work with mainly. I’m not sure about the other ones. The client onboarding process has been great. The tasks, like automatic email reminders, that’s amazing. I feel like the main thing for advisors is meeting followup, and My Plan Map is really great with that. You can add tasks in the system and then set up weekly reminders to be automatically sent to your client, and that’s just something you put it in once, and the system takes care of it.

Some people don’t want to add on an additional software for tasks like that, so E-money has the task reminders as well, but the client’s only reminded one time.

Hannah: So, that’s really interesting. So those task reminders, is that a separate program, or is that through existing software?

Charesse: I know Right Capital and E-Money, they have a spot where you can add client tasks into the software, and the clients can go in and complete the tasks, and you can also set a due date reminder, so when that due date comes, the clients get an email notification to complete it. That’s something if you already have Right Capital or E-Money, that’s a feature you can use today. But for My Plan Map, it is a separate software, and it’s purely for task management.

Hannah: One of the concepts that I’m really, really interested in right now is this idea of managing up because I know how many of these financial planning firms are run, and that financial planners aren’t necessarily the best business owners. You just call it what it is.

Charesse: Yes.

Hannah: So, what are your thoughts on managing up. How do you manage your advisors if that makes sense?

Charesse: Yeah, I think you have to manage up. When I manage up, my clients are more satisfied, but I would say early on, I didn’t do this, and people … Well, advisors that I used to work with would tell me like that’s your next step. You need to manage up.

My advisors like that I manage up. I’m usually ahead of them on things, and they like it. For example, with my operations consulting, I manage that whole relationship. I build out the timeline for how long it’s going to take to work on projects. I prepare the meeting agendas. This is what’s next, and in the past, I would also say, “These are the tasks I’m going to work on the next two week.” But I would never tell the advisor, “This is what you’re going to work on.” I do that now.

Also, just recommending technology to advisors and telling them, “Hey, this process isn’t working, and this is why.” I think if you want to be a virtual paraplanner, if you want to be a great … If you want to be like a great paraplanner or a great employee at your company, I think that this is just a skillset that everyone should have, and you become more valuable.

Hannah: How do you handle when you say, okay, advisor or boss, or whoever, depending on what your role is, you didn’t do what you said you would do. How is that handled, because I know that comes up?

Charesse: Yeah, for sure. So, this is really funny. When I started the operations consulting, I envisioned meeting with the advisor every other week, as like a strategy meeting, but now I meet with all operations consulting and paraplanning clients weekly, and I would say this happens with paraplanning clients as well. Advisors really don’t look over anything you email them. I mean, that’s a very general statement, but normally, if I send a long email, like here’s all the projects I worked on this week. Here are the notes from the meeting … Here’s the notes from the plan I just worked on last week. They usually won’t read it, and then during our call, they’ll ask me about the plan or the project I previously worked on.

For me, I think it’s good for a paraplanner to have a great line of communication, and also consider doing a briefing meeting or a debriefing meeting. If I’m mainly working with an advisor for paraplanning only, I’ll have a briefing meeting for a plan I completed.

That briefing meeting, I’m reviewing the plan with them and asking them any questions I have, and we’re looking at the what if scenarios to see if anything should be changed. Then the advisor would go to their client meeting, and then after that client meeting, and then after that client meeting, we would have a debriefing meeting.

So they’ll tell me, “I had the client meeting. This is the followup that needs prepared.” If there’s any updates on the plan, they’ll let me know, and then we’re done with that plan until the next quarter, month, whatever their process is.

Hannah: I really like how you kind of built in just that regular, almost like cycle of communication where there’s always a feedback loop with the advisor and coming in front of them.

Okay, the word that’s coming to mind is maddening of how you like put all this time into writing this long email or writing these summaries, and the advisor’s not reading it. Is that just something that you have to accept when you’re in that managing up role? Or, I just-

Charesse: Well, I tell advisors … Recently, I’ve noticed this problem because I normally don’t work with this many advisors at once. Like, one time, I worked with six, and it was hectic, but now I manage better, but I’m getting a lot of feedback from my clients, which is very helpful, and one advisor told me, she said, “I really haven’t sat down and looked at all the work you’ve done.” And I’ve sure a lot of advisors haven’t, but they just haven’t told me. I told her, I said, “If you don’t want to review this work alone, then we can schedule more meetings.” And if they’re willing to pay for the meetings with me to go through everything I did, I’m okay with that, but I tell them, if you’re not looking over the work, and we’re not having more meetings, then that’s just going to push back the projects that we’re working on.

Hannah: Well and so much of it, we talk a lot about client change and how to get our clients to change and really realizing that we can’t, and what our job is to say, “Here’s the options.” And advisors, if you’re not going to read this email or respond to it, then this gets pushed back.

Charesse: Yeah, I would say the underlying trend for me though is that advisors would probably prefer to sit down and review the work, and I mean, just thinking about a normal client in the financial planning industry, you’re sitting down with them and presenting the plan, so if I’m working on three workflows, and I want to present to you the technology integration that’s involved in it, the email templates that are involved with it, I definitely think that it would probably be best for us just to sit down, talk it through, and then I can make the changes and the process is implemented rather than me doing the work, the advisor looking it over, emailing it me, and then it comes up on the next meeting anyways.

So thinking out loud right now, but I definitely think I probably just need more meetings in my service model.

Hannah: And it goes back to this idea of we talk a lot about with clients, and again that’s where I know, it’s the future is human. It’s that hand-holding. As advisors, we need hand-holding.

Charesse: Yeah, I really think I collaborate well with advisors. I don’t think I’m doing all the work because again, it’s your business, and you just need help. You are servicing your clients. You want to grow the business, so to have someone come in and help streamline everything, to just make that process a lot easier, why not … What I normally tell advisors, like you provide the vision, then I execute it.

Hannah: I’ve seen that you’ve spoken on how employers can attract millennial talent. Let’s kind of flip this because most of the people listening to this podcast are newer planners who are hoping to get into good jobs. What are signs that a firm is doing it right in order to attract talent, and that somebody’s walking into a good job situation?

Charesse: I think if the firm is thinking about longterm where you’re going to end up in five years, even within the first year, just creating that timeline. I think that’s really essential.

I actually met a student when I was at the conference last week, and he told me they gave him a year timeline, like quarterly goals that they want him to hit, and I think XYPN just started the 90-day training timeline. If they really thought through what they’re going to do with the new hire, I think that’s great because it’s a thorough thought process, and they’re thinking through every aspect.

Also, I think it’s important for the interviewee to interview the interviewer because that’s something I haven’t done in the past, and I’m happy where I ended up, but I think if I would’ve spent more time asking questions to the employer, that would’ve helped me along the way. I ended up in a job that basically demoted me. I wasn’t able to be client-basing, and I had the opportunity beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have left the company.

I think it’s good to ask questions on what you’re going to be doing on a day-to-day basis. Then also flexibility. When I was working full time, I didn’t have the same flexibility as like my friends that were in marketing or IT. They were able to work from home once a week or once a month, and just like the flexibility. Like if you have to go a doctor’s appointment, and you can go and work later, like things like that. I feel like I’ve always worked at firms that were really strict along those lines.

Also, you want someone who is going to offer you the resources to be successful in your role and in the industry making sure they will continue your education whether that’s paying for the CFP exam or attending conferences or becoming a FPA member. I think those are really important so you can have outside communication from with … Like if you only talk with people in your current company, then how is your company going to grow? How are you going to bring best practices into the operations procedures or the paraplanning workflow if you’re not able to speak with anyone outside of your company?

Hannah: What have you learned in almost three and a half or four years that you’ve been in our profession, what have you learned about our profession?

Charesse: I learned that the profession is growing. I think there are a lot of advocates that want to help millennials, women, and minorities grow in the industry. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for young professionals to enter this industry, and there’s so many career paths, and I think the industry’s okay with you creating that career path on your own.

If you don’t fit the mold, then I think there’s an opportunity to move at your own pace.

Hannah: If you don’t if that mold, then that means that you stand out which is a really good thing.

Charesse: Yes. Yes, but I definitely think the industry is changing. They’re becoming more innovative just like with companies like XYPN. THey’re amazing. They’re setting the standard that younger advisors can launch their own business. And Simply Paraplanner, they have a job board specifically for virtual help, so I think these businesses are starting to pop up, and I meet people who have virtual businesses they’ve been running for 15 years, so it’s been around, but I think now it’s becoming the norm.

Hannah: Well, as we wrap up, are there any final pieces of advice that you would have to people who are entering the profession?

Charesse: If you’re prepared, you will normally be successful, so I think everyone should do their research and create that timeline on how they can achieve their goals.  

Hide Transcript

Charesse Hagan believes it’s time to challenge the narrative that the only career path within financial planning is working toward being a lead advisor. Through her experience as a paraplanner and operations consultant, Charesse Hagan is a testament to the fact that there are many different career paths available to professionals in the financial planning industry. After working for two years in the advisor world as an associate planner, Charesse began to feel that working for a wealth management firm wasn’t necessarily for her.
Feeling confident in her experience, she struck out on her own. At first, Charesse exclusively involved herself in paraplanning work. Over time, her business model evolved to offer both operations consulting and some light paraplanning for long-term clients.
In the financial planning profession, we’re often fed a narrative that the best (or only) route for young professionals to take is to work toward being a lead advisor at a large firm, or to launch your own RIA. Charesse, however, believes that we need to challenge this narrative and highlight all career opportunities within the financial planning industry so that everyone can find their best fit.
Charesse has had colossal success running her own consulting and paraplanning business, and she’s excited about the possibilities that are still open to her in the future. By committing to the entrepreneur lifestyle, she has the potential to live and work as a digital nomad, add additional services to her business model, hire employees – the opportunities are endless.
Tune in to learn more about Charesse’s journey, and how you can find your own space within the financial planning community.

What You’ll Learn:

Different career opportunities within the finance industry.
What kind of education or experience you should look for if you’re considering launching your own business that serves financial planners.
What technology Charesse finds valuable for financial planners.
The difference between an associate planner and a paraplanner – and how you can determine which is a best fit for you.
How staying organized and building out processes can help you to implement strategy.
How providing the best customer experience possible is often all the marketing you need.

Simply Paraplanner
Charesse Hagan

Hannah Moore clean 38:37
Quickly Growing a Firm Tue, 13 Feb 2018 20:43:02 +0000 0 Five years after founding Strategic Financial Partners at 25 years old, Sten Morgan has built his financial planning firm $100M. Tune in to learn how he pushed past what was comfortable and challenged himself to grow, improve, and find a tremendous amount of success. Sten Morgan struck out on his own at 25 years old to start his own financial planning practice. After an internship at Northwest Mutual and a job at Raymond James, he chose to start a financial planning practice in a new town where he knew almost nobody. People said he was crazy, but he knew he could push himself past the difficult growth period to a point where he was running a healthy, booming financial planning practice.

Five years later, Sten has built Strategic Financial Partners, his financial planning firm in Tennessee, to over $100M. He pushed past what he knew he was comfortable with and challenged himself to find creative ways to get in front of clients. From taking a public speaking course to gathering email addresses from a local hospital’s directory, Sten worked to market to one of  his niche markets in the medical field and add value to their lives.

Sten is a big believer that most people are ignorant of what they’re capable of achieving, and the resources and information available to them that will help them grow. He wants all advisors to be aware of just how much they have to gain by taking risks and breaking out of the rut they’re stuck in.

You’re going to be blown away by Sten’s out-of-the-box ideas, and the encouraging advice he has for both new financial planners looking to get started and find success, as well as seasoned planners who have been feeling the urge to grow and improve themselves and their businesses.

hannah's signature

Many people think: How can I get the results I want with the least amount of discomfort? And you’ve already lost if you have that mindset.


What You’ll Learn:

  • How a business owner comes up with processes for working with clients.
  • How Sten became successful with running his own firm in a short period of time.
  • How Sten focuses on Centers of Influence (COIs) to build his firm and grow his client base.
  • How to power through what makes you nervous to challenge yourself and find success.
  • How to better understand your weak points and set discomfort goals to stretch yourself and grow.
  • How to change your mind-sets to move you toward success.


Strategic Financial Partners

7 Mindsets of Success: What You Really Need to Do to Achieve Rapid, Top-Level Success

7 Mindsets of Success Website






Show Transcript

Ep85 Transcript

Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today Sten.

Sten: No, happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Hannah: Absolutely. I am really excited for you to talk about how to build a practice in a cold market. We’ll get to that a little bit later. But first of all, I’d love to hear more of your career path. How did you get into the financial planner profession?

Sten: You bet. I started in the business maybe like a lot of young CFPs or folks coming out of college. I didn’t really quite know what it meant to be a CFP or financial advisor. If I would have known that meant some amount of selling or even running your own business I might not have even got into this world because that would have intimidated me a lot of the time. I just knew I enjoyed people and I enjoyed numbers. I had a professor tell me once, he says, “There’s two ways to go with a business or finance degree. There’s in front of people or there’s behind computer screens all the time.” I think that was a little extreme at the time but it kind of helped me make the decision that I wanted to go the people path and feel that out.

My first job was an internship at Northwestern Mutual and I had no experience in the industry at all. I went there and learned a lot of what they do is sell insurance and they have some other things available and I got some really good foundational training, but then I learned I’m really interested in the investment side. I hear the wire house thing, that sounds really sexy. I want to go try that out. I jumped over to Raymond James for a little bit and was all investments all the time, and got my CFP through that process. I got my CFP before I could even use it, there was that work experience requirement back then but I knew I just wanted to learn at much as I could.

After being at Raymond James for a while I said, “I think I can do this on my own. I want to be able to control what my practice looks like. I want to do some fee based planning. I like the insurance side as part of it but I really want to be this boutique shop. That’s when I said I think I can do this on my own. I was about 24, almost 25 when I did that.

Hannah: It’s really interesting because I hear a lot of people looking at internships for Northwestern Mutual. Was that a positive experience for you? Maybe another way of framing that, what would be your advice to people who are looking at an internship with Northwestern Mutual or firms like that?

Sten: That’s a great question. I think it’s great foundational learning, especially coming into an industry you don’t know a lot about. I think a company that has a good system in place is really beneficial. I think if the small groups I’ve seen or even if you jump onto an independent team right away you can get a lot of experience but they might not have a system that keeps you busy all the time. You may sit around for hours just waiting for someone to tell you what to do. At Northwestern I appreciated there was weekly trainings, they linked you up with other advisors to give you some joint work, but then they also said, “Hey, go out and sell also because if you do you get to make some money.” I think it was a really good way to see the industry, see the hard side of the business, but also get some foundational training.

I think every advisor has to decide do I want to be really heavy on insurance, because I got some guys doing big insurance all the time, do I want to be the hedge fund guy, or all investments, or do I want to be the financial planner to people who they come to and I help them oversee it all. If somebody said, “I want to do insurance all the time,” I think Northwestern could be a great option. They’re really building up their broker/dealer more I’ve heard. As far as getting into the business, I think they do just as good as anybody else does.

Hannah: I like the sales training. I know for a lot of people who jump straight into an RA or various places sometimes they’re smaller shops and they don’t have the resources to do full out training, like some of the bigger firms do.

Sten: Then from there you’re maybe just learning through mistakes. That’s good to do at times, but if you can learn from other people’s mistakes and not have to do it yourself that’s what I preferred.

Hannah: You were you said 24-25 and looking at starting your own firm at that point. What led you to decide that you wanted to start your own firm?

Sten: I was partnered with the Raymond James office and they were doing a lot of business. I think this 1 advisor had like 1500 clients. They did a lot of A share business and it was a lot of activity and I learned a lot, but I looked at the book of business when I stepped back and said, “I just don’t have that many clients because it’s really hard to follow through on the commitment you made to them initially.” It seems like you end up just finding new clients and the older ones kind of felt forgotten about, maybe some of them stayed around, maybe some of them don’t. I said, “I think I can design a practice to where it’s more specific, it’s still profitable, but I can target business owners, physicians.”

I feel like in today’s market place there’s a lot of investors that if they want to open up a Roth or a 529 they can do it online themselves. I think there’s advisors still adding value with that process but I got really excited when I could do a complicated estate planning or tax harvesting and investment account where I could really show the client by working with me I just saved you $10,000, $15,000, $20,000. I think that just really protects your value prop. That’s where I said I want to just design my group a different way.

Hannah: Was the first that you were working with open to that idea or did you know that you wanted to do it on your own?

Sten: Part of it was the payouts because there were so many layers. They were owned by parent companies so I think the highest payout you ever got was 50%.

Hannah: Ouch.

Sten: Yeah. So I think even in that model when you’re doing a lot of A share load stuff and then you’re getting a 50% cut I think as my mind started thinking more like a business owner I said I think I can have fewer clients and actually end up making more money. Then going to a place where it’s close to now I’m close to 90% payout you have all your own expenses and there’s more business owner type decisions, but I found out that’s just more how I was wired.

Hannah: Did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur before this?

Sten: I didn’t and then I talk about in the book a little about just my upbringing and how things were just so hard all the time that my whole goal in life was really just to be comfortable. The thought of working for somebody, working hard, getting a steady paycheck was just what I thought the pinnacle of success was for a long time. It took some time for me to realize I think I’m capable of more. I’m actually open to taking on challenges and risks even though for a long time I wasn’t. I think it’s once I internalized that that I said, “I think if I did this for 10 more years I’d look back and regret delaying the risk of doing my own thing.” I wasn’t that way for a long time, but a switch flicked to say, “I think that’s really what I want.”

Hannah: Did people think you were crazy to want to start your own firm at such a young age?

Sten: Oh yeah. I tried to stay with Raymond James for a while and they were like, “Hey Sten, your older partner’s right down the street. He’s a big producer. You’re 25 we just can’t really rock the cart, you need to do your own thing.” For me I almost … I just got married, just bought a house, actually I wasn’t married yet so my wife still kids that when we got married I was unemployed. It’s hilarious looking back but I just started going to the office not knowing who to call and started coming up with some unique ways to get in front of people. Recognizing that I was 24-25 and who is going to take advise from me, but really trying to change those mindsets that were holding me back to say, “I can add value. I do have a CFP.” Most of the time I still know more than most of the people do in the room even though I’m 25 years old. I think people eventually thought Sten would make it because he desires it. I just don’t think they wouldn’t think that I would have surpassed them in four years when they’ve been in the business for 20. I think that’s what caught people’s attention.

Hannah: When you started out this was the Legacy Investment Planning Group.

Sten: That’s right, which was me.

Hannah: One of the things that I hear a lot from listeners is lack of confidence, especially when people are graduating oftentimes they don’t come from a background. A lot of their clients are high net worth at many of these firms and so they’re trying to give advice and they’re young. What would you say to that person who perhaps is lacking confidence in their 20s, or heck, even their 30s.

Sten: That’s a great question. The good thing about our business is that, and I’ve learned this from other business owners and physicians, is there’s going to be some people that the age is just a no-go for them and you’ve got to move on and that gets frustrating at times. I remember when I was 25, this was one of my first clients when I broke off, it was a 30 year Merrill Lynch client with a few million dollars, they switched over to me, a physician, because I sat with them and talked about things that Merrill Lynch never brought up, like tax harvesting, estate planning with their life insurance, long-term care planning. It was just a different kind of conversation.

What gave me more confidence was realizing even though I’m young if I put together a good value prop and a good deliverable for clients most advisors aren’t doing that. I think I assumed that most advisors were, that they were meeting with their clients frequently, that they were really trying to add unique value. But if a lot of your listeners are CFPs they’re already steps ahead of people that have been in the business for a long time just because they know more. I’ve worked with business owners that they don’t care if you’re 12 or 50, if you have a strategy that’s going to save them $50,000 a year in taxes they’ll work with you. I think it’s just recognizing that you are valuable and the knowledge you have is not something that everybody else has, and you need to continuously improve yourself because you are the product. Hannah’s the product. Sten’s the product. That’s really who they’re working with. What ends up happening is that your age is maybe a barrier initially but then I just turned 31 and now clients are coming to me because they want to work with somebody that’s young, that’s established because they want to work with us for the next 30 years and not their advisor that’s retiring next year.

I found, I talk about it in the book, that’s literally so much of it is mindset, it’s perception drives reception. It’s what are you conveying? What is the product? I think sometimes that’s the way you dress, it’s the way you talk. I don’t think every advisor has to wear a three piece suit and try to be the smartest person in the room all the time. But just thinking through if I was in the client’s shoes I want somebody that listens. I want somebody that really knows their stuff and it can’t be the basic stuff. I think if anybody meets with you they’re already expecting you to know something, that’s why they’re meeting with you. You need to make sure that if they met with two other advisors that however you are explaining your value prop that it stands apart. I feel like most advisors are saying the same thing as every other advisor and then they’re surprised why they don’t get the business.

I have a good buddy that I was at a conference with years ago and he was competing for a client, it was like $60 million, the guy sold a business. He got down to him and one other group, Morgan Stanley or something. He ended up losing the client, but he knew the client well enough to go ask him, “Hey, would you tell me why I didn’t get the business?” The client’s wife said, “We just honestly couldn’t tell the difference so we flipped a coin.”

Hannah: Wow.

Sten: So he lost a $60 million account over a coin flip because he was saying the same thing as the other guy. His packet probably looked the same as the other guy.

One thing we do at Legacy is we’ve kind of patterned it off the “Blue Ocean Strategy”. Hopefully, maybe your listeners have heard of that book, but it’s are you creating a blue ocean where there’s very little competition or are you trying to hang out in a red ocean where there’s blood in the water and you’re saying the same stuff as every other advisor and hoping they just pick you.

Hannah: What does that look like in practice? How is your pitch different than every other advisors?

Sten: We do fee planning. When we work with a client we open up with just a flat fee plan to start the relationship, but it’s really trying to convince clients. We focus on pain point, which means if I meet with a business owner taxes and estate planning are big. We don’t open with investments and insurance even though we get paid if we do some of that stuff. I feel like a lot of advisors lead with the products they have. We focus on if it’s a physician it’s taxes, it’s reading through their disability policy they’re not aware of. We go to hospitals at times and we tell doctor clients that, “Hey, have you actually read through your group disability policy? You know it’s own occupation for two years,” and we got them. It’s really being a student of the game to say with this particular client what is the pain point going to be. That’s my foot in the door. From there I can do everything else.

We’ve also always thought about positioning ourselves to the client as their financial planner because clients will buy investments from their financial planner. They will buy insurance from their financial planner. They’ll pay a fee to their financial planner. If your client sees you as just a stock broker or an insurance salesman that’s really what you’re going to be in their mind forever. We spend a lot of time on what is our first impression. What are they going to see us as from this point moving forward. Then they’re also going to refer us that to people. Our referrals are much higher quality because we know what they’re telling the other clients what we do.

Hannah: Are you really defining that through the niching down in your business?

Sten: Yeah I think we do. The main three parts of our business where we generate clients are physicians, we’re endorsed by the Tennessee Medical Association. We work with business owners and we advertise that specifically. Then we do corporate education. I’ll go into large groups and speak to them about retirement, but we’ll get in front of a group of 60 people at one time and then me and the other advisors will meet with them one on one and that generates a lot of activity for the other advisors. As opposed to casting an extremely wide net I said, “Okay, I’m not going to say that I only work with 45 year old business owners and manufacturing.” I’ve heard people say it’s super specific, but I say I’m going to try to focus on a few areas and really nest in there. Where it started in my business in Nashville, because I didn’t know anybody when I started Legacy, was physicians. I said, “I know they need help.” A lo of them don’t make the best decisions not because they don’t want to, just they don’t have the time to and they don’t slow down enough.

I started targeting hospitals because I could get the doctors email addresses off the website and I started hitting them with periodic emails about, “Hey, have you read through your group benefits? Do you know your disability policy doesn’t cover you for this? Have you reviewed your 403b asset allocation recently? Not a two page email that they’re not going to read. It was literally like a one sentence email saying, “Hey, I’m going to be by your office tomorrow. Can I stop by and hand you something?” Out of 100 of those reach outs I would get maybe 20 responses, 10 would say yes, I’d end up meeting with maybe 6 or 7, which was much better than a cold call. I was able to work myself through that network and those hospitals by really adding value.

Hannah: I think that’s such an important concept. The more I learn about marketing the more I realize everything needs to be tied down to results. A 6%-7% success rate is actually really good.

Sten: Oh yeah. I remember I used to hear it was kind of the 10-3-1. You get ahold of 10 people, 3 meet, you get 1 client. With me being young in the business in a new town, getting married I couldn’t wait. Those metrics just weren’t going to work for me and so I had to be a little more specific about it. I put together something called The Advisor Handbook, which is something that everybody getting into the business should really go through. It’s kind of the 10 best practices of what we do to say if you’re an advisor, no matter what stage you are, if you’re not doing these 10 things you’re missing something. I’ll give you that info later if you want to shoot it out.

There’s a lot of good people that want to get into this business that have the heart, they just kind of get beat up by the business, the sales, how long it typically takes to be successful. They kind of say, “I want to do this, I just can’t wait that long.”

Hannah: That’s a really interesting point because part of your story is how fast you grew your business. Now you moved across the country, is that right?

Sten: Yeah I grew up in Oregon, outside of Portland.

Hannah: Then you moved to Nashville and then started your business?

Sten: Yep. I worked with a group here for a year and a half, I kind of settled in, but really just serviced their clients. When I broke off it was Sten and that was it. It was not a good idea. I would suggest anybody making a move do a little more pre-planning than I did. I think the takeaway is even though you don’t preplan … I was in Wisconsin speaking to a group last week and I said, “Anybody that thinks that you can’t do it in three years.” Our practice has over a $1 million of revenue now and that was from 0 clients and 5 years later. Even though it’s unusual it is possible. It’s now just other advisors figuring out what are they doing, how do I do it because if people are doing it it’s possible, it’s just not the easy route, but you could do it if you wanted to.

Hannah: Let’s talk about that. You start your own practice and you start targeting physicians. What else did you do that helped you achieve that success quickly?

Sten: I never stopped studying for the first three years, whether it was a CFP, CHFC, conferences, because I really internalized in my mind that I was the product. I took speaking courses, which I built my college curriculum around not speaking in front of groups. I realized that if I can get in front of a group, and I had an opportunity, and I could teach a seminar all of a sudden I’m the expert in the room right away, if I could be the person at the front of the room. That speaking course, which led to teaching a small seminar, which led to signing 2 contracts with big companies with 2,000 plus employees that we’re there once a week speaking to 60 people at a time it’s maybe not having the end in mind but it’s saying I’m going to continuously develop myself so when an opportunity does come up I’m confident enough to step in and take it. I needed economies of scale when I starting in Nashville. I had to get in front of as many people as quickly as I could.

It really does come down to the numbers. You need to call people, but I hated cold calling so I was like where do I get warm introductions. So I’d do a networking group once a week. I’d go to the hospital, I got kicked out of the mail room once because I was putting things in the doctor’s mailboxes. Nobody else is doing that, so it’s like what is different? What is every other advisor doing and I’m not going to do that besides the kind of basic blocking and tackling that we all need to do I needed to somehow stay in the park.

Hannah: When you started, I know this is always a topic among firm owners, did you have a minimum of what you’d work with? How did you balance that prospecting for new clients versus managing the inflow of new clients?

Sten: That’s a great question. I think it was at first if you could fog a mirror I was going to work with you. I think I moved past that quickly because I realized that if I was going to promise a certain service model I had to work with a certain clientele. For a year or two it was really if I could add value I’ll work with you. I was willing to meet with anybody because I didn’t know who they may be able to refer me to.

How I did control my client growth was I didn’t always engage them as a client. I would meet with somebody. I would follow up and give them some good value add but if it wasn’t going to be a profitable long-term client I wouldn’t really try to engage them, whether it was mutual funds, insurance, I would just say, “Hey, here’s some good overview topics to cover. But if it’s buying a $40 a month term policy there’s a lot of policies you can do that. Let me know if you have any questions.” I focused on assets under management. I set that about 100,000 initially, give or take, and that’s just grown from there because I was dead set on even if I only made $30,000 the first year I was going to really control the quality of my client so that I could actually deliver on the process.

One big thing I did differently is I made centers of influence a huge part of my practice. I came up with a strategy that I used to get in front of attorneys, CPAs, and other centers of influence. But I did recognize the best ones were getting called all the time and so I said, “What kind of call would they actually take and would they actually meet with me?” I developed a script that I talked about in that advisor handbook that gets me those meetings. I started getting those COIs as clients and now they’re my best referral sources.

Hannah: That’s interesting. I’ve heard somebody else say that where you actually go after the centers of influence not for their network but for them as clients.

Sten: First the approach can’t be, “Hey, I want you as a client.” The approach at a high level is I’m actually looking for centers of influences to serve my clients. They didn’t know I only had 10 clients but they’re willing to meet with somebody because everybody at some point, I wouldn’t say it’s even greedy, but if it’s going to be beneficial for them they’ll take the meeting. If you’re calling a COI and saying, “Can I meet your clients?” Click, they’re going to hang up because they just got 10 of those phone calls before you. I think it’s about constantly saying I’m going to add value before I ask for a referral. I’m going to add value before I try to partner with a COI. What that means, and people are implementing that online now when people sell courses is you give free stuff away, you give free stuff and then you ask for something as opposed to asking for something before you’re really even proved that you could add value. I keep that in mind a lot when I’m trying to meet with new COIs or new clients.

Hannah: Do you have a regular drip marketing campaign for your centers of influence that you’re just in regular touch with them?

Sten: We sent out a monthly newsletter to COIs, which is, again, it’s not a, “Happy January, hope you have a good year,” it’s, “Here’s a specific strategy that you may not be aware of that can add value to your clients.” I think we have like an 80% open rating-

Hannah: Wow.

Sten: … in those emails. We might have a call to action sometimes and the call to action’s not 80%, but we get the open rate because these people, even though we don’t meet with all of them on a quarterly basis like we do with our closest COIs they know that we’re adding value. They know our email is going to give them something that they can use with their clients or that just improves their skillset. I think that’s really important is to protect the quality of information you’re giving to clients, COIs, because if you’re sending out a monthly client newsletter and it’s just the same stuff all the time eventually they’re going to stop opening it. It’s really hard to get them back once you lose them.

Hannah: Do you have writers on staff, or do you outsource that, or are you writing that content yourself?

Sten: Typically we’ll have … I sign up for newsletters, whether it’s from JP Morgan, PIMCO, Fidelity, VanGuard that just gives us info. I have some attorneys that will write some white papers for us, but the COIs and the clients don’t even really want a long email. I might take what I read and I’ll paraphrase it down to like four sentences. The end goal would be for them to say, “You shared enough for me to know that I don’t know what you’re talking about,” so I’m either going to refer my clients to you or I’m going to give you a call to talk about it.” One of those we did when the social security law changed and they closed some loopholes is that we did specific emails and did some seminars around it. The seminars were fairly well attended, but what it really did was there was like three or four CPAs that, for whatever reason in their mind, all of a sudden we were the social security experts and they just started referring people to us because it was beneficial for them and clients were definitely going to ask, and they didn’t have anybody to send them to.

It’s gets back to that what’s the perception of your practice and you to attorneys, to CPAs, are you the when I send somebody to Sten they’re going to make me look really good and they’re not going to try to sell my clients something if they don’t need it then they’re going to refer you to more people.

Hannah: In my experience is that centers of influences are very sensitive to their clients getting sold too.

Sten: Oh yeah, definitely. But if you give them a good runway, which means you don’t expect a COI to refer you to somebody in the next week after you meet them or even you refer somebody to them I’ve kind of held to I’ll engage a COI and probably work with them for 6-12 months and send them some periodic clients if it makes sense before I hold their feet to the fire to where I say, “I’ve sent you 10 people. You’ve done a great job, I appreciate it, but I know you know people that I could help. What am I missing? How can we do this better?” To be honest, what I’ve learned is that these COIs need coaching. They need you to tell them how to refer because they’re just not wired that way. They have to be told, “When you hear this catchphrase…” When somebody says, “I hate paying taxes,” or, “Oh man, retirement accounts are lagging behind that,” that’s when you need to say, “I have somebody who can help with that.” If you don’t coach them on it they’re just going to get right back into the regular routine and just not think about it.

Hannah: One thing you mentioned earlier was when you started your new firm you had the processes in a way that you wanted to serve your clients. Did you come up with that on your own? What was the evolution of you deciding how you wanted to serve your clients?

Sten: It was a combination of things I’ve seen, done well, and then things I’ve seen not done well. I knew I wanted to automate my process, which is still a work in progress where I can be touching with my clients with valuable content so that I’m not feeling like I haven’t talked to that client in two months or three months. Service is really important to us because what I’ve learned is that at the end of the day if market drops not a lot of clients are going to fire you because the market went down, but if they don’t hear from you, if they don’t feel heard it’s really kind of that warm and fuzzy emotional stuff that really can trap a client long-term and really keep them from questioning you as much if you educate them and set good expectations.

We do monthly client newsletters. We meet with eight clients at least twice a year. Everybody, A, B, and C gets a birthday card. We do an annual client event. We send Christmas gifts to A clients, B, and then maybe some C if they’re good referral sources. It’s really saying I want to have 12 touches at least per year on the clients and hopefully maybe 7-8 of them are more automated. You’re really covering all your bases then.

Hannah: I find myself falling into this trap, sometimes I want to recreate the wheel and do something more creative, but this is kind of the blocking and tackling of our business.

Sten: I still think it can create a blue ocean. I think there’s a way in your service model to be different and unique. I’m hearing stuff from advisors all the time in some of these conferences I go to, I’m like, “Wow, that’s really creative.” But that’s the reason I pay to go to conferences. It’s like if we get trapped in our own little world sometimes it’s hard to just break out of that and think differently. That’s why I hire coaches. I hire coaches for my team. I hire coaches for speaking. Hiring coaches doesn’t mean that you’re spending a lot of money all the time but I’d say any new CFP or somebody that’s a few years into the business you need to have somebody that’s speaking into your practice and your business outside because if you don’t what’s going to happen it you’re going to do the same thing. You’re going to get really focused on just acquiring new clients and you’re going to forget about a lot of this stuff that builds a good foundation. Coaching is kind of a big thing for us now.

Hannah: Absolutely. You’re five years into running your own firm. What does your firm look like? How many employees do you have? What’s the structure?

Sten: There’s five of us, so we’re kind of small. We have three advisors and two staff. We’re kind of at a stage where we’re looking to add a junior advisor, so any of your listeners that are CFPs in Nashville that want to be challenged and take it to the next level we’d love to talk to them. We’re to the point now where I’ve always tried to grow ahead of myself or hire ahead of myself. I felt like a lot of advisors in the past, whether it was staff or other advisors, if you wait too long and you think you have the business to support it you waited probably a year or two long to hire that person to kind of try and keep ourselves accountable to that. We’re kind of a growth stage now to where our service model not to be compromised we need more folks because we’re turning away good business now that doesn’t really fall into my A and B, but would be a great client for another advisor.

Hannah: That advisors that are on your staff are they responsible for bringing in business or are you really the rain maker of the firm?

Sten: They are also. One of our other advisors is really well networked and just … Again, I’m from Oregon and California and so in the south it’s a little different. He’s from Kentucky so he just speaks the language around here. Us West Coast guys can come across a little harsh, so he does a really good job with the rain making piece too. The other advisor is more of the in office guy. I think we have enough rain making happening, it’s just we need more sharp people to deliver on the opportunities we’re running into.

Hannah: You wrote a book “Seven Mindsets for Success” what made you want to write a book?

Sten: I had never thought about writing a book before. If somebody would have asked me a few years ago it wasn’t even on my bucket list. I think it must have been a year and a half ago I was sitting one night and I just couldn’t get these thoughts out of my head. I’d experienced really unusual success in the business at a young age that I’d go to conferences and people would ask questions about, “What are you doing?” I think what people were looking for is what’s the magical thing that I could do tomorrow to duplicate your success. I realized that all of us were doing the same thing, we’re prospecting, we’re surveying our clients, we’re educating ourselves to be unique.

There were some things I was doing that were a little different but I really thought what is it really. Why am I doing the same thing as some other people but getting dramatically different results? I think it really came down to just the way I approach my life and my business. It’s what I call mindsets. That’s where I said I need to put this stuff because if it can help one advisor stay in the business because they learn to think about it differently then I think that would have been a big win. It’s gotten much bigger than that and turned into speaking engagements and getting in front of groups of 100 advisors to challenge them, so I’m very blessed by that. That was the motivation behind it.

Hannah: Let’s talk about mindsets. Can you give us an example of what you’re talking about and how that plays out?

Sten: I’ve defined mindset as a controllable filter to the world around you that impacts every single decision you make. The way I grew up, single mom, three sisters, we had a lot of tough situations. I think we had like 27 houses before I was in middle school. For me the world was tough. Authority figures always let you down. We’re all shaped by our upbringing and for a lot of years we don’t have control over that. Our mindsets and my mindset coming into be a late teenager and my early 20s was so clouded. I played basketball in college and I got in fights all the time. I was just mad and I felt like success didn’t happen to people like us. That really drove the success I experienced. It was later in college that I realized the fact that I think authority figures are out to get me, and therefore, I don’t take advice from anybody is probably really holding me back.

I didn’t do any joint work initially in this business. I felt like Sted it’s all on you. That was a terrible mindset. That was a way I was viewing the world, but it wasn’t reality. Once I changed that and I started learning from people and taking constructive criticism it changed my business dramatically. It really helped me focus on what are these filters in my life. I’ve kind of put it into seven mindsets in the book. What are these seven filters that if they go off track can impact what I’m doing and therefore cause me to underperform in everything I’m doing. That’s where I really started focusing on are my mindsets healthy, am I making good, effective decisions.

When I do some of my speeches I have these drunk buster goggles that if you put them on they’ll give you a headache because you feel like you’re intoxicated, but it’s really putting people in the mindset of if you don’t have everything figured out in your head, in your mindsets, what you’re really is you’re really trying to operate wearing these goggles. Anything you do is probably not going to be as successful as you want it to be. You’re not going to make effective decisions, you’re going to doubt yourself. For me I felt like success starts with the way I think and what my mindsets are, then I can go from there.

Hannah: It’s really interesting, we had Rick Kaylor from South Dakota on the podcast just a couple weeks ago and he was talking about money mindsets with his clients and how that’s really helped open up and make the clients make better financial decisions for themselves. This is a really great pairing of our mindsets.

Sten: Oh yeah, it drives everything. Another chapter in the book is about pursuing discomfort. I mentioned earlier today that my whole life was about pursuing comfort. At one point in my life I thought if I could make $100,000, because that was the most successful person I’d ever met up to that point then I would have arrived. That’s the ultimate level of success. I reached that point and I realized the only way I’m going to continue to grow is if I find the next really hard thing. I set a discomfort goal every 30 days for myself. It’s not always a huge one, it may be a speaking course, it may be writing a book. It may be going after new clientele that I was worried about, or learning about a new product, but it’s constantly stretching myself to get better.

In the book I talk about something called a misogi, which is really fascinating. A Harvard professor came up with what he calls the modern day misogi. It’s a physical or mental challenge that you have about a 50% chance of success. By completing it it essentially opens your mind to what you’re actually capable of doing. So with some coaching clients I have I challenge them to that. I ask them, “What’s one thing you never thought you could do?” Then we try to do it. It’s pretty amazing the results from that.

Hannah: What would be an example of that?

Sten: I think in our business one thing would be I’ve talked about a lot of people get their CFP in a year because you can take a class. I got it in five months because I self-studied at night like crazy and then challenged the test. It could be traditionally in our business clients you might be really comfortable with insurance so you sell it but you’ve avoided investments or financial planning because it’s uncomfortable. Well you should learn it. Taking things that you know you’re avoiding, we all know we’re avoiding something that we know will grow us and saying yes to it and doing it.

Hannah: This may seem like an obvious question, but what are the indicators or how would somebody know if maybe one of their mindsets is off?

Sten: I’ve put together, and this is a card that if any of your listeners want to email I can send this PDF to them, but I’ve broken down the mindsets. The book walks through it that perspective, for example, was a mindset that if your perspective mindset it clouded it means you think you have it all figured out. You think that just on your own you’ll continue to be successful. But if you perspective mindset is clear you realize that there’s so much you don’t know that you need to be constantly perusing outside feedback. For me that was a hard one because if anybody when I was young told me what to do I’d want to fight them on the spot. For me, I had to learn just to one, accept constructive criticism, but as I’ve worked more on that mindset my goal now is that I hire coaches to tell me what I’m doing wrong and I don’t even take it personal. I just say, “Great. I want to do better. What’s next?”

In the book I walk through each mindset to say here’s probably where you are maybe. Some people might have some of these mindsets really clear, but I guarantee that any person’s going to read this and they’re going to say, “Wow, I don’t handle conflict very well.” Whether you’re leading a team or you have hard conversations with clients the future self mindset is really challenging. How do I feel about discomfort? Most of us, human nature, is that you pursue comfort. When you’re face with a decision you try to say, “How can I get the results I want with the least amount of discomfort,” and you’ve already lost if that’s where your mind is going, so you really have to retrain that.

Hannah: One of the things that I’ve just observed from various friends in various stages of their business models are what they start out to do isn’t what they end up doing. They find that their goals and the path that they want to go on changes. What are your thoughts on that or what would your advice be to them?

Sten: That’s what I call future self in the book. It’s kind of having this ongoing conversation about saying, “Where do I see myself?” I’ve never defined that as a career. It’s really been more about what really gets me more excited. If you do something really well you can always make money off of it if you learn how to monetize it. When I got into this business I thought I was going to sell insurance so I never thought I’d run my own business, and have employees, and run a team. I never thought I’d write a book, or be a speaker, or a coach, but I always was focused on building my skillset so that when those opportunities came along I was ready for it.

That’s what I think it really comes down to is that don’t get so hung up on where you think you’re going to be in 10 years as far as a career or how much money you’re making, but focus more on what skill am I refining in myself that gets me excited. It will help every single person to be a really good public speaker, even if you don’t want to be, so go do that. Studying and getting more certifications will never hurt you, so do that. Find the thing that’s going to just push you. What most people do is they don’t, and they’re 70-80 years old and the most common regret is I wish I would have taken on more challenges. I wish I would have spent more time with family. Let’s learn form that. Let’s learn from what most people’s regrets are and do it differently now. That’s that future self mindset that I coach people on that says how do I keep myself in that state of mind all the time.

Hannah: When you started did you have a support system around you to focus you on that or was it more internally driven?

Sten: For me it was internally driven. I had a few different father figures growing up that left and a few that I came home one day and I’ve never seen since. I think that really clouds that mindset around mentors or coaching. I don’t think I was very coachable early in my career so if people might have tried I just wasn’t having it. I think I did it the harder way though. For me, what really motivated was I looked around at my three sisters and mom were still struggling and I finally realized that I had the power to make that easier for them if I just stepped up.

I think it would be easier for anybody if people did joint work, they found a mentor, whether it was in this business or just in general. But I think it’s easier said than done to find a good mentor. I wouldn’t pair yourself up with the first person that offers. Be selective, but I would encourage people to find that. That’s something I’m trying to be now because I didn’t have it so I’m saying even though I’m 31 what can I do, the book’s part of that, the speaking’s part of that but I think if you can get a little more intentional about your direction earl on and avoid some pitfalls it will just make you that much more successful.

Hannah: How do you find a good mentor?

Sten: I didn’t do this well, especially moving to a new town it was hard, but I look around for successful people. I started going to groups that would have guest speakers that were successful business people, whether there was nonprofit doing a speech and this person was coming to talk about being a generous giver. For me it was less about I want the person making the most amount of money in my business, it was, I want to find the person that’s doing really well but has balance in their life. Since I didn’t have a dad growing up it was like I have two daughters and I want to be there for them, but I always want to do as well as I can in my business and impact a lot of people. I think that was the kind of mentor I was looking for.

Somebody else may say, “I want a mentor that’s in the best physical shape and I want to learn from how they did it,” or maybe I want to make the most amount of money, so who’s doing that. I think you got to define who do I want to look like. I’m going to try and surround myself with those people.

Hannah: What does the next 5 or 10 years look like for you?

Sten: Really open to growing the team. At some point I’ve learned you can make a great amount of money and you can give a lot of it away, but as you build your brand more people keep coming and it’s really hard for me to say no to people that want our help. I’d love to build the team and let it bless other people. Let them get into the business and do really well. Then also maybe impact the industry with the book and speaking to say, “I did this thing in four years that people say takes 20 in a cold market, so it’s possible, but here’s really the way you can do it.” But I also want to help people be more effective at everything they do. These mindsets, if you figure this out, it doesn’t just make you a better advisor it makes you a better father, a better mother, a better sister. It’s just the right way to think and impacting people in that way gets me fired up.

Hannah: One of the things I’ve heard from several thought leaders recently is that working with clients is how you are with the clients or how you be with the clients, is the term that I’m hearing. So much of this mindset is exactly that. If you can improve yourself you can improve the way you show up with your clients and that’s going to make you a better advisor.

Sten: Oh yeah. In one of the graphics I have, if anybody emails me it’s on the other side of the mindset card, is I talk about there’s three stages, there’s ignorance, there’s awareness, and there’s belief. A lot of us are ignorant to what we’re capable of or what information is out there that would make us that much better. Our main pursuit in life should be awareness because the most successful people in history, the most successful people in our business are the most aware. They’re the most aware of themselves, they’re most aware of the market around them to figure out how to be different. Once you become aware of what you’re not doing that you should you then move to belief, which means now I have to figure out how to get to where I know now that I can go. Those are things, the mindsets, and plus the ignorance awareness belief process is something I have right next to my computer and I think about every day.

Hannah: What other advice do you have for new planners who are starting out into this profession.

Sten: I think I mentioned that don’t forget that you are the product and constantly improve yourself. Be open to risk in this business and I don’t think that means that if you’re a CFP and you really enjoy the back office stuff, preparing reports, that you all of a sudden have to go be the rain maker. I think it’s what’s the riskiest thing you can do within your possession to be better off. Don’t be fearful of risk. Remember, you’re the product. Then don’t get stuck in a rut. If you feel at any point that you think, “I could be doing more. I want more,” don’t ignore that sense, spend a little more time on it. Try to figure out what that is.

Hide Transcript

Five years after founding Strategic Financial Partners at 25 years old, Sten Morgan has built his financial planning firm $100M. Tune in to learn how he pushed past what was comfortable and challenged himself to grow, improve, Sten Morgan struck out on his own at 25 years old to start his own financial planning practice. After an internship at Northwest Mutual and a job at Raymond James, he chose to start a financial planning practice in a new town where he knew almost nobody. People said he was crazy, but he knew he could push himself past the difficult growth period to a point where he was running a healthy, booming financial planning practice.
Five years later, Sten has built Strategic Financial Partners, his financial planning firm in Tennessee, to over $100M. He pushed past what he knew he was comfortable with and challenged himself to find creative ways to get in front of clients. From taking a public speaking course to gathering email addresses from a local hospital’s directory, Sten worked to market to one of  his niche markets in the medical field and add value to their lives.
Sten is a big believer that most people are ignorant of what they’re capable of achieving, and the resources and information available to them that will help them grow. He wants all advisors to be aware of just how much they have to gain by taking risks and breaking out of the rut they’re stuck in.
You’re going to be blown away by Sten’s out-of-the-box ideas, and the encouraging advice he has for both new financial planners looking to get started and find success, as well as seasoned planners who have been feeling the urge to grow and improve themselves and their businesses.

“Many people think: How can I get the results I want with the least amount of discomfort? And you’ve already lost if you have that mindset.”

What You’ll Learn:

How a business owner comes up with processes for working with clients.
How Sten became successful with running his own firm in a short period of time.
How Sten focuses on Centers of Influence (COIs) to build his firm and grow his client base.
How to power through what makes you nervous to challenge yourself and find success.
How to better understand your weak points and set discomfort goals to stretch yourself and grow.
How to change your mind-sets to move you toward success.

Strategic Financial Partners
7 Mindsets of Success: What You Really Need to Do to Achieve Rapid, Top-Level Success
7 Mindsets of Success Website

Hannah Moore clean 43:41
Facilitating Financial Health Tue, 06 Feb 2018 20:19:52 +0000 0 Rick Kahler believes that financial planners, like himself, can facilitate financial health with their clients by embracing their behavior, helping them uncover their money mindsets, and listening to their stories and goals. Rick Kahler knew he had to do more to differentiate himself as an advisor and started to explore financial therapy. He’s constantly amazed by how little numbers mean at the end of the day with research showing 90% of financial decisions are emotional decisions. Instead, Rick prefers to focus on being with his clients.

He knows that the majority of their money decisions won’t be driven by the numbers – they are driven by emotions. Rick knows that 80% of all client engagements are what can’t be replaced by robo-advisors – listening to your client, stepping into their shoes, and being empathetic.

In this incredibly revelatory episode of #YAFPNW, Rick explores how we as advisors can relate to our clients on a deeper level by simply being with them, and how that helps us build a financial plan that motivates them to stay on track, change negative money habits, and more.

This episode will be sure to expand your skills as an advisor and explore ways that you can align yourself with your clients in a deeper, more authentic way.

hannah's signature

We start by learning how to be with the client. It’s learning how to be present with the client. We are not going to change this client, no matter how much they are overspending. We’re not going to change them. At best we’re going to be facilitators that will help them change.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to facilitate behavioral change with your clients.
  • How to listen well to your clients.
  • How to approach financial planning using psychology to better understand motivators, conversational tactics, and more.
  • The best ways to dive deeper in your initial onboarding process to truly know your client and bring more value to their lives.
  • How to keep a beginner’s mind
  • What money scripts are and how to work with our client’s money scripts
  • How to recognize our own money scripts and the impact it has on our relationships with clients
  • What financial therapy is and where to go to find more resources
  • How to facilitate financial health with your clients


The Nazrudin Project – Bending the Profession Since 1995 by Richard Vodra, JD

Kahler Financial Group, Inc.’s Financial Planning Residency Program

How Clients’ Money Scripts Predict Their Financial Behaviors

Wired for Wealth by Brad Klontz,‎ Ted Klontz,‎ and Rick Kahler

Golden Gate University – Programs in Financial Planning

Financial Planning 3.0 by Dick Wagner

Mindful Asset Planning

Troy Jones, CFP®

The Enneagram Institute®

Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon

Sarah Swantner, CFP®

Kansas State University – Financial Therapy Certificate

Creighton University – Finance

Sudden Money Institute

Become a Certified Financial Transitionist®

The Kinder Institute of Life Planning – EVOKE® 5-DAY LIFE PLANNING TRAINING






Show Transcript

Ep84 Transcript

Hannah: Well, thanks for joining us today, Rick.

Rick: Thank you for having me.

Hannah: So, you have an accomplished career with writing books. I know you’ve built this really strong financial planning practice in Rapid City, South Dakota. Much of your thought leadership though is around financial therapy, these money mindsets, and integrated financial planning. What prompted you to go down this path?

Rick: Well, the short answer is a divorce. And that really introduced me to therapy, more specifically, group therapy. And, because I seem to be a slow learner, I was in group therapy for 12 years. And saw a lot of things discussed and a lot of topics, but money wasn’t one of them. And I suppose, folks fantasize about a lot of things, I fantasized about, I wonder how it would be to do therapy around money. You know, it was just the black hole between the mental health profession and the financial planning profession because mental health profession doesn’t talk about money, and has quite strong projections onto money, and the financial planning profession certainly back in the 90s didn’t talk about relationships or emotions. So, that was really at the very beginning of my wondering of, I wonder if we could blend these two areas? And that really started peaking when I joined the Nazarene Project in 1996, and started doing teaching with George Kinder, his two-day workshop, which was really transformational for me. It was the first time I saw money and spirit and emotions come together.

And then, of course we know the findings right around that time, the turn of the century, and Danny Kahneman was doing his work where he discovered that 90% of all financial decisions are made emotionally. And, it was around that time that it came to me that eventually, financial planning would be commoditized. That was at the beginning of investments being commoditized. And that if I wanted to stay relevant, I had better figure out how to add value around the relationship with money, which I just didn’t see would be commoditized.

Hannah: So, you just said that you wanted to figure out how to add value to the relationship with clients, basically around that emotional side of it. So, how did you do that?

Rick: Yeah.

Hannah: How do you do that?

Rick: Well, if 90% of all financial decisions are made emotionally, it’s first recognizing that. And beginning to learn how to be with a client rather than throw numbers and throw mutual funds and charts and statistics at them, which is what I used to do. It’s learning that there’s a human being sitting in front of me. And this person does not think logically and does not act logically, and does not … at least … now, that’s a very judgmental statement based on my baseline of what that is and is not going to make decisions on their own self-interest. And this flies against everything that we learn in economics and certainly back in that day, and a lot of what financial planning teaches us. Even today, I employ … I have a residency program, three-year residency program, we have two residents in that right now, and even coming out of some of the cutting edge financial planning programs in the nation, they’re still struck at how much emotion plays in the financial planning process, and how little all the numbers really mean in the end of the day. And I don’t want to minimize the numbers; they’re really important. I don’t want to minimize the financial part of financial therapy, but I don’t think in the past, that the emotional side, the human side, has been really underscored.

So, we start by simply learning how to be with the client. And I know that that can kind of sound spacey and not very logical, but it is actually incredibly logical because it’s learning how to be present with the client and understanding the research that we are not going to change this client, no matter how much they’re overspending or they’re not saving or they’re not going to action around their wills. We’re not going to change them. We are going to, at best, be facilitators of helping them make the decision to change. So, it’s really at the heart, whether it’s coaching, financial coaching, financial therapy, it is learning exquisite listening skills and learning how to be with the client. 70% of successful therapy is based on two things: 40% is does the client trust the therapist and 30% is based on the listening skills of the therapist.

Now, if you look at what we as financial planners do, it’s all about trust, isn’t it? People are coming to us, telling us their money story, which they haven’t even told their therapist, and can we learn how to listen? Listen. If I can learn how to listen, anybody can learn how to listen and I’m not suggesting I’m a great listener, but exponentially, I’m far better than I used to be. So, I’m just saying that it’s not as hard as we make it sound sometimes, and that’s saying that I’m gonna do double speak and say probably learning to listen has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Hannah: You said that 90% of financial decisions are emotional decisions. So, I agree with that and I completely understand that, but that sounds really negative towards the client. Like, we’re viewing our clients in a negative way. How would you respond to that? Like, are we really viewing them in a negative way, or do you bring that up with clients, or how do clients respond to that?

Rick: Yeah. I bring that up with clients, ’cause guess what? Financial planners are not excluded from that statistic.

Hannah: I love it.

Rick: We have the same brain they have. 90% of all my financial decisions are made emotionally. Now, that is really … I don’t like that, you know? My 10% cerebral brain would like to think it’s 90% logic and 10% emotional. So, that’s the first thing we as planners … that’s a great reflection, Hannah, because somehow, we as planners think we don’t need this stuff. That we’re above needing financial therapy and we’ve got it all together and nothing could be further from the truth. We might have some of the numbers and some of the basic understanding, but we have just as many money scripts and money disorders and problematic money behaviors as our clients do. So, it’s really important that we’re not judging the client and making them the patient, so to speak. We’re in this with them, and I think we hear a lot about partnering, co-collaborating with our clients. Well, this is really at the heart of it is understanding that even though we … I was telling client this just a few days ago, that while there might be a right financial decision that would maximize dollars in some situation, it doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for the client.

Firstly, we need to drop our judgment that we know what is right for this client. Are they coming to us for advice? Kinda. They are more coming to us for knowledge. They’re coming to us for education. They’re coming to us for support. They’re coming to us for guidance. But, I think, and this may just sound really crazy, and I know the first time I ever thought of this or heard it, I thought it was crazy too. We need to be real careful before we give advice. We need to be real careful before we say, “This is what you should do”, and attempt to eliminate should from our vocabulary. It’s here’s the options, and it’s listening to the person and helping them make the decision that is right for them and dropping our judgment. Having a beginner’s mind around that client and really serving as a guide.

Hannah: You’ve alluded at how do we get clients to change their behavior? And we’re gonna dive into that later on, but one term that you brought up was mindset. And so, you have written books on money mindsets. For the listener who’s never been exposed to the idea of a money mindset, can you explain what that is?

Rick: All of our clients have a history. All of our clients … And by history, that means they have a life. You could say they have baggage, that’s more of a negative connotation, but we all look at life through a lens that we’ve developed. And we don’t look through the same lens. So, it’s important that our clients understand what their mindset is. How do they view money? What is their relationship with money? And you might’ve expected me to say it’s really important for us to understand how our clients view money. And while that’s a component of it, it’s more important that our clients understand how they view money. And the reason goes back to the fact, we’re not gonna change them. We’re going to help them make sound financial decisions, and one component of doing that is for them to understand how they’ve made it and understand what their biases are and understand what their mindset is and their relationship around money.

So, that’s one part of our intake that’s important is helping a client self-discover some of their own history, some of the way they view money with the money scripts. Brad Klontz has further developed a Klontz Money Script Inventory, which we use with our clients to help them boil down their money scripts into four major categories as the way that they can tend to view money. There’s not any that are right; there’s not any that are wrong. Every money script is partially true, you know? A big one for me is you gotta work hard for money. Well, that works great when I work hard and the money comes in. But, what happens when … There’s been times in my life when I’ve worked hard and the money has not come in. And there’s a great amount of pain there. And so, I found out that heck, I can work hard and money doesn’t come in, I can work hard and money comes in, I cannot work hard and money comes in, and I cannot work and money doesn’t come in. Those are all truths and they’re all based on the circumstance. So, it’s helping a person kind of understand the lens that they have viewed the world and viewed money with, and helping them begin to build flexibility around those mindsets.

Hannah: Can you give us an example of a money mindset that you’ve seen with a client, and kind of how that played out through the relationship with that client?

Rick: Oh, my. There’s so many of them. I can think of a client who … She was an entrepreneur, and just loved to start businesses. And in fact, I remember helping her on Christmas Eve. My wife and I are playing Scrabble, and she’s texting me, and we don’t have any time limits on our Scrabble game. So, while my wife is thinking about her next move, I’m texting her and we’re going back and forth on the terms to buy a business. And she bought that business. And this was actually as she was coming on as a client. We hadn’t done the emotional intake work yet. When we did the emotional intake work, one of her money scripts was, “If I don’t buy or start new businesses, I will go bankrupt.” And that caught my attention because I had made a projection that she bought new businesses and started new businesses because she loved being an entrepreneur.

What she found out, and I found out, was that she was doing it out of fear because if she didn’t do this, she’d go bankrupt. Now, any financial planner listening to this is going to go, “Well, that sure doesn’t seem logical, because don’t we know one of the fastest ways to go bankrupt is to buy and start new businesses?” So, with that knowledge, we were able, every time that she was polled to start a new business or buy a new business, we’d bring that up. We’d kind of laugh about it, and we’d use that as a touchstone to, oh, what’s really behind this? Is it fear that’s operating around this, or does this really make good sense?

So, I can’t tell you how many times that clients that have, you know, maybe the market’s going down and they’re getting scared, and they’ll refer, “Well, there goes my money script again.” And this particular client had a money script that being in the market was gambling and eventually, she’d lose everything and be a bag lady. So, it really helps a person begin … Once we build awareness, I mean, we’ve heard awareness is 50% of making progress or growing, and it is. And so, it’s just raising awareness to, oh, there’s that mindset. There’s that money script that I developed you know, as a five year old, and be acknowledging it. And actually, having some compassion around it, that it was developed to keep us safe and help us cope and then being able to set it aside without acting on it.

Hannah: Do clients know that they’re gonna be looking at kind of, how they viewed money as a child when they start working with you, or what is that conversation look like?

Rick: I’m thinking of one client who you know, half way into the on-boarding process, said, “You know, and all I thought you did was manage money. I had no clue you did any of the rest of this.” Our clients come to us largely for the same reason they come to any other financial planning. Number one, our investments, and number two, our retirement plans. So, you know, maybe a few more come to us because we do financial therapy. I mean, we are developing a over-financial therapy department of our practice. So, more and more people are coming from that. Our current clients are learning. Gee, I had a touching experience just two days ago. I had a physician become suddenly disabled. I mean, just boom. He was done with his practice. And they came in, it happened a couple months ago, and his opening remark, and this is not a client you would … a pretty gruff client. His opening remark was, “Is Sarah still doing that financial counseling? I think I need some. It’s really hard to go from being in charge of a staff and seeing patients 12 hours a day to the biggest thing I’ve got to do today is clean out my basement.”

Hannah: Wow.

Rick: And so, our clients are asking more and more for those services. But, when somebody comes on … I digressed a little bit. When somebody comes on as a client here, we just have a default process. And the default process includes a … we call it Interior Intake, our discovery of what they think, feel and believe about money, and we have about six exercises we give them, and they’re all the exercises we have in facilitating financial health. And we tell them very clearly that, “Here’s your homework. And there’s some good news here. It’s not like the homework you got in college or high school. You get to not do it and there’s no penalty whatsoever. And that no is a complete sentence. So, anything we give you, if it isn’t working for you, you’re not interested in it, you can completely not do it. It’s absolutely okay.” I have had one set of clients out of, I don’t know, 150 or 200 that have said, “No” to any of it.

And I’ve had clients complete that that my staff said, “Okay. This is gonna be the first person that is not gonna do this ’cause this guy is not gonna do this.” And I’ve had that same guy do all the exercises and at the end of the intake period, when we went over everything suddenly say, “Well, this was really good. This was really insightful stuff.” So, it’s just our default, and we give people complete permission not to do any of it.

Hannah: Yeah. I have my clients, probably not to the extent that you do it, but do a lot of, dare I say, the touchy-feely type of stuff. And I found that, if I’m comfortable with it, then they are too.

Rick: Well, that’s a great point. That is a great point, because I was one of the planners in 1989 when a Dr. Nixon psychologist talked to the … I see a peer he treated that time that came out of that meeting saying, “What is he doing here? We are number crunchers. We do not belong in doing anything with psychology.” And the truth of the matter is, generally, when we planners are pretty skeptical and resistant about this is because we’re not comfortable with it. A lot of planners don’t know a therapist, don’t know what goes on in therapy, it’s a big black hole, they have a lot of projections onto therapists and therapy. Just the word therapy is a terrible, terrible word. I have done focus groups where everybody in the group had a different definition of what it was. And in fact, it’s not a legal definition anymore than financial planning is not a legal definition.

So, it’s definitely problematic, but it really does … I mean, you just nailed it. If I as a planner am not comfortable with what I’m doing, my client is certainly not gonna be comfortable. And therein lies one of the secrets … I know Dr. Ted Klontz was asked a lot, like, “You know, how do I know if I’ve gone too far? How do I know when I’ve gotten in too far?” And part of his answers will be, “Well, A, anytime you’re uncomfortable, you’ve gone too far. And anytime you think you’ve gone too far, just ask the person a question, because that puts them right back in their head and you’ll pull out.” So, it’s just not as problematic as sometimes we like to think it is. But, we can … and I’m thinking of Gayle Colman, who’s a CFP, practices in Carlisle, Massachusetts, who said one time, “We can only take a client as far as we’ve gone ourselves.” And that is so true. I mean, we can’t learn to be with a client.

There’s another phrase for coaching, it says, you know, if you want to be a great coach, you’ve got to have been coached. If we want to do this work, we can’t be giving clients exercises and taking them through this process if we haven’t been through it ourselves. It’s not a formula, you know? This isn’t a decision tree of, well, if they object here, then you say that, then if they say this, you go here. It’s a complete mindset with the financial planner of learning to really be with and listen to the client.

Hannah: Well, and I just love how you brought up that exquisite listening beforehand. I know, to share a little bit of my story, you know, I was 26, had bought this practice, felt so in over my head, and I just … I focused on listening to the client and it made all the difference. It took everything, the pressure off of me and it was all about the client. And so, for me when I give advice to new planners, so much of it is, just learn to listen well. That’s the biggest differentiator you can have.

Rick: That’s absolutely true. And, you know, that is … that’s gonna be really hard to commoditize. Somebody, I don’t know who said this quote, but said, “All people need is a good listening to.” I can’t tell you how many times in the trainings that I’ve done that people, planners, therapists would say, “This is one of the first times I’ve ever told that story. This is one of the few times I’ve ever really felt listened to.” It’s a pretty rare commodity. It really, really is. And that’s when we start thinking about adding value, that adds a huge amount of value. I mean, I can remember when finally, I got it, that it wasn’t my agenda, it was the client’s agenda and just simply asking the client, “You know, I’ve got a list of stuff we can talk about, but what’s really important today for you to talk about?”

And I remember one time early on, a guy started talking about his farm and the homestead and his family that came out and where his parents were buried and just going through this story, and I today, forget exactly the relevance of all that. But, we got done. We had about five minutes left, so I kinda hit some of the high points on my agenda. And when we were done, you know, I would’ve normally spent this time going through all the asset classes and the returns and how they were comparing to our benchmarks, and you know, honestly, I love investments. And so, I had to reduce that to five minutes, and so at the end, he says, “Well, you know, this has probably been the best meeting we’ve ever had.” And I’m just like, gobsmacked. Like, you didn’t get any of my brilliance. How is that possible? And I just can’t tell you how many times we love to be listened to.

Hannah: It’s so simple, but not easy.

Rick: Well, then you do come up against some friction. I teach a graduate course, and that’s at Golden Gate University, and we talk about this. You know, there are things that need to be done in an financial planning meeting. When you have an IPS that needs to be signed, or redo an allocation or you’ve got some estate planning issues or some things like this, or something that needs to be tended to on an account. There is this kind of natural friction between some things we do need to accomplish and what’s top of the client’s agenda. So, I did go through a period of time in my career where I just went to, “Well, client, what do you want to talk about? Where’s your energy today?” And it threw my practice into total chaos, ’cause we didn’t know where any client was in their process. We threw the process out the window, and then we came … Of course, before that, had a very structured, inflexible process. So, today, we have a combination of both. So, there is some give and take, you know? We do need to reserve a little time to get some immediate things done, but the important thing is that we address what the client really is on top of their mind.

I remember once, I did a intake. I used to have the mindset that, we are not gonna talk about any financial numbers until we do this discovery period. So, I don’t even want to even know about your numbers, I don’t want to know about your finances, we’re gonna find out about you, and we’re gonna do all this discovery stuff first. And I remember once at the end of doing all of our intake, this client says, “Are we done with this stuff now?” I said, “Well, yeah.” “Okay. Let’s get on to this 401K distribution and what are we gonna do about that? Because I got five days left and I’ve gotta make a decision.” And, I learned to, let’s go with where the hemorrhage is first because you know, even in doing discovery, if a client comes in, and I can think of a couple clients recently … They had a real burning financial issue and we went after that. We took care of that burning issue, and now we’re doing the intake, and they’ve got a lot more space because they’re not … their anxiety has subsided, so they’re a lot more present to do the deeper work.

Hannah: So, you have a book on this, and you said that you’re teaching the graduate level at GGU, Golden Gate University, on Facilitating Financial Health. What does it look like to be financially healthy?

Rick: It’s what a healthy relationship would look like. It’s honesty. It’s being aware of what my finances are. Being aware of what my net worth is and my income. It’s being aware of my in flow and out flow. It’s being aware of my money history and how that affects me. It’s being aware of my money mindsets, my money scripts. It’s having an honest relationship with money, with looking at reality, not being delusional. So, you know, I think it’s all the components of a good relationship with anything or anybody would be financial well-being.

Hannah: I feel like these maybe tie in, but what is your goal when you work with clients?

Rick: At the simplest, my goal is to help them sleep better at night … To help support their quest for meaning. To help them have things in order financially so that that’s not filling their mind, you know? To reduce that anxiety so that they can really live the life that they were put here to live.

Hannah: So, looking at this idea of financial health, I mean, I don’t even feel like this is a question. It’s more of a statement of, financial planners are the ones in prime position to help our clients and the general public facilitate financial health. I mean, would you agree with that or maybe put that differently?

Rick: Well, I think that’s very true. Our company purpose is to facilitate the financial and emotional well-being of people. So, we really feel that we’re in the well-being business even more than … certainly more than the investment business or the financial planning business. I mean, what’s the point of all this? I tell clients, “You know, there’s a low probability that on your death bed, your last words are going to be, you know, life was so good. We got 5.8% compounded annually for 20 years with Kahler Financial Group. I mean, just made it all worth living.” You know, the bigger picture is, what are we doing? What are we helping people accomplish and be? And, I don’t think there’s any profession that helps people in this area deal with the well-being. And we include emotional well-being, because we found, it’s really hard to separate financial well-being from emotional well-being. So, it’s really an interesting field and I think it will grow, it will develop. And who knows? Maybe someday, we’ll add physical well-being to that. I mean, we certainly help clients with aspects of physical well-being and making sure that they have enough cash flow to do the basics in life and help them with their healthcare and some of their healthcare decisions. But I think someday, we may be venturing into just the entire well-being package. I don’t know of any other professional that really does that.

Hannah: That’s really exciting, you know, thinking about what financial planning could really be.

Rick: That could be part of Dick Wagner’s Financial Planning 3.0 is continuing to take financial planning toward a profession. And just as law’s a profession and medicine is a profession, and mental health is a profession, financial planning hopefully will step into being a profession and could evolve to the well-being profession.

Hannah: It’s such a fun time to be a financial planner. So many opportunities.

Rick: Yeah, it’s definitely changed. I mean, you know, when I got my start, I was performing a crude form of financial planning in the late 70s. And it looks completely different today than it did back then.

Hannah: Oh, well, that’s great. I’m sure it does. So, let’s go back to this idea of money mindsets. So, when we notice a money mindset in our client, how should we as planners respond to that?

Rick: All of our clients have money scripts. They all have a mindset. They all have a history. They all have a way that they look at money, and so do we. So, it’s really important to understand ours. And, it’s important that we do understand the basics of our clients, the way that they view money. And there’s a lot of different tools. I’ve played with a lot of different tools of helping myself understand my clients, and understand their various personalities and understand how they do money. And there’s a lot of things out there, you know. There’s Susan Zimmerman has an evaluation tool called MAP, M-A-P. Troy Jones introduced me to the Enneagram 25 years ago that probably to this day is one of the most useful tools that I use in helping understand a client, where they’re coming from and how they may make financial decisions.

You know, and bottom line, I think it’s really important, as helpful as understanding the mindsets and the tools and things are, I can tend to start detaching myself from the client or beginning to kind of put them into a stereotypical box and forget that my first duty is to just really be present with that client. I mean, I can’t think of anything else that’s better with the client than to just be focused on them and be listening to what they’re saying and really understanding what they say. Because terminology is so problematic. I mean, even when we use terms like money scripts and the term retirement, what does that mean? I had a client once, I asked him, and he says, “Nobody’s ever asked me that.” He says, “Well, it means you die.” And everybody in his family died within two years of retiring. And he had not been saving for retirement because, in that moment, he discovered, “Well, why would I want to save for to fund my death?” Now, that may not seem logical to some, but it was perfectly logical to him. And, understanding that, he was able to change that around, being saving $7,000 a month.

So, I hate to be simplistic, or beating the same drum, but if we can just learn how to be present with our clients and really hear, really hear what they’re saying, we don’t need a lot of evaluation tools or a lot of stereotypical boxes to put our clients into to try and figure out how to help them or respond to them.

Hannah: One of the things you said was how important it is as advisors to recognize our own money scripts. Can you give us an example of what a money script that an advisor may have that would have a negative impact on how they’re practicing financial planning on their clients?

Rick: I had a money script that everybody wants to minimize their estate taxes. And this was back in the day when … what, I don’t know where the estate tax started, at 250,000 or a million or something pretty low, and I had a client, and I spent 10 hours going through minimizing their estate taxes, and they were probably worth 10 or 20 million at the time. And, the client leaves me. Drops me. And I’m like, “What is going on here? I just came up with a plan that saved these people five million or 10 million dollars or whatever it was, and they quit as clients.” And it was 10 years later, they came back as clients, and I was saying something that, “You know, every decision isn’t about the money.” And I remember the wife just about came off her seat. “I can’t believe you’re saying that.” I said, “Well, what do you mean?” “Well, I’m glad you have finally learned that.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” “Well, 10 years ago, we were here. Remember that?” “Yeah.” “Remember, we left? We quit?” “Yeah.” “We quit because I told you that what we pay in taxes when we’re dead is of no interest to us. We don’t care about minimizing our taxes, and you came out and spent all this time and came out with this big plan that minimized taxes.” I said, “I did. Oh.”

So, that was a money script I had, you know? Who wouldn’t be interested in saving taxes and maximizing what you pass on? Well, guess what? A lot of people.

Hannah: That’s such a great example. And letting clients question our assumptions that we make.

Rick: Now, when we’re working with clients, it’s so important that we try to take ourselves off the pedestal. ‘Cause clients will have us on the pedestal, that we must do money right and we must be all together. And that really impedes the relationship. It’s real hard to have a relationship with someone who is superior. I can fill up a lot of time telling people the bad money decisions I make. In fact, I joke with clients. I say, “Listen. My job in life has been to make every bad money decision there was so that I can help you not make those.” And, as I will relate that to clients, I have had so many say, “You know, when you started talking about how you struggle with money, how you and your wife, your relationship, you’ve had your struggles with money, how you’ve made bad money decisions, I just relaxed and felt so much closer to you and so much safer that you’re just like me.” And that may be confounding to the planners listening to this. I mean, there would have been a time in my life I would’ve never told a client I made a money mistake. Oh my … They’ll fire me. They’re coming to me because I know. And I find it’s actually quite the opposite.

I had a trainer once, when I was in a train the trainer course, and he says, “When you get up in front of people, and you’re training them, the last thing you want to do is tell people how you’ve done everything right. Because first nobody cares, and second, nobody relates to somebody who does everything right. When you get up in front of people, you tell them every wart you have, every way you’ve bungled deals.” This was back in my real estate days. “And they’re going to love you, because now they can relate to you because you’re just like them.” And, there was such a core of truth in that. Therapists know this; it’s called self-disclosure.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Rick: And a good therapist is going to self-disclose appropriately. So is, a good financial planner. It’s so important that we let them know of our struggles and you know, appropriately kind of how we got through those, you know, if we got through them. That said, I think it’s pretty important that a financial planner not be in bankruptcy, but I can tell my clients how I have faced bankruptcy three or four times in my life. And that can be pretty valuable, ’cause all of a sudden they understand I relate to where they are when they’re struggling.

Hannah: It’s such an important concept and so counter to what we’re taught or what we just assume to believe is true.

Rick: Yeah. Absolutely. I can remember one of the … When I started doing therapy or playing around with it, I went to a couple psychologists who never said a word. At that time, I didn’t get a whole lot out of listening to myself talk, and I would go to a therapist, and he’d spend 40% of the time talking. And I was like, “Oh, this is so refreshing.” You know, and he’s telling me all, “Yeah. I’ve had problems with that. Yeah. I have struggled with that.” And it was so refreshing to me. So, I think that’s really important. When people come into our office, I mean, they’re typically pretty uptight. I never knew that. I work here. I’m not uptight here. You know? I’m not on edge. But people feel such inadequacy around their money. How many times have we heard, “I don’t know if I have enough to come to you.”

Hannah: Yeah.

Rick: Everybody listening to this that’s a planner has had that happen. “Do I have enough money?” And I’ll tell people, “You know what? What you have is all you have, isn’t it?” “Yeah.” I said, “Well, that’s a lot of money, isn’t it?” “Yeah.” So, people can feel just less than in our offices, and shame that they’re here. I mean, people don’t wake up one morning going, “You know, this is a great morning. Sun’s shining, birds are singing, I think I’ll go get a financial planner.” They typically are drug into our office by some life event.

Hannah: Yup.

Rick: So, I think it’s really important for us to be sensitive to that and to really try to help them relax and help them understand that we are not the gurus and gods of finance. That we are not omnipresent and we don’t know everything. But, we know a lot of things, and we’ve been through a lot of things ourselves. And we’re help. You’re here to just collaborate with them and help educate them. Help give them some things that they don’t know, some benefits of our wisdom, and just to be with them through this process.

Hannah: I’m thinking of all of the ways that I relate to that personally with other professionals that we work with.

Rick: Yeah, people are used to going to professionals and not understanding what they said, you know? They go to the estate planning attorney and I remember the first one I sat through back in the college of financial planning days, and they’re talking decedent and set lower and creator, and grantor and grantee, and I’m just like, Rick Kahler, who are you kidding? This is Greek to me. I’m supposed to learn this stuff? And our clients experience the same thing in their offices and the same thing in the accountant’s office and the same thing in the physician’s office and how many times have you heard somebody just go on and on about a medical practitioner that really took the time and really related and really listened. It’s impactful.

And you know, that’s … more and more, that’s what we’re in the business for. With 20% of our engagements are all of our technical knowledge, but 80% that can’t be replaced or done by a robot or done on the Internet is our ability to listen and to connect emotionally and empathically with that client. And I can hear my old planner voice in my head saying, “Well, that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to give advice and numbers and help them get the right insurance and everything else.” And we are, but if we really want to help the client and help them go into action around what is a good money decision, we’ve got to hear them so that we really know that we’re going down the right road. I tell a client, ’cause you asked me earlier, you know, do I let clients know all this? And all this, like, 90% of your decisions are made emotionally. Yeah, I do. Because I say 90% of mine are made emotionally.

And here’s what we’re trying to do: what we want to do is find out what your limbic system really believes about money. And, if we can do that, it’s going to be insightful to you. It’s gonna be insightful to us, and that’s gonna help us come up with a plan of action that you have a high probability of actually doing. And that has a high probability of really meeting your needs, rather than one that’s cookie cutter formulated around what you should be doing and what I think you should be doing.

Hannah: We had touched on it just very briefly beforehand, but this idea of how do we get clients to change? Or how do we help facilitate change in clients’ lives around their money? I’m thinking the client that overspends or even the client that under spends. How do you approach that situation? Or how do you help a client change their behavior?

Rick: Yeah. You know, that’s a big one. It’s first understanding that change comes from within the person. It doesn’t come from without. So, we have a list of 12 things that will not help change a person, and actually will tend to set them back, and they were developed by a guy by the name of Thomas Gordon in a book of how not to talk to your child. And it includes manipulating, cajoling, directing, even two of the 12 are praising and … oh, I forget the other one. It’s pretty profound … or asking questions. When you’re done, you go, “What’s left?” I mean, and what’s left is being very, very curious with a client. “Tell me more about this. I’m wondering about this. We said this word. Define that for me. Tell me more about what retirement means.” And really, it’s helping a client discover to kind of run into themselves, especially when there’s maybe contradictions or there’s seemingly illogical behavior.

We have to remember something: that there is no illogical behavior. That every behavior makes perfect sense when we understand what the underlying money scripts are, or the beliefs. And this is true in every case. So, no matter how illogical that behavior may seem to you or others, it makes perfect sense. And it’s helping a client discover that, “Oh, no wonder. Oh, I get it.” And it can take time, which is one of our biggest resistance as a profession. You know, we want to get in, and here’s our schedule, and we got four meetings and we need to get the plan done. And so, we can get pretty anxious ourself about the client proceeding in something that seems so clear to us, is not clear to the client. It’s just really important that we have patience, and that can be so hard. We’ve changed our model to try and work around that, because it used to be that while a client … nothing got done here unless they had a meeting. And we were being told by our client service staff that, “You know, a lot of clients just come in because they can’t get their stuff unless they meet. They don’t want to meet with you as much as you want to meet with them.”

And so, we went to a model where we deliver … we have a four-year schedule where we’re delivering all the financial deliverables, whether it’s an update of the retirement plan or their estate plan, their taxes, looking at those once a year. The insurance, review that. Where that just happens and it’s sent to them. And then, they call us when they want a meeting. And we tell them, “You can have unlimited meetings.” What’s happened, and actually, this was influenced by Sarah Swantner, who’s just about to get her Master’s in Counseling. She’s a CFP in our office, and she said, “You know, in the mental health model, people come in because they want to come in, not because they have to come in.” So, we said, “Well, let’s try this.” So, what happened is we weren’t … actually, our meetings dropped off, which is scary, because I’m like, “Well, gee, if our clients aren’t coming in, are they gonna fire us?” But what that’s allowed us to do is that we are now available. You can get an appointment with me next week. In the past, I was six weeks out, maybe two months out. And, we can see clients, Sarah can see clients weekly if they have something going on. So, we can really begin to spend more time with clients around the issues that are really important.

Part of this is it does take time. Behavioral change takes time. And we can delude ourselves into that, well, my clients change all the time. Enough shaming and beating and cajoling, we can get people to conform for 30, 60, 90 days. That is not permanent behavioral change. So, what we’re talking about is permanent behavioral change.

Hannah: What would be your advice to the new planners who are listening to this and just starting their financial planning career?

Rick: Well, I would encourage them to get all the technical training because that’s really important. The CFP is a great designation. A Masters in Financial Planning I think will continue to bring more weight and be more recognized, and I would add, something like Kansas State has a certificate program in Financial Therapy. Creighton University has the Financial Behavioralist. Susan Bradley has a Certified Financial Transitionist that she’s rolled out. George Kinder has his course of study. And I’m sure that I’m missing some somewhere, but I would absolutely at the same time, if possible, be enrolled in something that’s going to give me skills in understanding people, understanding the human brain, understanding psychology and developing my listening skills. And, really putting that together.

I think the premier financial planning engagement of the future is three-fold. I think there will be the traditional financial planning. Added to that is financial coaching, which has been happening for a long time. We call it life planning, but I like to reframe that as financial coaching, which is being with the client and looking toward the future, what’s possible. George Kinder’s three questions is indicative of financial coaching. What can we create? And then, financial therapy is more taking a look at the past, saying you know, where have been the problems and how can we get you into the present so that you can look into the future. I would definitely work and expose myself to that relational side because it will pay big benefits, not only in your practice, but to yourself personally. It’s real hard to work on the relational side in a context that doesn’t involve yourself because you know, the numbers side is very academic, isn’t it?

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Rick: We can read books and understand how to do financial planning, but we can’t read books and understand how to do a relationship. It’s experiential; it’s not academic. Yeah. For people who play golf, you can’t read a book and go out and par, right? You’ve got to experience the swing. You can’t read a book and learn how to meditate. So, you can’t read a book, as much I would love to sell books, you can’t read a book and learn how to be an exquisite listener. It’s something that comes through practice and very experientially.

Hannah: So, one final question: how would you finish this sentence? Financial planning is-

Rick: Financial planning is learning how to be with people in such a way that we can help guide them to greater financial well-being.

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Rick Kahler believes that financial planners, like himself, can facilitate financial health with their clients by embracing their behavior, helping them uncover their money mindsets, and listening to their stories and goals. Rick Kahler knew he had to do more to differentiate himself as an advisor and started to explore financial therapy. He’s constantly amazed by how little numbers mean at the end of the day with research showing 90% of financial decisions are emotional decisions. Instead, Rick prefers to focus on being with his clients.
He knows that the majority of their money decisions won’t be driven by the numbers – they are driven by emotions. Rick knows that 80% of all client engagements are what can’t be replaced by robo-advisors – listening to your client, stepping into their shoes, and being empathetic.
In this incredibly revelatory episode of #YAFPNW, Rick explores how we as advisors can relate to our clients on a deeper level by simply being with them, and how that helps us build a financial plan that motivates them to stay on track, change negative money habits, and more.

This episode will be sure to expand your skills as an advisor and explore ways that you can align yourself with your clients in a deeper, more authentic way.

“We start by learning how to be with the client. It’s learning how to be present with the client. We are not going to change this client, no matter how much they are overspending. We’re not going to change them. At best we’re going to be facilitators that will help them change.”

What You’ll Learn:

How to facilitate behavioral change with your clients.
How to listen well to your clients.
How to approach financial planning using psychology to better understand motivators, conversational tactics, and more.
The best ways to dive deeper in your initial onboarding process to truly know your client and bring more value to their lives.
How to keep a beginner’s mind
What money scripts are and how to work with our client’s money scripts
How to recognize our own money scripts and the impact it has on our relationships with clients
What financial therapy is and where to go to find more resources
How to facilitate financial health with your clients

The Nazrudin Project – Bending the Profession Since 1995 by Richard Vodra, JD
Kahler Financial Group, Inc.’s Financial Planning Residency Program
How Clients’ Money Scripts Predict Their Financial Behaviors
Wired for Wealth by Brad Klontz,‎ Ted Klontz,‎ and Rick Kahler
Golden Gate University – Programs in Financial Planning
Financial Planning 3.0 by Dick Wagner
Mindful Asset Planning
Troy Jones, CFP®
The Enneagram Institute®
Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon
Sarah Swantner, CFP®
Kansas State University – Financial Therapy Certificate
Creighton University – Finance 0 Andrew Sivertsen offers insight to young planners on how they can develop a career path, and how to consistently better themselves and focus on adding value to the lives of their clients. Andrew Siversten is passionate about working with younger clients – and he’s built his role within The Planning Center to reflect that. Siversten originally started working part time at The Planning Center in 2007, and over the next several years his role began to evolve from analyst to a more involved, senior member of the planning team. Today, Siversten is a partner and senior planner at The Planning Center.

In the ten years Siversten has been with them, The Planning Center has effectively doubled. They now have six offices around the United States, and have grown largely through merger and acquisition.

Siversten has played a large role in evolving The Planning Center’s approach to residency programs and building a career path within their firm. In this episode, Siversten explores The Planning Center’s career path process for developing young planners, how he’s advocating to work more with young professionals within the firm, and how being part of a constantly growing financial planning practice brings positive change and opportunities into your life as a financial planner.

hannah's signature

Know that it’s [financial planning] a lifelong pursuit of mastery, and it’s always skating toward where the profession’s going, and trying to figure out, ‘How can I better improve myself?


The Planning Center

FPA NexGen

NAPFA Genesis








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Show Transcript

Ep83 Transcript

Hannah: Thanks for joining us today Andrew.

Andrew: Hey, it’s great to be on. Thanks for thinking of me.

Hannah: Yeah, so we are going to dive into your firm’s evolution and the service model for younger planners, because you guys have been doing that for 10 years. But before we get to that I’d love to hear how you got into financial planning, and what your career path has looked like.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think you mean how we serve young clientele …

Hannah: Yes, thank you

Andrew: Yeah, I guess to just back up time here a little bit, I graduated 2004 from the University of Illinois with a degree in finance, so I’d always say that was kind of my skillset, was just working with numbers and problem-solving, and always enjoyed that through high school, college. I really had a passion for serving others, serving people, and back in 2004 there weren’t financial planning programs, CFP programs, things like that. I didn’t even know this career existed. I kind of thought of finance as working back office for a bit corporation or bank, and that just wasn’t all that attractive at 21 years old. I had this passion to work with people, so I worked with two nonprofits for six years, one education based, one more ministry based, even taught overseas for a couple years.

All through that time, my older brother Matt Sivertsen, who’s also one of my partners here at the Planning Center, he had started right about the time I was almost graduating college. So I said, we would have conversations about what he was doing, and this career in financial planning, and it really kind of piqued my interest. I didn’t realize that personal finance, and these things that really hit home to me and my gifts, also okay met my passions, that you work one-on-one with these individuals and families, and that’s where you’re going to spend the bulk of your time.

By 2007, while I was still kind of working with some of the nonprofits, I started part time with the Planning Center, and I was working maybe 10, 12, 15 hours a week, really doing a lot of project work, systems work, just getting exposure to things like cost basis and modeling, some of the data entry into some of the systems. But they also gave me a little bit of exposure, would let me sit in on a few client meetings here and there, just to see, is this something I might be interested in? It was just a real great time to just get some exposure to the career.

By 2010 I jumped in with two feet, came on full time. That’s where, really kind of progressed from what we would call a planning analyst, or now we would even kind of call it a residency, to really more of a senior planning analyst. One of the things I was required to do, and we still require, is to get a Series 65, so most of our residency program is not … We’re not finding CFPs right out of the door. They’re usually people who don’t have that designation yet. Might just be the fact that we live in Moline, Illinois, which is a blue collar town that’s about a quarter million people. It’s nice though, because we can essentially groom them from the start. I passed my Series 65, which then allowed me to start getting some exposure, helping out with some of the trading operations.

I really probably split my time maybe half with just company projects, things that our COO, Eric Keyes, kind of needed me to do, versus probably half my time where I was getting more exposure into client meetings, and really being in charge of a lot of the prep and the followup. There’s koa natural progression there, where early on you’re just constantly … They might run emails past the advisor before you would send them out, to all of a sudden you’re just generating correspondence and CC-ing in the advisor, and then as the career progresses you might … And all of a sudden the clients start realizing, I can just go directly to Andrew and Andrew could just respond, and not need to go through some of the formalities. I think that’s a great time to learn systems, learn projects, learn some of the paperwork and things that eventually you’ll be delegating out as a planner. Of course I got to working pretty hard on my CFP, blew through that pretty quickly in a year and a half or so, and just had to wait on my experience, which I got by 2012, and became a financial planner.

Hannah: Let’s talk about how long it took you to get from each phase. How long were you working at the Planning Center as a part-time employee?

Andrew: Probably about two and a half years. I would say that kind of that planning analyst role, if you were full-time, we’d probably be looking one, at least two years, as a planning analyst, building some of that core, then there’s a couple milestones that we kind of want to see. Of course the Series 65 is one of the big ones, and some of the systems. Then from there … I kind of did it more part-time, which I think is okay, whereas those coming on now kind of spend that first year or two full-time doing that planning analyst role. Then they kind of move into the senior planning analyst role, which for me, again, would’ve been probably about two years, so two and two there. Where it’s just kind of then wait until I passed my CFP, got my work experience, and I was able to be certified to work with clients.

I recognize that might look a little bit different for firms that are hiring CFPs right out of CFP programs. If we hired a CFP that might kind of shorten that a little bit, but a lot of them still need their work experience, and so they would still kind of … Maybe they could jump past the planning analyst role and right into the senior planning analyst, which I guess, that’s really what we called it when I was in the role. Now I think we really just more call it the resident, senior resident, type of title. Just has kind of a little bit more relevancy to, I think, our profession, as we kind of mirror what the medical profession has done with career development.

Hannah: One thing that I think is really interesting is, the Planning Center has grown significantly since you’ve started working there, from my understanding. When you started, how big was the Planning Center?

Andrew: That’s a great question. We were founded in 1998 by Marty Kurtz, so we’re celebrating our 20 year anniversary, which is pretty cool. By the time I came on, 2007, there were probably about 10 or 11 of us: Marty, Matt, and Eric as kind of senior advisors, me working through the ranks, and probably three or four on the service team. In 2013 we began doing several mergers, and we now have six offices around the country. We’ve got one in Fresno, California, Twin Cities up in Maple Grove, Minnesota, we’ve got one in Chicago right downtown, and now we’ve bought a practice in Anchorage, Alaska that we run, and most recently have brought in Jude Boudreaux and his group down in New Orleans. We’ve got quite the team, I think we’re up to 13 certified financial planners, two CPAs, and then another probably 12 support staff. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 26, 27 toll employees.

Hannah: You guys have almost doubled in 10 years since you’ve started.

Andrew: Yep, that’s probably about right. A lot of it through merger acquisition. Our staff has more than doubled, and the size of revenue, assets, those types of things, have more than doubled as well. Yeah, we’ve gone through a lot of growth and growing pains in the last 10 years, in my experience.

Hannah: Even just when you were talking, you kept kind of going back and forth between what you experienced and what the new planners would experience. The career path within the planning center has really evolved, is what I was hearing. Would you say that’s right, or is it just more fine-tuned?

Andrew: I think it’s more fine-tuned. I think I was really the guinea pig in hindsight, that it’s like, Eric and Matt had to kind of fight their way into this profession as young planners and saying, what would it look like if we could give some direction? Eric Keyes had kind of penciled out some stuff into Excel spreadsheets and said, “What do you guys think about this? That not look great?” When I was interested in a job, it was very, very rare 10 years ago to come into an RIA and have a career path put in front of me. I could see, okay, within a few years I’ll be a financial planner, and beyond that a senior financial planner, and possibly partnership opportunities and things like that. It was even tied to compensation schedules and growth and all of that.

I could really see a career path forward. I was surprised, probably a couple years after that, when I went to my very first NexGen gathering, and the topic of career paths came up, and the question was asked, has anybody been shown a career path? My hand was the only plan that went up in the room, of probably 30 NexGen planners at this gathering. It was kind of a shock to realize.

Now I think things have changed. We’ve seen a lot of the good quality firms are developing residency programs, so we’ve been able to have other firms to bounce ideas off of, and so we’ve been able to fine-tune things and learn, what work well, what do we want to improve, and be able to develop that. Then we have several who have recently kind of just gone through the ranks of the residency program, and recently certified, so it’s kind of cool to see that next generation, wave of planners coming through.

Hannah: Let’s talk to the people who are like everybody else at that NexGen gathering who don’t have a career path. You’ve seen, I’m assuming, so many of your friends go through that. What would be your advice to them as they’re working or looking at job offers that don’t have a clear career path?

Andrew: I don’t necessarily think that that means it’s a bad firm to work with, and I think I was very fortunate to have that career path, but I think the conversation that some of the principal advisors and owners of the firm, or lead planners, where’s your direct mentor, really should be open to the dialogue. It’s okay as the young planner to be leading the conversation, so I’d encourage people to just not say, “Well they don’t have a plan for me,” but to be a part of developing that plan. I think that’s where podcasts like this, resources from FPA NexGen, are going to be phenomenal, because over the last 10 years more and more firms are developing resources that people can take a look at and say, “This is how one firm did it, let’s look at what they did, and what’s going to make sense here.” I really think that if young planners can’t see a way forward, if they can’t see a career path, then it’s going to be tough to want to stay. I think just the willingness to sit down and have that conversation, and help gather the resources, and help the senior leadership walk through that path.

Hannah: So much of it comes down to having the right conversations, and being willing to have those conversations.

Andrew: Yep, absolutely.

Hannah: You said earlier that you are a partner at the planning center. At what point did you get offered a partnership, and what did that look like?

Andrew: For me, sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time. Also I think being kind of an early career transition, that I did have six years of experience doing other work, and just a little bit of age, that I think helped maybe speed up the process in my particular situation. I believe I became a CFP in 2012, but had already been doing quite a bit of planning work, and I think I became a partner in 2013, and so was very early on in that financial planner role. I’d say most likely that probably would be a couple more years under normal circumstances, where someone should be probably a financial planner for a few years before being offered a partnership. But I think just due to a few circumstances that really helped accelerate my career, but I think that really came available. With Eric and Matt already kind of working through some of their internal succession plan, it was kind of nice to be ushered along at a little earlier phase than most.

Hannah: You got the benefit of them having to go through the painful parts.

Andrew: Absolutely.

Hannah: Did you have to put money up for that, or were you offered shares, or how did that transaction work?

Andrew: By then Eric and Matt had already bought some shares where they did do cash purchase type things. Part of our mission is, wouldn’t it be cool if 50 years from now we have different advisors talking to different clients about the same pool of money. Just this idea of just a forward-looking … We do things with future generations in mind. When we started looking at our succession planning, we really felt like we should have a system that would be able to pay for itself, that we should have a evaluation that honors the selling stakeholders, but also honors the longevity and the buying approach.

We have a structure where it’s kind of an internal buyout, where we take on a promissory note, and in that note it has language that structures being able to pay, basically, with our quarterly dividend check. It allows a little bit of some flexibility to pay some tax estimates out of the dividend before paying off the note, and also some flexibility, since as minority stakeholders, we wouldn’t be controlling the vast majority of what’s happening with the firm, and therefore if profits were gone we would not be forced to make a payment. Of course we know, if you don’t make payment you’re also building interest, so there’s still a lot of incentive to keep the firm profitable and grow the firm to continue to pay down our notes.

Hannah: And it’s, when you become a business owner you assume risks, and that’s just a risk of being a partner in a business.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Additional ownership of … We’re not quite to the point where we’re big enough to be institutionalized, so essentially all of the partners need to wear multiple hats. We have committees and things that need to be addressed. Someone needs to run the investment committee, and our technology committee, and our human capital HR committee, the budgeting committee. Just various things that each of us kind of has to take our gifts and talents and do above and beyond just as serving clients.

Hannah: How did your perspective change from being just a salaried employee to becoming a partner in the firm? Or did it change?

Andrew: It definitely changed. I think you just become very sensitive to resources. Things that, you just realize that it’s not all about top-line. I think that part of the career path is really, as a financial planner, which really should take two, three, sometimes even upwards of five years to kind of get your base training before you’d relay be a senior financial planner and in charge of revenue generation. I think you’re more aware of, for this thing to be sustainable, for me to grow my salary, we need to be bringing on new revenue and new clients, but also I think sensitivity to the systems and the things that … It’s like, here’s a cool new thing, well it costs his much money, how does that affect the bottom line.

I even remember, it’s like as a resident, or analyst as we called it back then, it’d be like, as soon as you hit a technology upgrade schedule, heck yeah I’m going to … If they’re going to buy me a new laptop computer it’d be like, yeah, I’m all aboard. Now it’s kind of like, okay, can I stretch this thing out another year, another two years, just knowing that, what are ways that we can look for efficiencies and say, we’ve been writing this off over in Iowa City, and I found a way that’s going to save us $6,000 a year. I just think you problem solve and you look at expense items differently as an owner.

Hannah: Talking to people who are in jobs where they want to be the owner, they should start thinking about that now. Would you agree? How can people prepare themselves for that well?

Andrew: I don’t know if you can prepare. I think the realization that there are several ways that you can improve the profitability of a company. I think all are going to benefit even if you’re not an owner, with a more profitable company. There’s three ways to do that. You can increase revenue, bring on new business. You can decrease turnover, so ways to, how can we better serve clients so that they want to stay with us. Just making sure we’re doing high-quality work, which is probably the most important thing in that early career, financial planner, resident-level, is to focus on just high quality of service, because that’s really going to decrease turnover and really help things.

But I think looking at technology and systems and expense items, and just saying, “Do we really need this? Is this really worth it?” Because when you look at a business projection, it’s actually more valuable to find one dollar to cut out of the budget than it is to bring on one dollar of new revenue. It takes a lot more dollars to grow the top line, compared to if you can find dollars to cut off the bottom line, which is a better way of improving profitability. If it’s a system that’s needed that’s not the case, of course that’s a valuable system, but finding things that are wasteful or things like that can really help out.

Hannah: Great advice. What is your role right now within the planning center?

Andrew: My role now is, I’m a senior financial planner. I’ve been certified now for what, six or seven years. I think the progression from financial planner to senior planner was fairly natural. Those first two or three years, was just shadowing a lot of clients. We really wanted Eric Keyes to take on more of a business management role. I sat in on almost every single one of his meetings, a handful with my brother Matt Sivertsen and a handful with Marty Kurtz, and it was a kind of a natural progression where each year was kind of like, here’s some low-hanging fruit that’s, let’s just have you take these over.

After two years it’s like, here’s another wave that, Eric might just start bowing out of meetings, kind of pop in and say hey, but really try and build me up as the planner. Rather than, if a client asks something, he might say, “Andrew, what do you think about it,” or, “Why don’t you explain it”. Then if they said, “Eric, what do you think about it,” he would really kind of build me up and say, “Andrew’s totally right here,” and maybe expand upon things a little bit ,but really reinforcing the fact that this is who we should be listening to. Then after probably about that three year transition, the bulk of the clients, probably took over about two thirds of Eric’s client relationships, was managing those. At that point, had really started taking on more of a new business role, so that’s one of the things, switching to financial planner is just kind of being expected to be a part of bringing on new clients.

During those first couple years, this kind of ties in too to working with young clients, I was like, when we’d have some young clients that would come in it’d be like, “Hey Andrew, why don’t you work with these cases”. It’s a great way to develop experience as a solo advisor in those early years, and then into the senior planner role it’s like no, you’re fully ready and equipped to be bringing on all clientele and our ideal client as well.

I’d say my role right now is primarily, number one, to service clients, so to be a financial planner. As a partner I’m in charge of revenue generation, so I kind of have a certain number of clients that we’ll hopefully be able to bring on throughout the year. Then like I said, also partner responsibilities, I head up two of our ongoing committees, or investment committee, so doing a lot of the due diligence with our vendors that we work with, mutual fund companies, custodians, meeting in an ongoing with those. Then also preparing resources and conversations for our monthly committee meetings. As well as our marketing committee, so managing that group as well.

Hannah: Looking forward, do you just see yourself more in that same role, or how do you think that your job is going to evolve over the next five or 10 years?

Andrew: That’s a great question. I really love working with clients, so I think my role as a senior financial planner will really kind of follow me into this mid-career stage for another five, 10-plus years. I think we’ll see … Of course part of my job too is helping to mentor some of the newer staff. Now we’ve get my brother Matt Sivertsen who kind of heads up our human capital committee, and so he does a lot of one-on-one meetings and things like that with the younger planners coming through the ranks. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still be mentoring them, and as they get pulled into my client meetings, that we can be talking about things. I do think that that’ll be kind of a key role.

I’ve got to think 10 years from now that hopefully we’ll kind of hit that institutionalized mark where some of the systems like running our investment committee and trading and all that, that we might have a full-time CFA that runs that operation. I may actually see some of my side responsibilities kind of phase out, and focus more on working directly with clients and mentoring some of the younger staff. At the same time, I love the work with the investment committee and the marketing committee, and would be okay if those haven’t transitioned away either. We’ll see.

Hannah: Let’s talk about the clients of the planning center. What does your normal client look like?

Andrew: That’s a great question. Obviously with six offices around the country that have all merged together, right now one of our big initiatives is, we’re kind of working on what we call the way, or the TPC way, and just unifying our client service. Obviously with as much transition as we’ve been through in the last 10 years, we don’t have a very specific niche or anything lie that. I’d say that I have a fair number of clients, maybe a third or so, who are retired and have ongoing needs that we kind of touch in. The other two thirds are probably kind of split between baby-boomers, late baby-boomers, kind of in their 50s, early 60s, who are kind of going through a lot of transition planning, preparing for retirement, et cetera. Probably my other third working with a lot of young professionals kind of my age, in their 30s and early 40s. In each of those, the needs and the servicing looks a little differently, which ties into how we’ve really built our planning process or service model as well.

One cool thing that we have seen is, when Marty was running the shop by himself, and even some of the firms that have all merged in, it was pretty interesting, the average age of our client was Marty’s age. Every year that just ticked up as he kind of aged through, and then what we saw when Eric and Matt came on, and then myself, is that average age plateaued, and then in fact started going down, as we’ve really brought on a whole new wave of clientele with our service model, and being open and willing to work with mid-career and young professionals.

Hannah: When did you guys start wanting to work with the young professionals?

Andrew: Those conversations really were going on right about the time that I came on, so about 2007, when I came on part time, my brother Matt had probably just about passed his CFP, and Eric had been onboard for a couple years. They kind of looked at each other and said, at that time we were charging AUM, and minimums kept kind of ticking up a little bit, and said, geez, we can’t even work with ourselves, and we’re telling all of our friends and network and peer group what we do, and it’s like, but wait, we can’t work with you. It was kind of just this oxymoron. It’s like, here are these young professionals that think that this is a valuable service, that they would love to have this service, but they wouldn’t even be able to sit across the table for themselves. It’s kind of a racking of the brain, how can we do this? Fortunately Marty Kurtz was extremely open to the conversation and willing to let them, and really me, who kind of then pioneered the program that they built, run with this.

What it is, is there really weren’t anyone serving young clients 10 or 11 years ago, but we said, what do we think a young professional would be willing to pay for a financial planning service? We looked at cellphone bills and gym memberships and things like that and said, seems like maybe about 100 bucks would be a decent starting spot. We said okay, what do they need, and what can we really afford to do to at least power the advisor costs and the advisor time, looking at the advisor salary to let them do that?

That’s where we kind of came up with this program called the cornerstone, where we were really starting with the foundational blocks. We establish a track record, really explain, this is one of the most important things we can be watching and building and understanding. We’re huge cash flow believers, so we’ve got a proprietary firm called First Up Cash Management System that we use to teach cash flow. It’s a very forward looking conversation. Then with some simple recommendations on how to set up their bank accounts they could really automate the program and make healthy decisions to make sure their past commitments are taken care of. They know how much they can live off of week to week with their present day choices. Really kind of helping them plan for future needs and wants.

We came up with that cash flow system, we would help them make sure they’re establishing and building an emergency fund as part of that cash flow and network checking. A lot of them would have debt management concerns, so coming up with debt snowball plans, refinancing or things, whatever would need to be done to address paying down debts, and then really helping them just get used to the idea of establishing and tracking goals that we could do. That was the cornerstone program. We weren’t doing investment managements or insurance analysis or tax planning or estate planning, things like that it was really focusing those first few years.

The idea was that someone might do this for say 18 to 36 months, then we would transition them onto our full-service model. Which by then we had moved away from an AUM to an annual service fee, and we had a fairly low minimum for that, so it was a pretty easy transition from $100 a month to our, I guess it was $3,000 at that time, to just bring them onto our full-service platform. I think that’s kind of how that started, but that’s evolved over time.

Hannah: Let’s talk a minute about the cash flow. I’ll raise my hand and say, I’ve been guilty of this in the past, I’m getting a lot better. I’m getting much more hands-on with cash flow with my clients. I know a lot of my advisors just avoid the cash flow conversation, because it’s messy, it’s just not … It’s a lot easier to talk about investments or other planning concepts. Did you find that working with cash flow with your clients was very time intensive, or can you go into, what did it actually look like working with a client on their cash flow?

Andrew: Yeah, and I think you’re right. Cash flow can be a very hairy and sticky topic. It’s kind of where the rubber meets the road. It’s where we experience our money, and we know that the second leading cause of divorce next to infidelity is financial matters. Typically that comes down to income and spending. If we can’t have a platform for a healthy conversation, I think that can really be a huge problem, especially for couples. However we think the system is extremely valuable for single individuals as well, and to be honest it really doesn’t take as much time as people think.

We might spend five or 10 minutes just kind of explaining the concept and the idea, and then what we’ll do is, we’ll probably gather their fixed expenses on all of their bills, their debts, their insurances, service utilities, property taxes, any other commitments, monthly tithing and things like that. Those are pretty easy for them to find, and we can structure those, and we put those into what we call this static bucket. We know how much each month they need to be flowing through their bank account to make sure they can take care of their commitments.

Then what we do is, we kind of explain, what we’d like to do is siphon off and set up a separate checking account for each member of the household, that we determine how much is a weekly amount that is just going to be enough for you to be able to take care of all of your needs throughout the week? To be able to buy lunches and entertainment and dinners and groceries and gas and all those variable expenses. It should be enough that things aren’t too crazy, they just set up kind of a weekly transfer and they get used to having a stopgap on how much they can spend. For those who are savers it gives them freedom to say, “I’ve actually got a few hundred dollars each week that I can spend on this.”

Then with savings accounts we can set up what we call a dynamic bucket for their future needs and wants so we can talk through, what are dynamic things, to saving for travel, or college education, or home and auto maintenance, or things like that. Saying don’t worry, what you’re spending week to week with your control bucket is not going to affect the fact that you’re putting away enough money into savings accounts that you’re going to be able to enjoy these bigger ticket things that you’re excited about, that they’re part of your annual and lifetime goals.

Then we punch the numbers in, we figure out what’s going to make the system work, and everybody gets on the same page, and then we can give them a checklist to go set up your bank accounts. We might come back six weeks later and say, “How’s it going? Is it working out? Do you need to bump this up a little bit or this down a little bit?” Then the odds are the system kind of runs itself, and people can, we might check in on it once a year and have a short five or 10 conversations about it.

I don’t think it takes as much time as people think. In fact it takes a little bit of working, but even our high-income clients, we think that this system is more valuable for them than a newlywed. That’s what people think of when they think of budgeting. It’s like, that’s for college grades and newlyweds. No, this is a powerful conversation tool that, now you have an idea where your money’s going. It’s going to reduce stress, it’s going to give you more peace of mind. Because when people start making 10, 20, 30, $40,000 a month, they have no idea where it goes. They just feel invincible. With a system like this, it’s really not hard to operate, and now they have a clear picture of where everything’s going. In fact the system doesn’t even work that well if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, because it relies on needing a little bit of slush in there to be able to operate the system.

Hannah: I really like that idea, even with high net worth clients, that this is a way that we can really add value to clients, is through cash flow.

Andrew: Yeah. We can look at those dynamic goals, and I think it was 2008 and 9 we were using the first step system with our clients, and we’d have clients who would say, “Let’s look at these dynamic goals. Geez, I’ve been spending $12,000 a year on gardening” or something like that. It’s like, “I could maintain it this year for $2,000”. Conversations like that, and then all of a sudden it’s like, wow. Rather than just looking at the plan and saying, it’d be a great idea if you could cut $10,000, $20,000 out of your annual budget. It’s like no, they actually have the cash flow system to say, let’s look at your goals and priorities, and is there anything in here that could take a back seat for a year or two, and allow markets to recover, and not hit portfolios as hard as needed.

Hannah: You were working with these young professionals, and you were charging you said about $100 a month, so $1,200 a year, and then you bumped them up to that $3,000 service model.

Andrew: Yeah.

Hannah: Is that still how you do that, or how has that evolved over the last 10 years?

Andrew: Over the last few years we’ve kind of phased out our cornerstone program. As our advisor team got a little bigger … It was always kind of tough to say, “These are the only things we’re going to do.” It’s tough to come to the table as a comprehensive planner and turn off part of your brain, and so there was just a little bit of a rub there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way that it was being done, and I think it can be a great business model for people who want to try, and especially a nice way to differentiate and introduce. I think it’s a nice stepping stone for firms looking to incorporate a service for young clients to have the differentiated packages, and then that way they can really track revenue and profitability and things like that. However we just kind of felt that …

We were big believers in our angel service fee, and we use a formula that’s calculated off of net worth and income to be a proxy for the size and complexity of the case. We just recognize that not all cases are created equal. We some cases are going to take more time, more expertise, they have more risk more value, and that there are cases that are going to and should be paying you more than other cases. We’ve really found that net worth and income really is that best approximation of the case and the complexity, and the time and the value that we’ll be providing.

We said that it’s kind of like we’re going from this monthly service package to now this whole different formula, and we just said, can’t we just sign them up on the full net worth and income formula? We’ve really said, what are, in regards to services provided, what do we provide? We’re looking at their balance sheet, their assets, their debts, how do we improve and maximize those. We’re looking at their cash flow, we’re looking at investing, investment management, we’re looking at accumulation and retirement planning, we’re helping with tax management, philanthropy, we’re viewing insurance and asset protection, and we’re helping with estate planning. We kind of have these eight different fields of expertise that we’re helping every single client with, but we realized that at each different stage the needs and complexity grows.

Sometimes it’s a little different, but we really change from calling cornerstone to saying, “You’re on our full-service package,” but we’re kind of building the fundamentals. How do we spend a few years just building the fundamentals in all eight of those categories? For instance, investment recommendations might look a little bit different in that category because in the fundamental stage your savings rates are more important than your rates of return, and so cash flow and balance sheet and all those planning are much more important, and building a real complex asset allocation and asset location plan.

Then as people grow past fundamentals, they kind of move into more of an accumulation phase where we are providing fairly robust services in all eight of those categories, to beyond that, we start thinking about high net worth families that, the management of all of those, it looks even different. On our website we explain what each of the things that we provide in each of the categories, but even beyond that you can look and say okay, how does cash flow differ for someone who’s in the fundamental stage versus the accumulation stage versus the management stage? It’s like, fundamentals, we might be helping them create a simple framework for cash flow, whereas with management, we might be helping them manage income from multiple sources: businesses, real estate, farms, the portfolio. How do we have a plan that kind of works in concert with tax and investment strategies? I just think that things look a little bit different as they grow and progress through the system.

It depends a little bit advisor to advisor, but I’d say across the board you would probably kind of have what we would say is a $5,000 soft minimum, meaning that this is, for us to have an ideal client, where we’re profitably servicing them, taking them through all this stuff. Then obviously if they’re under 40, and the net worth and income schedule doesn’t quite hit that number, if we really think that they’re going to be an ideal client, or someone who is a professional that’s going to be in need of the way we do financial planning, the advisor has the discretion to wave that minimum and then just bring them on at a lower rate, knowing that in two to four years they’re probably going to grow up closer towards that minimum. That’s kind of how we look and think about the career planning path of a younger client.

Hannah: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Your minimum, like you said, it’s not a hard minimum, but it has increased over time as you guys have been able to really articulate the services that you are able to provide for them.

Andrew: Yeah. I think the net worth and income model has really opened up a blue ocean for us. Even at 6,000 annual service fee, that’s $500 a month. We might have some high-income doctors that are straight out of residency, and they’re starting to make these real high salary careers, but they’ve got a negative net worth. It’s like, because we build off of net worth and income we can say, you’ve got high income, you’re going to have more needs than your typical peer that’s not making as much money. We can then essentially … They’re like, “I don’t have any investments for you to manage, but I’ve got needs, and I’m willing to pay you $500 a month to take me through this process.” We think that that’s been pretty cool, that we’re able to bring on clients like that.

Hannah: You guys don’t charge … You said you guys just charge a retainer fee, you guys don’t charge assets under management or anything like that. Is that right?

Andrew: We still have clients on assets under management, but I’d say, we launched the NWI back in 2008, so we’ve been doing it for 10 years now, and all clients prior to that, we pretty much just fathered into AUM. Over time we’ve tried to review cases to say, if it’s a better deal let’s have you switch over. The Moline office, we’ve done a decent job of paring back a lot of that, but we still have a significant number of AUM clients. When other offices merged in, Fresno, Mable Grove, Chicago, Anchorage, they were all using AUM models. We didn’t want that to be a hindrance of the merger so we said, let’s just leave it as is, we’ll match up AUM schedules, but over time let’s start telling this story. But every client that comes on today comes on under NWI, so there is a lot of legacy business that’s still AUM, but all new clients are NWI. With the exception of Jude Boudreaux. His office, he’s been in the study group with Eric Keys, so he was already using our service model, he was using our fee schedule with permission, using net worth and income, so his entire business was already built around the model we were using. That was kind of a cool transition, to just have that all lined up already.

Hannah: I also think it’s really interesting, maybe I’m guilty of this as well, but a lot of young planners come into firms and they want to change a lot right away, and so it’s really interesting to hear how maybe that change doesn’t happen right away, and bringing on new clients under a new model … I don’t know, what are your thoughts on that?

Andrew: I think there needs to be kind of a healthy balance between learning and respecting the model, but I think we should be asking questions. “What’s the reasoning behind that?” We’ve had a very collaborative environment, a very open environment. Our entire office meets together once a month in what we call circle, where everybody’s on the same level playing field. There’s not presidents and CEOs and rank and file, we all have a voice to just talk through, is there a better way. Once a year we get together for an annual company meeting where for two days we spend some visioning, and going through things.

A lot has changed, and it’s funny thinking back over my career. Some of those projects I did when I was part time, pretty much all of them, I remember dismantling. That was a project that we did, and we used it, and it’s like, technology has replaced this, and we’re going to do something else. That’s okay, it’s kind of funny to see that happen, but you know you’ve arrived and you’ve been somewhere long enough where you see some of your projects or creations be dismantled and undone, so I don’t think we should ever be tied to doing things one way or another.

We’re big believers that you never master something. The idea of mastery, that it’s this lifelong pursuit of improving. I think that was probably one of the most humble lessons I had to learn as a planner. I think when we study to take our CFPs there’s so much technical knowledge, and I think you realize that from a technical standpoint you know more numbers than the senior advisors. You’re just so excited to share that with clients, just have all this confidence and things, but the reality is that doesn’t necessarily make you a great planner. In fact we’re really in the business of relationships, and we’re helping people through transitions.

I have gone through the Sudden Money Institute Program, it’s now the Certified Financial Transitionist Program with Susan Bradley. One of the greatest things is, I’ve had the privilege of having one-on-one coaching calls, and just realized that most of what I do needs to be asking good questions and listening.

I can think about my first couple years as a certified financial planner, I’d find that all of a sudden I’d get done with a client meeting and my throat would be dry and scratchy and I’d be like, “What’s going on,” and, “How come I’m not bringing on new clients. I know the story, I can do this.” Then I realized that, wait a minute, as soon as I realized it’s not about me and what I can do and what we can do and all these things, it’s about them, it was like a light bulb went off in my head, and my skills and my career took of. Because all of a sudden it’d be like, if you’re having an initial consultation meeting, 80% of the talking should be the clients.

When I discovered that we’d be spending the bulk of that time just asking questions, asking questions, and “Tell me more about that,” and really figuring out what they value, figuring out their goals, their intended outcome, understanding their concerns, their transitions, their family and their career and how they want to be communicated to, and all of these things that are just extremely important, then it’s like, we’ll I’ve got expertise, we’re fiduciaries, we’re fee-only, we’re going to put your interest first, and we charge a fee based on the size of the complexity of the case.” They go, “I love the idea.” “Here’s the next steps, here’s what we’re going to do,” and people are onboard, and they’re excited.

Most have never worked with a financial planner before, and so I think they just really love our model, and I don’t need to tell them how great we are. Practice it, and get to know them, and make sure you really understand where they’re coming from. That’s probably the most valuable thing I can teach new CFPs, is just take a step back from the technical training and really learn the art of listening, and make sure that we’re listening more than talking.

Hannah: I’m not sure we could end on a better note. What advice would you have for new planners as they’re coming into this profession?

Andrew: I would say get involved in our associations. The FPA has a program called NexGen, NAPFA has Genesis, there’s other national and local networking opportunities to get involved with other professionals, because I think realizing that you’re not doing this alone … Because they’re going to have people who’ve now walked the walked. We are an emerging profession, so it’s no longer these career changers at 50 who are working with other 50 and 60 year olds. We’re creating a profession, we’re creating career tracks, and so that there’s going to be places to go to find, what are the different types of models, what are RAs, what are brokerage firms, what’s it like doing financial planning for a bank? What are the servicing miles, how are people paid? What is the compensation structure? Really understanding, how can I really put clients’ interests first, and really serve them well?

Ultimately then that’s going to lead to creating you as a better planner. Finding ways to improve skills that are going to help the clients, whether they be your technical skills, which, frankly as technology continues to grow, those technical skills are going to become less important, and it’s those personal skills that are going to become extremely valuable. I don’t think computers and robo technology will be able to replace the human element. That our work is going to be much more oriented around behavior and transitions. Know that it’s a lifelong pursuit of mastery, and it’s always skating towards where the profession’s going, and trying to figure out, how can I better improve myself? It’s not just, I’ve mastered financial planning, I’m going to do that for five or 10 years, and then I’ll move on to the next thing. It’s, how can we grow and enrich our lives and our education in that?

I probably had three or four things in there, but I think, get involved, because that’s going to help you find some of those other things that I was talking about.

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]]> Andrew Sivertsen offers insight to young planners on how they can develop a career path, and how to consistently better themselves and focus on adding value to the lives of their clients. Andrew Siversten is passionate about working with younger clients – and he’s built his role within The Planning Center to reflect that. Siversten originally started working part time at The Planning Center in 2007, and over the next several years his role began to evolve from analyst to a more involved, senior member of the planning team. Today, Siversten is a partner and senior planner at The Planning Center.
In the ten years Siversten has been with them, The Planning Center has effectively doubled. They now have six offices around the United States, and have grown largely through merger and acquisition.
Siversten has played a large role in evolving The Planning Center’s approach to residency programs and building a career path within their firm. In this episode, Siversten explores The Planning Center’s career path process for developing young planners, how he’s advocating to work more with young professionals within the firm, and how being part of a constantly growing financial planning practice brings positive change and opportunities into your life as a financial planner.

“Know that it’s [financial planning] a lifelong pursuit of mastery, and it’s always skating toward where the profession’s going, and trying to figure out, ‘How can I better improve myself?”

The Planning Center
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NAPFA Genesis

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Hannah Moore clean
Virtual Paraplanning and Building Processes Tue, 23 Jan 2018 19:12:04 +0000 0 Jen Pritchard had no idea that virtual paraplanning work was an option until she graduated college. Now, three years later, she works as a successful, full-time virtual paraplanner and operations consultant - and is thriving in her role! Jen Pritchard had no idea that virtual paraplanning work was an option until she graduated college. Now, three years later, she works as a successful, full-time virtual paraplanner – and is thriving!

So many financial planning students (and planners who have been in the industry for a while) don’t consider their virtual options when planning their career. But, as the world gets more connected and we consistently work toward a place where work/life balance is viewed as more important, virtual options are becoming more available.

In this episode, Jen dives into the ins and outs of virtual planning, how to build a strong relationship with virtual clients, and how to construct best practices and operation processes as a virtual company.

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For me, it’s been the best thing I could’ve done. I had a really hard time when I first got started in the industry finding my place. I was really lucky that I fell in with these advisors, and I was able to test the waters. If you’re not sure where you want to go in the industry, it’s a really good way to find out what you enjoy doing.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to build virtual business processes.
  • How to map out a communication plan for virtual advisors and employees.
  • How to grow strong relationships with virtual clients.
  • How to transition to working with virtual employees if you’re currently an in-person firm.
  • What virtual paraplanning can bring to your financial planning practice.


Texas Tech University – Personal Financial Planning

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Show Transcript

Ep82 Transcript

Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today, Jennifer.

Jennifer: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Hannah: We were just talking beforehand and you have only been in business for three years, which just blows my mind because when anytime I think of virtual planning, I think of you.

When I first met you, you were working for four different firms virtually, is that right?

Jennifer: Yes, that’s right.

Hannah: How did you get there? How did you get those four firms to sign up and what was that like?

Jennifer: I actually … so I graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in financial planning and I kind of did some job hopping afterwards. The first year was kind of rough. I reached out to one of the advisors that I ended up working for and he was part of the XY Planning Network and I saw what he was doing and I was like, “This looks awesome, how do I do that?”

I reached out to him and was just trying to get some insight into his path and how he got to where he was and I started a mentorship between me and him and I mentioned one day that it would be really cool if I could actually work for someone like him or other people in that XY community. Him and his study group were actually looking to hire. None of them could really hire full time so they were looking to maybe hire someone where it would be part-time for each of them but then it would equal full-time for the person that they hire.

Because I was already talking to him, it kind of made sense for me to connect with the other advisors that were in his study group. I interviewed with all of them, which was kind of a fun interview. It was very laid back and just getting to know each other. That’s how I met all of them and then they decided to hire me from there.

I went from working as a full-time in person employee at a local firm to basically giving that up to go work for these advisors that were paying me hourly, hoping I would get 30, 40 hours a week.

Hannah: Where are these advisors located around the country?

Jennifer: The advisors that I worked with … I’m down to two now but originally … one of them is in Ohio, two are in California and then one of them is in Oregon.

Hannah: Do they all have different processes or is there some continuity between them.

Jennifer: Right now, the tow that I work with, their processes are pretty much the same and whenever I started working for all of them, they were sort of the same but they didn’t really have processes I guess, I don’t know if you could say they were the same or different. That was part of what I did when I came in is actually help them establish their processes.

The idea was being that, because they were all friends and they shared ideas already, if we could set everything up to where I do the same thing no matter I’m working with, then it makes them all more scalable and allow them to have more time to focus on their clients.

Hannah: That’s really interesting, so what I’m hearing, correct me if I’m wrong, you basically created these processes for them, right?

Jennifer: Sort of, it was in conjunction with them. We would meet weekly and I’d be like, “Hey I thought of this process, what do y’all think,” and then we would make tweaks.

The thing is, whenever you’re by yourself, processes … I mean, it’s good to have processes and it’s good to have them established but most people don’t do that. Most people don’t get those in place until they actually hire someone. We went through a whole … we’re still working on processes to today but that first six months was really figuring out how do we set this up to where it’s easy for me to work virtually without having to go back and forth on a lot of things and without there being a lot of confusion.

Hannah: Okay, so processes do no come naturally for me at all. I’ve been pretty open with that. Did you learn how to build up processes through your Texas Tech program or is it just an on the job skill or are you just blessed? Just know how to do it.

Jennifer: I think part of it … whenever I was job hopping, one of the companies that I worked with had really good processes so that kind of helped me realize that how important they were. Whenever I went into this, I was so used to having those in place that not having anything drove me crazy. I don’t think that I’m the best at creating them but I do think that I know what I want the outcome to be so it makes it easier for me to create them.

I don’t enjoy necessarily sitting down and putting workflows into Redtail, but I do creating the process, if that makes any sense.

Hannah: Yeah, yeah, that’s great.

Jennifer: It’s basically in order for me to be sane and be able to work with all these different advisors virtually, I needed processes in place. It just happened naturally I think.

Hannah: What type of work are you doing with these advisors? Is it planning work, client services, are you talking with clients?

Jennifer: It’s changed over time. When I originally started, I was doing a lot of paraplanner admin type work. I spent a long time organizing all of their files, I spent a long time creating the processes, doing account paper work. I was communicating with clients from the beginning but mostly through email. I think about … it wasn’t that long, it may have been three months in, I started sitting in on client meetings, which are done virtually.

One of the advisors that I work with only works with clients virtually. It made it really easy for me to be able to sit in on client meetings, ’cause we just did it through the camera, versus being in person. I kind of transitioned from paraplanner, data entry, account paper work, that kind of role into an associate.

I didn’t drop off on the paraplanner admin stuff because I am the only … I was the only employee, I was just adding on and doing more associate work so actually creating plans, presenting some of the topics in the client meetings and being the relationship manager with the client. Now, I think the goal this year is going to be taking on my own clients in 2018. It’s been kind of a quick transition but I’ve gone through all the stages.

Hannah: Yeah, that’s a normal career path. If we were to say there is a normal career path in financial planning. And to do it within three years, that’s just crazy to me. That’s really cool.

Jennifer: I don’t know if being virtually is what kind of helped speed it up but I work with some amazing advisors and they’re super encouraging. They’re kind of my cheerleaders and they push me to learn more and to speak up in client meetings. I think that’s really helped. I don’t think being virtual has hindered that in any way.

It’s interesting because you talk about career paths and that term actually makes me cringe a little bit because yes, I like the idea of career paths but I don’t like the idea of timelines because everyone should be on a different timeline depending on their skill level. I just happen to be working with people who believe in me and believe that I’m at a certain point that I’m able to now be client facing and starting to lead clients three years in.

Hannah: You said that tone of the advisors has all of his meetings virtually, but the other ones, do they still meet their clients in person?

Jennifer: Yes, one advisor, she’s actually based out of LA and she only has one client that she meets in person with just ’cause he really, really wanted to meet her in person, but the rest of our 40 clients we meet with virtually. Then the other advisor that I work with, he’s also based in California out of San Diego and he meets probably, lets say 75 percent of his clients are in person and then the rest of them are virtual.

Hannah: When he meets somebody in person, is he just putting the notes back into Redtail or the CRM and then you’re following up on that?

Jennifer: It depends. It depends if I’m the associate on the client or not. If I’m the associate on the client we’re actually bringing me up during the meeting on the screen. I’m actually sitting in on those in person meeting. If I’m not the associate on the client then he does the notes and kind of does those associate task of putting it into Redtail and those items.

Hannah: Do you get paid differently if you’re the associate on the account versus not?

Jennifer: No, I’m on salary so it’s the same, depending on kind of what I’m doing.

Hannah: On what you’re doing, so it’s more of just managing the total hours that you’re working.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah and I just have to make sure that I’m splitting my time kind of evenly between the two advisors that it currently work with.

Hannah: I think it’s so interesting that you just made this assumption that everybody wanted me virtually except for this one client and I feel like most advisory firms would say, “Everybody wants to me in person except for this one client.” That’s really fun.

Jennifer: Yeah and it’s interesting because we’re able to work, for that specific advisor … most of our clients, that once they join us and they go through the onboarding process, we haven’t really had any leave. It’s been an interesting experience because I think because we are virtual and most of our clients live in other parts of the country. They don’t pick us because of location, they pick us because they want to work with us and it’s a very good personality fit. You couldn’t match up as easily if you were just choosing other people that are in person. If that makes any sense.

Hannah: Yeah, so what do the clients look like? Are they younger clients? Older?

Jennifer: They’re younger, our average age is actually 40, which I think is a little bit higher than I original thought it was but when I ran it the other day it’s 40, but that’s because most of our clients are early career physicians, so they’re just now getting out of residency, kind of in their mid-thirties. That’s kind of our niche.

Hannah: When you’re working with these clients, is it a high touch relationship with them as they’re going through this process?

Jennifer: It is. We do a lot for them. We have a very … we kind of call it, we have a very high level of concierge service. We’re communicating if they’re buying a home, we’re communicating with the mortgage people. If they’re getting insurance, we’re direct contact for the insurance people. We even have clients where we have direct contacts to their employ, to their HR people so that we can help them with their employee benefits. It’s very high level service that we’re providing to the clients.

I don’t know if that … I think you can do that in person versus virtually, you can do that no matter whether it’s a virtual or in person but it still … that’s kind of how we are set up.

Hannah: It makes sense with doctors because they’re just naturally delegate.

Jennifer: Yes.

Hannah: To their nurses and to the staff and everybody else. What does it cost, if a doctor wants to sign up for your services?

Jennifer: It depends on which advisor. The two advisors I work with, they have different fee structures, it really kind of depends on which one. I guess the physician focused advisor … there’s one that focuses on physicians and her fee is higher. We do a retainer fee for the year. If you’re under a certain level of assets, then we do a flat minimum fee. Then once you go above that level of assets, which we don’t have a whole lot that are above that amount, then you switch to … we calculate it based on …I hate saying assets under management because it’s not your traditional assets under management. We basically look at what at are the investments including, real estate, 401k plans, anything that we help them with, we calculate that and then we do a percentage of that amount but then it’s affixed for the whole year. It doesn’t change throughout the year. Does that make sense?

Hannah: Yeah, absolutely. The minimum that you charge … that she charges, is that several thousand dollars or …

Jennifer: Yes, are minimum right now is at 10,000.

Hannah: At 10,000 dollars?

Jennifer: A year.

Hannah: Yeah.

Jennifer: I mean, obviously we change it. We’ll work with residents who are still kind of going through the residency program and will provide a discount to them. Then we have them on a schedules saying, once you’re done with residency, you switch over to our normal fee schedule.

Hannah: Then when people are working with you, how often throughout the year are you in touch with them?

Jennifer: It depends. For the first year, we actually meet with people about every two months. Once they get past that first year and we get a lot of the upfront work done, we switch to quarterly. We tell our clients that we’re always available, if something comes up and you need us, email us schedule … we have an online calendar so it’s something they can go on there and schedule time. We’re pretty much available whenever they need us.

Hannah: These are all over the country, right?

Jennifer: Yes. We have … if I can remember correctly, I think the last time I ran it and I think it’s changed since then, we ran about 20 different states.

Hannah: Wow.

Jennifer: Yeah, and that include Alaska. It’s pretty cool how it’s crazy that we can work with people from all over the place. We even had client meeting where it was me, the advisor, and it was a married couple. One of the spouses was in … they were in Pennsylvania and one was in South Carolina. We were able to meet, even though we were all in different locations.

Hannah: One of the critiques that I’ve heard of virtually planning is that you aren’t able to develop the deeper relationships with clients. Has that been your experience?


Well it’s all about finding solutions for your clients, right?

Jennifer: Right, and I think we still do … we do life planning and we do Kinder 3 Questions and we’re still able to have those deep goal discussions virtually and it doesn’t seem to be an issue so far at least.

Hannah: What I like about your story is …I hear a lot of planners who are looking to start their own firm and to do it virtually and it’s really like a one man shop, or one woman shop or whatever.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hannah: But I like it that you’re working for somebody else virtually. I know that is a huge trend that’s happening right now where people are looking to … there was a local company here who … they’re not young but they have somebody who moved to Oklahoma and she’s working virtually now. Can you talk about best practices if you were working virtually, whether it is for a startup company that’s just structure that way or even one whose more traditional.

Jennifer: I guess it depends on if you’re talking about whether you’re talking about working with clients or working with your employee. Do you have a preference which one I talk about?

Hannah: Yeah, lets jump to employee.

Jennifer: For employee side, I think it’s really important to have communication standards. For me, and everyone’s different and this is why, you need to talk to between the employee and the advisor, how do you guys want to communicate. For me, I prefer … it works really well to do instant message and so me and the advisors will do Google Chat all day. If we have questions, we send it back and forth. We prefer that over just sending each other emails and bogging down our email system.

Then also, randomly calling. Because I work virtually, I work from home and I don’t work normal hours. I could be doing something that’s not related to work whenever they call me and then it’s kind of like, Oh, I get flustered and so … we know how we communicate best. We schedule everytime they talk face to face, which to me means through camera. Then we talk through instant messaging.

I think having that communication figured out is extremely important. Then also, not every … and this is kind of something that we’re trying to figure out now. I think that every position can be virtual but I think certain positions are a little bit harder of the advisor to outsource to be virtual.

Back office kind of stuff is a lot easier to … for an advisor to outsource and have that virtual hire versus someone that’s client facing. We managed to be able to do it with a client facing role but part of the reason I don’t necessarily work with some of the advisors I started out with is because they needed someone in person to be that associate. Knowing your personality and knowing what can you, as an advisor, handle as far as hiring someone virtually is really important.

Hannah: What would be the signs that you shouldn’t be hiring somebody virtually?

Jennifer: I guess if you’re talking … if you’re hiring someone that you want to be client facing, if you have … if you have an issue bring them in on client meetings because you meet with your clients completely in person and you don’t feel comfortable bring them up on a screen then you probably shouldn’t hire a client facing associate virtually.

Also, just if you have an issue doing those communication styles where you have to use instant messenger or other ways of doing things other than just poking your head in the door, then it might not be very easy for you to hire a virtual person, but if you feel comfortable using technology and utilizing other areas of communication, then it’s usually pretty easy.

Hannah: What about the person who’s working at a firm but is looking to move or whatever their life situation may be. How would you pitch that to the firm owner to maybe working virtually?

Jennifer: It kind of depends. I actually have a really good friend that’s about to go through that. She currently works in Louisiana in person and she’s moving to Oklahoma. She’s kind of been asking me about the same thing, she didn’t have to pitch it to her boss because they knew it was gonna happen but the idea of that transition and I think you really have to look at what do your current processes look like and can you be virtual with them.

If you’re doing everything on paper and you print everything out and now you’re expecting your associate to move across the county and be able to do their work, that’s gonna be really difficult if you’re not using the cloud for your document management system.

If you have everything set up on the cloud and everything’s set up to where that associate or paraplanner can work from home then it makes sense to me that they can live wherever they want. That’s also up to the advisor and does their personality welcome that and does it work well for them.

Hannah: Right.

Jennifer: Did I answer your question?

Hannah: Yeah, I think that’s great. If it was me, I would say I want my pay to stay the same. Is that a fair thing to ask? From your perspective, do you get paid more being in person versus being virtual?

Jennifer: I wouldn’t say so. I would say … I don’t feel like there’s standard in our industry that’s well known and so it’s kind of hard to say. Whether I’m in person or virtual, my salary should be the same unless there’s a cost of living adjustment. We’re talking about me possibly switching to be in person now that I’m going to be more gonna be in a lead role but that’s still up in the air but if that happens then I have to go out to California. Well, that’s a big cost of living difference between Texas and California.

It’s the same as if you were working in person in Texas and in person in California, it’s gonna be different. I don’t think there should be a difference now. It is a different on the advisor side because if you have a virtual hire, you’re not having to pay for all the extra thing that you would if they were in person. It’s actually cheaper for the advisors to hire virtually than it is to hire in person. I don’t think that should change what you’re paying that person.

When I started, I was a 1099 contract worker and not a salaried employee and I think that’s also a different situation. If you’re hiring someone part-time, a part-time hire to do all of your plans, you’re probably gonna be paying a higher hourly rate than what you would if you were hiring someone full time in person. The reason being you’re outsourcing a specific task and who you’re hiring has expertise in that task and you’re only using them for the amount of time that you need versus hiring a full time employee.

Hannah: Let’s talk about the advisor who would be looking to hire somebody to put their plans together. What does the advisor need to have pulled together in order to be able to do that?

Jennifer: The biggest thing with that one is making sure you are able to get that back office planner or paraplanner, whatever you want to call them, they need to be able to get all the data that they need. Easiest way to do that is to be on the cloud. If you’re not then you have to have some way of getting them the information they need. If you’re not on the cloud then it’s just gonna make that a little bit harder.

Hannah: It’s getting on the cloud, then do advisors need to already have their processes ironed out or can they jump in without that and kind of work with that along the way?

Jennifer: I always tell people that it’s always best to have your processes in place. I was also hired without processes in place and I created them. It kind of depends on how much control do you want to have over the processes and if you’re outsourcing plans, making sure that that planner is using the assumptions that you want them to use and creating the reports that you want them to create, that also depends on how much control, do you want them to take full control and just do what they know how to do or do you want to control what they prepare for the client.

It really depends on the situation and the advisor you’re working with.

Hannah: How does it work with all of your processes that are in Redtail? The virtual planner would obviously have to have access to those, right?

Jennifer: Right, you would have to give them, if you have Redtail, so a Redtail login. With a lot of CRMs now you can actually assign by role versus just a person. That seems to be really helpful if you can say, this virtual hire is assigned to this client as an associate. In Redtail, you can go and say, “All of these clients have this person assigned as their associate so the workflows are built out, anytime it’s assigned to associate, it assigns to that person.”

Hannah: I guess maybe good communication’s answer to this next question. How do you manage the work load of that?

Jennifer: You’re right, it’s communication. There are times whenever I do have to tell, since I work with two different advisors, there’s times I have to tell one of them, “Hey, I’m doing all of this for you right now but I still need to do this for the other advisor, I need to kind of balance my time.”

It’s a matter of being okay with having that open communication and not shutting people down whenever they do that. I’m in an unique situation that the two advisors I work with also are friends and so it’s easy of me to do that. It kind of depends because there’s a lot of … I don’t think we mentioned this yet. I work with Simply Paraplanner, which is basically connecting virtual paraplanners with advisors. There’s a lot of different ways you can go about hiring someone. You can hire someone that you want to only work with you or you can hire someone that has expertise and they have their own business and they’re working with multiple advisors. That kind of changes the dynamic of the relationship.

Hannah: How much does it cost to outsource to a virtual planner, a virtual paraplanner?

Jennifer: It depends on what you have them doing. It ranges and it depends on their experience. It’s just like hiring someone in the traditional world, what’s their experience, what are they gonna be doing? If you have a CFP who’s been in the industry for 10 years and has a business doing virtual paraplanning and creating plans for multiple advisors, they’re probably gonna be on the higher end and when I say higher end you’re looking at 50 to 75 dollars an hour. Whereas if you’re hiring someone to do account paper work and kind of do more of the, I guess operations kind of stuff and maybe just some data entry, then that’s gonna be closer to the 20 to 35 range, I guess.

The reason I’m giving you such wide ranges is because it varies depending on experience, whether they’re a CFP or a register paraplanner and just how long they’ve been in the industry.

Hannah: People do just flat rates, if they’re gonna make a plan for somebody, will that just be X dollars? Is that an option as well?

Jennifer: For some paraplanners, I think it is. We have kind of seen a trend with the virtual paraplanning community moving away from that. We’re seeing a lot of people setting minimum hour requirements. If you decide to work with me … I own my own business as a virtual paraplanner. I work with multiple advisors. If an advisor wants to hire me to create plans for them, then I’m requiring that they have to pay me at least five hours a week.

The reason people are doing that is because people would hire them and then they would decide, “Oh well, I’ll use you this week but I’m not gonna use you for the next three weeks and then I’ll use you again in the week after that.” And it was just really in consistent. That doesn’t really work well whenever you’re trying to run your virtual paraplanning business.

Hannah: Right, no, that makes sense.

Jennifer: I do know there are some people that still will charge just on a plan … just to do a plan but the other inconsistency with that is every advisor, what they call a plan is different. You can have one that you’re doing like a 50 page plan or you could have one where you’re doing one page plan. There’s some inconsistencies in there as well.

Hannah: For the amount of time that it takes as well to.

Jennifer: Right, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hannah: If somebody wanted to find a paraplanner or even, I love the idea of some who’s listening being like, “Oh this would be a great way to outsource some of the work that they’re doing.” Even though they work for somebody else. Where can people go to find paraplanners?

Jennifer: I don’t know if I’m allowed to plug in from here…

Hannah: Please do.

Jennifer: Simply Paraplanners, so that’s what we do is we connect virtual paraplanners with advisors. You can also … one of the advisors that I work with, we just hired a client service associate to take some of those task off of my play and we basically just post it on Facebook.

We got I think 10 applicants and ended up with a really awesome CSA. It’s who you know, social media and then also using things like the job board that we have on Simply Paraplanner.

Hannah: Do you have any tips or thoughts for somebody who is interested in pursuing this virtual planning route?

Jennifer: Yeah, I mean for me it’s been probably the best thing I could have done. I had a really hard time when I first got into the industry finding my place and I got really lucky that I came across these advisors that I fit in really well with. I was able to test the water. It’s kind of one of those things where you’re not sure where you want to go in the industry, I think it’s a really good way to figure out what do you enjoy doing, by doing kind of this virtual work for maybe multiple advisors or even just one advisor, just kind of figure out, what are the tasks you enjoy doing and I think that’s helping a lot of people find their place in the industry, rather than try to work for a traditional firm and finding out that they don’t want to work with those types of clients or they don’t fit in well with the company. It gives you a little bit more flexibility in figuring out where you want to be.

Hannah: If somebody’s graduating college right now and it’s just like, “I’m interested in this,” where do they go to build their network?

Jennifer: I think it’s kind of like traditional, you do traditional networking and then also joining different groups online. There’s FPA Activate, there’s the XY Planning Network has their own Facebook page. There’s Simply Paraplanner that they can join. There’s a lot of things online if you’re wanting to do that virtual route.

My partner in Simply Paraplanner, she met the advisor she works with at a conference. There’s still that traditional networking that you can do but then there’s also the online networking now that things are becoming more and more online.

Hannah: And it would make sense if you want to do virtual planning to meet people virtually.

Jennifer: Yes, yes.

Hannah: In person as well but also the virtual.

You had alluded to the fact that you are looking to become a lead advisor so what does the future look like for you?

Jennifer: That’s a good question. We’re still figuring it out. As you already mentioned, my path has been an interesting path and it’s been a very fast path. I think that’s just because the nature of working with startup firms, things can either go down really quickly or they can go faster.

As of right now, we’re looking at 2018, me starting to take on some more responsibility and taking on some clients of my own, not necessarily completely by myself but just leading the relationships. Eventually I will have to go down to working with one firm, just capacity reasons and then also marketing reasons.

We’ll see how that goes. We’re still figuring that tout and it’s constantly … things are constantly changing because we’re growing very quickly. It’ll be interesting six months from now where I’m at.

Hannah: Well I hope these firms are bidding against each other to get you to stay.

Jennifer: They don’t talk about it right in front of me so I’m not sure how they. But they do both try to convince me to move to either … ’cause one’s in LA and one’s in San Diego and they’re both like, “You should move here.”

Hannah: You expect that you’ll likely be moving in the future?

Jennifer: I do. It has nothing to do with … one of the advisors, she works completely virtually, she’s told me, she goes, “If you do work with me full time, there’s no expectation that you come and work with me in person ’cause we actually work very, very well virtually.” That would be more for, I guess extra experience and extra learning, if you want to look at it that way. It’s just kind of like if I’m in person, we can sit right next to each other while we’re going through an analysis and talk about where right now, we have to put it aside and then talk about it on our weekly call.

It could just increase my path or make my path even faster. There’s no need for me to meet in person but more than likely, I will be.

Hannah: That’s so interesting, you start out virtual and you end up in person even though you might not have to.

Jennifer: It may be one of those thing where I go in person for a year and then I end up going somewhere else. Not changing jobs but staying with them but moving ’cause my ideal world would be to live in Colorado. I may end up there one day. There’s so many different paths I can take because we are capable of being virtual.

Hannah: I just love it that within financial planning, you really can find your career path and what really fits you best.

Jennifer: It’s interesting because I actually met, doing this virtual paraplanning thing, I met a lot of people doing this and networking within this world. There’s a lot of people who really enjoy doing financial planning but they don’t enjoy being client facing. This is kind of a perfect job for those types of people. They really enjoy the analysis and putting things together, making things look good but when it comes to actually presenting it, they don’t really want to do that. They don’t really want to interact with clients.

I think there’s a lot more people out there that are like that than they realize in the industry but traditionally it’s always been, “Oh, you have to go through this whole traditional path where you’re doing the background stuff and then eventually you’re going to be expected to be client facing because we want you to bring in more clients.”

A lot of people have found that they can do the background planning without having to be pressured in to being client facing by doing this virtual paraplanning stuff.

Hannah: Like you said, if that’s where you want stay, that’s great but you could also advance if you wanted to do something different later. What I love about your career path or your … maybe not a career path, whatever phrase that is, is that you just keep learning and evolving as a professional. That’s really exciting.

Jennifer: It’s interesting ’cause I … when I fully explain the path I’ve taken, everyone thinks it’s so crazy but if you really think about it, it’s actually pretty close to the traditional path but it was just much faster and it’s done virtually. That’s not to say … there are a lot of people who are doing this virtual paraplanning thinking that that’s what they want to do. They want to be virtual paraplanners, they don’t want to be client facing, they want to do the background stuff.

I’ve kind of taken … I started as the background person and I kind of worked my way up like you would in a traditional firm. There’s a lot of different paths you can take in this industry and I think it’s … it’s just so exciting to see how things have changed, even since I graduated three years ago because I didn’t think this was possible when I graduated and there are so many more things that are possible now and it’s just really exciting to watch.

Hannah: Lets kind of switch gears a little bit and talk about working from home.

Jennifer: Okay.

Hannah: As somebody who does work a lot from home, what are you tips on making that work out well for you because I know a lot of people really struggle with that.

Jennifer: For me, and this isn’t something I’m always successful with, but I will say having kind of a schedule does really help. For me, I actually realized over the past couple months, ’cause I actually just moved out of a family member’s house into my own place and that’s when I really needed a schedule because I’m now living by myself and working mostly from home.

I figured out a morning schedule that helps me get my mind right. That’s really helped. I do say … I did join an office space last month. I worked from home of are year and a half but I was living with other people when I did that so it was very easy for me because I would be in my own head all day and then my family would come home and I’d interact with them and I’d have my social time.

Now that I live by myself, I have to find somewhere else to work because I’m just a social person so I needed a space to talk to other people. I guess another thing would be making sure that your office space has its own space.

In my apartment now, I originally had my desk towards the center of my living room, then I realized when I sat down on my couch and wanted to look out my window, which looks out on forest, I couldn’t see my forest because my desk was in the way and I could relax and watch TV because my desk was in the way and I was constantly thinking about work.

I actually shifted it over to the corner of my living room now and now it feels like I have a designated office space and when I walk out of the space and go sit on my couch, I don’t have to think about work anymore. I would say that another thing working from home that I found helpful.

Hannah: Isn’t that just a great analogy on life?

Jennifer: Yes.

Hannah: That’s great. What advice would you have to the person listening or maybe to yourself when you first graduated college?

Jennifer: That’s a hard one. I’ve actually thought about this a lot. Anything is possible and I didn’t realize that. I guess the advice to keep an open mind and anything is possible. Whenever I was in school, I was under the impression just ’cause of the nature of the business back then, which was only three years ago, that you could only work with retirees that had a ton of money, because I was searching and I kept an open mind and I networked with other people, I found this other world where we work with 30-year-olds and I do it from my home.

Just keeping an open mind is a big … I think, have been advice I would have given myself.

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Audio updated on 01/24/2018 (Thanks Stacy!)

Jen Pritchard had no idea that virtual paraplanning work was an option until she graduated college. Now, three years later, she works as a successful, full-time virtual paraplanner and operations consultant - and is thriving in her role! Jen Pritchard had no idea that virtual paraplanning work was an option until she graduated college. Now, three years later, she works as a successful, full-time virtual paraplanner – and is thriving!
So many financial planning students (and planners who have been in the industry for a while) don’t consider their virtual options when planning their career. But, as the world gets more connected and we consistently work toward a place where work/life balance is viewed as more important, virtual options are becoming more available.
In this episode, Jen dives into the ins and outs of virtual planning, how to build a strong relationship with virtual clients, and how to construct best practices and operation processes as a virtual company.

“For me, it’s been the best thing I could’ve done. I had a really hard time when I first got started in the industry finding my place. I was really lucky that I fell in with these advisors, and I was able to test the waters. If you’re not sure where you want to go in the industry, it’s a really good way to find out what you enjoy doing.”

What You’ll Learn:

How to build virtual business processes.
How to map out a communication plan for virtual advisors and employees.
How to grow strong relationships with virtual clients.
How to transition to working with virtual employees if you’re currently an in-person firm.
What virtual paraplanning can bring to your financial planning practice.

Texas Tech University – Personal Financial Planning
Simply Paraplanner
Simply Paraplanner on Facebook
XYPN Radio VIP Community
FPA Activate Facebook Group

Click here to find out more about NexGen Gathering 2018! FPA Members can register here.

Audio updated on 01/24/2018 (Thanks Stacy!)
Hannah Moore clean
Defining Success as a Business Owner Tue, 16 Jan 2018 19:12:55 +0000 0 Chloé Moore has always known financial planning was for her. This episode will provide many valuable insights into how you can develop a career that helps you achieve your unique vision and definition of success. Chloé Moore has an amazing career within the financial planning profession and always known that planning was where she wanted to be. She launched her own RIA, Financial Staples, to start putting more of a focus on providing financial planning for people her own age who need financial planning. Chloé describes her clients as young professionals who are doing amazing things in their careers, getting out of debt, and growing their wealth.

Chloé understands that her clients are going through many changes in their young lives, and she prides herself in meeting them where they are and working with them every step of the way through her high touch service model. In her first year, Chloé grew her RIA to 18 clients – which is incredible.

Unlike many new advisors, Chloé has built her practice to fit her lifestyle. She enjoys travelling, cooking, spending time with her family and friends and volunteering. To meet her ideal work/life balance, she’s decided to monitor and limit her firm’s growth to ensure she’s growing in ways that fit her definition of success. This concept isn’t one you hear planners talking about, but it’s so important!

Chloé isn’t only a rockstar financial planner with a successful firm, she also runs a consulting business in tandem with her planning practice. She knows that operations is her strong suit, and because she’s passionate about it, she founded C-Level Consultants. This consulting firm serves financial planners exclusively, and helps guide them to a more organized, streamlined operation of their firm.

It’s no doubt that Chloé has found exactly where she fits in the financial planning community and is thriving there. This episode will provide many valuable insights, both into launching your own RIA and tailoring it to fit the life you want, and into creating a successful side hustle that helps to give back to the profession.

hannah's signature

“With what we do, we’re really able to help someone. Really change the path of their life.”

What You’ll Learn:

  • What a year of financial planning services looks like for younger clients
  • How to decide what growth means to you.
  • How to define success as a business owner.
  • Different ways to approach your marketing.
  • How you can run a successful secondary business alongside your RIA.
  • When to take a deeper look at the services you provide, and whether or not you’re happy with your business.

C-Level Consultants

Financial Staples

NAPFA – The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

XY Planning Network

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Financial Planning Association®

CFP Board

40 Under 40 Investment News


Show Transcript

Ep81 Transcript

Hannah:               Thanks for joining us today, Chloé.

Chloé:                   Thank you for having me.

Hannah:               Can you tell the listeners a little bit about how you spend your time these days with your businesses and consulting work?

Chloé:                   Sure. I have two businesses. The first one is C-Level Consultants. I work with other financial advisors and financial advisory firms as an outsourced financial planner or operations consultant. I do that I’d say probably about 30 to 40% of my time right now. Then I also have my RA which is Financial Staples. I work primarily with young professionals anywhere from their late 20s to late 40s, and so that’s my second business.

Hannah:               We’ll talk a little bit more about how you’re running your practice right now and the services that you’re providing to your clients. But, I’d like to talk a little bit about how you got into financial planning. How did you get into this industry or profession?

Chloé:                   I went to University of Alabama Roll Tide.

Hannah:               Congratulations, by the way.

Chloé:                   Thank you. I majored in financial planning there. I started originally as an athletic training major, and I quickly realized that I was much better with numbers, and logic, and reasoning than I was with memorizing anatomy and biology and all those things. I switched to financial planning because one of my counselors was actually a financial planner, and I never even knew that career existed. I learned about it through her and so as soon as I got into my first class, I was immediately intrigued and I knew that this was what I was meant to do. Once I graduate from there, I started working with the firm in Baton Rouge and started financial planning there as an associate advisor. I was there for a couple of years. Then I moved to Birmingham and worked for another small firm. Then I moved to Atlanta and I’ve been here for the last 10 years.

Hannah:               First of all, how did you find those jobs?

Chloé:                   I found the job in Baton Rouge through my counselor. She had connections with a lot of different firms locally like in Alabama and then just in the Southeastern area. They encouraged us to go and do research and look for firms of just in whatever areas we wanted to live. I contacted a lot of firms and just went in and ask them if they had open positions. I sent them my resume, some samples of my work. I was very much proactive in finding firms and just trying to get myself out there. I did some interviews in Nashville, in Baton Rouge and Birmingham, all over. I landed my job in Baton Rouge.

Hannah:               With your firms, did you find that they weren’t really doing financial planning or was it more of an investment centric company?

Chloé:                   I’ve been very lucky in the sense that every firm I’ve worked for, they’ve always done financial planning and that was the center of what we did for our clients. Investment management was secondary. For every firm I’ve worked with, we also charged separately for financial planning services. That’s probably something that’s a little bit unique about my experience.

Hannah:               When you are in Atlanta, what were … See, now I’m stumbling over my words. When you moved to Atlanta, what was your job there?

Chloé:                   I worked with a trust company. They were a Southeastern-based trust company. Their headquarters were in Memphis, Tennessee. Then they also have offices in Nashville and Atlanta. Yeah, I was a financial planner there. We’ve provided financial planning services and then investment management services and also trustee services so we could service trustee, or co-trustee, or executor.

Hannah:               I think the trustee path is such an interesting way for people to get into the business. For people listening who don’t really understand what a trust company is, what is a trust company and what’s unique about that role versus where you were at other firms?

Chloé:                   With the trust company, I got to learn a lot more about trust administration and trust accounting, which is something that typically you don’t learn a lot about, especially with the CFP program. It was definitely a different experience. Overall, we also worked with larger clients. A lot of our clients had taxable estates. That was just another level of planning that a lot of people just don’t typically get experience in working with tax planning and estate planning for 10 million plus clients. That was definitely a different aspect of it. Then even on the investment side, there’s a lot more opportunities once you have at least a million plus in investment assets. There’s different opportunities that you can tap into there. We did some private equity. We actually had our own private equity funds at the trust company. There’s opportunities to do private real estate, private debt and some other investments that the traditional advisor just doesn’t typically delve into.

Hannah:               How long were you there at the trust company?

Chloé:                   I was there for seven years.

Hannah:               Did you go from your trust company or to the consulting work and starting your own firm?

Chloé:                   Yes. Yes, I left there in 2014. I started doing consulting work immediately after that. I was consulting for two years before I started my RA.

Hannah:               When you’re at the trust company, what prompted you to want to leave?

Chloé:                   There are a few things. The major reason is just that I was really burned out on working with clients who were in the ultra high net worth space. I just really wanted to work with clients who are more like myself. I think one of the things about our industry is that we tell people, “Go figure it out yourself. Get rich and come back to me when you have a million dollars.” That’s not something that everybody is able to do on their own. Then people make a lot of mistakes along the way. I see that just with our generation we have a lot of bright people who are doing great things in their careers. They’re making good money and they just really need guidance. That’s where I wanted to have an impact on the front end and at the beginning of people’s careers instead of on the backend.

Hannah:               As you’re thinking through this and you’re working at the trust company, what were people’s response to that idea of serving your peers?

Chloé:                   I didn’t really talk about it. It wasn’t something that we did there. We did work with clients or children of the clients, and so that was something that we did. But typically they were inheriting millions of dollars and so it was a situation where it was just easy to take over that relationship. We dealt with a lot of people who were beneficiaries and trust. It was a different type of situation as far as working with my next gen clients.

Hannah:               You left the trust company and started consulting. When you left the trust company, did you know that you wanted to start your own firm?

Chloé:                   I didn’t. I actually didn’t think it was possible at the time. It was just 2014 so it wasn’t that long ago. I knew I didn’t want to manage investments. I’ve always been a planner at heart. I truly love planning and investments has never been something that I was interested in or it’s never been a strong suit of mine. I really thought that I couldn’t start a firm unless I was managing assets. It took a little while for me to see other people who are out there being successful without managing assets for me to realize that I could start my own firm and be successful as well.

Hannah:               You left and then was your goal after you left the trust company just to start a consulting firm for other financial planners?

Chloé:                   Yeah, I thought I was just going to do that for the rest of my career is to be able to help other advisors whether it’s helping them with actually doing the financial planning work or figuring out other financial planning services that they should offer, looking at technology, figuring out efficient leads in their business. I really thought that was what I was going to focus on, but I was still in that high net worth space working with the advisors that I was working with. I just really wanted to get away from that space. Then I saw that, like I said, having a financial planning firm and not managing assets was possible. That really led me down the path of starting my own firm.

Hannah:               What’s so exciting to me about your story is how quickly things can change.

Chloé:                   Yeah, definitely.

Hannah:               And how important those years of just being like, “If only this was possible.” How important that is to really know what your final direction.

Chloé:                   Yeah. I’ve realized, too, just being on my own even the first year, I did so many networking events and I got so much more involved in FPA. We have a local estate planning council and just some of the local groups here. I really got out there a lot more. You just realize that you’re in a bubble when you work with a company. Again, you don’t know what else is out there. That was something that just opened my eyes just being on my own and being able to speak with other people and just see what the possibilities were.

Hannah:               You decide to start your own firm. What does that process look like?

Chloé:                   Well, operations is a strength of mine and processes as well. I’m very organized when it comes to anything. When I started my firm, the first thing I did was I made my checklist of all the things I needed to do. I really wanted to hone in on my target audience, what types of services I wanted to provide and how I was going to charge for those services. Just coming from the high net worth space, we’re very much comprehensive in what we did. We’re very much involved with our clients. They’re CPAs. They’re attorneys. We did a lot of handholding. I knew that I wanted to have that level of service and bring it to younger clients, but also had to account for the fact that on the revenue side I wouldn’t make as much per client. I really had to think through that and just think about my structure for my business. That was the foundation of it. Then from there, just all the pieces came together.

Hannah:               Who is your ideal client?

Chloé:                   My ideal client, I don’t have a specific profession that I work with, but my ideal client is typically in their late 20s to late 30s. They’re at the point in their career where they’re just now getting a good paying job or they’ve just gotten their first significant raise. They might be single or just getting married and starting their life together. I’ve really want to help them at that point before lifestyle creep gets out of control and just before they started making any huge mistakes. I want to help them set the foundation and get their budget together and figure out where should I save and how should I save and what things do I need in place to set me on a path for long-term success?

Hannah:               Do most of your clients, are they at six figure incomes or are they … What’s the general income level of your clients?

Chloé:                   Most of my clients are at six figure income level. I’d say they make at least a hundred, 250,000 a year at a minimum. A lot of them fall into this space where … There’s really two categories. They fall into the space where they have some complex benefits so they might have stock options or restricted stock. I have some people who work at tech companies or corporations where they’re at a level where they’re receiving some of those types of benefits in addition to having high income and they’re fairly young and they don’t know what to do with those things.

Then I also have clients who are small business owners. They’re making pretty good revenue in their business and they need to get a better understanding of how to run their business and how to just manage their tax liabilities and those types of things.

Hannah:               Do you help them with running their business as well like business coaching or …

Chloé:                   To a certain extent I do. Yeah. Because their businesses are all over the place, I guess I don’t have a specific profession that I work in. Within any business, there’s some fundamental things that you need to have in place. Because I am strong on the operations and the process side and just the organization structure of the business. I can help clients with that and I also have people that I refer clients to whether they need help with marketing or just different aspects of their business. I have good relationships with all types of what I call allied professionals that I help clients with. I help them develop a team of advisors that we can all kind of work together to help that client get to where they want to be.

Hannah:               Oh, that’s great. Well, it’s so much … You’re adding value at multiple levels.

Chloé:                   That’s the goal.

Hannah:               How do you charge your clients if you’re not charging AUM?

Chloé:                   I have two services. The first one is the comprehensive service. For that service, it’s a long-term relationship. I try to stress that it is a long-term relationship and it’s an ongoing thing. Financial planning is more of a process. It’s not a product or a one-time thing. For those relationships, I charge an annual fee and it’s based on income, net worth and complexity. For individuals, it starts at 4,200 a year. Then for couples and business owners, it starts at 6,600 a year and that’s billed either monthly or quarterly just depending on their preference. Then the other service that I provide is hourly and so for those clients, it’s more of just a project. If they have just a couple of things that they need, questions they need answered or they want to do just a neat project that’s centered around a couple of topics, then we’ll just do an hourly rate, which is my hourly rate is 250. Then I’ll just estimate the time that it’ll take to work on that project.

Hannah:               With the comprehensive services, well, obviously, people have been willing to pay that price. Have you had any pushback like that it’s too high, or too low, or what’s been your feedback about that?

Chloé:                   Yeah. Actually I just increased my prices this year.

Hannah:               Good for you. That’s awesome.

Chloé:                   I’m just starting out at this higher price level. Before, my minimum was 3,000. I went up by $1,200 a year. I have had a little bit of pushback from some clients. I truly just don’t feel like those are the clients for me. I’m looking for clients who really value a long-term relationship with an advisor, and I also value the idea of outsourcing and having someone else, relying on someone else’s expertise. If a client is more of a do-it-yourselfer or they just want a second opinion, then I’m typically not the advisor for them. My clients, they’re busy with whatever they’re doing, whatever their positions or they’re executives. They really want to focus on their job and what they’re good at and what they’re passionate about and they want to rely on me to help them with the financial decisions.

Hannah:               When you start your own firm and you put it out into the world, did you get traction right away?

Chloé:                   It took a couple of months I’d say. I officially launched in November of 2016. I’d say by that January I started to receive a lot of prospect calls and prospect meeting. It took a little while to get myself out there. I’d say a year, a good year into it now, it’s definitely more steady. I feel like I’ve set a good foundation to where I’m receiving a lot of steady prospects.

Hannah:               Is it just you or do you have a team behind you?

Chloé:                   No, right now it’s just me. I do plan to … This year, one of my goals is to get some consistent help. I’ve had people help me along the way, just pieces here and there. I just hired someone to help me with my content marketing, and so my goal is to definitely get someone to help me with administrative things and also get someone to help me with some of the planning aspects.

Hannah:               How many clients do you have now?

Chloé:                   I have 18 clients right now.

Hannah:               That’s really impressive in a year, just a little over a year.

Chloé:                   Thank you.

Hannah:               That’s great. Where do you see your firm growing? Do you want to cap it or do you want to have it go as many clients as you can serve?

Chloé:                   Yeah, I definitely want to cap it. That’s something else that I thought about in the very beginning. I feel like when you’re starting a business, you need to have in mind how you want it to end because it can get away from you and you’ll find yourself 10 years down the road doing something that you don’t want to do or you’re not happy in your business and your business is running your life. I’ve seen that happen so many times. I knew going into it that I needed to have a good vision of where I wanted to be long term.

For me, I wanted to make sure that I had time to spend with family and friends and to travel and most importantly to volunteer. I’m going to help other people. In order to do that and to live the life that I wanted to live, I knew that I needed to keep my business small. My plan is to cap it and probably I’m hoping 35 to 40 clients. If I can get 35 to 40 comprehensive clients that are long-term relationships and recurring revenue, then that’s the plan is to cap it there. That will give me the income that I would like to have and it would also give me the opportunity to take more time to do more pro bono work and even some discounted work for lower income people and just find a way to serve that market as well.

Hannah:               Oh, I love that so much. One of the questions I think all advisors have to ask is how much is enough.

Chloé:                   Exactly.

Hannah:               I love that you’re answering that. This is what’s enough.

Chloé:                   I know people who they just want to make as much money as possible or they have some crazy goal for making the certain amount of money at least one time in their career or just at some point. I’ve never had a goal of making some astronomical amount of money. I know what is comfortable for me and what will allow me to live what I feel is a good life and allow me to help others. That’s really what’s important to me. I feel like even when I hear people say that they want to make a certain amount of money or they want to grow their business to some level, my question is always why? There has to be a why behind it. A lot of people just don’t think about that. They don’t think about why do I want this. Is it really something that I want? I think if people would dig into that a little bit more, the answer might be a little different. They might be on a different path.

Hannah:               When you run a business, you have so many different hats and you’re the financial planner and then you’re the business owner and the marketer and everything like that. How have you found balancing all of those roles?

Chloé:                   That’s something that I still struggle with a little bit, especially in the beginning you have so many clients who are the onboarding part of the process and onboarding is definitely the most time-consuming than it is when you’re three or five years or 10 years into the relationship when things are a little smoother. Yes, I still struggle with that a little bit. I think the best thing there is having good processes in place, having good technology that you can leverage. Those things are definitely helpful and I try as much as I can to document what I’m doing to track my progress with my clients and with my business. I think that helps me to stay on track as much as possible.

Hannah:               One of the things I hear, especially from new planners, is that they don’t want to be in just a sales role. As a business owner, there is an element of sales in the marketing to what you’re doing. Have you found it to work well with what you’re doing?

Chloé:                   I don’t think of it as sales in this sleazy sense. Most people coming out of school, they’re probably … The opportunities that are available or that they’re considering might be where they’re selling a product and not necessarily selling a service. For me, I think of it more as selling myself and selling my service. I enjoy it. I enjoy speaking with prospects and just hearing people’s stories, learning about their lives and just seeing how I can help people.

Hannah:               On your marketing, have you been doing mostly online marketing? Are you doing it in person?

Chloé:                   I’d say a large percentage of my referrals have come online. I have profiles on NAPFA’s website, XY Planning Network. I’m a member of FPA and then the CFP where I have a profile in there. People go to those sites when they’re searching for financial advisors, specifically NAPFA because they’re looking for fee-only advisors and fiduciaries. I get a lot of traffic through NAPFA and XYPN. Then I’d say the second tier is probably referrals from other professionals. Because I don’t manage assets, I’ve aligned myself with advisors who only do investment management and they’re not planners and they have no interest in planning. That’s been very helpful for me because there’s no conflict there. I can refer business to them. They can refer business to me. That’s been very helpful and then the traditional CPAs, attorneys, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, just people like that.

Hannah:               Other investment professionals are referring you clients for financial planning.

Chloé:                   Yes.

Hannah:               That’s really interesting but it makes a lot of sense.

Chloé:                   It works well because, like I said, I never wanted to manage investments so I can partner up with an advisor who that’s all they do is manage investments and they don’t want to do planning. It works out really well. We can both do it what we enjoy doing and help the client.

Hannah:               One of the things when you go to your website, Financial Staples, which everybody should go to, hey, first of all, the name. Can we talk about how did you get Financial Staples?

Chloé:                   I love to cook. I am passionate about cooking. I love food. I love to eat. When I’m cooking in my kitchen, I always try to make sure I have what I call my staples. That way, I can pretty much make any meal and I can whip up a meal pretty quickly if I have my staples. I was thinking about the concept of how can I merge my love of food and my love of cooking with finance. I think if you have your staples, which are your good financial habits and then if you have a recipe, which is a financial plan, then you can really make anything happen.

Hannah:               What I love is how you integrated, like you were saying, your passion for cooking with your passion for financial planning. Let’s talk about how you service your clients. What does a client experience look like?

Chloé:                   The first year is a little bit different from the years to follow. For the first year, we’re really just setting the foundation and getting the plan in place. We have a series of meetings. I always start out with what I call a discovery meeting. With that meeting, we don’t talk about any money, anything financial. I typically don’t even ask for documents ahead of time. We really just sit and have a conversation. I learned about their family history, just how they grew up, their memories of money, how they define success, just what they’re passionate about, how they want to live their life. I really just dig in to who they are. Then also what they want to accomplish long term. That sets the foundation and it really just helps us to get to know each other. It builds the relationship. That’s the first step.

Then after that, then that’s when I start to gather all of the information. I’ll set them up. I use eMoney and so I’ll set them up with a client website. Then I’ll give them the documents, the list of documents that I’ll need. We’ll start gathering all of the information. Then from there, once I have that information, I’ll pull together a basic network statement and cashflow and make sure that we have those things, I would have everything accounted for and that I have a good understanding of where they are right now. We’ll have another meeting just for data validation and just making sure that we’ve captured everything. We’ve captured all of their goals. Then from there, I’ll build a plan out. We’ll have a plan delivery meeting. We’ll talk about all the aspects of their financial planning whether it’s taxes, insurance, investments, budgeting, cash flow, retirement planning, estate planning. We’ll just look at everything.

From there, what I’ll do is I’ll start prioritizing all of their action items. We’ll try to work on maybe two or three at a time so it’s a lot easier to swallow. Once we’ve completed the plan, we’ve confirmed that everything is accurate and then we’ll just go from there as far as knocking out the action items. On the implementation side, I’m definitely hands on, like I said, before. Let’s say they need a will. I’ll introduce them to an estate planning attorney if they need an introduction. I’ll actually help them with the process of helping provide any documents that they need or helping them think through some of those things ahead of time. As far as what their wishes are, I’ll review the drafts with them. In some cases, I’ll summarize or diagram how everything looks. I’ll make sure that everything really matches with what they want and using my knowledge of their overall picture. I’ll just work with them on that and work with the attorney as a team.

I’m very hands on with what I do and same thing with tax claiming and CPAs and insurance planning. I don’t just send them off and say, “Hey, go talk to this person and get this done and come back to me when you’re finished.” I’ve seen that happen. In some cases, that doesn’t work out very well. I definitely try to make sure I’m very much involved in the process.

Hannah:               In that first year, how many times are you meeting with the client do you think?

Chloé:                   It could be anywhere from four to six times of that first year. We’re definitely meeting more frequently. Like I said, it’s really just setting the foundation for the future years.

Hannah:               After that first year, what does a client experience look like?

Chloé:                   After the first year, then I just have things throughout the year that I do for clients. It’s just based on a calendar year but we’ll pick up wherever they are in the process. The beginning of the year, I try to focus on … At the beginning of the year and mid year, we typically look at their net worth statement and their cash flow and compare last year to this year and see what progress they made and really set some goals for the next year as far as what they want to accomplish with their savings or with paying down debt or even if they have some other action items that they need to complete, we’ll just set goals there, some things like planning for a house or a new baby or anything like that.

We’ll establish that at the beginning of the year and then we’ll have a mid year check in to check on their progress. At the beginning of the year, we focus on tax planning and in the spring we’ll look at their investments, see if there’s any rebalancing that needs to be done there. The summertime I try to focus on estate planning and insurance planning and just reviewing what they have in place. Making sure they’re still on track there. In the fall, we look at their investments again and rebalance. I call it cybersecurity check. Check their credit and make sure that there’s nothing out of line there. We’ll look at employee benefits. I just have things that I do for them throughout the year and then of course if they have any concerns or any changes that happen in their life, they can contact me and we’ll plan around those things as well.

Hannah:               Are you contacting them every time? Are they having to do work every time for every one of these items every year?

Chloé:                   In some cases, I will contact them. I might give them little homework assignments here and there or it could just be simple as, hey, I want to review your insurance. Can you upload your new statements? It could just be something as simple as them providing me with information or there could be some homework assignments there.

Hannah:               Do you find that people are really good about staying on top of that?

Chloé:                   I try to meet clients where they are and make sure that … I know some clients they want a comprehensive list and they can knock it out and they’re very much proactive with those things and I have some clients who we have to give them step by step and maybe one or two things to work on at a time. It really just depends on the personality of the client and how they work best. That’s something else that I try to establish, too, in our discovery meeting just how they best receive information, how they want to work together and then at the one year mark, I’ll definitely check in and see what worked in the past year and what can we do to improve our relationship going forward.

Hannah:               I think that’s so important. What’s so exciting about boutique firms is you really can customize them per client.

Chloé:                   Yeah, definitely.

Hannah:               Do you have those things noted in your CRM or is it you just know the client?

Chloé:                   I try to know as much as I can. It is a little funny because I do … It is just me. It’s a little silly sometimes or I feel a little silly over documenting things on CRM. I even have clients who … The best days to meet with them are Wednesday mornings and Thursday mornings. I have that noted in my CRM. If I ever need to call them, I make sure it’s on one of those days or just different things about their schedules or what they’re doing or their preferences. I try to note that as much as possible and even though I’m small and I plan estate small it’s all about setting yourself up to build a scale. I want to know that once I bring on someone to help me, there’s not a huge learning curve. I have so many things documented and in place so they can easily pick up and everything is just not in my head.

Hannah:               I know that you’re really passionate about financial planning and this may sound like maybe a trite question but why financial planning?

Chloé:                   I feel like financial planning is one of the few professions where you can truly have a drastic impact on someone’s life. I just think what we do is so important. Some people think of it as a luxury, but I think of it as an expensive necessity. I think everyone needs financial guidance. Everyone needs someone to run things by and just someone to help, be in their corner and help prevent them from making huge mistakes that could be costly or set them back for years. I feel like with what we do, we’re really, really able to help someone really change the path of their life. I’ve seen clients who are in a job that they hate and they’re just not happy. The idea of helping them figure out what they want to do and what they’re passionate about and seeing them change careers and move to a job that makes them so happy, that has a huge impact. Even just simple things just like making sure that they’re taking care of their families and their kids and just having peace around that.

Hannah:               Talking to the new planners who are listening to this, what would be your advice for them?

Chloé:                   The biggest piece of advice is just don’t give up. This is not the easiest industry to get into at times. It takes a little bit of time to find your path whether it’s working for a company or working on your own. I’ve seen so many people who are extremely passionate about this industry and extremely good at what they do leave the industry because they just can’t find the right company or the right opportunity. That really breaks my heart. I’d say just don’t give up and really, really continue to push until you’re able to find a happy place.

Hide Transcript

Chloé Moore has always known financial planning was for her. This episode will provide many valuable insights into how you can develop a career that helps you achieve your unique vision and definition of success. Chloé understands that her clients are going through many changes in their young lives, and she prides herself in meeting them where they are and working with them every step of the way through her high touch service model. In her first year, Chloé grew her RIA to 18 clients – which is incredible.
Unlike many new advisors, Chloé has built her practice to fit her lifestyle. She enjoys travelling, cooking, spending time with her family and friends and volunteering. To meet her ideal work/life balance, she’s decided to monitor and limit her firm’s growth to ensure she’s growing in ways that fit her definition of success. This concept isn’t one you hear planners talking about, but it’s so important!
Chloé isn’t only a rockstar financial planner with a successful firm, she also runs a consulting business in tandem with her planning practice. She knows that operations is her strong suit, and because she’s passionate about it, she founded C-Level Consultants. This consulting firm serves financial planners exclusively, and helps guide them to a more organized, streamlined operation of their firm.
It’s no doubt that Chloé has found exactly where she fits in the financial planning community and is thriving there. This episode will provide many valuable insights, both into launching your own RIA and tailoring it to fit the life you want, and into creating a successful side hustle that helps to give back to the profession.

“With what we do, we’re really able to help someone. Really change the path of their life.”

What You’ll Learn:

What a year of financial planning services looks like for younger clients
How to decide what growth means to you.
How to define success as a business owner.
Different ways to approach your marketing.
How you can run a successful secondary business alongside your RIA.
When to take a deeper look at the services you provide, and whether or not you’re happy with your business.

C-Level Consultants
Financial Staples
NAPFA – The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
XY Planning Network
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Financial Planning Association®
CFP Board
40 Under 40 Investment News
Hannah Moore clean 36:55
Succession Planning & Working with Business Owners Tue, 09 Jan 2018 21:00:17 +0000 0 Josh discusses how he combines business coaching with financial planning for a successful practice that focuses on working with business owners. He also explores the world of succession planning and how both buyers and sellers can come out on top. Studies have shown that working with a niche is an excellent way for financial planners to narrow their focus, define their specialty, and become an expert in helping their unique client base. Josh Patrick, CFP®, has had first hand experience with this as a financial planner whose firm focuses on working with business owners.

In this episode, Josh discusses he combines business coaching with financial planning for a successful practice. He has a simple but effective approach to inspire clients to act and work toward financial freedom. He believes that honesty is key, and helping business owners work toward retirement (rather than perpetually saying they’ll retire without taking action) is a necessary goal.

Josh discusses business owners who are in the “permafive” stage continuously, which plagues many financial planning succession plans. This means that business owners are always thinking how they’ll retire in five years – but don’t actually take the steps needed to make that transition. Josh knows this applies to financial planners looking to retire, as well.

Financial planners who are in a “permafive” situation have often already lined up a buyer for their practice – and it’s usually a junior level financial planner. Josh walks us through how young planners can benefit from buying a practice, and how a planner in that “permafive” cycle can finally break free and act on their ideal succession plan.

We cover a lot of ground in this episode, and anybody who works with business owners, is a financial planning practice owner (or is aspiring to be one) will get a lot out of it!

hannah's signature

It’s much safer selling to a junior planner…Because you’re doing an internal transaction, you can set the deal up so that a) it’s tax friendly to the buyer and b) you can stay in control of the firm until you sell it off.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to work with business owners
  • How to buy in as a junior level planner
  • How senior advisors can set themselves up for retirement success
  • How succession planning can help both the buyer and the seller
  • How to get business owner clients to act on their financial plans and retirement plans


The Purposeful Planning Institute

Business Enterprise Institute

Exit Planning Institute

The Sustainable Business

Stage 2 Planning Partners


Show Transcript

Ep80 Transcript

Hannah: Yeah, we could just jump in. Sorry, you said that and I’m like, well hell, I’m a business owner. I want to know the answer to that. So maybe we’ll do that, we’ll restart. Okay. So thanks for joining us today Josh.

Josh: My pleasure.

Hannah: Yeah. So you have a passion around figuring out what makes businesses successful. So let’s just start right there, what makes businesses successful today?

Josh: Well, it depends on … I mean, here’s the truth about success. The beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, meaning that what a successful business is to one person would be a giant failure to another. So it really comes down to a personal feeling of what is successful. You obviously have to have a business that brings in enough cash to pay the bills, then enough money left over at the end of the day to pay yourself. So for some people, that’s a successful business. For others, a successful business, “I built my business to 500 people, I get to $100 million sales and I find a great big payday at the end of the road.” And for them, anything less than that would not be successful.

So the first thing is you sort of have to say, what does success mean for me? I mean, the obvious thing is obviously you have to have enough cash come in the door to pay the bills and have a reasonable lifestyle. I would say that the vast majority of people who own privately held businesses fall into that group, not the $100 million and 500 employee group. I’ll just give you some statistics to actually back this up. There’s 28 million businesses in the United States. Only 6 million have employees. That means 22 million businesses are solos. No employees, just the business owner by themselves. That entire group has, by definition will not have a business that’s saleable. You cannot have a saleable business until you have employees, so that really brings us down to the 6 million. And of that group, only 300 thousand do more than $5 million in sales and only 150 thousand businesses do more than $10 million in sales.

So the numbers get really small really fast for what is a, probably what people would think of traditionally as a successful business. Does that make sense?


Now I actually help most of the people I work with create a sustainable business, and among that is retirement planning. We do have a process we call ‘The Financial Freedom Project,’ which is part of our work we do with private business owners, because at the end of the day you have to become financially independent. And if you don’t, you’re really limiting your choice for what you can do as you age out of a business. And aging out can mean many things for many people.

Hannah: Yeah see, you really pair your financial planning practice almost with being a business coach essentially. Would you say that’s true?

Josh: I would say that is absolutely true, although I think of myself more of a thinking partner than a business coach. You know Susan Bradley, and that’s her term, and I’ve loved it and I’ve basically co-opted it for myself.

Hannah: And so your clients, do they really respond to that idea of a thinking partner?

Josh: They do. When I use that term it resonates way more than a coach. I think people are sick of coaches. And I don’t think they should be, but I think they are. And the reason is, is someone thinks of a coach as someone who’s telling them what to do. I think the right thing is, I talk about this a lot, which is collaboration. And I work a lot on the topic of collaboration and work actively with an organization called The Purposeful Planning Institute, which is around collaboration. And my viewpoint is collaboration starts with your client, because if you’re not collaborating with your client, what the heck are you doing? And the problem being a coach is coaches really are not very collaborative. They more or less tell you what you should do, and then they yell at you if you don’t do it, and that’s not my style.

My style is to help you discover what’s important for you and develop strategies that you’re willing to do. And that’s a big deal is that I work with most of my clients who are over 50 years old. Somebody over 50 years old is likely not going to make a radical change in how they live their life. They are more likely to make changes around the edges, and it’s my job to help them figure out how they can make those changes around the edges and still have extraordinary results in the business. And a thinking partner is better to do that than a coach.

Hannah: So you have terms like financial coaches becoming a bigger term. What-

Josh: Yeah, what does a financial coach do?

Hannah: That’s the question. What does a financial coach, is it just a marketing term or …

Josh: Well to me, it’s not a positive term. A financial coach means to me someone’s going to come in and tell me I need to spend less money. And although that sometimes is something you have to do, in my experience it’s rare. If you think about your business, this is especially true for business owners but it’s also true for regular employees. If you’re going to be a good financial coach and you’re not an expert in the industry your client works in to help them learn how to make more money, you’re not doing a very good job as a financial coach. And the reason is, what’s the most valuable asset an individual has?

Hannah: Yeah, it’s their ability to earn money.

Josh: Right. And how many financial planners do you know that actually work with people on how to earn more money?

Hannah: Yeah.

Josh: I mean, for example if you’re working with an employee at Intel, an engineer at Intel, well, when is it time for them to leave Intel and go someplace else? How can they get their LinkedIn profile put in place so people think they’re worth more money than they are? These are all questions that financial planners in my opinion who are working with employees need to be answering, and the sad thing is they mostly don’t. Same thing is true with business owners. Instead of saying, “Gee, you need to spend less money,” “What can we do to help your business make more money? Do you have a good niche established for example?” I mean, any private business, whether it’s a solopreneur or just a few employees, if they say their answer in their market segment is everybody, that means nobody. That’s one of my favorite sayings about niches.

So instead, if I’m doing a good job as a ‘”coach,” I’m going to work with that business owner to say okay, who are the people that you most enjoy working with? Who are the people who are the easiest to make a lot of money with? And who are the ones that are most profitable? And then we look for the intersections of that and we say, “That’s your niche, and you should say no to everybody else.” Now, financial planners, just to use them as an example, have a really difficult time saying no to anybody that wants to invest with them. Well the truth is, when you’re saying yes to everybody, nobody really knows who you are. If you say no to everybody except people in your niche, the people who aren’t in your niche won’t know who you are but you don’t care about that. You only care that the people who are in your niche know that you’re the guy they should be going to or gal they should be going to. Person, how’s that.

Hannah: Yeah, I love that marketing perspective. We’ve been working on getting that narrowed down in our business right now as well, and it just focuses everything.

Josh: Yeah well, I mean, all businesses … Yeah, I mean, I only work with privately held business owners. If you don’t own a business, you’re not working with me. It’s not because I don’t like you, it’s just because I have to learn all these things I’m really not interested in learning about your business or about your life, and my peeps are business owners. I’m very blunt, I’m very … I tell you exactly what I think, there’s nothing that’s a secret about me, and that sort of approach works better with private business owners works better with private business owners than just about anybody I work with. So that’s where I go, and that’s where you should go with your business.

Hannah: So when you’re working with business owners, what are the unique things that business owners face that the average client for a financial planner doesn’t face?

Josh: Well, there’s three things. The first thing is the value of their business, and when I listen to financial planners in general do presentations, how they plan for business owners, I cringe. And I really believe that if you’re going to work with private business owners, you need some technical skill around how to value businesses and how to build business value. Because those are the two issues that business owners get wrong, and as a result have a false sense of feeling good about their financial future. Let me give you an example. Let’s say there’s a business out there who’s living on $150,000 a year and their business has a pretax profit of $200,000. And the business owner might say, “Gee, my business is worth $3 million.” Well, it’s not worth $3 million, that I can tell you, but most financial planners will say, “Oh, okay,” and they put $3 million down in the financial assets.

But what they don’t do … First of all, it’s not worth $3 million. It’s probably worth between $600,000 and $1 million if the business is even saleable, and most financial planners have no idea whether a business is saleable or not. And that’s where you get into the sustainable part of a business, not the successful start. So let’s say the business is worth $1 million. Well, it’s not really worth $1 million because you’re going to have to pay taxes and fees before you get to spend the money. So after taxes and fees, if we’re lucky we’re left with $600,000, and if we’re going to be aggressive we can spend 4% of that which gives us $24,000. Well that $24,000 is a long way from $150,000.

And most financial planners will miss that 100%. At $3 million with no taxes and fees, it looks like you’ve got $120,000 to spend. Well, financial planners will either close up the plan and say, “Hey, you’re in good shape, keep going, put a little money in your 401(k).” The truth is, that business owner is a long way from being financially independent. And a good financial planner will know that if they work with privately held businesses. Now, my niche is there, so I have a specialty in that. I don’t expect the standard financial planner off the street to get that, but I would expect the standard financial planner off the street to say, “You know, this is not my specialty, let’s get a business specialist in here so we can get the right numbers.”

And by the way, there’s tremendous opportunity with business owners because they often have excess cash while they’re running their business. And I call that pre-funding the buyout of my business. I use retirement plans for that. So if you’re going to work with privately held business owners, one of the things you need to do is you need to be an absolute expert on how to use qualified plans to help your client get to retirement, and I am. I mean, I can talk to you ad nauseam about different retirement plans and how they should be used in the appropriate manner depending on the size and the type of the business it is.

Hannah: So you had said three things that make working with business owners unique. The value of their business, what are the other two? Or did I miss, were they in there?

Josh: Yup. Doing a business owner’s financial plan, meaning when you do the financial plan you have to realize that business owners generally live their life in a pretax manner. The first is the value of the business, the second is doing the plan itself which is making sure you track expenses the business owner has accurately. So if a business owner says, “Look, I spend $75,000 a year,” they really spend most likely $125,000 a year because they’re burying a lot of personal expenses on a pretax manner in their business, meaning they make it deductible. When they sell their business, they’re no longer going to have that pretaxability, so you need to adjust that in the plan.

And then the third piece is, once you figure out a business owner is not going to make it to retirement or financial freedom with what they’re doing, what can they do in their business to make life better? And that’s where the business coaching partner or the business thinking partner comes into play. And in our ‘Financial Freedom Project,’ the third piece is if you’re not able to be financially free, let’s put a strategy together for you to do so. We don’t do the coaching to implement the strategy, but we help people identify the strategy. Now, I do coaching with some few people, but it’s very expensive.

Hannah: So I think that’s a really, I’ve heard you speak in other places and I’ve really been interested in asking you, so how do you talk about that uncertainty with clients when it’s, they might not be able to reach their goals? How do you approach that?

Josh: Well, because I really am not very subtle, I just tell them. So … I say, “I hate to tell you, but what you think is true is not true and here’s why.” Now, I have a tool I use to do this with, and I usually get this out of the way right up front. It’s called the four boxes of financial independence, and in there is a business qualified retirement plans, investment real estate, and other investments. And I just put what the after tax value is, what the cashflow would come out, and I say, “Well you’re spending $150,000 a year and you’ve got $40,000 in identifiable revenue when you leave your business. We’ve got a little problem here we need to fix.”

I’m a big fan of what I call simplification where I take the complicated and make it simple. Too often in any, if you’re working with anybody who’s really smart, they tend to take the simple and make it complicated. I like to do the opposite, because the folks I’m working with, they’re not financial experts. Most of them can’t even read a cash flow statement. They don’t even know what a cash flow statement is. So if I don’t make them understandable, we’re not going to get action. And understandable is somewhere between a third and a fifth grade level of complexity, meaning that somebody in the third grade to the fifth grade would understand what I’m talking about.

Hannah: And I like that idea of if we can make it simple, then clients can act on it.

Josh: Well, that’s absolutely true. And the truth is, the meaning of your communication is the way it’s received, not what you thought you said. And if you’re speaking in jargon, you’re speaking in a complicated manner, you’re talking about things that are over the comprehension of your client, they’re not going to understand what you’re saying and they’re going to feel dumb and they’re going to resent you. And I don’t think we want to have our clients thinking that way.

Hannah: How do planners help business owners as they move into retirement? Because that’s a really big transition for business owners. What can we do better as financial planners to help them in that transition?

Josh: I’m actually working on this project with Sudden Money right now, and there’s two things which I have discovered in the last year or so. As you know, there’s four stages of transition. The first is anticipation. The problem with working with business owners, and I think this is one of the reasons they don’t plan appropriately, is that business owners are in anticipation of leaving their business for somewhere between five and 20 years. And if someone’s been in anticipation for 10, 15 years about leaving their business, they’re probably going to think they’ve done the planning to leave their business successfully because they’ve thought about it so much. They actually haven’t done anything, but they’ve thought about it.

And this fits in with business owners thinking strategically but not acting strategically, which is a big problem I have. So we have the anticipation stage where they’re anticipating forever, thinking they’ve done planning when they haven’t done any. So that’s one issue that you need to be talking about with a business owner, and actually go through the four stages of transition. So anticipation, ending, passage, new normal, and say, “You know, you’ve probably been in anticipation for a long time. You may think you’ve done all the things that are necessary to do. My bet is you haven’t. Just because you’ve been thinking about it, you’re thinking you’ve done it.”

And most business owners believe it or not are going to be positive about that conversation. And then the second thing we can work with is as business owners go through the transition, 100% of them are going to experience seller’s remorse. And for the last 20 years, I’ve been trying to get people to avoid seller’s remorse, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion I’m not. They’re going to have seller’s remorse. My job is to help them get through that, which is passage. You have a loss. When you sold your business, you have a loss. And before you get to your new normal, you’re going to go through all this passage stuff, and that’s where seller’s remorse lives. So we need tools for helping people to get through the seller’s remorse portion and pop out the other side in the new normal where they have a life that’s satisfying and fulfilling.

And the truth is, business owners, even more than employees of any company, much of their self worth comes from them being a business owner. And when they’re not a business owner anymore, they have a hard time figuring out who they are, and that’s where seller’s remorse comes in and it’s our job to help people think through seller’s remorse and come out the other side. And there’s a bunch of tools that are available for doing that. Doing a bliss list is one thing, what makes you really happy, how do you spend a lot of time doing that versus a couple of hours a month which is what most business owners do before they sell, and after they sell they really haven’t figured out, “Well, how do I take this passion and put a whole bunch of time into it?” And our job is to help them figure that out.

Hannah: It’s so interesting, because I’m hearing you say all this and I’m immediately applying it to succession planning within financial planning and see how so much of this is relevant in that space as well. So would you say that same seller’s remorse is true of financial planners who are selling their firms?

Josh: Oh God yes, of course. Even more, it’s a bigger deal with them than it is with somebody that has 100 employees because their customers are intimate related with them and they feel a real connection, and there’s a lot of guilt around financial planners retiring. In my opinion, and we’re going off a little bit topic here, is this is not the best strategy for young advisors because they’re not going to be able to buy in. But the truth is, most financial advisors don’t have a young advisor waiting in the wings to buy in. So they’re better to do what I call an 80 20, or the wind down strategy. They take their bottom 80% of their clients, find a new home for them, and just keep the top 20% so they go from working five days a week down to one day a week or three days a month or whatever.

It’s an easy way and a good way to leave your business. Now, if I’m a younger advisor and I want to buy in, it’s important for that group of people who are your peeps to understand that the industry dramatically over values wealth management businesses. There’s a valuation firm and an MNA firm, same company, and they basically value businesses as about 2.4 times the revenue. And you should never value a business based on revenue, you should only value a business based on free cash flow because that’s what you pay for the business with. And there’s a risk for the buyer, lots of risk for the buyer, and it’s even more risk for the seller. So if you’re a young advisor and you agree to buy the stock of your senior partner and you’re paying 2.4 times the revenue, you’re actually going to end up paying closer to 3 and a half times the revenue, because if you buy stock you do it with after tax dollars which people don’t remember.

So for example, if you’re in the 40% tax bracket state and federal, now in Texas you’re not but in Vermont you would be, that means that you’re not paying $1 million for business, you’re paying $1 million 8 for the business. So when you factor the cost of taxes in, it becomes unaffordable to buy a business valued that way. So there are other strategies you need to learn. You need to learn how deferred compensation works as a strategy to buy a business, because you make a significant portion of it pretax. Now the seller of the business is to say, “I don’t want to pay ordinary income,” that’s where you need to be thinking about what’s the difference between an average tax rate and a marginal tax rate? And it’s huge.

When you buy a business, you’re using marginal dollars to pay for it because the last dollar you earn is a dollar you have available to pay for the business. But when you’re getting money from the sale of a business, it’s not the last dollar. It’s a first dollar. So if I have a way of deferring all my income while I’m getting deferred comp, there might not be that big of a gap between capital gains and ordinary income. Typically it’s 4 or 5%. And I can raise the price of the business a little bit if I’m using a pretax methodology and I’m saving the seller a huge amount of money. And again, this is basic exit planning 101, but most financial advisors have never been trained in this stuff and they don’t know about it. So if you’re a junior trying to buy out your senior partner, you have to understand the cost of taxes in the transaction and you have to understand the cost of whether you can actually afford to pay for the business and afford to pay yourself.

I’ve consulted, I actually used to be a blogger for The New York Times, and I’ve written a bunch of posts about horrible financial planning firms’ transactions that just went terribly wrong because nobody thought about cash flow. Which is hard to believe from a financial planner, but it’s true.

Hannah: As a financial planner, it’s just assumed that you could sell your practice. There’s … It’s like, “How much is your practice worth?” I don’t know, maybe the conversation right now, the assumptions are-

Josh: It’s the dumbest conversation in the world. “What’s my practice worth?” Well the way businesses are sold, they’re worth what you get paid in cash up front, and that’s 35%. Now again, it’s the same firm that’s now made standard in the financial services business, unless you’re a big big firm, meaning 5, 6, $7 million in revenue, you’re going to be selling your firm for 35% down and you’re going to be holding paper for 65%. Well, that’s about the dumbest way to sell a business that has ever been invented, because what you’ve done is you’ve sold all control of your business, and most of the time these sellers never even bother to get a personal guarantee from the buyer because the buyer doesn’t want to give it to them. Well, then don’t sell the business to them.

Now, I get crazy about this. It drives me nuts. I mean, if you go to a bank and you borrow money, if you went to, there’s a bank called Live Oak that is lending money to people to buy financial service firms. If they’re not getting a personal guarantee they’re being irresponsible as a bank. Well if you’re lending money and you’re holding paper to a buyer and you’re not getting a personal guarantee, you’re being irresponsible to yourself because without a personal guarantee, why would somebody pay you?

And the truth is, for most people in the financial services business should not be thinking about selling about their business, they should be thinking about winding it down. It’s a much safer, much more profitable, much more satisfying way to leave your business on all levels.

Hannah: So I talk to people who, they’re the junior advisor being told that they’re going to buy the business and it’ll be five years away.

Josh: Right. Oh, you just hit my favorite thing. Anytime somebody’s talking about five years, you have to question whether that’s true or not, because what you get into is what’s called permafive. And permafive when a business owner tells me, this triggers anytime I hear this word, anytime a business owner tells me anything is five years away, I immediately think, and they’re going to have to prove to me I’m wrong, I immediately think that they have no idea what needs to happen for whatever it is they want to have happen because they said five years away, but they believe that whatever needs to happen over that five year period will magically appear and will magically implement itself without any work from the owner. So when you say five years away, that junior partner’s likely to hear five years away two years from now and then hear five years away five years from now and hear five years away 10 years from now.

And the reason is, is the senior partner knows they can’t afford to leave, they know there’s something wrong, they don’t know what it is, but it’s magically going to reveal itself over the next five years so they can fix it. And that just doesn’t happen, so that’s where permafive comes in. So anytime, if you’re a junior advisor, you hear “Well I’m going to sell it to you in five years,” don’t believe it.

Hannah: Oh man, so many questions here. So what would be your advice to that junior planner in that situation?

Josh: Well, start educating your senior planner on what the business is really worth and what can be afforded to pay for it. Now, they may decide that “I’m not going to sell to you, I’m going to sell to a third party,” in which case they’re going to get screwed, meaning that they’re going to sell for 35% down and 65% they’re going to hold paper and they’re not going to get paid because people don’t pay earn outs when they can’t afford to. But there’s a belief in the financial services world that everything is going to be rosy and we all live in a land full of unicorns. My experience is that’s not true. I’ve done at least a dozen conversations with business owners in the financial services world who sold to a third party and it went bad.

Now there are some deals that work, so I’m not going to say they all go bad, but enough go bad where you can’t afford to have your business sale go bad. It’s much safer selling to a junior planner. You may not get paid as much or you might be holding more paper, but because you’re doing an internal transaction, you can set the deal up so A, it’s tax friendly to the buyer, and B, you can stay in control of the firm until you’ve been paid off. And you do that by a reclassification of stock where you do voting stock for 1% and nonvoting stock for 99%, you sell the nonvoting stock, and when it’s paid off you sell that last 1% and you’re all done. Now, that would typically take five to 10 years. You have a chance to wind down your involvement in the firm, you have a chance to see what’s next in your life.

You’re not going to get rid of seller’s remorse, but you’ll limit it. And you have a much safer transaction, because if the junior planner starts doing stuff that doesn’t make sense, you’re there enough and you get reports on a regular basis that you can step in before it’s too late. You do a third party sale and you’ve got a personal guarantee, it might be two years before they stop paying you and you’ve seen no statements, you don’t have a personal guarantee, there’s nothing for you to do to get your business back, and frankly if you do get it back it’s in shambles. So you don’t have anything to take back.

This is not a business that’s got a bunch of manufacturing equipment. The value in the business is your client base, and if the new owner screws that up, that client base disappears and you have no recourse.

Hannah: And so really that retention is one of the biggest risks on succession planning.

Josh: It’s a huge risk. It’s a risk for anything for every business. Now, when I sold my food service company, I had a vending and food service company. We fed people that worked in factories. Not only did I have recurring revenue to sell because the vending machines and cafeterias were in place, I also had contracts to sell because all our big accounts were on a contract. There was relatively little risk for the buyer because they could just point to the contract and say, “Gee, I’m sorry, we have a contract with you, and you can get rid of us but you have to wait for six months,” or a year or two years or three years, depending on what was left in the contract. And that gives you a chance to fix what’s wrong. And the contract had a way to get out of it, and there was also, we had clauses in the contracts for fixing problems and they have a 30 day and a 60 day notice before they could get rid of us.

In the financial services business, we don’t have that. So if your clients don’t like what you do, they walk. They go to the advisor next door, they sign an ACAT, boom, the money’s gone. You might not even know it. So, but the truth is, client retention in the wealth management business is very high. You have to try to get to lose your clients. And it happens a lot in the transaction because the new guy says, “Well I’m going to do what I do and forget what you’ve done with your clients for the last 20 years,” and the clients get annoyed or nervous or … And they move. But if you do an internal transition, the people who are taking over the client base, they know the deal. Their clients aren’t going to be uncomfortable because it’s the same thing they’ve always had. And everyone expects advisors when they get older to retire, and if they have the same people who they’ve come to meet and know and trust, they’re likely to stick around.

And it’s easier for me to go to you if you’re a junior partner, say, “I’m happy to sell you the business, I’m going to loan you all this money, but you’re going to have to give me a personal guarantee if you want to buy.” And you might say, “I don’t want to,” and then I’m going to say, “Well then don’t buy it. I’ll find someone in the company who’s going to.” But if I’m a senior advisor, I want to be talking to my junior advisors immediately if I’m thinking about selling the business about a personal guarantee long before I get the paper signed. And if they don’t agree, then I need to move on and find other people I can sell the business to.

Hannah: It’s like succession planning done well is what I’m hearing.

Josh: Well, there are best practices. And by the way, this is not unique to the wealth management business. Wealth management business is more egregious as an industry towards selling their businesses than any other industry I’ve seen. But every industry has a bit of this going on, it’s just the fact that if you think that you’re going to sell your business for an inflated value, selling your stock on an after tax basis and you expect to get fully paid, you’re kidding yourself.

Hannah: I have seen, I’ve had many friends who are 10 years plus into working for a firm where they have been told that the owner will retire in five years. At point from your perspective do they just cut their losses and move on versus trying to stay and make something work?

Josh: When they go to the senior partner and they come up with a plan that is a reasonable plan and they show the senior owner how they’re using 35, 40% of their free cash flow to pay them … If you use any more than that you’re putting yourself at risk. That’s a whole different conversation, which is making sure your business transition is financially viable with a down term, so I don’t like to see any more than 40% of free cash flow going to the retiring owner. That gives us a safety realm. But if you put that plan together and you understand how to structure a deal, and you go to a structured deal and the owner says, “Well I’m not ready yet,” and the question you need to be asking that senior owner is, “What would it take for you to be ready, and how will I know?” And if they don’t get a good answer, then it’s time to move on.

But the truth is, the senior advisor is not being an adult, so then it becomes the job of the junior advisor to be the adult in the room. And we see that in our relationships with clients. A lot of times, you find that parents are not being the adults and the children have to be the adults to keep things moving forward in the family. Now, I’m talking about adult children, not children children. And it’s the same thing with senior owners versus junior owners. Now, just because you’re a senior owner and you’re older by 20 30 40 years doesn’t mean that you’re wiser necessarily. You should be wiser, but most people have not gone through a business transaction and they really don’t understand what happens in there.

Now I’ve done hundreds of them, so to me, every time something comes up, I say well, that’s not unusual. Sort of like due diligence. One of the rules I think needs to be held, and this is with a larger business transaction, say a $10, $15, $20 million transaction, there needs to be somebody in that transaction who’s neutral, and that’s a role I often play. So as I’m going through this transaction with an owner they say, “I want to pull my business,” I think they’re being rude during due diligence. And my job at that point is to help them evaluate whether what they’re saying is true or not. They might be being rude, and that’s part of due diligence, but nobody likes to have their business taken apart and put under a microscope which is what you do in due diligence.

And I often have to say to people, say, “Look it, gut it up, get through this, it’s part of the process. They’re going to try to lower the price on you, we’ve done the right things to keep that from happening, because when they ask you, they say, ‘Well you don’t have employment agreements, we have to lower our price,’ you can say ‘Yeah we do and here they are.’ Or they can say ‘You don’t have contracts with your clients, we have to lower our price. We thought you had contracts.’ You say, ‘Well actually in the letter of intent, you saw that we said there were no contracts, so you can’t change the price based on that.'”

So it really comes into somebody who is working with you that understands the process. And even though if you’re in the wealth management world and you say you work with business owners and you’ve been through this, unless you’ve been trained specifically, and I’ve got lots of training in exit planning, you’re not going to understand what the process is. You’re going to say, you’re going to go through this with your being confused. So if you’re a junior partner and you want to buy the business, learn what it takes to do a successful transaction and use it.

Hannah: So where would somebody go to get resources for transitions like you’re talking about?

Josh: Well, there’s two organizations, there’s actually three organizations that train exit planners in the country. One is Business Enterprise Institute which is out of Denver. I’m good friends with those folks, John Brown’s been a good friend of mine for a year. John actually invented the exit planning world as an academic structure. There’s the Exit Planning Institute which is out of Chicago, they were recently sold … I’m told they do really good stuff. I have not talked to anybody out there so I don’t know that personally, but I’ve been told by people I respect that they do good work. And then there’s John Leonetti who’s in Boston. And I don’t know if John’s actually doing exit planning training right now or just doing exit planning himself, but those are three people.

The first two, Business Enterprise Institute out of Denver and the Exit Planning Institute out of Chicago, are the two academic programs that have certifications that go with it if you want that, and my guess is they both do pretty good work. And they’re not all that expensive to go through. I know BEI has a bootcamp that’s something like $1,500 for a day and a half. And you learn the basics of exit planning.

Hannah: And then if you’re going through a transition yourself, you can find somebody who’s been through their program.

Josh: Yes. Or call me because I actually understand the stuff.

Hannah: Yes. So … So I had a conversation with you several years ago, and it really stuck out with me, so I’m going to try to frame the question right to get the answer, and if not I’ll tell you what I’m looking for. But what does it take for there to be a successful succession plan?

Josh: A business that’s transferable sold at an affordable price.

Hannah: So one of the things that you had told me before was about gratitude.

Josh: Yeah, I’m a big, oh yes, that’s a big deal. This is especially true in a family business by the way. It’s more true in a family business than a manager buying out a business. But it’s true under both, and I often find juniors in a business, could be a wealth management firm, could be a manufacturing company. They don’t really appreciate what the founder has done to get the business to that point, and most business owners will not let go of their business until they feel the juniors are being appreciative of the work that they’d done before them. I just finished up an engagement with a firm, it was an engineering firm, and the son was absolutely unappreciative of what the father had done. And that wasn’t the reason the father said he wasn’t selling the business, but I would tell you pretty much that’s the reason he’s not transferring the business. He doesn’t feel validated for the work he’s done, so he’s saying, “Screw you” to his son, “I’m not selling you the business.”

And the other issue is that seniors come and go, whether they’re willing to sell their business or not, and that window is open for a relatively short period of time. So when the window opens and that senior says to the junior “I’m ready to do the deal,” you better have your team ready to drive that thing done, and do it quickly. Because sure as heck, that window will close again if you don’t put the deal in place fast.

Hannah: Yeah, I think I’ve heard you say also that most people when they decide they want to sell their business, they want it done in two months or a very very short time period.

Josh: They do, and it usually doesn’t happen. If somebody comes to me and says “I want to sell my business,” I’m going to say, “When?” They say “Yesterday,” we have a good laugh, he says, “No really, I’d like to be out in three or four months.” I say, “How about 12 to 18 months? Let’s get a realistic timeframe here,” because frankly, most people don’t have a buyer waiting in the wings and due diligence takes time and lawyers get in the way, and I can give you a whole laundry list of stuff that slows down the process, but it’s not a fast process. It’s not like buying a house.

Hannah: Great, well thank you so much Josh. So where can people find you? I know you have a blog, you write, you’re very prolific online. Where would be the best place for people to follow you?

Josh: I’ll give you two places, an email address, and a phone number, how’s that?

Hannah: I love it.

Josh: I have two websites. Our wealth management company website is, that’s the number two. My business coaching consulting thinking partner site … And Stage 2 by the way does have a blog, it has tons and tons of eBooks on it which I’ve written over the years. My other site, which is, that’s, is where the thinking partner site is, that’s where my podcast lives, I also have a blog there and tons of videos that I put up about how to create a sustainable business. That site focuses on taking a successful business and making it personally and economically sustainable. Which leads into my new book which is coming out next month, and it’s called ‘Sustainable: A Fable About Creating a Personally and Economically Sustainable Business,’ and that’s at You can find out more information there, you can join our Facebook group by clicking on the button. Soon we’ll have a button there that you can actually pre-order the book.

And if you want to contact me, my email address is, that’s the number two, and my phone number is 802-846-1264 extension 2. And if you happen to be- I have one more offer for you, this is actually something people can get. If you’re interested in learning about what it takes to create a sustainable business, I have a free one hour audio CD I’ve made which we mail to you. And if you text the word ‘sustainable’ to 44222, you’ll get a link where you give me your name and address and we mail you out the one hour free audio CD, and it’s about the five things you need to do in your business to take a successful business and make it personally and economically sustainable.

So that’s a big mouthful, sorry I went on so long, but there’s lots of ways to find me.

Hannah: Well I love it, and I just want to add the tidbit, if you want to see an advisor doing online marketing well, follow Josh. He gets it.

Josh: Thank you. And I’m old on top of that.

Hannah: Even better.

Josh: Yeah.

Hide Transcript

Josh discusses how he combines business coaching with financial planning for a successful practice that focuses on working with business owners. He also explores the world of succession planning and how both buyers and sellers can come out on top. Josh Patrick, CFP®, has had first hand experience with this as a financial planner whose firm focuses on working with business owners.
In this episode, Josh discusses he combines business coaching with financial planning for a successful practice. He has a simple but effective approach to inspire clients to act and work toward financial freedom. He believes that honesty is key, and helping business owners work toward retirement (rather than perpetually saying they’ll retire without taking action) is a necessary goal.
Josh discusses business owners who are in the “permafive” stage continuously, which plagues many financial planning succession plans. This means that business owners are always thinking how they’ll retire in five years – but don’t actually take the steps needed to make that transition. Josh knows this applies to financial planners looking to retire, as well.
Financial planners who are in a “permafive” situation have often already lined up a buyer for their practice – and it’s usually a junior level financial planner. Josh walks us through how young planners can benefit from buying a practice, and how a planner in that “permafive” cycle can finally break free and act on their ideal succession plan.
We cover a lot of ground in this episode, and anybody who works with business owners, is a financial planning practice owner (or is aspiring to be one) will get a lot out of it!

“It’s much safer selling to a junior planner…Because you’re doing an internal transaction, you can set the deal up so that a) it’s tax friendly to the buyer and b) you can stay in control of the firm until you sell it off.”

What You’ll Learn:

How to work with business owners
How to buy in as a junior level planner
How senior advisors can set themselves up for retirement success
How succession planning can help both the buyer and the seller
How to get business owner clients to act on their financial plans and retirement plans

The Purposeful Planning Institute
Business Enterprise Institute
Exit Planning Institute
The Sustainable Business
Stage 2 Planning Partners
Hannah Moore clean
Career Paths and Building a Stronger Profession Tue, 02 Jan 2018 22:03:48 +0000 0 Cheryl Holland discusses the foundation of her firm, Abacus Financial Planning - developing career paths and growing leadership skills in herself and her team members. She explores how new planners can define and follow a career path within their current firm to encourage growth. Cheryl Holland is the founder of Abacus Planning Group, and she is a rock-star supporter of new and young financial planners. Abacus Planning Group focuses on developing leadership skills in their team members, and Cheryl has gone above and beyond to create a system of career paths for all of her partners to feel successful and fulfilled.

The career paths program at Abacus acts as a leadership pipeline for the firm. It includes what skills need to be developed, as well as the behaviors and resources that need to be mastered in order to move forward in a career anywhere from 5 to 10+ years down the line. This is a phenomenal resource for new planners that they can download on our website, and gives them a concrete way to measure their learning progress.

Cheryl firmly believes that understanding the career paths that are available to you as a new or young planner is critical to your own development. She incorporated this program into Abacus because she knew from the firm’s beginning that she wanted to take this wonderfully unique approach.

One of the core values at Abacus is listening well. Cheryl shares how to listen well and provides resources and examples on how new planners can improve their listening skills and immediate improve as a financial planner.

hannah's signature

Growth is truly about being able to provide the resources and paths for employees… I can’t think of any negatives to growth so far for clients. I think our clients have better advice now than they did 20 years ago.

What You’ll Learn:

  • What different career paths require from you as a new planner.
  • How to develop skills to move you down a career path and into a leadership role.
  • How to maintain a unique vision for your practice, your individual career path, and how you want to fit into the financial planning industry.
  • What to do if your firm doesn’t have a career paths program (or opportunities for growth).
  • How to embrace change.
  • How to hold on to hope and be patient as you experience growth.
  • How to listen well.
  • What it takes to continually invest in yourself.
  • How to incorporate laughter into your day-to-day to maintain a positive outlook.

Shared with us from Abacus:


Kathleen Bollerud

The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company

Outliers: The Story of Success

Laughter Yoga University

G2: Building the Next Generation

National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

Tracy Beckes

Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t

Family Firm Institute, Inc.


Show Transcript

Ep79 Transcript

Hannah: Well thank you so much for joining us Cheryl.

Cheryl: Hannah, it’s a joy and a delight to be with you today.

Hannah: We’re going to get more to your story and how you got to where you are but I just want to jump right into this idea of a career path and how you guys have really developed this out at Abacus. Can you describe what your career pass looked like for your employees?

Cheryl: Hannah, thank you. We have I think in my mind probably three career paths at Abacus and then they have permutations and branches at each level for each career path. But we basically have three types of employees who come in the door and they’re usually on one of three tracks. That’s operations, so they may come in as a client source administrator that does all the paperwork and support work for a client and that person may evolve over time. That’s definitely a rule that we have and that would include our chief operating officer and our office manager. Then we have a role for investment advisors and that person typically comes into the organization and begins to do support work for the investment team, whether that stock analysis, portfolio administration, and over time they go into a portfolio manager for individual clients all the way up to chief investment officer for the firm.

Then we have a cohort that is on the financial planning track and those are the individuals who come in who are seeking to be financial advisors who are either achieving their CFP designation or already have and they typically do all of the financial planning advice that’s not investment-specific. They come in as a support advisor, they may come in as a client service advisor and jump over to financial planning. Sometimes people come in as an investment advisor and jump over financial planning so there’s no necessity to stay on a track. But on the financial planning your goal would be all the way up to principal relationship for a client, head of financial planning team would perhaps be another goal. Every three of those categories you have the possibility to become a shareholder and we have had individuals on all of those tracks become shareholders in the organization over the arc of time.

Hannah: How many employees do you have to give people a concept?

Cheryl: Right now we have 24 full-time equivalents and that includes some interns who are in college working part-time.

Hannah: Then how many of those 24 are shareholders?

Cheryl: There are four current shareholders including me and there are four more individuals we have made an offer and mapped out a plan for them to become shareholders by the end of 2018.

Hannah: I’m looking at this document right now that we’ll have in the show notes for people walking through the career path. How long before somebody becomes a shareholder?

Cheryl: Hannah, great and just for the audience at Abacus we call this the leadership pipeline and actually got the idea from our management coach of many years, Kathleen Bollerud who gave us the book, The Leadership Pipeline. It’s a very long, dense book meant for leaders at General Electric or Amazon but we condensed it down into something that’s useful for a much smaller organization. As you just noted I would say when you come to Abacus as a brand new employee with little experience in the planning world I think it takes you about three to five years to become a great investment advisor, a great financial advisor, a great operations person. I think part of that is … I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the concept deep smart? Sometimes people note from Malcolm Gladwell’s book 10,000 Hours to Mastery but it is this concept that it takes 10,000 hours to become good at anything.

Whether you’re a ballet dancer, a pianist, a financial advisor, so much of what you have to do is just experience and shoe leather. No matter how smart or talented or gifted you may be out of the gate she’ll have to put in the time for mastery. That’s that three to five years to get yourself to that level. That’s where we look at the basic level one. You can notice a real difference in people here after three years. There’s light bulbs start to go off every day going, “Oh, that’s why I do this, oh, that’s how this connects to that.” Then the next five to ten years is for people who are developing additional skills to become what I call a world-class advisor, a world-class manager, and beginning to build the skills to become a world-class leader. If you think about it there’s basic work habits that most of us have like get to work on time, write a nice letter.

Things that we learn in college but we don’t have the workplace practicality. That’s that first three to five years, getting your own work done at a high-quality level. That next five to ten years are starting to get that work done through other people and so that takes a whole different skill set. As you move up the ladder as a financial advisor you may have a client service administrator and support advisor working with you. How do you make sure they know how to manage up, how do you know how to manage them effectively so as a collaborative team you’re effectively servicing the client. You and I can imagine that’s a whole different skill set than just doing a great job as a financial advisor. Then the third level, that ten plus years is becoming a terrific leader, someone who can move the whole organization forward or your whole division forward.

That’s a completely different skill set. I always liked to say when I started developing this with the team and we began to build it together and trust me, it was very rough, don’t worry about it, looking elegant and finished. I realized immediately, “I am super good at basic work habits and I’m pretty good at leadership skills.” But I was terrible in the middle. I did not have any good management skills. That was a great aha for coaching that I needed to get better at something. I would say most shareholder offers come to individuals sometime between their seventh and tenth year with us. Then at that point if there are things they’re not doing that they need to do to get there we’re saying to them, “You can become a shareholder but these three things are missing.” And they have that runway to get those things accomplished.

Hannah: What I like so much about this is this career path document that you have is so clear and lays out, these are the skills that you need, these are the behaviors, this is the reading, these are the resources, there’s little confusion on what your expectations are.

Cheryl: And Hannah may I just comment in on that because for young planners listening or maybe young planners in firms with older planners like myself, for us, for those of us who began a profession when it was really a nebula in the universe of possibilities, we forged our own career path. So anybody who was in the organization was like, “Well can’t you just figure this out? Do what you need to do and you’re going to get there.” That was not helpful to people. That’s helpful to entrepreneurs maybe but it’s not helpful to everybody in your organization. It took me a long time to figure out that it’s not a weakness for people to need a clear path. So thank you for pointing that out.

Hannah: That’s such a great perspective. For the listeners who are in jobs right now that they may love the financial planning work but there are no career paths, there is no next step for them. What would be your advice or your thoughts or perspectives on that?

Cheryl: I would answer that in three ways. First I would say there are always possibilities. So, one possibility is… are there ways to enhance skill sets while you’re on this job, the jump to where you want to be? For example you might be very good at planning but taxes aren’t your strength and your senior partner’s strength is taxes, maybe get your Enrolled Agent so you have a designation but you’re also learning to strengthen your tax skills. One is to just enhance the skill set you have while you’re working with the organization you’re working with to move to the next firm that you’re going to work with and make yourself a more attractive candidate. The second thing is to go to that person and say, “I have this idea. I would like to grow this area of the firm and I’ll take all the risk and here’s my plan and I’ll split revenue with you.”

Or however you need to say to that person, but come up with something that you know will move the organization forward. But it’ll be on your shoulders and your risk-taking and ask that person’s, not their permission but their blessing and their support to move forward. I think that’s certainly a lot of what I did on my first job. I was always going to the primary shareholder of the organization saying, “I think we should do this or that.” I think it was fine as long as I did all the work. Which was fine with me at the time. So, I think that’s a secondary. I think the third thing is what’s wrong with going out on your own? You and I know it’s scary and risky and there’s a lot of reasons not to but if it’s not working with you in your current organization… take the jump. It’s never too late to do that, never too late.

I think you would have to be probably over 50 where you would have to say, “What’s my runway here?” Not in your own eyes but in the eyes of clients. If it doesn’t seem very long take some young people with you or have an early plan to get young people in the organization so that people see there’s sustainability to what you’re doing. Some people don’t care about that. We just merged with a firm in another town in South Carolina with an extraordinarily talented planner in his early 70s. His plans weren’t going to go anywhere. When he left that was fine with them, but they went to work with him until the very last moment, until he could no longer serve them. Not everybody’s looking for sustainability in their current organization.

Hannah: Yeah, but I do think that’s an important point that some people really are looking for that. Which is an advantage for younger planners.

Cheryl: I mean now when we have a new client come in the door I am careful to pair them with three generations if possible. They’ll get the gray hair, they get the senior… the middle person is doing the vast majority of the work and then they get the younger planner who’s learning but that person can see, “I’ve got the possibility to be here for 34 years if I need to be. Even if that person isn’t here they know we’re working effectively to have that multi-generational support system for the client.

Hannah: Do you have those conversations with the client or is it just more of a show, don’t tell?

Cheryl: We’ve always been very transparent about that and probably around the time I turned 55 people started asking more bluntly. We’ve always published our succession plan in our newsletter, randomly we’d go over it internally once a year as it’s changed over time. We had an inquiry recently that said, “Yes, thank you for meeting with me but I want to meet with the younger people who are going to be serving me directly.” I think there’s a savviness that people are bringing to the table now to be aware of that.

Hannah: One of the things that’s just so great about Abacus is you have such a clear and unique vision and mission and it just … I was talking to somebody before this interview and it’s just the essence of who you are and who your company is really shows through. How did Abacus get started or what was your story or what created Abacus?

Cheryl: Well I’ll say three things for any young planners that may be helpful or new planners, not necessarily new young planners. I worked with another organization which was transitioning to investment management only and I had a powerful belief that wealth creation and wealth preservation and peace of mind require both excellent investment advice and excellent financial planning advice. I don’t know how you decouple them. So I thought I’m just going to go out on my own and do it the way I would like to do it, and I didn’t really have a great growth plan or any plan at all. I wanted to do it in that way. I did know as a woman that I needed office space because so many people made an assumption that I was going to work out of my bedroom and go my own happy little way. So I did get office space and we had a card table and a desk, that was about it.

We had a big plan and so out of that, first thing I did was… I wanted to be a holistic planner. Very devoted to that. The second piece was the notion that, I guess the way to say it would be, we always wanted the clients to think of us as a group so it was not going to be the Cheryl Holland Show. So I did not name the firm after myself. I have learned that lesson both from my old organization where it was named for my former boss and people would call him, want to talk only to him. I thought to myself, “I don’t ever want to be on the hook that way.” Then my husband who was the young partner in an architecture firm, the firm’s names were three of the senior partners’ last names and what were they going to do about the last names of the junior partners? I realized that was a catch 22, there’s no way to win that.

So I thought if we had just a corporate name we could avoid all of those challenges. From day one we did not want to be the Cheryl Holland Show and we communicated that broadly. Then finally for just … I’m just eccentric and quirky and I never shied away from that. I realize people enjoy that. We had a solar eclipse party and we had over a hundred people here. We had so much fun, we had water balloon toss for the planetary system lined up and you had to toss the balloon through Pluto to get certain points. We had two-year-olds and 90-year-olds, we just had a wonderful time. And so embrace your own self and how you show up in the world. People are going to be attracted to that and people aren’t going to be attracted to that, but the good news is you’ll have a very firm culture. People either hate it or they’ll love it, you’re either in or you’re out and there’s nothing wrong with the people who don’t like it.

They just think we’re weird. So we have laugh club, we have a leader in the firm, Eddie Kramer. He leads us in laugh club and it’s really where we all do these laugh exercises. When new people join the firm it’s a good test if they enjoy laugh club or they survive it we know they’re going to be good for the long-term. If they walk away shaking their head which you can imagine they would that’s okay too, we’re just a little too weird for them.

Hannah: What is this laugh club?

Cheryl: We saw this, we had a strategy day a long time ago and our facilitator brought this video of a man in India, a physician and he realized that he did not have the resources to heal all the people in his community that had physical and mental health problems. But he thought if he could make people laugh every day that would also be a healing power. So he started something called laugh club and there’s a routine you go through and things you do to force yourself to laugh, but then it becomes contagious and you’re just hysterically laughing and you let go of all that stress and worry and concern and just five or ten minutes of laughing every day, which we don’t do it that often, can be very healing. Now of course science is showing there’s some realism to that. Some fact-based evidence, as we like to say.

Hannah: You said this is a YouTube video we can watch?

Cheryl: Yeah. I’m sure you can look it up, it’s called laugh club.

Hannah: Laugh club.

Cheryl: It’s called laugh yoga. In fact there’s a laugh yoga university, for health, happiness and world peace. There you go. There’s Abacus.

Hannah: That’s great. How long has Abacus existed?

Cheryl: We’re getting ready to celebrate our 20th anniversary next year.

Hannah: When you started Abacus did you have the vision that you would have these 24 employees and …

Cheryl: Absolutely not, no. Absolutely not. I had a vision that I wanted to do what I loved every day and I love two things. I love the brainwork of analyzing a tax return and looking at a portfolio, and I love listening and talking with people. And so to have a job where I get to do both every day is a gift and a blessing. And so that’s what I wanted to do. When I got my first handful of employees both of whom became shareholders I knew pretty quickly I was going to have to grow the firm in order to create a path for them. So, growth is truly about being able to provide the resources and paths for employees. I also think growth … I can’t think of any negatives to growth so far for clients. I think our clients have better advice now than they did 20 years ago.

Hannah: I think that’s such a key … When I talk to young planners at their firms and the frustration of not having a career path it’s: Does a firm owner really want to grow? Because if they don’t, maybe there isn’t a career path there.

Cheryl: I think that’s true and I think that’s a conversation you just have to have, and have to say, “Are you planning to grow? If you are can we talk about my role in creating that growth and sustaining that growth and if you’re not planning to grow how should I think about my future?” That’s a scary conversation to have but you don’t want to waste their time or your time because there may be someone out there who doesn’t want to be in a growing firm. They do want to come to work every day. We’ve had team members like that, brilliant, talented, empathetic team members who did not want to be in the hurley burly chaos of a growing firm.

Hannah: With your employees do you have them … Are they in a growth … I don’t want to say quotas. But do you have sales metrics that you put on them or how does that work?

Cheryl: We do a completely different approach and I would recommend everybody read Philip Palaveev’s new book, G2. Because it talks about this issue in his book similar to the way we think about it. That is we require young advisors to have activities so we fully expect them to go to a charitable event where we might have a table and meet a new colleague. We fully expect them to be doing activities that might get a press release related to them like finishing their chart of financial analysts or their CFP. We fully expect them if we have a networking event to show up, to make a connection, to take someone to lunch within that accounting firm that we invited to come over. But I think it’s very difficult to say to a 25-year-old planner for the firm that has really a $3 million minimum and is really working more with the five to $10 million client, bring in business.

But I do expect them and so does our business development team leader, and he works with each of them to create a personal marketing plan. So the expectation is you have a marketing plan that is appropriate for your skillset, your stage of development, we fully expect you to execute and complete that plan and exceed it where possible. So my own personal marketing plan is completely different than someone who’s just started within the firm. But everybody has one, we’re expected to complete them so you will not get your full raise if you do not complete your personal marketing plan.

Hannah: That’s really interesting. So everybody’s doing the activities that could potentially bring in business?

Cheryl: That’s exactly right. The difficulty is, and every organization’s different. We are fortunate in that the phone still continues to ring with amazing client possibilities. But a lot of it has to do with people are out doing activities so they’ve met someone, they know our brand, they’ve known that individual for a long time and attorney knows the work we do for other clients and therefore we get the referrals in are still our strongest piece. Very little of what we do is going out and bringing in business in the way I think you would think about it traditionally. Again we’re known, I think this is the other important thing about doing things that are true to yourself. We’re known in the creative world so we’re very well-known in the music, art, anything to do with the creative class we have a very strong presence.

I’ve been on a lot of national volunteer boards so we get business from those organizations because I’m on the investment committee and people trust me and then they trust the organization. Because of 20 years we have very deep roots with the top CPAs and attorneys in town which is normal for an organization. But you have to remember those relationships were built from a time I was about 35 until now. I think if someone in the firm starts building their relationship with the people their age when they get to my stage at 50, 45, they’ll start to get those referrals because their colleagues and their peer professionals are going to be at the stage they can also refer over that business. So yeah I think you have to have patience and patience on both sides.

Hannah: You talked about being known well in the art community and the creative community. Was that just a natural expression of who you were when you started or how did you develop that image, or how did you develop when you started? Maybe that’s-

Cheryl: Yeah that’s not even our… Our niche is we’ve always worked with … Our niche, our focus is on closely held business owners and families with shared wealth. So those families may own real estate together, they may own a company together but we realize in South Carolina wealth comes not from Fortune 500 companies, it comes from people who have their own companies or inherited real estate, that kind of thing. Sorry, that’s our niche. But I think what happened was because my husband’s an architect, my in-laws are gifted musicians, we started personally … I realized I’d have Abacus write a check, it’s my money but we get the brand of Abacus out there for the Phil harmonic, for the Contemporary Art Center, for the Rothko Show at the museum. And so we started building and that’s where people with money go.

They also go to sports but to think about that, who’s most likely to be at those events, people who have wealth. And so, it just became a virtuous circle for us.  And we’re known for that. I don’t know if you know this but my husband designed our office and in fact he spoke at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors this fall, conference on designing office for an advisory firm so when you come to our office it feels creative and interesting and our personal art collection is here, or a lot of it. It’s just kind of a, things we love to do we wove into our business. Again it’s back to the authenticity. Everybody’s different like I can imagine if you love beekeeping or gardening or sailing or your local sports team or you’re a big Texas Tech fan, all those things you can weave that into the way you present yourself.

Hannah: You build relationships with people. It’s harder to build relationships with brands but it’s a lot easier with people.

Cheryl: Absolutely, that’s exactly right. If you drive by our office, one of my big fantasies and I’m sure this will super appeal to all the men on the call, was to have fresh flowers in the office every week. Once we could achieve that here’s the virtuous circle. We have a beautiful office front that’s almost all glass and it’s lit beautifully at night until a certain time when the lights go off and we have these fresh, amazing flower arrangements from our local flower farm and people that don’t even know us find out that’s where we were. Like, “Oh, I love that building. I love driving by there.” So again there’s this tie-in that … So building your brand is 24-7 and it’s not like you have to be conscious about it, you just have to reinforce it and redo it and be consistent all the time. But I can imagine if you’re a planner with a new office would you have the local …

If you lived in Melville Alabama would you have moon pie sitting out on the desk every day? I don’t know but you do something that people knew when they came they were going to have this wow experience.

Hannah: I love it that your advice is to lean into that rather than be, I don’t want to say stuffy, but that is the word that comes to mind.

Cheryl: No, be quirky with it. One of the things to think in your minds and what did you love best of something new you ever got? I’ll give you another example, we’re maybe getting too far afield. But one of our team members found these beautiful baskets that are hand-woven by women in Africa, they’re small baskets maybe about eight inches by five and they have a top. They’re called blessing baskets and they have a little card where the woman who made them. Now when a client is ill or has a big celebration we all write a note and put that in the basket and send it to them. The baskets are like $18. So much nicer than a get well card. It has to be for, but clients go through these tremendous life cycle events so ways of commemorating that better are unique to you, that they feel special, that you’ve really given some thought to them. That’s what I would be going for.

Hannah: It’s making me think about my own clients right now.

Cheryl: But I love the language. My love language is gifts so that’s where I’m going to lean in. Other people’s love language are different things and so just think about how you express yourself from the world and run with that, is what I would say.

Hannah: So looking at your website which I just love the language on your website, that’s just what always draws me to your website. So anybody out there should go check your website out. But one of the things you say is we’re the Abacus Planning Group and we create abundance. How did you get there, what’s the essence behind that?

Cheryl: That’s a two-part story. When we were, Tracy Beckes who’s our coach of 20 years had worked very hard to focus us on our one-page business plan. As you know on the one-page business plan you have to have your key missions statement on there. We thought and thought and thought about it and I thought, “For clients coming here what are they seeking? It’s all over the map, they’re seeking more time, deeper relationships, more money, less stress.” And so it’s the word more, they want more but it’s not all about the consumer material, financial world. And so abundance just fits perfectly, the abundance, you can have abundance with very little financial resources and you can have no abundance with tremendous resources. We want to attract people who are seeking abundance. Having said that Alex Chastain, who’s one of our shareholders, is going through the Schwab executive program and she’s reading a great book called Practicing Positive Leadership.

It talked about abundance in the book and she said, “But you know I don’t know that everybody here, abundance resonates with them.” She had this brilliant idea of having each staff meeting having a different person in the firm tell their abundance story. What does abundance mean to you? I wish I had videoed them and then we could put that on a website next to each person’s photo as part of their website overview/bio. But most people start saying, “You know I’d not thought about her or I wasn’t connecting but once I began to look inside and think about what we do at Abacus or what I enjoy doing, here’s my abundance of joy. It came naturally for everyone. So not only do we have the origin story of abundance but each of us has their own story of abundance and why we love working here. Very powerful outcome.

We’re not done, not everybody’s told their abundance story yet but we’re enjoying ourselves along the way.

Hannah: My goodness. I can imagine if you really, as a millennial, if you connect with somebody’s purpose or mission statement like that I would imagine that you probably don’t have much turnover.

Cheryl: You know it’s interesting. I think we don’t have too much but I tell you what’s happening with what we’re struggling with is the fact that people do want to stay but they want to get engaged to the person in California or their husband gets a job in X or their wife gets promoted to this cancer lab somewhere else. And so they want to stay, and how do we make all that work? It’s an interesting conundrum that we’re working on that we don’t seem to quite know exactly how to make a virtual … I think 25% of our team members are virtual now.

Hannah: Oh wow.

Cheryl: Yeah. So, we’re new age workforce without quite knowing how we got here. How do you develop a career when you’re virtual? How do you develop management and leadership skills when you’re virtual? I think those are all possible things but it’s an interesting journey we’re on.

Hannah: One of the things on your website, you list out your core values on your website for your clients to see. The one that stands out to me is that “embrace change” is one of your core values. The whole working virtually sounds like that. How do you create a culture that embraces change?

Cheryl: Well it’s interesting because I don’t know that I’m the strongest person in the organization to reflect on that but I’m working on improving my change acceptance. I think any of those cultural values, if you don’t state them they’re definitely not going to happen. So there’s that and then what happens is any one of those cultural norms, there’s been a time period we thought, “That’s not who we are, we’re not actually living that norm.” The leadership team will take ownership and say, “On a scale of one to ten we rate ourselves a six and a half and the organization rates us a seven and we need to be a nine or a ten. How are we going to get there?” What’s really interesting Hannah is it takes two or three years when you were falling short as an organization, you start to think, “I think we need to change this and we need to do this differently and let’s listen to feedback from people.”

It takes a long time to move that organization from a seven to a nine. It just does. But I think on the embrace change we have always been that way and we have to be that way. I think the thing that’s been a struggle for us is as you get bigger and you have more team members it’s harder. The beauty of being a young new firm is it’s easy to change software, or it’s easy to change service models. It’s just easier because you have less baggage. But luckily people here because we have that embracement they push for it and expect it and they hold you accountable for that. They’re not going to get away with, “I like what we’re doing now” ever.

Hannah: That’s really interesting. Your employees hold you accountable for embracing change. How does that work within a company?

Cheryl: As you can imagine we’ve already been talking about people who follow their stagnant organizations it’s hard to tell the boss what you really think. And so we do two things, we have a 360 review every 18 months. Everybody in the organization gets rated by everybody else that they know well enough to rate. We rate them on the cultural values and then some other leadership attributes. If I got a low on embrace change and then I get some comments on that then I always share my peer review with the leadership team. It’s posted without security in our document management system so everybody can see it if they want to go to the trouble. Then I go over it with the other leaders, the other shareholders. Then I make a commitment to improve whatever I’m weak on.

Hannah: This 360 degree review, what is that?

Cheryl: We hire our corporate psychologist and he constructs a survey that basically you go in and on a scale of one to seven I think it is you rate each individual on about 25 different attributes. And then you make open, written comments on things they do well and things they need to improve. That’s all confidential and private and then everybody in the firm gets their report back. Our corporate psychologist comes and goes over it with that person and then their supervisor goes over it with them and then they effect goals for improvement. In their performance review they have to say, “Here’s how I’ve improved on my peer review and what I’ve been doing to get better.”

Hannah: So people are very honest in that feedback. Is it anonymous?

Cheryl: Oh yes. It’s anonymous. This is the brutal reality of that, we always tell people the first year you’re always going to get great, everyone loves you because you’re new. The second you get is a little more honest and then by the higher up the ladder you get the more honest again. For what it just does because everybody’s aware of you and secondly everybody needs you to be on your A game. They can’t afford for you to be weak in something. Also it’s their one way to say something to you that they may not be comfortable in saying it in person.

Hannah: I love it how you have your just as public where anybody can read it in your firm. It seems brave of you.

Cheryl: I have this saying, I always want a gin and tonic. I don’t even drink them except when I get my peer review.

Hannah: We talked about succession plans a lot and some of these are really hard conversations. But if you’re not willing to have the hard conversation or to really get that feedback maybe you’re not ready for that leadership role.

Cheryl: I totally agree. One thing that we should do two hands post for everybody is we have something we called internally defense-o-meter, but it’s how open are you to change? It’s this wonderful scale of someone recommends a new idea, secretly you’re planning to undermine it tomorrow all the way to, “Okay, I may or may not agree but the group thinks we should do it. I’m going to brace 100%, I’m going to lead in every way I can.” Things sometimes, it’s good to just look at that and see where you are as a leader on a daily basis if you can. Especially when new ideas are presented.

Hannah: One are the other core values that you have is listening and on your website, I love it where you go to your website and most financial advisors have their services and that type of thing. Your first option is listening. I just love that focus. So, when you click on that it says “many financial planners and managers fail to truly listen and hear. Both are special skills at Abacus.” Can you talk more to that and what does it mean to really listen and hear?

Cheryl: Well I think listening is the gift you can give anyone and it’s a very difficult skill to master. This came about in, gosh, more than a decade ago we read Jim Collins’ Good To Great like many organizations do. We spent a long time thinking about what our hedgehog concept should be, meaning what could we be the best in the world at? Strangely enough we decided on listening, which I know doesn’t sound anything like what a financial advisory firm should pick. But we had been doing some training around listening and we began to see the power of good listening with our clients. And so we learned to be comfortable with silence, we learned to be comfortable with tears, we learned to be curious, we learned to ask open-ended questions and we found that clients often solved their own problems with much greater efficacy than we did without that skill set.

Then we had a team member leave and we always do an exit interview with those individuals. He said, “Abacus is really good at listening to their clients but they’re not always so good at listening to one another.” So we began to be more focused on that like when someone’s talking to you internally are you truly present, truly listening? They feel heard, they feel valued, they know that you’re listening to them. I think we found that we got much better as an organization, we have far to go on that or at least I do. But we also found we’re better parents, we’re better spouses, we’re better adult children. So it doesn’t just make us better at what we do, it makes us happier in our home lives. I would encourage each and every person to become a master at listening. You enjoy your job more because it gets so much easier, you can relax into it.

Clients begin to use you for all the right things. And yes the portfolio is important but I’m nervous about the markets and that anxiety is so much more important than what you’ve done around diversification. They know you’ve done a good job as a professional or your best job, they just want to be heard. They’re worried, they’re anxious, the world has changed on them.

Hannah: Where would somebody go to get better at listening?

Cheryl: We had someone come and work with us for a very long period of time, he just retired. Now we’re anxious about that. We’re thinking about how to do that. We teach modules in the office so now senior advisors teach that to support advisors or the operations team. We haven’t found an ideal outside resource. There’s some good articles I could send you that we could post that would break down the components of good listening. I’m sure there are some terrific videos for that that we could research together. Right now we’re teaching it internally but we know in our heart of hearts, have talked at the leadership level how we’re going to keep ourselves on the A team list for listening. I think that requires an outside coach or an outside resource to hold you accountable in ways you just can’t see yourself.

Hannah: That’s such a good point of we can’t see our own blind spots.

Cheryl: That’s why you have to do a 360. Everyone knows, I always try and think about it this way. If you had a mole on your back your best friend’s going to see it and say, “Hey, you need to get that mole checked out.” It’s the same thing for bad habits, bad behaviors, sub-optimal skill sets. Someone has to point it out to you. You need to know it, everybody else sees that mole on your back. It’s not a secret, it’s just you don’t know it.

Hannah: You make it sound so normal. I feel like that’s such a counter-cultural or counter-instinctive way of responding to criticism.

Cheryl: It takes a long time and I will say this is so fascinating to me. We have a process for giving critical feedback in the office and what’s fascinating and this may help people Hannah… is the way you learn to give praise is the first segment of giving critical feedback. You can’t readily give true, genuine praise that everyone deserves every day here. If I just stop to think two seconds as I walk around the office I’m just blown away by what people are doing. Do I stop and say, “Is that not enough, or write that down, not enough.” But the way you give praise is you point out something someone’s doing and then you say specific like, “Hey Hannah. I wanted to tell you thank you for creating this podcast for young planners. That’s amazing how you go about, the energy you bring, the homework you do, the thoughtfulness with which you give your questions.

“I’m just so impressed and honored that you asked me and delighted that you’re doing this for the profession.” I’m pointing out something you’re doing and then I’m giving you specific behaviors that you did that led to that success. You do the same thing for giving critical feedback. What’s amazing to me is I’m probably the worst in getting it here because I learned that so late in life. But the planners who’ve been here two or three years, they’re swimming in water. They’re so used to getting it they totally get it’s a gift.

Hannah: Do you have an example of what that critical feedback, doing it well would look like?

Cheryl: I think for me what I have to do is, I’m going to make up something. I’m looking at William who’s sitting next to me, but he does everything so well. I’m going to pretend William wears shorts to work on a professional day which he’s never done. But if I had to say to William, “William, on a scale of one to ten this is a one. But I need to share it to you that yesterday when Doctor and Mrs. Longacre were coming in they weren’t meeting with you. I know you had a half day. When you came over with shorts and they happened to see you it made me uncomfortable and reflected on the professionalism of the firm.” William, none of this is true. So you tell him on a scale of one to ten, this isn’t very important. But if it is you’re going to tell him it’s an eight so he’s sitting up straight thinking, “I’d better pay attention.”

Then just as if you were taking a video you point out exactly what happened. Then you have to tie the strategy for the firm, we are professionals, strategy for him, I want you to be a professional. Then you shut up and you listen. As he might say, “You know what? I totally agree with you. I had to take my grandmother’s car and I knew her car had a lot of oil and I didn’t want to get my clothes dirty and I wasn’t going to have time to get it done with this meeting and change, and blah blah.” That’s a perfectly good reason and we agree it won’t happen again. On the other hand he might say, “Wow, I had no idea this was important to the firm.” And then we can talk about what are we going to do in the future, what happens if it happens again and what are the consequences of that. Easy-peasy to do, sort of, in theory.

We have a one-page handout that we use for everybody to prepare when they have to give it. People usually ask someone else to role play with them. So I’m not comfortable telling William that I might say to Eddie, “Eddie, can you play William and let me pretend I’m giving you feedback before I go in and do it in real time?”

Hannah: That’s just the culture of your firm? That’s just the normal language that people speak now.

Cheryl: I absolutely think that’s true. I think there are people who create more psychological safety than others to allow for that but I think if you are hearing feedback in your performance review which is once a year for the first time, we have failed you.

Hannah: Looking at young planners what would be your advice for them as they enter this profession?

Cheryl: Be prepared for change. I don’t think what I do now every day is related in any day to what I thought I was going to be doing when I started. I don’t serve who I thought I was going to serve, my daily work has changed, there’s so many different ways that my life is different than what I imagined. So you have to be preparing for change, not just embracing it. You have to be preparing for it all the time. I think the second piece is just be patient. There’s a lot of shoe leather in 10,000 hours to mastery. So because you have the educational background and you have some experience, none of us are there yet. I fail every day. I make bad decisions every day and I have to be humbled by that and realize I have a long way to go to be where I need to be and the organization needs to be. So that’s just chew every step along the way.

The third piece I always say is invest in yourself. I mean that superficially as well as spiritually and intellectually, so superficially you need to go out and buy nice shoes if you’re a man and a good tie and a good belt and a suit, unless you’re working in a firm that’s just not required. For women professional tie or be very thoughtful about what you’re buying and invest in good, professional clothes. That’s your brand whether you like it or not. I think invest in your education so do the Enrolled Agent, take the CFA, go to the Family Firm Institute and take the Certified Family Business Advisor Designation which is a lot about listing and the softer skill set. I think finally take time for respite and refresh and reenergizing, whatever that looks like for you. It might be time with family, it might be time in your backyard, might be time hunting, might be time in church.

It’s different for all of us or a combination but I think those are the three keys to being long-term successful and long-term happy.

Hide Transcript

Cheryl Holland discusses the foundation of her firm, Abacus Financial Planning - developing career paths and growing leadership skills in herself and her team members. She explores how new planners can define and follow a career path within their curre... Cheryl Holland is the founder of Abacus Planning Group, and she is a rock-star supporter of new and young financial planners. Abacus Planning Group focuses on developing leadership skills in their team members, and Cheryl has gone above and beyond to create a system of career paths for all of her partners to feel successful and fulfilled.
The career paths program at Abacus acts as a leadership pipeline for the firm. It includes what skills need to be developed, as well as the behaviors and resources that need to be mastered in order to move forward in a career anywhere from 5 to 10+ years down the line. This is a phenomenal resource for new planners that they can download on our website, and gives them a concrete way to measure their learning progress.
Cheryl firmly believes that understanding the career paths that are available to you as a new or young planner is critical to your own development. She incorporated this program into Abacus because she knew from the firm’s beginning that she wanted to take this wonderfully unique approach.
One of the core values at Abacus is listening well. Cheryl shares how to listen well and provides resources and examples on how new planners can improve their listening skills and immediate improve as a financial planner.

“Growth is truly about being able to provide the resources and paths for employees… I can’t think of any negatives to growth so far for clients. I think our clients have better advice now than they did 20 years ago.”
What You’ll Learn:

What different career paths require from you as a new planner.
How to develop skills to move you down a career path and into a leadership role.
How to maintain a unique vision for your practice, your individual career path, and how you want to fit into the financial planning industry.
What to do if your firm doesn’t have a career paths program (or opportunities for growth).
How to embrace change.
How to hold on to hope and be patient as you experience growth.
How to listen well.
What it takes to continually invest in yourself.
How to incorporate laughter into your day-to-day to maintain a positive outlook.

Shared with us from Abacus:

* Career Path document
* Defense-o-meter
* Integrating Health Challenges into Wealth Planning
* 6 Ws – the gift of feedback

Kathleen Bollerud
The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company
Outliers: The Story of Success
Laughter Yoga University
G2: Building the Next Generation
National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
Tracy Beckes
Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap an...]]>
Hannah Moore clean
Solving the Client Implementation Problem Tue, 26 Dec 2017 20:13:15 +0000 0 This idea of selling people on the value of financial planning is critical as a young planner - and it will completely change your outlook on your approach to your practice! Patrick Dougherty, financial planner and founder of Dougherty Wealth Management in Dallas, Texas, believes in financial planning. In fact, he was one of the original founders of the “live sessions” of #YAFPNW!

Patrick has been a long-time mentor of host, Hannah Moore, and provides excellent insights in this episode for young financial planners. His biggest philosophy is one that we can all get behind – no matter which prospect you’re sitting down to chat with, they should walk away understanding the value of financial planning.

This idea of selling people on the value of financial planning is critical as a young planner – and it will completely change your outlook on your approach to your practice!

hannah's signature

The investments are the easy part. Planning changes lives.”

What You Will Learn:

  • What your introductory meeting with financial planning clients should look like.
  • How to sell the concept of financial planning – not your services and pricing.
  • How you should conduct discovery sessions with clients.
  • What embracing life-changing planning looks like for your practice.


Dougherty Wealth Management

FPA NexGen Gathering 2018

Show Transcript

Ep78 Transcript

Hannah:               Thanks for joining us, Patrick.

Patrick:                 I’m glad to be here.

Hannah:               Yeah. One of the founders of the You’re A Financial Planner; Now What? series. So, there’s been a couple sessions that you did that were just really impactful for me when I first started out, and I know we were talking before about hopefully having you on for more of those later. But the one I want to talk about today is how to affect implementation. So, first of all, why is this an important topic? What are your thoughts on why this is important or why new planners need to know this?

Patrick:                 Well, I believe a perfect plan doesn’t mean anything if it’s not implemented, so it’s worthless and it’s just an academic exercise. It may feed the ego of the planner, but it does nothing for the client. I believe you have to learn how to affect your clients to implement your plans. I think that starts way before the plan presentation meeting. I was at a study group several years ago with some really senior planners, and we were talking about what challenges we face and everything, and it seemed the big thing everybody had in common is they couldn’t get their clients to implement their plans, so the big challenge everybody had was how do you implement your plans, or how do you get your clients to implement your plans.

I’d been in the business eight or nine years at that point, and so I … That was shocking to me that these senior planners were still having this challenge after most of them had a decade or more in the business. And so, I started thinking about how I had achieved that, which I still believe almost all my plans are implemented completely, is how did that happen, and I think it’s because I’ve always been taught perfection is impossible, but excellence is not. How do you shoot for excellence is my … I do post-ops. Every time I have a plan presentation or a meeting, I do a post-op and I ask myself two things: what to keep and what to change. My first eight or nine years in the business, there was a lot of what to change and very little about what to keep, so over the years it started getting more and more what to keep and a little less and less of what to change.

And probably eight or nine years into it, I started realizing that everybody was implementing my plan recommendations. So, it wasn’t easy and I took a decade to find out how to do that, but I realized that you can’t wait ’til the meeting where you present the plan. It has to start way before that. Now, I even believe it starts when you have the initial conversation with the prospect over the phone. Somebody refers them to you, or you somehow meet them at an event or something, so they call you and you talk about … You’re trying to qualify them and they say, “So, what do we bring to our first meeting?” Most of the time they say, “Do we bring our statements?” Because that’s what most people ask them to bring, and I say, “No. No, don’t bring your statements. Don’t bring anything but yourself,” because I believe to have your client accept your recommendations, I think there’s four key things.

They have to believe that financial planning will help them, and they have to believe … Excuse me. They have to have confidence in your technical ability. They have to have assurance of your insight into their goals and challenges, and then finally, and the big one is they have to trust your motives. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you recommending what you’re recommending? Is it to help you or to help them? So, I believe those four things: belief, confidence, assurance, and trust, you have to have that with all the clients, and it’s something you can’t do … Most people just have a discovery meeting and then plan presentation meeting. How do you expect somebody you’ve never met before to accept all your recommendations after they’ve met with you twice?

Hannah:               Well, one thing that I like, and again I know you kind of more than some, but you say that belief that financial planning will help them. So when you’re really positioning yourself and when you’re selling to clients, you’re selling financial planning instead of selling anything else.

Patrick:                 Yes.

Hannah:               So, and yeah.

Patrick:                 Well, I found that most planners, I’m not sure they believe planning is powerful. A lot of times they pick it as a profession, they go to college, they graduate, they get into the business and they get their CFP, but do they really believe how powerful it is? I believe it’s really powerful. It can change people’s lives permanently for the better through planning. I always say people, if the planner doesn’t believe it, why’s the client gonna believe it’s real? If you really believe in the power of planning, it’s gonna come across in your enthusiasm and how you talk about it, then the client believes it. That’s the first thing you have to do is get them to believe that what you’re gonna do with them over the next two months is gonna change their lives and help them get rid of some of the challenges they face and help them achieve their goals and have their kids go to college, so all of the things that planning does for them, but they’ve got to believe that you believe it.

Hannah:               What would be your advice for new planners as they’re entering financial planning today?

Patrick:                 I guess I’m trying to narrow it down so I can give you an answer in less than an hour. I have a lot of advice to give planners about growing their practice or getting into the business or surviving financially or learning to be a better planner, so what are you talking about?

Hannah:               Let’s talk better planners.

Patrick:                 Okay. Better planners is knowing that you don’t know everything. When I passed the CFP exam, and I didn’t pass it the first time. I didn’t take it seriously. I didn’t study. So, when I did pass it, I walked out of the exam, probably every planner that’s at the height of their technical knowledge when they pass the exam, right? It never goes higher than that usually. So, I left the exam thinking, “I just passed,” … or when I got the note in the mail saying … It was in the mail when I took it. I got the note in the mail saying I had passed, and I thought, “You know, I just passed this big CFP exam that says I’m halfway competent to be a planner, and I feel like I know about 30% of what I really need to know to be a good planner, so I need to start learning.”

But now, in my 19th year in the business, I still feel like I know only about 30% of what I need to know to be a good planner. So, I think my advice to young planners is you need to have a thirst for this business and a thirst to be better at what you’re doing and always do your post-op and say, “What can I keep, and what can I change?” Whether it’s a meeting with a client or a meeting with a mentor or a meeting, whoever you’re meeting with, you need to always think, “How can I do this better?” And if you have that kind of thirst for excellence and to learn how to do this … I still have a list of designations I want to work for. Not only do I enjoy doing it, but I think I need to do it to be good for my clients. Hopefully, you have a thirst for knowledge about our profession.

Hannah:               One of the things I took away from you a couple of years ago was, it was this idea of when you have prospects come into your office, they need to leave that even if they don’t work with you, they have to work with a financial planner. That’s how deep the conviction needs to be in what I’m communicating with clients.

Patrick:                 Yes. It may not be a fit. We’re not always a fit for each other, it’s maybe personalities or whatever reason. Some planners charge more, some planners charge, so there’s a lot of reasons for a client to choose you or not. But you want them to believe they need to find somebody. So, yeah, that’s a great question.

Yeah. First, you have to believe in the power of planning so the client will believe in it, and then the technical prowess … You got the standard stuff like education, your certifications, I’ve got my ego wall behind me, your experience in the business, the brand name of your firm sometimes, but the big one for me is do you intentionally and actively educate your clients during the planning process? Does the client see you as a technical … Does the client see the technical knowledge coming out of your head?

I know that sounds kind of silly, but you can’t do that with a PowerPoint presentation because half the time that’s put together by somebody else and you’re just kind of reading through it, and they know that. They can tell that. So, it’s not with PowerPoint, it’s not with “What If” scenarios with planning software. When the client sees you draw on a legal pad or on a whiteboard, they see that knowledge coming out of your head. That’s what builds their confidence in your technical prowess. So, there’s no shortcut around that, and you can’t just meet with somebody, and even if they sign up and give you a check, they still don’t know if you’re technically competent or not.

The way I do that is through education mostly. Obviously, I have my education and certifications and all that, but I wouldn’t need any of them at this point because the way I educate my clients, they know that I know what I’m doing. There’s no shortcut for that.

So, to the third, how are they assured of your insight into them? Well, it’s because, first, you listen more than you talk. Ask a lot of question. Ask big open-ended questions and then shut up and let them talk, so they understand that you’re really caring about them and what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and you’re learning about their families and their kids.

Most families have warts, most families have problems. You need to understand them. I always talk to my clients about, “When this is done, I’m gonna know more about you than your doctor because I’m gonna spend more time with you and ask more questions and I need to do that to help you do this correctly.”

And then finally the last one is how they trust you. How do you say to somebody, “You can trust me”? It’s not by using the fiduciary word. I personally have a higher bar than that. W whatever your higher power or your moral compass, whatever moral compass guides you, it needs to be apparent in the way you treat your clients, every interaction starting with the first phone conversation.

Hannah:               Well, it’s this whole idea. I mean, I hear people use “fee-only” as a marketing ploy, and people are using “fiduciary” in the same way. It’s like that’s … It feels, I don’t want to say “shallow”, but it doesn’t hold water.

Patrick:                 Well, it’s canned. Here’s the question I … people that want to use … They say they’re fiduciaries and they don’t even have a certification out for being a fiduciary. Here’s my question that I would say to a client, “I’m required by law to be a fiduciary, so you can trust me.” That’s what you’re saying. When you say, “I’m a fiduciary,” that means you’ve agreed and signed saying, “I’m gonna act as a fiduciary because the law requires me to.” That’s pretty sad.

Hannah:               Well, it’s not talking about who you are and this idea of that we need to show up as planners, and that’s just a legalese term rather than, “I will always act in your best interest.”

Patrick:                 Yes.

Hannah:               So, do you bring up fiduciary with your clients?

Patrick:                 I’ve never used the word ever. No. But I can tell you that they really believe that I act that way because I act that way, the way I talk to them, the way I ask them questions, the way I … If they ask me questions …

This happens with every client I have. They ask me a question that I don’t know the answer to and I say, “I don’t know the answer to that. I’ll do some research and find out,” rather than BS my way through it and give them an answer. People like it when you are vulnerable and say, “I don’t know everything.” Sometimes when I make a mistake with a client’s account, the first thing I do is call the client and say, “I made this mistake. I just wanted to let you know about it. Here’s what I can do to fix it. I just wanted to let you know immediately that I made this mistake,” and they go, “Oh, well thanks for telling us. We wouldn’t have known.” But that’s the kind of thing that they realize that you really care about doing the right thing.

Hannah:               The marketing term that I’ve really come to understand recently is, “You show, don’t tell,” and it’s like so much of the fiduciary is we’re telling you what we’re gonna do instead of just showing them what we’re gonna do and really, yeah, articulating our value that way instead of just …

Patrick:                 So, let me tell you where I believe achieving full implementation starts. It starts with the very first prospect call. You’re trying to, in the qualifying call, you’re trying to decide if it’s somebody you want to work with. It may be a personality issue. You may have minimums. There’s a lot of reasons you may choose or not choose to work with somebody. One of my main criteria is if they weren’t a client would I want to have dinner with them. I don’t want to work with somebody that I don’t have that kind of connection with, and I actually do often have dinner with most of my clients. I want to have that kind of relationship with them, where we’re comfortable with each other and we enjoy being around each other, not just because we’re doing a plan.

So, in the phone call, they generally say, “What do you bring to the meeting?” And I say, “Don’t bring anything but yourselves. I’m gonna bring a pen and a legal pad, and here’s what we’re gonna do in the meeting. We’re gonna learn about you, your family, your goals, your dreams, what you want to do with your kids, your careers, when you want to retire, how do you want to retire, and what are your challenges in achieving all that. That should take about an hour, an hour and a half.” I always plan two hours for an initial meeting and this is the prospect meeting. This isn’t the discovery meeting. This is where you’re deciding to work together or not.

After you learn about them a lot, then we tell them what we do, why we do what we do, how we do it, and then what we charge, what our fees are, how we’re gonna be compensated. I’m completely transparent on all that, and that’s what the meetings for. And finally, and I tell them this over the phone before meeting, “We’re not gonna sign anything in the first meeting. All we’re gonna do is get to know each other. I’m gonna learn about you. You’re gonna learn about us and how much we charge and how we do that, whatever fees or commissions or whatever.” And there’s no right or wrong way on that, it’s just they need to know that upfront. As long as you disclose it, I don’t think it matters.

I personally, if I wanted to hire a planner, it wouldn’t matter whether they’re a fee or a commission. If they were somebody that I trusted and I believed in them, they can charge me however they want to. They did a survey last year that asked clients how their advisor charged them, and 65% said, “I have no idea.” That’s how unimportant it is. If they believe you and think you’re doing a good job for them, they could care less. They need you to make a living. You need to be there next year when they come back, so there’s nothing wrong with making a living.

We say, “We’re not gonna sign anything at the end of the meeting. We want you to go home, sleep on it. We’re gonna sit as a firm and discuss whether y’all are a fit for us. It’s real important for us both to feel like it’s mutually beneficial.” I tell them all this over the phone, so when they come in for the first meeting, it does a couple of things. I think they’re not apprehensive, not afraid you’re gonna try to get them to sign something or do a hard sell, but the other thing is it makes them think, “We gotta convince him to take us as a client,” so it actually helps you as a planner.

They’re not defensive and also, if they were referred to you and they think you’re good, they’re gonna try and convince you. It’s kind of a mutually beneficial thing to come in with no expectations. They shouldn’t hire us if we’re not a fit and I don’t want a client that’s not a fit. It’s really important for that.

Sometimes I’ve met with people I’ve really liked, but for whatever reason, the way we worked or the way we charged or whatever, it wasn’t a fit. So, I referred them to one of my fellow colleagues, you know, friendly competitors. Most of them that I know are friendly competitors, but if it’s a fit for the client, then I’m glad they go somewhere else.

Hannah:               Do you find that in this first meeting you’re having people who aren’t qualified to be your client show up?

Patrick:                 Yeah. I usually can find out in the qualifying call whether they’re a fit or not for us with the minimums, but that occasionally doesn’t happen. So, we get together and we meet, and I find out that they don’t really … I don’t really have an assets under management minimum, more of a revenue minimum because I charge separately for assets under management and for planning, they may not have the asset minimums that normally I would want, but they do have a lot of big, complex planning to do. So their fee for me might be the same as somebody that had a million or two million dollars, even though they have 250,000. For me, it’s the revenue minimum, not asset minimum.

But to answer your question completely, if they don’t meet our minimums, we have people we can refer them to. I think I’ve referred people to you before.

You want to be taken care of and you’re helping them by not taking them if that’s the case because if they’re a small client, generally, they don’t need the kind of complex planning that I generally do. If they’re a young couple just getting started, they don’t need complex estate planning. They need a will. Maybe a will, life insurance, make sure they have enough for that because they have a couple of kids, and then the education planning. It’s kind of simple. They need to be with somebody that is good at that, but they don’t need to overpay me because I charge more. I do more complex planning, but my experience and everything, I charge more. Why would I want to overcharge them when they don’t need that level?

I have planners in the business, your friends that are two and three years in the business, have their CFPs, they’re gonna do an excellent job for them and, for that planner, they’re a big client. That person’s better off being served by that person than me.

Generally, I don’t even know anything about Medicaid because I don’t have any clients that use it, so if it’s a retired couple that needs Medicaid information, I have no idea because I’ve never had a client that needed it.

Hannah:               You know, it’s funny. Being the consumer on several things now, and maybe being a little bit pickier than I have been in the past, I mean, that’s a filter for me now. Am I this service provider’s, am I their target market or are they gonna drop me in a couple of years or hand me off to somebody else because I want to be paired with somebody where I am exactly who they’re looking to serve.

Patrick:                 Yeah. Absolutely.

I don’t want to discuss my planning process because that’s maybe another talk, but I do want to mention the parts of it, my process, that influence the client’s implementing the plan.

In the discovery meeting, you certainly are gonna have that big conversation about what they want to achieve and how to achieve it and everything. That’s part of them realizing that you’re really trying to gain insight into them so you can help them in the right way. Then, of course, the client education meeting. I have an advisory board that said, “Don’t call it that. Call it investment concepts because client education is demeaning.” I don’t agree with that, but I’ve taken their advice.

But anyway, you need to educate your clients, so in my client education meeting I use a whiteboard and I just talk to them about, “These are basic concepts and some of them pertain to you and some of them don’t,” but I do that either on a legal pad or a whiteboard and, again, it’s building trust in my acumen, my technical acumen. That’s really important for the client and it’s really important for me because they ask questions. You need to know what level your clients are at as far as their ability and education about investing and planning, and so by going through this education meeting and teaching them, you can both understand where you’re both at.

The plan presentation part is … I usually do a brief summary of their goals and challenges. It takes about 15 minutes. And then talk about the recommendations. Along with the recommendations, I don’t use a list. I use a first-year implementation plan. The client now, I believe, has the belief that planning’s gonna help them. They have the confidence in your ability. They have the assurance that you’re trying to help them and you’ve got the insight into them and they’ve hopefully learned to trust your motives.

It’s like the breakfast participants little thing. The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. You want your clients to feel committed to this process.

Hopefully, by doing this and having several meetings. Some people have the first meeting and the presentation meeting, mine are anywhere from four to six meetings depending on the client and the complexity of it. So, when I give them the plan presentation, I don’t give them a to-do, I give them a Gantt chart. It’s just a one page Excel spreadsheet and I have a calendar with the next 12 months on it. The sheet basically says what we need to do, when we need to do it, and then the action is going to be performed by the client, the planner, allied professional, or all of the above. It really is just kind of this, you know, “Here’s our action plan going forward.”

It’s real simple and it’s not as if you give somebody a list, it’s real long and their eyes glazed over. Well, if you give them this calendar saying “In the first month because you have young children, yet not enough life insurance, we’re gonna meet with the insurance professional.” In the second month may be estate planning or maybe flipped, depending on if you have an older client and the situation’s different. So every month or so we do one or two things to implement their plan and hopefully, usually it’s six to eight months later, we’re done with the initial implementation. Some clients it’s taken 14 months, but for the most part, it’s five to six, seven, eight.

Hannah:               So, one of the things I’ve been hearing a lot of in circles that I run are these new planners who are trying to do more of this monthly retainer model or something like that, and one of the problems that they’re having is they do all of this work up front for the client, like you’re saying, over six to nine months, and then all of a sudden the client is like, “Well, I don’t need you anymore,” and then they drop you. I know you well enough to know that you don’t have that problem.

Patrick:                 Well, I’m glad that you brought that up because I know younger planners and I also know some of the really big firms in Dallas whose names you would know, really big firms that work with 25, 50 million dollar clients, they do it that way too. They do modular planning. They start and they maybe do investments first because a lot of people think that’s the most important, which it isn’t. So they do it that way and that’s not a wrong way to do it, but I go back to the original question that every new planner should ask and understand is that if you don’t know everything about this client, then how do you give them good advice? Whether it’s estate planning or whether it’s investments, how do you know how to do that? I have no idea how to invest for a client if I don’t know the comprehensive plan. I can’t work in a vacuum.

It may be simple. It may look like they’re young and can be more aggressive and all that kind of stuff, but you don’t know about their mother who’s gonna need their help in two years. You don’t know about somebody’s family members maybe has medical needs that nobody knows about or you don’t know about certainly, so I just don’t know how you do modular planning and serve the client well.

Hannah:               So, have you ever run into the problem where a client’s like, “You know what? I completely buy into the idea of financial planning. I’ve built out this financial planning and now I don’t need you anymore. I’ll come back when my life changes.”

Patrick:                 Yeah, so that was the second part of your question I didn’t answer. So, thanks for asking again.

If you do the planning right and ask for the right questions and present the plan the right way, which means this is a dynamic process. Planning, when you do the first initial comprehensive plan or whether it’s modular, it’s the very beginning of a lifelong process and if you haven’t educated your clients about the fact that this is a lifelong process …

You know, my initial comprehensive plan, while it takes a month to two months to complete and you meet four or five times with a clients and you drive them crazy asking for all this information, the fact is it’s the starting point and if you haven’t educated them about that throughout this whole process, so when you implement the plan, and again my implementation plan is called First Year Implementation Plan. This is the first of 20 or 50 years depending on their age and how long you’re gonna be in the business. So, I generally don’t have that problem because they know that things are gonna change. The world’s dynamic. Their lives are dynamic, so they’re gonna have kids and they’re gonna lose parents and they’re gonna have parents that have to move in with them. There’s all these things that happen to us that we have no plan, no idea it’s gonna happen.

Hannah:               Yeah. So, a couple of things. One, I think it’s interesting because most of these are talking about younger clients and it’s like, “Life changes the most when you’re young.”

Patrick:                 Yeah.

Hannah:               Talking about job change, kids, everything happening in life.

But the other thing, you sell people on the idea of financial planning and financial planning is not a one-time thing. You’re not leading with your price. You’re not leading with all these other things. You’re leading with “Here is the value of ongoing financial planning and here is why you need it.” And even if they don’t work with you, they need to work with somebody who does financial planning. I think that’s a whole different sales pitch.

Patrick:                 Great question and great statement.

I don’t want to get into my process too much, but when I have my initial discovery, excuse me, my initial prospect meeting before we’ve signed up with each other, after I’ve listened to them and learned everything I can in the first meeting about their family, then I explain what we do and how we do it. I go through real quickly through our processes, our fees, our everything, and by going through our processes, it sounds kind of tedious and boring, but I explain it …

I used to explain, I was real proud of my process, so I would go through this eight or nine step thing and I was real proud of it, but, you know, their eyes glazed over. They didn’t hear any of it. Now, after listening to them for an hour, hour and a half, when I present my process, I present it in how to solve their issues they just told me about. “Well, we’re gonna do this and it’s gonna help you with this issue and we’re gonna do this… part of our process we’re gonna do this.” I’m explaining my process through their challenges and so they hear all of it, but they realize how we’re gonna address their issues.

When I finish that, and it takes only five minutes, then I say, “Here’s our fee schedule.” I have it printed out and I show it to them. The response is, “Wow. We thought it would cost more than this.” I’m on the high side in Dallas of planning fees, but the reason they feel that way is when you explain all this stuff you’re gonna do and how you’re gonna solve their problems, or at least come up with a plan to start solving their problems, they’re thinking, “Wow. Wow. Wow. Big, big,” all of a sudden, you know, how much is this gonna cost them. When you say, “It’s $5,000,” they go, “Oh, my gosh. Is that all?”

I believe it’s the way you present it, not the price. Price is only an issue when there’s no value.

Hannah:               Yep.

Patrick:                 Could I go back to the implementation when I present the Gantt chart?

Hannah:               Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Patrick:                 The Gantt chart, again, I explain is the next 12 months on this timeline and each month we take on a major implementation piece. It explains what to do, when to do it, and the action, and who’s going to perform the action, but you’re the quarterback. This is where a lot of people say, you know, “You need to hire an attorney and adjust your estate plan.” “Okay. We’ll call our attorney.” Well, that never happens.

I ask them if they have an attorney they want to use, fine, or if they don’t I recommend somebody, but I call the attorney and set up the appointment even if it’s their attorney. I’m the quarterback. If your plans aren’t being implemented, it’s the planner’s fault. So I contact their attorney and I plan the meeting and I’m always in the meeting with them. Is it more work and extra hours? Yeah, but you’ve spent weeks or even months getting to know this family, learning about them, and the estate planning attorney, you fill out their questionnaire, and you go in to meet with them and they think they know how to provide your estate plan.

I’ve done that with clients early in my career and they come back with trusts they don’t need and they come back with just bad information because the estate planning attorney, you know, they bill by the hour, so they’ve got to make use of their time, and so they don’t want to spend weeks with the clients like we do. That’s what we charge a fee for our plan and then we meet with them whether it takes 10 hours or 50 hours. My average is 20 to 25 hours before I present the plan.

I think you should always meet with the allied professional and the client and you, whether it’s an attorney or an insurance provider or whatever it is, you need to be in the meeting. If you’re not committed to do that, you shouldn’t be in the comprehensive planning business.

That’s the way the plans get implemented is you’re the quarterback, you’ve set up the meetings and the appointments. If they have an insurance provider, you ask them who it is and say, “Let me set up that appointment for you.” They don’t have time to do it, so they’re happy for you to take that on. If they don’t have an insurance provider, I’ll provide one, but another thing I do is I always the provider to come into my office because the client sees you as handling everything and implementing the plan and helping them by being the quarterback.

So if a client needs insurance, I don’t want to send them to an agent who’s gonna say instead of me recommending a 20-year level term, the insurance goes, “Aw. You need a whole life policy.” They’re doing what’s in their best interest, not your clients. So I explain to the client, “Because of the plan we’re gonna go through and all this time we spent with our process, we all believe, you and me both, that you need term insurance.” So, I call three or four of my friends that are in the insurance business and I say, “These are 45-year old clients. Here’s their birthdays. Here’s their average general health. Give me your best three plans.” They come in our office with me and the client on one side of the table and the insurance provider on the other and they present their plans and I help the client pick the best one that’s for them.

All of this is part of this implementation that needs to happen, but you need to be involved. It’s not just giving them a list and having them do it.

Hannah:               You know, one of the things I’ve realized is, you know, when clients sign up for financial planning, and you were one of my big mentors, so I’m all about selling financial planning, right, versus all the other stuff, is they’re really committed to it and I have the expectation they’re gonna be in my office six times in the next year, and so they know where my office is. They feel comfortable in my office and so when you start talking about attorneys, and I’ve offered up “We can meet at the attorney’s office or we can meet at mine,” and just about every single client is like, “Let’s just meet at yours.” It’s familiar. It’s consistent. It’s just part of this bigger service that you’re providing and clients are drawn to that.

Patrick:                 Yeah and we all like familiarity. You know. If you do something a lot, you get used to it and it’s comfortable and you don’t have to find out where the new office is or drive there. You just know where you’re going every time.

The other thing is this part of this implementation is if it’s a couple, I don’t meet with one of them alone ever because this is a group deal and you can’t expect to explain to one person and then them explain it to their spouse the right way. So they both need to be there. The other thing is often one or the other spouse is kind of the head. They do the financial stuff in the household. Sometimes it’s the man, sometimes it’s the woman, but they both need to be involved enough to know that if it something happens to their spouse, or if something happens and their spouse is traveling in another country, they feel comfortable enough with the planner to come take care of it. “Oh, my husband’s out, so I can’t call Patrick because I only met with him once.” But if they’re involved in the whole process, doesn’t matter which spouse it is, the lead person financially or not the lead person, they feel comfortable to call you.

That’s the other part about meeting in the office and just familiarity that comes from several meetings. I just don’t think you can do it in two meetings. I think you’re doing a disservice to your clients and for yourself.

Hannah:               So, one of the new, I don’t even know if I can call it a trend anymore, but this idea of virtual planning, and meeting with your clients online. What are kind of your thoughts on that? Maybe how I should focus that is what are your thoughts on getting in that virtual environment, getting clients to implement?

Patrick:                 I don’t think there’s a right answer to that. I certainly prefer to have an initial relationship face to face. I understand expenses and flying and time and everything. If somebody lives out of state, it’s hard. I have a client, one of my favorite long-term clients moved to Arizona recently. They’re technology savvy and I am too, our meeting’s usually through Skype. We’ve set up a server so that they can go online and get their documents and I can go online and get the documents and we send them back and forth through the server so I don’t have to email anything, but we have great meetings. We try to meet face to face at least once a year.

That’s what I say to my clients when they move or for whatever reason, if it’s a new client even in another state that we just started working together, I always ask if we can do it face to face in the beginning and then after we get everything situated, then I don’t think there’s a problem doing it long distance. But I do try to do it once a year face to face. Sometimes they come here. Usually, they come here, but sometimes I go to them.

The rest of your question, I guess, about virtual. I think this is a relationship business. Now, if you’re working with a Millennial, maybe they could care less whether they ever meet you. I think if you’re a Millennial planner, that may be perfect for both of you. I probably wouldn’t be a good fit for most Millennials. I have clients who have Millennial children who we’ve talked about it and I say, “You know, I think they’d be more comfortable with XYZ,” and I’ll refer them to a Millennial planner I know.

Part of it is whatever you’re comfortable with. I don’t think I would be comfortable with somebody that I never met. I don’t think I would be as good a planner as they could get somewhere else.

Hannah:               Well, again, it kind of goes back to what is your serving that you’re providing.

Patrick:                 Yeah.

Hannah:               So, you talked earlier about the power of financial planning. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Patrick:                 The power of financial planning really is depending on the client and what they need to have done for them. Sometimes it’s helping them figure out how to afford their elderly parent who needs help, but they can’t stay in their home, but they really can’t afford to put them in a nursing home. So, it’s solving problems like that. That’s powerful.

I’ll give you an example of the client I met with probably, I guess it was my sixth year in the business, fifth or sixth year. He was a TI executive and his wife was a full-time homemaker. He was pretty high up and he’d been there for 25 years. So he came in and we did the plan. This is when I wasn’t as good a planner as I am now, but I went through the normal process and then I presented a plan to them. They were really happy with it. I was feeling really confident and as they’re walking out of my office, they’re in the lobby, I hear the man say to the woman, “Maybe I’m finally gonna be able to teach someday.”

That word had never come up in our conversation, that he wanted to be a teacher. So I said, “Wait. Wait. Wait. Come back here.” So they come back in my office and what I had missed in my inadequate discovery process back then is that he really wanted to teach high school history and he knew that he had the family obligations and to support his family and send his kids to school, so he never thought that he could do that until he was close to his regular retirement age. We had him retiring at 60 in the plan and so he was planning to retire then and get his certificate and start teaching history. He was 50 years old at this time.

They came back in and we started talking about it and that was his big goal and I had missed that completely. I looked at his big job and his big paycheck and, “Okay. This is how much money you need to retire, so you work until you’re 60 and retire early at 60.” They didn’t realize the power of planning and so they said, “Okay.” He was accepting that he had to wait 10 years before he could retire. So when I heard that, we come back in, we looked at their plan again, and we were able to make it where he could retire at 52 and start teaching at 52 instead of 60. That’s the power of planning. It completely changed his life from being able to wait until he was, probably, almost to retirement, 60 years old and probably not as much enthusiasm because he’s older, but now he’s gonna retire in 2 years. So now he’s gonna work on his certification and get that ready so in two years he’s gonna quit and be a high school teacher.

Hannah:               So, did he do that?

Patrick:                 Yes. Yes. He’s happily employed in the Dallas school system right now.

Hannah:               And like, oh my gosh, could I please have a person like that teach my kids?

Patrick:                 Yeah. Yeah.

He loves history and I’m sure his students love him because he brings it to life for them. He pulled out a coin to me one day, he said, “I saw this coin one day and I wondered,” it’s dated 1896 and he said, “Where has this coin been? Who held this coin in their pocket?” And he said, “That’s what history is to me. It’s fascinating. It touches every part of our lives.” And so he is now teaching his kids with this enthusiasm and wonder about history that they’ll never get anywhere else. That’s the power of planning. You can really change somebody’s lives.

Part of what we do is we look at the human capital of our clients. In addition to the financial capital, which we all look at, I think it’s important to do the human capital. Sometimes you can help them have a better career, change careers, or just get better at the career they’re in.

Hannah:               Do you advise them on, like, career move? I mean, obviously, there’s like the financial aspect of it.

Patrick:                 I try to help my clients have the best life they can have. They decide what that is. What’s the ideal life? So when my clients tell me what their ideal life is, I try to help them achieve it. That’s the power of planning. Most of the time they would never have done it without the plan. This guy would have never, it would have been 60 at least … He didn’t even know he could try at 60 before the first plan and then he was planning on working until he was 66 or so and then retiring and not ever teaching. When I told him 60, he said, “Maybe I’ll get to finally teach,” and when I heard that I said, “Okay. Let’s do that at 52.” That’s powerful.

Every client you meet with, they generally have things in their lives that they would like to do, but never thought they could do, or they don’t think they can afford to do it, or family situations don’t allow them to do it, so planning is helping them achieve the ideal life that they want to have. That’s pretty powerful.

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]]> This idea of selling people on the value of financial planning is critical as a young planner - and it will completely change your outlook on your approach to your practice! Patrick has been a long-time mentor of host, Hannah Moore, and provides excellent insights in this episode for young financial planners. His biggest philosophy is one that we can all get behind – no matter which prospect you’re sitting down to chat with, they should walk away understanding the value of financial planning.
This idea of selling people on the value of financial planning is critical as a young planner – and it will completely change your outlook on your approach to your practice!

“The investments are the easy part. Planning changes lives.”
What You Will Learn:

What your introductory meeting with financial planning clients should look like.
How to sell the concept of financial planning – not your services and pricing.
How you should conduct discovery sessions with clients.
What embracing life-changing planning looks like for your practice.

Dougherty Wealth Management
FPA NexGen Gathering 2018
Hannah Moore clean Minding the Technology Gap in Financial Planning Tue, 19 Dec 2017 23:11:00 +0000 0 Technology is undoubtedly an ongoing challenge for financial planners. In this episode, we look at how to audit technology, how to continue your training, and what advisors can expect for the future of tech. Today we’re sitting down with Joel Bruckenstein, President of Technology Tools for Today (T3) to talk about advisor technology. Joel has some incredible insights, both about how advisors can be better utilizing technology today and the evolution of advisor tech (and how it will impact the industry) in the future.

Technology is undoubtedly an ongoing challenge for financial planners. In this episode, Joel will emphasize the importance of continuing education in technology. He guides listeners through different ways to invest in new tech products, where you can seek out technology training, and how to start implementing these changes in your practice in 2018!

Don’t forget to register for the 2018 T3 Conference. If you use FPA’s promotional code, you’ll get $75 off your conference pass. Code is: 2018T3FPA

hannah's signature

“I look at technology not as an expense, but as an investment. I believe that if you invest in technology often enough, not everything is going to work out. Some people in our industry…think of that as a failure. I think of that as a learning experience. If you have the right attitude about technology, and you’re willing to learn and experiment, you’ll have some great successes.”


What You Will Learn:

  • How a CRM should be benefiting a practitioner.
  • How to measure ROI with technology.
  • How to get started auditing and evaluating technology for your practice.
  • What signs to watch for if you’re working with the wrong practitioner.
  • How to seek technology training.
  • What technology “nightmares” should you look out for?


Show Transcript

Ep77 Transcript

Hannah:               Well, thanks for joining us today, Joel.

Joel:                       My pleasure.

Hannah:               Technology is always a hot topic, especially with new planners, and one of the biggest issues that I’ve heard just in talking with other planners is that there seems to be a technology gap in the workplace where young planners are the ones who are expected to be just good at technology, so I guess my question for you would be how do we bridge this technology gap that’s in the workplace?

Joel:                       Well, I would start off by saying I don’t think it’s easy because not everybody is speaking the same language. People of my generation are not technology natives. They didn’t grow up with technology. It’s something they are still struggling with in some cases and trying to learn, and later generations basically grew up with an iPad or an iPhone or a computer in their hands, so yeah, I think there is a gap in the sense of familiarity with technology and the way people interact with technology. You know, having said that, I think there’s a couple of issues, so one issue is that when you have a firm owner or owners who are, let’s say, in their late 50s, early 60s, they may be using older technology. Maybe they have computer monitors that are five to 10 years old. In some cases they have older version of Windows, they’ve got crappy keyboards, and then they’re going out to try and hire young enthusiastic advisors, and they can’t figure out, “Well, we’ve interviewed all these people. How come none of them want to work for us?”

                                So I think there’s an education gap there where they have to realize that they have to put younger advisors in a position to succeed, and part of putting them in a position to succeed is giving them the right tools, so they need modern technology. Young folks want to work with smartphones, so you need to have good mobile technology. You need to be cloud-based. It needs to be a technology-friendly environment, and also they need to provide training on those tools, so even if they have good tools and they’re not really providing the education for advisors, younger advisors, to become competent on those tools, there’s going to be challenges.

Hannah:               I think what’s interesting with what you’re saying, you know, talking about being native to technology, I mean, I’m 31 and I look at what my younger brother who is 19 is doing and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, there’s a gap there,” so will there just always be a technology gap between generations?

Joel:                       I think there’ll always be some gap. I think it’s particularly large now simply because, as I said … but even the gap between you and your brother, at least you’re both technology natives. You grew up with technology. He may have grown up with more of it, different types of technology, but you’re both accustomed to using technology. I think there are still some people in the industry who are less accustomed to using it, less comfortable using it, and not willing to experiment, shall we say, with new technologies. I think there’s also a fear of making a mistake. You know, I look at technology not as an expense. I look at it as an investment and I believe that if you invest in technology often enough, not everything is going to work out. Some people in our industry, typically people my age, think of that as a failure. I think of it as a learning experience, so if you have the right attitude about technology, and you’re willing to learn and experiment, you’ll have some great successes.

                                I think what a lot of advisors underestimate is the opportunity cost, so they say, “Hey, everything works right now. Why should I fix it?” Well, it works, but it doesn’t work well. You may be losing a lot on efficiency and you may be losing opportunities to engage with younger clients and to hire younger advisors, and that’s the cost you’re paying. You may not see it right now, but you’re going to feel it over time, so I think you have to have the right attitude about technology.

Hannah:               It was interesting. You made a comment. “The fear of making a mistake,” and I liked your perspective. That’s really just that learning opportunity, but from a firm’s perspective what would a mistake look like in technology or in regards to technology?

Joel:                       There could be a lot of perceived mistakes that not necessarily are mistakes, so for example, you invest in new CRM and you can’t get your staff to use it. Well, is that a mistake? Well, I don’t know yet. It could be that the reason they’re not using it is because you didn’t do the proper due diligence and you picked the wrong system, or you picked the system that doesn’t integrate with your custodian or your other technologies, so in that case it would be a mistake, but it could also be a mistake that’s easily correctable. For example, if you’ve bought a new system and you haven’t explained to the staff why you’ve made the change, what the benefits are to the firm and possibly to them, and you haven’t trained them on the new system, it’s a short-term mistake, but it’s something that’s easily remedied, so it really depends.

Hannah:               You mentioned technology is an investment, and with any investment usually you can measure ROI. How do you measure to ROI when it comes to technology within a financial planning firm?

Joel:                       I think you measure it over time. Again, in the short-term it may be difficult to measure simply because it takes a while for the full benefit of the technology to take effect, so for example, let’s just stick with the CRM example just because it’s a pretty easy one. You go out and you buy CRM tomorrow, and either you’d been using Outlook before or some other CRM. Well, you’re not going to get an immediate efficiency boost because you have to train people up on it, so at the beginning there’s actually a cost involved and it’s not just the dollar cost. It’s also a time cost, and the time that your employees are learning the system, they’re not servicing clients, so that’s a real cost.

                                You may not have built out workflows, or you may have workflows but they’re inefficient workflows, so until you get all of the … everything configured properly and get through all the training, you’re not going to see a big return on your money, but once you’ve done that, you’re going to see a productivity boost and you’re going to see other benefits that, again, are a little hard to quantify in dollar terms, but definitely are real. For example, if you’re an SCC registered advisor, the SCC wants to see that all clients or in a given group or tranche, because you got to have A, B, and C clients, who are paying for the same service at the same tier of service are in fact getting the same service. If you don’t have CRM and you don’t have workflows that everybody is following, it’s very difficult to document that everybody is in fact getting the same level of service.

                                But if you have a process and everybody uses it and it’s documented, you can feel assured that everybody is getting the same level of service, so from a customer service point of view that’s a good thing, from business operations point of view that’s a good thing, and from a compliance viewpoint that’s a good thing. That’s something that you can document, but it’s not going to happen on the first day you install the system. If it’s something like trading and rebalancing, we know from experience that if you have a complex household with just, let’s say, a husband and a wife, each with multiple accounts, some that are taxable, some that are not, and you try and rebalance at the household level, doing that manually can take 25, 30 minutes an account. You can get that down to a minute or two with the proper rebalancing software, so I think over time you can demonstrate that you save a tremendous amount of staff time.

                                You can probably, depending on the size of your firm, you may be able to save one or two full staff people, salaries and all the other expenses that go with those people, on rebalancing alone, so I think there are ways to demonstrate and to really quantify in many cases what the costs are, but I just want to emphasize there are hard costs which are easy to quantify and there are a lot of softer costs that are more difficult to quantify, but nevertheless are real and something you can document.

Hannah:               Yeah. Well, and it’s just now part of the business. I mean, I don’t know how you’d run a firm without a lot of these technologies that we have today.

Joel:                       Right. I mean, a good example of a soft cost is, let’s say, not having a really great client portal experience today, so a lot of advisors who have never had one don’t really feel perhaps like they’re missing anything today, but who knows how many prospects walking in the door chose a competing firm that did have that experience, or better yet, how many prospects did you never even see because when they looked at what you offer clients and your client offering, they saw you don’t even offer a client portal, so they didn’t even give you a shot at getting the business? You maybe loss that prospect before they even walked in the door. How do you quantify that? I don’t know. It’s kind of difficult, but we know it’s happening.

Hannah:               I like what you’re … you’re talking about like, almost these blind spots, if you would, with advisors related to technology and that was a great example. What are the other blind spots that you’re seeing a lot of firms have as it relates to technology where they could be improving their firms?

Joel:                       I think another big blind spot is the coming wealth transfer. You know, everybody talks about this $30 trillion of wealth that’s in motion, and in many cases today advisors, when their clients die, they’re not capturing that next generation. Again, I think some of it has to do with the client experience in technology. We talk about engaging with the next generation early, but how? If you’re using 1980s technology like Advent Access and you’re printing out paper reports and displaying things on spreadsheets, it may work for your 75, 80 year old client because that’s what they’ve been used for the last 30 years with you, but guess what?

                                That’s not the experience their kids want, and when the parents die, I can almost assure you, if you’re doing financial planning and reporting that way, you have no shot at getting the next generation client, so I think that’s a big mistake that a lot of advisors underestimate. They all talk about how, “Hey, we want to capture the next generation of clients or retain the assets we have,” and I just don’t think it’s going to happen for probably somewhere between 20 and 40% of the firms out there because they have antiquated technology to this day.

Hannah:               It’s so funny. I hear that, and as a young planner that’s really exciting to me because I’m like, “They’re going to come to the younger planners and the younger generation of advisors.”

Joel:                       Yeah. First of all, I think they want to deal with somebody who’s a peer, but I also think they want to deal with somebody who understands the kind of user experience that they want, and probably someone like you is much better suited than a lot of the advisors out there today to provide that kind of experience to them.

Hannah:               Looking holistically at a firm, are there any rules of thumb around how much money a firm should be spending on technology?

Joel:                       Yes and no. I mean, we get asked that question a lot. Sort of the rule of thumb, I guess you would say, is 4 to 8% of revenue, but there’s tremendous dispersion around the mean, and the reason for that is how much have you spent on technology over the last three to five years? You have a regular program of investing in technology over a period of years and your tech stack is already excellent, you’re probably at the low end of the range. However, I’ve done consulting jobs with clients that haven’t bought a new piece of technology in a decade. 4% is not going to cut it for them to get up to speed, right? So they’re going to need to buy multiple new systems, probably some new hardware as well, and they’re going to have to train their staff on it. You’re talking a lot of money.

Hannah:               You mentioned experimentation earlier, and that’s part of that implementation, like you were just referring to. What can firms do to help implement all these technology changes in their firms?

Joel:                       I mean, implementation can be difficult. I think the first thing you need is, as I said, a culture of technology and a culture of innovation within the firm. If you’re not aware of what’s out there, if you’re not aware of what your competition is doing, if you’re not aware of new technologies that are on the horizon that may impact your business, you’re probably not going to be successful. Ongoing training is something that every firm should be doing. People always ask me, “How much should I spend?” Right? On technology a year. I almost never get the question, “How much should I be spending on technology training a year?” I think that’s a significant gap throughout the industry. They think it’s one and done. Again, okay, let’s go buy some new technology, let’s train people up on it, the best case scenario, and then let’s never train them again.

                                Almost every web-based application is being updated incrementally on a ongoing basis. Some of the firms that we work with at T3 have sort of a two-week development cycle. Every two weeks they’re putting out new enhancements, and usually they have a blog or they have some way of communicating with their client that, “Hey, we’ve just added these new features, yada, yada, yada.” Nobody ever reads that stuff and they’re just not aware, so I talk to advisors all the time and they say, “Well, I want to get rid of X, Y, Z CRM because it can’t do A, B, and C.” I’m like, “Yes, it can.” And vice-versa. Sometimes people are under the mistaken impression that their software actually can do something that it can’t do, and I always find that a little bit puzzling because I’ll say, “Show me,” and maybe they show me something, but it’s not what I think they’re talking about, so there are challenges around the education with software and training that are ongoing.

                                If you want to stay current, if you want to be successful, you have to encourage people to take some ongoing training, and from a management point of view, I think it’s a little bit of the carrot in the stick. I think every job description in every firm should have a technology component, so if you’re, I don’t know, a receptionist and you’re dealing with people coming through the door all day, and CRM and having to send emails to those people, it should part of your job description that you have to be able to master that, and be aware of all the changes that take place in the software and check the workflows from time to time to make sure you can make them better, etc. And if you do do it, you should be rewarded, and if you’re not, it should impact either your salary or your bonus. Or your job performance, right? It’s a part of your job.

Hannah:               Yeah, absolutely. We have an interview coming up with Cheryl Holland where we’re talking about, like you’re saying, those career paths and those job descriptions and how important they are, and I love that idea of technology just is, it’s the air that we operate in. You can’t survive without it today.

Joel:                       Every aspect from marketing all the way through has some technology component, and I think part of the issue is, because a lot of the owners of these firms that are a little bit older are not technology natives, they don’t think about putting that as part of the job description, so they’re not setting expectations for their employees. Hence, you have this disconnect. Employees then feel, “Well, it’s sort of optional. It’s not something that’s required of me.”

Hannah:               Looking at how to develop your skills or continuing training on technology, do many of the technology firms offer that themselves, or where can people go to, to get that ongoing training?

Joel:                       Well, I’m a little prejudiced, of course, but I think the T3 Advisor Conference, February 6th through 9th, is one of the best places. You can probably learn more there in three days than most people know about technology today, and yes, depending on who your providers are, some of them do have excellent training. For example, all the major custodians have tech consultants that will come in and help you learn how to maximize the value of whatever technology they’re providing to you. Some of the third parties do a better job than others.

                                One that really stands out in my mind is Redtail CRM. Redtail University is one of the best training programs in the country. They visit, I don’t know, probably 15, 20 cities a year with one or two day university courses. Laserfiche is another company that does great training at the international conference every year. I’ve seen eMoney do training at some conferences, primarily broker-dealer conferences. MoneyGuidePro offers training. You can either do it by web or they’ll come in and bring people. Orion offers training. There’s a lot of firms that offer training. You have to reach out them, and yes, there are third parties for widely used programs that also have independent training.

Hannah:               What do you see as the future of advisor technology?

Joel:                       You know, advisor technology is evolving all the time. I think every year advisors get a little more efficient and a little better with technology, but I just think the pace of technological change right now is so fast that it’s a challenge for advisors to keep up, but I think they have to because there are competitors out there that have full-time staff people devoted to this, and if you ignore it, you ignore it at your own risk. The exciting thing is there’s all these new technologies which I think are going to have a tremendous positive impact on our industry, everything from augmented reality to blockchain to simple things like voice commands for software, mobile devices and what you can do on mobile devices today, a much better user interface for end clients and for advisors themselves, so there’s a lot to be excited about.

                                On the other hand, like I said, it’s an ongoing challenge for advisory firms to keep up, and if they don’t have a culture of innovation and if they don’t devote the same amount of time to learning about technology, continuing education, if you will, on technology that they do with other core subjects, they’re going to be challenged. Sort of on the subject of continuing education, I personally think it’s sinful that the CFP Board does not offer any continuing education credits whatsoever for technology. I don’t know how you can say you’re a competent planner today with a CFP mark and say you’re not competent on technology, and I think it’s disgraceful that the CFP Board does not offer CPF credits for technology. Want me to tell you how I really feel?

Hannah:               That’s why I like to talk to people who’ve been around. They’re not afraid just to say it like it is.

Joel:                       I’m certainly not.

Hannah:               You’ve kind of hinted at this a little bit, but what are the biggest mistakes that you’re seeing firms make right now with technology?

Joel:                       Probably the biggest is not to think holistically about technology, so they’ll read an article or they’ll talk to a friend, and the friend will say, “Well, you should have this CRM system.” They’ll go out and get it, and they really haven’t thought about how it fits into their ecosystem. Does it talk to their financial planning software? Does it talk to their portfolio management software? Does it integrate even with their custodian? It could be the best system in the world. If it doesn’t integrate with anything else you use, it’s going to be a problem.

                                The other issue I think is just in general advisors struggle with integration issues. Unless you’re probably, I don’t know, a two or three billion shop at least, most likely you don’t have your own in-house technology person, you don’t have somebody who’s responsible for thinking about how everything integrates, and so for smaller firms it may make sense for them to have fewer providers even if they’re not best of breed, but essentially be paying for a more integrated solution, so if you have a problem, it’s a one stop shop or at least two or three, not five or 10, and to know that whatever you’re buying from your primary provider or platform is well integrated. There’s a number of firms out there that are trying to offer that, everybody from Tamarack to Morningstar to AdvisorEngine, RobustWealth, and the list goes on. Orion to some extent.

                                You know, I think it’s really important to think strategically about what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what you think you can reasonably accomplish. Your ideal may be, “Hey, I want to have the best of breed of everything.” But if you say, “Look, I really don’t know how to make these systems work together,” maybe you should be concentrating more on more of an integrated platform.

Hannah:               Well, and that goes back … I mean, ever since I started, 2008, 2009, I mean it’s always been, if there’s one technology that could pull everything together, that was kind of always the silver bullet.

Joel:                       Yeah.

Hannah:               You know, if somebody could figure that out, it would solve a lot of problems.

Joel:                       I think it already exists. If you look at what RBC did, RBC Black and their partnership with CircleBlack, you can really, if you want to do business with them, go get a totally integrated platform today that has some best of breed providers on there like Redtail and MoneyGuidePro. If you look at some custodians that perhaps are not quite as well known as the big boys like TradePMR, they offer an integrated platform today, which is much turnkey. AdvisorEngine is building an all-in-one platform. In a sense, companies like Orion and Black Diamond can act as integrators because they have very deep integration with a number of best of breed partners that do CRM and financial planning and other digital tools. So I do think it’s out there. You just have to seek it out, and you have to do your research and know what you’re looking for, or hire a consultant who knows how to do this because mistakes can be very expensive.

Hannah:               Yeah. The more I look at technology, the more I’m like … the cost can add up quickly if you’re not careful.

Joel:                       Right, and again, I mean, I really believe there’s an ROI if it’s done right, but if it’s done wrong, yeah, then you’re dealing with the cost and you’re going to have to make another change, and that can be very costly, very quickly.

Hannah:               Yeah, so how often should firms be evaluating their technology, like on a formal, thoughtful, intentional way?

Joel:                       You know, I think informally they should be doing it on an ongoing basis, and I think at least, minimum once a year, you need to do a thorough evaluation of everything you have and say, “Do we still have the right technologies to best serve our clients and to support the growth of our firm and to keep us running efficiently?” But it should be on an ongoing basis. At least informally, there should be people within the firm who are always reading about what’s going on out there, following whatever is written, going to conferences, visiting with your existing providers and saying, “Hey, have you developed anything new that I should be aware of?”

Hannah:               When firms do these evaluations of their technology, how do you recommend that they approach that?

Joel:                       Again, I think first of all holistically. It’s great to get feedback from employees that are using the technology, but again, you have to take it somewhat with a grain of salt because everybody has got their own interest and they maybe can’t look at the big picture, but I think it’s very useful to find out if there’s anything specific about a product, a technology or a workflow or what have you that’s really aggravating all your employees because that needs to be addressed, if there’s something that is creating friction for your end clients. Like, if they want to get on to your web portal and it takes 10 clicks and then they have to go wait for it to load for five minutes, or it doesn’t look good on a tablet or a smartphone. Yeah, I think those are things that you need to address, and then you also look at it holistically and say, “Is everything working well together? What could we be doing better? Are the products and services that we are subscribing to still the best of the best, and if they’re not, have they fallen enough to justify a change?”

                                You know, firms go back and forth all the time. One firm that you use may be adding a new feature and it may take a little while for the competitor to do it, but if they’re both good firms, ultimately they’re both going to provide similar services, but if clearly the firm that you engaged with is falling behind technologically, not reinvesting in the product, if there’s service issues, then it’s time to at least evaluate some alternatives and see if there is something that’s substantially better or better enough that you want to make a change.

Hannah:               Like you said, there’s a lot of new technology that’s coming up. As a firm owner myself, one of my concerns is always, are they going to be sustainable in the long-term? Have you seen advisor tech firms go out of business within a year or two? Is that just something that happens or is that not really reality?

Joel:                       I mean, yeah, it happens. I think when you’re dealing with a younger firm, you have to do even more due diligence than normal. You know, there’s a couple of things. If within, let’s say, 24 to 36 months a firm doesn’t get much traction, odds are they’re not going to, so that’s one thing to look at. I think you have to look at a new firm and say, “Who are they? Have they developed other technology for the space before? Do they understand the needs of advisors, or are they coming from the outside? Are they cash flow positive and financing their own growth, or do they have a lot of VC money and have somebody behind the scenes pulling the strings, making decisions that may not be in the best interest or the long-term interest of the firm and their advisors?” You know, does it look to you like a firm that’s going to be in it for a long haul or is it a firm that’s clearly being built to be sold?

                                So there’s a lot of judgment, decisions you have to make when you’re dealing with a newer firm, but yeah, if they have a unique space, if they’ve created a better mouse trap whether it’s financial planning, CRM, whatever, and you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, there’s advantages to getting in early because you may be able to have more of an impact on the future development roadmap of that firm if they’re willing to take constructive advice from their users. I don’t know how to explain how to do that. I mean, I make those decisions all the time, but I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years, so I think I have probably a better eye than some people for what to look out for, but every advisor has to make those kind of evaluations if they’re going to do business with a new firm.

Hannah:               This larger question of how to evaluate technology, and we’ve talked a little bit about how it’s holistic, but if we can get into some specifics, looking at like, CRM systems, what does a CRM system need to provide for firms today just to be meeting the bare minimum? Then what would be the difference between one that’s excelling versus one that’s average?

Joel:                       Yeah. I think it’s somewhat firm-specific. There’s no one CRM that’s right for everybody, so you have to look at first the size of your firm, to some extent what your budget is, and to some extent what are the features that you’re actually going to use? It makes no sense to pay for features that you’re not going to use. If you’re a small firm, for sure, something like Salesforce is almost overkill, right? Because you can’t really leverage all of the productivity tools or you have a large enough staff to really make it worthwhile, so then you’re looking for something that checks off the basic boxes, that’s already pre-configured for advisors, that has some workflow capabilities, ease of use, cloud-based, inexpensive.

                                For a lot of people, Junxure … sorry, Junxure Cloud or Redtail check all those boxes. They’re built by advisors for advisors. They understand the business, they’re reasonably priced, and there’s not a lot of configuration. You can sort of sign up, flip a switch, give them your credit card, and as soon as you get the workflows built out, you’re in business, so what should you look for? You should look for a firm that’s got a successful track record serving advisors. You should look for a firm that has the pre-configured fields that you need. You should look for something that has workflow capabilities. You should look for something that has good user experience, and all other things being equal, you want to look at price. I tend to look at price last, not first, but I don’t want a potential consulting client of mine spending a lot of money for features I’m never going to use either, so you don’t get always the most robust software. Your use case may not justify all those robust features.

Hannah:               I was just on an online forum and reading some stuff about technology in there talking about how difficult it was to make the change. From your perspective, when you’re evaluating technologies like a CRM, do you factor in how easy it would be to move your data to another platform?

Joel:                       Like I said, to get a marginal improvement that’s not meaningful, it never pays to change technology because there is, again, a cost. Even if somebody does the conversion for free, there’s still an aggravation factor and it takes time and there’s a training factor, so you have to get or believe you’re going to get a noticeable improvement either in … well, in productivity and that can be from a number of different areas. It could be better software, it could be easier to use so your staff uses it more, it could be a lot of different things, but there has to be a meaningful difference to changing technology. Some are easier than others. It also depends how long you’re in business. It’s really ironic, somebody will be in business 10 years and say, “Well, I have a lot of data, so I’m not going to move it now,” and they’re using something that’s really antiquated that has a big opportunity cost. Well, guess what? If they wait another five years, now they got 50% more data to move.

                                It’s not going to get any better, so if you’ve clearly identified software that’s not working for you, the first and the fastest move is the best, and yes, there is … it’s never easy moving data. Sometimes it can be relatively painless, but it’s never totally painless, but the point is you’re going to have to do it sooner or later, so it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and usually when sooner is better than when later.

Hannah:               And is that a thing, like hiring an intern or something like that? I mean, is that a solution to some of that manual work that’s needed for moving data?

Joel:                       I mean, it depends. In most cases no, okay? Because in most cases it’s something that’s going to be automated by the vendor. If you’re moving from one portfolio management system to another, they have teams that do that. It’s a competitive thing. Everybody does it, and they have experience moving hundreds of databases and they’ve dealt with it before. To a large extent, they can automate it, and what they can’t automate is not something probably that an intern is going to be able to do at that level. The decisions and the type of knowledge you’re going to need to do the reconciliation is not something an intern is going to be able to do.

Hannah:               You made mention of all the bells and whistles that, well, specifically CRM systems have. What are the ones, when you’re consulting? What are features that firms may not need that other firms would need?

Joel:                       Well, I mean, one typical one is the sophistication of the workflows, so you can get very complex with workflows and you can have sort of mother/daughter relationships and sister/brother relationships, and get these very complex workflow trees built. Unless you’re a big firm, odds are you’re not going to need much of that, so it’s something you’re paying for you may not need. Another thing is just the ability to sort of serve as platform as a service, to be able to plug in all kinds of other software into it. Most small to midsize advisory firms just need to be able to integrate with a select group of other technologies, and pretty much those are table stakes today in most cases and with a select number of custodians, so not as big a deal. Some software, you’re paying for a sales funnel to be able to really manage very large numbers of prospects and leads. Again, if you’re a multi-billion dollar RIA that may have a lot of value. If you’re a solo practitioner, or even a two, three men shop, it’s probably of zero value to you, so those are just a few of the things.

Hannah:               If somebody is looking at starting their own firm or maybe even buying a practice, what are the critical pieces of technology that all financial planning firms need to have?

Joel:                       Well, clearly CRM financial planning, portfolio management, sophisticated tax-sensitive, location-sensitive rebalancing software, most likely some sort of digital enterprise content management system. You may want a computerized phone system either software or hardware-based. You’re going to need a good website. You’re going to need a good client portal. You may need video capabilities. There’s a lot of other things that you may or may not need depending on the type of firm you are. You’re going to need hardware, right? You’re going to need printers, you may need a scanner, and the list goes on.

Hannah:               Yeah. I was just thinking about all the robo technology, that they’re not really affecting … I mean, they’re just replacing that rebalancing portion of it. They’re not really offering any other tech support for advisors right now.

Joel:                       Well, they may or they may not. See, that depends. I think of it as under the umbrella of portfolio management, portfolio construction, rebalancing. If you wanted to put everybody on a digital platform like AdvisorEngine or a RobustWealth, for example, or Orion’s Eclipse, certainly you could do that. If you’re a newer practice, I think that makes a lot of sense. If you’re an existing practice and you’re worried about cannibalizing your existing business, you may want to have that as a separate product line or a separate level of service offering, so that’s a business decision you have to make more than a technology decision, and once you make the business decision, I can tell you what technology to use.

Hannah:               For the firms who are middle of road, technology is just good enough, what is the one step that they can take to improve or to start improving to become one of the better firms related to technology?

Joel:                       Okay. Well, I think the first thing you have to do is take a step back and evaluate where you are. If you’re middle of the road, why are you middle of the road? What is it that’s holding you back? Is it that you’re not using CRMs effectively but you already have a good CRM? Do you have crappy CRM? Are you doing financial planning? Are you automating the data gather as much as you can for account aggregation or are you typing in everything individually? There’s no one thing that applies to all firms. I think some of the commonalities we see where advisors fall short is either they haven’t built workflows, or they built them and they’re not using them. They’re not enforcing policies and procedures. They’re not thinking holistically about planning, but I always say advisors are like snowflakes. I’ve never walked into two firms that are exactly the same, so prescribing a solution for such advisor diverse group of advisors is almost impossible.

                                You really have to look at exactly what the dynamics of that particular firm are. Who are their clients, right? I’m going to give you a different answer based on what your client base looks like, what kind of portfolio you should build for clients, who your custodian is. I mean, those are just some factors that most people don’t even think about as influencing technology greatly, but to me that’s where you start. You know, what’s your vision? What’s your goal as a firm? Who’s your ideal client? What’s your ideal client experience? Then you build around that.

Hannah:               Yeah. All that target marketing. It applies that whole … we talk about visions for your firm and it’s just, technology just should be integrated into that is what I’m hearing you say.

Joel:                       Well, it’s like, look, you’re doing financial planning. Somebody walks in and says, “Well, I’m middle of the road in my financial planning capabilities. What should I do?” What are you going to tell them? You’re not going to tell them anything because you don’t know enough to give an answer, right? It’s the same with this. There are no generalities. I mean, there are a lot of generalities out there. Many of them are just that. They’re a guideline. They’re a place to start. There’s something that other firms have dealt with, but your firm may be totally different, so unless you get some professional help or you educate yourself through going to conferences and reading up on this and talking to folks who have been through it successfully, it is challenging.

Hannah:               If a firm wanted to bring in a technology consultant like you, do you help them build out their workflows, or what does that relationship look like?

Joel:                       I’m not going to build the workflows for them. I’m going to refer that out to somebody else, but what I’ll do is I’ll look at their technology stack. I’ll try and evaluate where they are. Depending on the size of the firm, I will talk to pretty much everybody in the firm to try to understand how they’re using technology, where the gaps are, where the inefficiencies are, whether what they have is the right technologies for them or not, and give them a plan about, “Here are the providers you should be using,” based on what they tell me their goals and objectives are, help them interface with the proper firms because I deal with probably 100 technology firms in the industry, so I pretty much somebody everywhere, and leave them with a plan, but I don’t do much implementation. I’ll help them find the right people. I know people who do implementation, but that’s not what I do specifically, nor do I want to.

Hannah:               I understand that. So, we’re talking to young planners here. What would be your advice to them as they’re starting out in this profession?

Joel:                       Specifically with regard to young planners, make your first decision a good one. It’s funny, I was sitting on a panel about six months ago at an A.P.F.A. conference and they were all relatively young planners. Surprisingly, I think two of the three on the panel or three of the four had come out of the technology industry before, so they knew tech, and every single one of them was penny wise and pound foolish. Instead of buying the technology that they knew was the right technology for their firm, they tried to buy the cheapest technology and all of them have now been in business for a few years, and almost to a man or a woman, they all said, “You know, now I’m replacing everything. I wish I had bought the right technology the first time and spent a little more rather than trying to identify the cheapest technology that I’m now outgrowing three years into my business and having to replace it with something that’s more robust.”

                                I understand that people are on a budget and not everybody can afford top of the line. I don’t think you need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to outfit a solo practitioner firm, but by the same token, don’t buy the cheapest thing out there just because it’s the cheapest thing out there. There may be something that’s a little more expensive that’ll serve you well for 10 or 20 years, as opposed to cheapest thing where you’re lucky if it lasts three years.

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Technology is undoubtedly an ongoing challenge for financial planners. In this episode, we look at how to audit technology, how to continue your training, and what advisors can expect for the future of tech. Technology Tools for Today (T3) to talk about advisor technology. Joel has some incredible insights, both about how advisors can be better utilizing technology today and the evolution of advisor tech (and how it will impact the industry) in the future.
Technology is undoubtedly an ongoing challenge for financial planners. In this episode, Joel will emphasize the importance of continuing education in technology. He guides listeners through different ways to invest in new tech products, where you can seek out technology training, and how to start implementing these changes in your practice in 2018!
Don’t forget to register for the 2018 T3 Conference. If you use FPA’s promotional code, you’ll get $75 off your conference pass. Code is: 2018T3FPA

“I look at technology not as an expense, but as an investment. I believe that if you invest in technology often enough, not everything is going to work out. Some people in our industry…think of that as a failure. I think of that as a learning experience. If you have the right attitude about technology, and you’re willing to learn and experiment, you’ll have some great successes.”

What You Will Learn:

How a CRM should be benefiting a practitioner.
How to measure ROI with technology.
How to get started auditing and evaluating technology for your practice.
What signs to watch for if you’re working with the wrong practitioner.
How to seek technology training.
What technology “nightmares” should you look out for?

Hannah Moore clean
Growing a Millennial-Focused Practice Tue, 12 Dec 2017 19:30:41 +0000 0 When Douglas moved to New York City he knew he wanted to work with millennials. Tune in to this episode to hear how he started, how he marketed his practice, and how you can do the same! This week we sit down with Douglas Boneparth, co-author of Millennial Money Fix. Douglas has always had a passion for financial planning – starting with his father owning his own financial planning practice. Douglas started out working for his dad, and slowly started to build his own brand while he was there.

When Douglas moved to New York City with his college sweetheart (now wife), he knew he wanted to work with millennials. Now he’s branded himself as the financial advisor for millennials in NYC, and is working to spread the gospel of financial planning for younger generations.

Tune in to this episode to hear how he started, how he marketed his ($70M+) practice, and how you can do the same!

hannah's signature

My whole career I was told to go out there and follow the money. You’re in your 20’s and 30’s and you’re being told to go relate to someone in their 60’s and 70’s. It just does not make sense to me.”


What You’ll Learn:

  • What “Paying Your Dues” looks like
  • How to spend 40-50% of your time marketing your new firm
  • How to build a brand within an existing firm
  • The struggles of working as a junior advisor


“Paying Your Dues” Is About Gaining Real Experience –

Douglas on

What We Wish We Knew Before We Left

Show Transcript

Ep76 Transcript

Hannah:               Well, thank you for joining us today, Douglas.

Douglas:               Great to be here, Hannah.

Hannah:               Yeah, well, I am so excited to have you on, just to hear more of your story. So, how did you first get into financial services, or financial planning?

Douglas:               I grew up in the business, which was very interesting. My father started his career — I think it was his third or fourth career in his life — but, he started back in 1991 with what was then IDS American Express. Today, you might know that as Ameriprise Financial. Believe it or not, he still is a financial advisor, after almost, I think, 30 years at this point.

                                But, I grew up around it. When I was a freshman in college, he notice I was probably having a little too much fun, and maybe questioned what I would be doing the summer following my first year, and somewhat enticed me with a free trip to the headquarters to check out the company. Which worked, and when I came home there was a Series 7 manual on my bed. So, he tricked me pretty good, and asked, “Hey, now that you’ve learned a little bit about what we do and the company, and I know you’ve grown up around it, why don’t you see if you can’t pass this exam by the end of the summer?”

                                I was 19 at that time.

Hannah:               Wow.

Douglas:               Yeah, I kind of viewed it as a 19 year old would, who was having too much fun at college. Which was, “All right. So, the proposition is, I get to stay home for half the summer. I have one task, and that’s to pass this exam. I’m kind of already doing that in school, anyways.” I’m from south Florida, so there’s always a pool or beach involved. I just took that manual out the to the pool. By the middle of the summer, I think I had just barely passed the exam. I think it was a 70 you needed, and I got like a 71 or something like that.

                                So, it was very exciting, but honestly, I have no idea what it meant. All I knew is I passed this industry exam. And really, it was at that point that he took it to the next level. Which was like, “Now let me teach you the business.”

                                It’s a pretty long story, but I’ll be as succinct as possible. From, really, there, I give him a lot of credit. In the end, it didn’t really work out well as far as working with my dad. No doubt, he wanted me to be the succession plan. We can have a whole conversation for the advisors out there who are working in family practices. I’m quite jealous, if not envious of the situations that work out, because it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

                                But, backing the truck up here. He brought me in to his practice, and for the next three years while I was in school at the University of Florida, I was a full-time student and I was working full-time in my father’s practice. What he was training me on was a lot of the stuff that I’m very passionate in advising young advisors to do, which is, it was everything from administration to operations. Writing the plans. I mean, everything. And I think even Michael Kitces did a whole, “Paying your dues,” thing, and why that’s still relevant, even in this financial planning world we’re now in, not the go out and sell world that’s archaic and should not exist. But, I was paying my dues while earning my bachelor’s degree.

                                I think the one that was most valuable, other than, obviously, getting this early start, which is huge. That’s been my competitive advantage, virtually my entire career. But, it was the fact that no one’s going to teach you or let you get close to the action like a family member or a parent would. So, not only did I start young, but what I was exposed to the and the lessons I received, it was peppered with love. Your father wants you to do well, because you’re his child. And that was intense. My dad’s an intense guy. But as far as building up a confident advisor, he was extremely successful at doing that with me.

                                So, I did that throughout all of college. By the time I graduate, 23, 24 years old, I was doing client meetings. I guess, in some way, had paid my dues already. There was a book that I could work on and work in, and start to learn, at that point, how to do business development and work my local market, which was down in south Florida. But, life was somewhat pulling me in other directions. My then college sweetheart, now wife, decided to go to law school in New York City.

                                I just grew very unhappy being in south Florida working with my father. Living at home, I think, was the worst part of it all. Not only did you have to report to the office to see your dad, who’s the boss, but then you had to go home and share a meal with him too. That created a pretty toxic environment. And, my heart was just up in New York City. So …

Hannah:               So, you used the phrase book of business. What did that look like?

Douglas:               I used it in the term of build my own book of business, right?

Hannah:               You said you had a book of business you could work.

Douglas:               Yeah, so in that context, I meant that I was able to do things within my father’s practice, given it was a family affair. I was able to do more than if I was working with a stranger, so to speak, or someone that’s not related to you. Again, sitting in on virtually every client meeting, actually giving a recommendation. That’s what I meant by working … So working in versus working on is its own thing, right? So working on a practice, my dad was always strong on differentiating these two.

                                Working on the practice is building the practice. So, we’re talking about business development in that regard. Then, working in the practice is helping that practice operate. So, what you’re doing from an admin and operations side.

                                That’s a good point, Hannah, because a lot of times, I want to ask young advisors, what kind of career do they want? Do they want to work in a business or on a business? Both are perfectly acceptable. But it’s something, usually, young advisors don’t figure out right away. They’re going to have to go through that working in the business to even get to working on the business. But, for me, it was somewhat of a luxury that I could do both simultaneously, pretty early.

Hannah:               So, you ended up moving to New York City, is that right?

Douglas:               Yeah, this is a very cool part of the story, in that it was maybe October 2008 when I moved to New York City. A little history lesson will reveal that there were people walking out of Lehman Brothers with boxes, literally, as I got off the airplane. It was the beginning of the end, so to speak. I was like, “That’s it. I’m moving home. I’m instant boomerang.” There was little doubt in my mind that I chose the absolute worse time to move to New York City and work in finance. Couldn’t have picked any worse of a time.

                                But, I had found an advisor within Ameriprise, who was in his mid 30s that was looking to grow, and had basically reached a capacity constraint. Meaning, they needed staff in order to grow their practice. Being fully licensed and studying for your CFP, and having the experience and chops to just be able to make the following value proposition … And this is critical for people to understand, that this is a very viable way to get into this industry, which was building those admin and operating, being a well-rounded advisor. Okay, maybe I was too young and wasn’t ready to go out and get clients, and we’ll talk about that, but I could insert myself in anyone’s practice who wanted to grow. In or outside of my broker-dealer. I mean, I could have taken those skills and applied them anywhere. I was able to command a nice salary that could get me a beer on the weekends, pay my rent. I could do what I needed to do to grow personally and professionally in New York City, because I had built that capital for four years, working in my father’s practice and learning those skill. But, I moved up at, arguably, and awful, awful time.

                                Long story short, there, survived. Applied those skills. Clients were freaking out. Was able to talk them off ledges, and keep them focused. By 2010, the practice had its best year ever. But, I think that relationship had eroded. There was just a lot of stuff going on at that time, just personally. Right? Growing for me, growing for that advisor. And that’s when I left and joined another advisors practice, with the same proposition, in hopes that, you know, I could in this next phase, get to my ultimate goal of having a book of business of my own.

                                Real important point here, that was four years down in south Florida. Two years in New York City. Working through the recession, let’s throw that in there. That was six years of real experience as an advisor, and still not controlling my own destiny, still not at my goal of having my own practice. Although, afforded a lot of great luxuries that come with being in this field, from having a life. Great work-life balance, decent comp. But, yeah, that brings us like half-way through the story.

Hannah:               Did you know from the beginning that you wanted your own practice? Like, did you know that you wanted to be that business owner?

Douglas:               Yeah. Yeah. Not only did I know that, but I knew I didn’t want to be riding the coattails of my father. I’m a Scorpio, my ego won’t allow this. I wanted to do it on my own, and I decided, “I’m going to do it in the hardest place in the world to do it.” And, off I went. You know, I literally charted that course. Yeah, I knew I wanted to be a boss, or be a leader. That’s always been something that’s been a part of me. But, for the purpose of the listeners, that doesn’t need to be you to be successful in this industry. However, a lot of what we’ve been talking about in these first six years, for me, are almost an essential cookie cutter type process, that I think most people should follow to up themselves in a position to make that decision. Right? Like, again, six years, and still able to pivot to different options and opportunities within the field, whether it be a paraplanner, be a servicing advisor, go work at a private bank, and whatever comes with that. Or, continue to you can just focus on marketing. You could be an ops person, or of course, you can be a producer and be that full-fledged idea of a financial advisor or planner.

Hannah:               A lot of people reach out to me, and I know they reach out to you as well, Douglas. And, one of the things that I hear, is there’s this frustration where people are working with another advisor, where they’re the assistant. Maybe, some of that frustration is because they are that entrepreneur, that business owner, and maybe in the wrong spot. Would you agree with that?

Douglas:               So, you’re talking about the frustration that the junior has with the senior?

Hannah:               Yeah.

Douglas:               Like, seeing eye to eye on getting to that advisor spot?

Hannah:               Yep.

Douglas:               Yeah, I agree with you 100%. I’ve had maybe four or five conversations with junior advisors, who, no questions, have paid their “dues”. They’re in year 8, 9, 10. Literally out of college started working with their senior advisor, and we’re just using these words for lack of better words, right? And, they have grown extremely frustrated in that. They’ve not been presented a definitive pathway to partnership. This is one of my central points, and one of the thing that I think is terribly wrong with recruitment in the industry, is we don’t have this universal pathway that is demonstrated to be successful at bringing young talent into the industry. It’s kind of the industry’s fault.

                                There’s all the ways that you can affiliate, whether it be through RIA, RIA conglomerate, BD’s, wire houses, brokers still exist. Right? And being a part of the FPA or the CFP board, we have to respect all of them, because these great professionals do exist in all of these. But, you know, it’s a catch 22. Not all of them are great at bringing talent. Particularly when we see the solo practitioner or smaller practices reach for talent and fail to show that young person, “Here is the pathway for you to get a seat at the table, for you to get equity or be a partner.” And you have a dedicated young person who wants to get there, it’s a one way ticket to frustration town, for sure. I have a lot of those phone calls. It creates, again, this environment, where now you have to have an ultimate conversation. It’s not comfortable for anyone.

                                Here’s an example. So, one of these phone calls was, “Doug, what do I do here?”

                                And I simply said, “Look, you know, you’re going to have to tell the senior advisor, ‘We’re at a point where there should be no question that I’m all about working here. I want my future to be here. But, unless you can show me and put down on paper, and agree with me that there’s a pathway for partnership, what percent, by when, what’s your role. I mean, really start to design this thing out, I have no choice but to tell you I have to go find another opportunity, because it’s not fair to me. And, it’s also not fair to you.'”

                                That’s a huge, huge, huge loss for that senior advisor. You can imagine, you know, training someone up eight years. Not just the investment, but their ties to the practice. The fact that you do want them to be your succession plan. Well, guess what guy, or girl? It’s your own fault that you fail to put it out there. There’s a lot of psychological reasons for that, you know, “I built my own baby, and I don’t want to really let it …”

                                You’ve got to get over that. What would you rather have? Your valuation of your practice cut in half, because you lost your succession plan, or someone to actually be a succession plan and figure out a harmonious way to do that. That’s a massive, massive problem that I see over and over again. And I don’t want to make it sound like it’s easy. It’s incredibly hard.

                                I’ve been kind of defending the young advisor in this case. Now, I’m going to go defend that senior and say, “I get it.” You’re going to invest in the 22, 23 year old for 7, 8 years. Millennials are flakey. The reason we’re flakey is primarily because we’re failing to see the pathway for growth, and often, unfortunately, we get maybe treated poorly. We just don’t want to work with jerks. Like, just don’t be a jerk. Just like, we’re ready, willing, educated, assuming you pick the right person, ready to go. And both sides have to come to the table.

                                Millennial, you can’t be flakey here. You have to think long-term and realize that … Take the page from my book. Six years. Four with my dad, two without, and then it was another two with another person. It was longer than that. I think, I’m like 13 years here. And just, literally last year on the 1st is when I broke off and started my own firm. Granted, I was operating in the silo at my previous firm for many years. But, you know, it took me from 19 to 28. Yeah, it’s a solid nine year to be comfortable and in a position in my life to say I had my own book of business, whether that was within someone else’s firm or my own firm.

                                So, back to that big problem. That, to me, is just a fundamentally massive problem with the industry. It’s being worked on. It really is. But, at the same time, it’s bigger than even me trying to solve it. It’s going to take a lot.

Hannah:               Yeah, well it’s a mindset shift for our profession. And that doesn’t happen overnight.

Douglas:               It’s a complete paradigm shift. Not to get too boring — I hope this isn’t boring — but to get a little technical with that, you’re asking … I get taken out to lunch with these large insurance agencies here in New York, like 400 agents deep, and they want to become RIAI’s because they realize they just can’t keep selling insurance for the next 10, 20 years, or they’ll probably be out of a job.

                                I ask them, “Well, how many agents do you have under the age of 35?”

                                And they’re like, “4 out of 400.”

                                I’m like, “Whoa, 1%, huh?”

                                And more importantly, there’s a problem there, but the bigger problem is going to the principles of that firm and saying, “Hey, are you willing to cut your take of the prophets of this business by a significant amount to invest and ensure that future of your firm is bright, by trying to change the course of this ship?” That’s a pretty big ship.

                                Now, scale that up to a wire house. No shot. You know, how do you move that vessel? You’re going to go, what, tell the shareholders, “Hey, we’re going to slash EPFs 50% so that we can make this very necessary investment, to ensure that our wealth management firm’s going to be here in 40 years.”

                                I’m not a cynical guy. I’m an optimist. I just don’t see it happening. I think that’s the biggest piece of disruption that’s coming down the pipe.

Hannah:               Absolutely, so it’s a great time to be young, if you can survive.

Douglas:               Yeah, ain’t that the truth?

Hannah:               As cynical as that may be. So, let’s continue on with your career path. So, you’re working, now, with another advisor?

Douglas:               Yeah, so, all right. We worked with dad. Went to New York, through the recession. And, we left that guy, and now we’re with another guy who, same deal. Bring over a decent amount of clients that I’ve had at this point, maybe 10 million or less in AUM that I’ve accumulated through various strategies. I remember in the height of the recession, I got a 0% APR teaser for 18 months. How I got credit during this time, I have no idea. I guess I had good credit. I bought like a million or two dollars’ worth of clients from an advisor who just didn’t have the time. Like the very bottom of their book. Like, “Oh, wow. I can make easy ROI on that and get some clients here.”

                                And you know, guys, don’t treat clients like that. Don’t treat them as bargaining chips or transactional, there’s a process here in transferring relationships. I’m sure that’s been talked about. A conversation for another time.

                                But, alright, we’re with our now third advisor. It was the same deal, same situation. They had plateaued, they needed staff. Now I’m a CFP. Now I’m applying for business school. This is a big part of the story, because here you are in New York City. You can’t go to your chamber of commerce and network like I did down in south Florida, which was super effective. I got very engaged in my community down in south Florida. If you’re in smaller towns, do that. Go to your chamber of commerce events. Find your young professional network, and be consistent. It’s going to go a long way. Again, just be consistent.

                                But, here in New York City, that’s no really something you can do. So, business school, and spending like $120,000 seemed like a no-brainer. I say that tongue in cheek. Massive investment, right? But the idea here was, “Now I’m 26, 27, I’m going to need a network, ideally of peers, that can help carry me into the next 10 years of my career.” I viewed that as an essential thing to do. Look, you don’t need to go to business school to do that. But, I also wanted to get some of the pedigree of going to a top program.

                                I was fortunate and worked hard enough to go to NYU Stern School of Business. At night time, wasn’t walking away or taking out extra loans to support my life style. I still was grinding and still building the business. That was a lot of hustling for sure. That was three years on top of continuing to grow, and I became more successful.

                                By the way, I hadn’t quite gotten to shifting the focus to Millennials here. I’m still doing things in a very traditional way. Lucky for me, again, growing up in Boca Raton, Florida is the equivalent of growing up in 1941 New York City. That’s just the demographic down there. So, I’m very comfortable speaking with 80 something-year-olds, as I am 20 and 30 year-olds, and that lent itself very well to actually being successful at something that’s very hard to do, which is a 20 or 30 something-year-old relating to a 60, 70, 80 year-old. I’m not a huge fan of dedicating all of your marketing power to that. It’s such a mismatch. We’ll get to that when I get to the epiphany moment, to go after Millennials, or to court them and build a business around that.

                                So, it was, now we’re doing all right building. Being still full-time staff. Something also very interesting happened in the middle of all of this. I got married. That was super interesting, at that point. And keep note, I think this is worth mentioning too — and I’m all over the place — but, keep note of, nothing is stopping me, here from my life, from my personal life, from moving forward. There’s going to be marriage, kids, buying homes, the whole bit. The whole bit. And think about risk, and lifestyle, and all of that, as this story is told.

                                At that point, at the beginning of business school, my then partner decided that we were going to leave Ameriprise, and he wanted to buy a book of business. A quick way to double up, so to speak, at least the size of the amount of money we’re managing at the time, and the amount of clients. He had found someone selling, and he asked me. He told me up front, this was good of him, told me up front, “Hey, we’re not going to stick around at this broker-dealer forever. The goal is to buy a book. Would you be willing to deal with that, should it come up here?”

                                I was like, “Yeah, absolutely. It’s fine.” I viewed it as just an opportunity to grow professionally. I viewed it as an opportunity to perhaps strike a deal and get clients. That came up within a year, and we left Ameriprise for Commonwealth, as fertile soil. Not just to bring our respective businesses to, but to also acquire that book of business. That whole adventure, and the mechanics of that, is perhaps for an M&A class in the financial services industry. We’ll put that off on the side.

                                Yeah, so that brings us up to this point where we’re leaving. So, we’ve done that. I’ve been there to help buy a book and facilitate that. Amazing experience to get. I did get some equity for doing it. I did have to buy into that. And it was a nice little addition to what I was organically growing on my own, while getting married, while in business school. This was a very busy moment, to say the least. I think Hurricane Sandy hit New York during that time. I was re-papering an entire practice, in my living room. There’s a nice visual there, I’ll spare you all of.

                                But, sure enough, through the storm, that’s what we were up to. That was extremely successful, and extremely smooth. And that’s simply because we did some good planning there, and I was really doing a lot of heavy lifting. Again, all of that experience coming to a head to be able to move one practice from point A to point B. That might be the longest hours I’ve ever worked in my career, those months leading up to and after leaving our broker-dealer and going to Commonwealth. Yeah, we both got pretty sick doing it. So, keep your energy up.

Hannah:               So, from a perspective. Can you give us any scale of how big this practice was that you guys were buying, or merging?

Douglas:               Yeah. That time, together, we were around 60 million in assets. Probably 150 households, I want to say. And, we were about to buy another 60 million in assets, so effectively doubling up our size by assets, and client accounts too, for that matter. That was one question I always had out there, for my previous partner was like, “How are we going to handle the new capacity? Forget AUM, just servicing clients?”

                                And, that’s something I was told, “Don’t worry about that.” But, how can you not, when it’s just you and him. Someone’s got to do the work.

Hannah:               That’ll be your job.

Douglas:               Right. And hence, that kind of went into the negotiation of … I’m being very candid here, in my mind, this deal could not have happened unless I was fully involved in it. I don’t think the seller would sell, and I don’t think it could actually be executed on. So, here’s a lesson, everyone. This was a moment in which I gained a ton of leverage. Someone, my boss, wanted something very bad, and it can’t happen unless I was in on it. I viewed that as an opportunity to negotiate something, so I did.

Hannah:               And, so you’re-

Douglas:               And that was in-

Hannah:               Go ahead.

Douglas:               No, no, no. Go for it.

Hannah:               I was going to say, so you had equity in that process as well?

Douglas:               Yeah, I ended up with 5% equity of the pre-purchased practice. And I was able to buy it at one times it’s re-occurring revenue over a 12 month period. The earnings of that piece of business paid for itself and then some, so it wasn’t really … You just had to work it. It wasn’t really a drain. It was actually cash flow positive. So it was a no-brainer. I argued, I think, I started with 10%, all sweat equity. And we ended up at 5% one times. So, hey, that sounds to me like the middle. Truly was the middle, and it was enough to motivate me to do that.

                                Pretty chaotic time, but the acquisition and the merger, and the changing of broker-dealers was very successful. Like, 97% retention rate, which is ridiculous. Anyone who didn’t come is arguably someone we didn’t really want to come, so that was cool too.

                                Now, I’m halfway through business school, and my thinking the whole time here was, when I went into business school, was, “How am I going to get this to pay for itself?” I measured it down to the clients, and types of clients I would need to acquire to arbitrize the student loan payment waiting for me at the end of the program. I figured that if I couldn’t get to $30 million in assets by the time I graduated, which was like 30 years of age … I had this mantra, 30 by 30. I wrote it down. It was on my desktop, it was everywhere. That was the goal, and it was kind of arbitrary in many ways. It sounded great, but I also felt like that was, and knowing my margin on that, that was enough money to be able to invest in my practice the way that I wanted to.

                                About a little over halfway through business school, I hit that goal. It came by just one whopper of a connection, a personal connection, and a very large client. Which, I never thought … it’s just right place, right time, right skillset, and I took advantage of that and found myself in a very unique position. It was at that moment, kind of simultaneously, I had the epiphany that if I’m really going to differentiate myself and be somebody in this field, it’s not going to come by doing what everybody else was doing. Here’s the soundbite: My whole career was being told, and people are still told this today, “Go out there and follow the money. That’s the rollovers, and the retirees, and the Baby Boomers. That’s how you’re going to get your AUM up. That’s the model you’re playing.”

                                The whole time, I’m thinking to myself, “This sounds like the worst marketing program, ever.” You’re in your 20s or 30s, and you’re being told to go relate to someone in their 60s or 70s. I said this earlier, it just does not make sense to me. What makes this very hard, is that you’re in your 20s. You know how many years for me, from 19 to 27, my peers, my friends, the people I wanted to help, were fairly useless from building a practice standpoint. It was tough, and I think that’s what a lot of young advisor face. Where I had the ability here, to invest long-term, was the fact that you’ve heard this story, and it got me to a spot where I could then take the revenue that was being generated on this book of business of mine, and now focus extensively on going long.

                                That was with Millennials. Hearing that word didn’t resonate with me in the beginning, but it wasn’t going anywhere. It’s everywhere today. This is now four or five years ago. I said, “You know, if you can’t beat them, join them. Actually, you know what, I can market around this. Actually, this is a brilliant idea.”

                                Then, I started looking at the mechanics of it. This is where business school really came in hand. And, again, you don’t need an MBA to acquire this knowledge, but for me it was helpful to see the marketplace in a whole new way. All I needed to do was invest in my generation and find a story with it. The story was watching my wife, Heather, go through law school through the recession. So much of this story was just written about in a book we wrote together, the Millennial Money Fix. If you really want to check this out further, you can pick up a copy of that. (Shameless plug.)

                                But, you know, watching her and my peers, older Millennials come out of the recession with multiple six figures in student loan debt, there was an opportunity to actually create some real help there. We’re talking about, super hard-working, smart young professionals. It was so obviously to me that these were the folks I wanted to be working with in the long-term. Relatability was there. There weren’t competition. What competition? There just weren’t 29, 31 year-old advisors with a decade of experience.

                                To me, it was just like, “Wow! I can clean up, and there’s market share for days.” Even if there was competition, there’s plenty to go around. It’s underserved. There’s numbers on your side. The barriers to entry are so high for young people to get in. That was my epiphany, and I’m like, “Ah-ha. I’m going all in on this.” And friends of ours had the same epiphany. My twist was, “I’m going to do it in New York City, and I’m going to do it for the top, top, top, top level of young professionals out there.” Not that that cream of the crop doesn’t exist elsewhere, but look, it’s New York City. I have numbers on my side, is really what I’m saying. I could play a segment of the market, that for many would be like 12 people in their town. For me, it’s like hundreds of thousands. So, there it was.

                                There it was. I had the financial resources. I had the chops and the experience. I had the credentials. I had a story. Now, I just needed a brand. And that’s when things got so fun. That’s where I just realized this can be a blast.

                                We can keep going here, but that brings us up to, that was maybe 3, 4 years ago.

Hannah:               So, you’re working within your broker-dealer. Did people think you were crazy, who you were working with? What was the reaction that you got?

Douglas:               Yeah, yeah. My then partner, kind of came into my office one day, and I remember the conversation. It was, something I had mentioned a few years back, which was my concern that if we kept growing by acquisition, there would be a capacity constraint, and really the only advisor there to alleviate that was me. The funny part was, I was game to do that from the day we left Ameriprise. Not even for equity, for revenue, of course. I just figured if we were going to keep growing, we needed to divide the servicing a little bit more equally, so we both had capacity.

                                That never happened, so of course, two years later, there was a capacity constraint. And now, I’m being offered the management of $20 million in assets. I’m pretty much a 50/50 split, no equity. Do the math. That’s some pretty good revenue. I had already had my epiphany, which was, “No, I’m not going to invest my time.” The demographic of that $20 million was 100% not young professionals and the people that I had an affinity towards, and related to, and was passionate about. That was your standard Baby Boomer makeup. No it was not the prime clients of the practice, either. They were probably the most time consuming ones. So, I turned it down.

                                You know, I got a reaction that I think a lot of older advisors would give, which was, “In what world do we live in, where a junior advisor, or someone younger could turn that down? That is just horrid. Who are you to do that?”

                                I just remember thinking, “Well, that $20 million has an MPV,” and I was doing finance here, in the back of my mind. “That’s going to zero.” And probably not. You can work it. Get referrals, get the kids. There’s a lot you can do. But, I’m thinking primarily about the handholding and the time consumption that would be taking me away from what I really wanted to market, which was my peers. And I said, “Okay, well that MVP is closer to zero than not. Versus, I’d rather work my brains out to get $5 million worth of assets from the demographic I want to work with, because I know that 5 is going to turn to 75 over 20 years.” That’s just all made up numbers, but that’s how my logic checked out.

                                I just remember it was an argument. Stormed out of the room. And I just said, “You know what, that was a defining moment right there.” That’s where I realized that this is what I’m going to do. I just backed it up. I haven’t looked back since. It also might have been the beginning of the end of my time in my previous firm, which is really no surprise, to be honest with you.

                                I started to build the personal brand out from there. So, we can talk about, if you would like to, how I built a brand within another practice. Like a brand within a brand. I think this is such an awesome, viable strategy a lot of senior, or older advisors can use with their younger, if their egos can withstand it. And there’s lots of ways to share, too. A lot of companies do this. It’s just segmentation, and it might be a smart idea.

                                I started with just a way to capture press. I was very good at getting lines in articles on Millennial type … So, listen to me, everybody. It’s easier than you think to go help a reporter and get a line. Just don’t say, “Hi, I want to help you.” Maybe, pitch an idea. Use social media. Use the internet. You can find out what reporters are reporting on, and you can reach out to them via Twitter. You can do that. It’s crazy. It’s a numbers game, too. I was getting good at that, and I wanted a place to post this. I knew online marketing was going to be at … it’s very apparent that’s the way it works. Like, if you’re not on social media, and you’re not taking advantage of internet marketing for whatever your business is, you’re not going to be around. It’s very matter-of-fact about that.

                                But, I decided to do this brand-in-a-brand and create this press page, which kind of slowly evolved into my brand. I took a selfie, it’s embarrassing. I took a selfie. My logo is my hair, and it’s always been … it’s a bouffant, and it’s always been something to talk about, whether I was a teenager where I had like a Polly D blowout, maybe I’ll share that photo someday. Long before Jersey Shore, mind you. So, I carved out my hair in Paint, and the logo was formed, and it’s still the logo today.

Hannah:               So, did you just have a website that you just started that was your name with your press … Like, what did this look like?

Douglas:               Yeah, it was and I built it myself on Squarespace. Beautiful templates. I had a ton of fun doing it. It was easy. It really was. I made my logo. Took some pics around the office. Picked a color scheme.

                                I’ve always been good with technology. We were talking about this beforehand. That’s one of my strong suits, is just always being very savvy with technology. I’m that guy you call into your office to fix your computer, and I hate you for having me do it, because it’s not my job. But, I’m that guy.

                                Yeah. Squarespace, my camera, content. It was just easy to do and I set that up. Sure enough, there it was. Obviously, it was all compliant, and was affiliated with the firm at large. It linked back to it, and I made a strong argument, like, “Let’s have these two sites communicate with each other. We can brand within a brand.” That never really happened. Just another of those things that aided to the ultimate departure from the firm. But, yeah, you can do that.

                                I didn’t even have the idea to win my local market, at that point, yet. I didn’t know that, that’s what I was doing. That was just really, the beginning of creating an online presence, and capturing the media.

                                And content we were making. A blog, obviously, came then too. I think it was just like About Me, and a bio. A blog, my press page, and Contact Us. That was it.

Hannah:               So, all of this is within a broker-dealer? I hear so many people say they can’t do things like this within a broker-dealer.

Douglas:               Yeah, so hats off to Commonwealth, because they rock, and they let me do this because they’re a technology firm. They see the future like I see the future, which is extremely rare. You can’t do this at Ameriprise, at a Raymond James. You get cookie cutter type online presence. I’m very lucky to have landed where we did. So, props to my former partner for picking a real winner out of the BD space. Otherwise, RIA or IAR only is going to be the venue for you. But, yeah, my BD is one of those few that let you build out whatever you want, and make sure you adhere to FINRA/SEC standards, and just get it approved. So, yeah, that’s how I was able to do that.

Hannah:               Okay. So, you ended up splitting with your firm, but you stayed with Commonwealth?

Douglas:               Yeah, that as huge. That made for what I think is the most seamless departure from a firm. There was no re-papering of anything. I just literally picked real estate. It was all marketing and branding, and finding real estate, which is a big deal here in New York City. So, that was really the biggest blessing.

                                Clients were communicated what was going on. One staff member particularly wanted to come with. I let them pretty much figure out how they wanted to exit. That was tough, but it was amicable, my departure anyways. Yeah. Called up the broker-dealer. They had a whole SWAT team available to help make sure that this went smoothly. We made it very easy for them, and December 1st was the launch date, last year. So, we’re talking-

Hannah:               Wow.

Douglas:               Yeah, we’re talking here, by the end of the week. On my daughter’s birthday, nonetheless. My wife is not thrilled when I’m like, “Oh, right. It’s Bone Fide Wealth’s anniversary.”

                                She’s like, “It’s your daughter’s birthday.” I’m obviously just pulling her chain there. But, yeah, we’re coming up on one year. There’s a lot of stuff between building that personal website … and actually, I guess there’s not. There’s this really kind of a cool follow through to the end of the story here.

                                After building that site, I just kind of kept going. Then it was a game really of, then I did have that moment where I realized I need to compete from an SCO ranking point-of-view. If I could build this machine, this internet marketing machine that actually generated traffic to the website, to the bio page or the Contact Us page, and created the funnel, and could get prospects. Not just quantity, I mean quality. I wanted to get the people I wanted to work with coming through that funnel, and coming in for consultations, and ultimately becoming clients.

                                I remember the day that first one came in. All right, listeners, it was a year or two of just dedication, and patience, and grinding before that came in. Certainly, very hard to win my local market here, and I’d successfully done that. It was huge. It’s been refining that ever since, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. What of your content is good? And what of your content’s bad? And experimenting.

                                Hannah, you and I were talking about the videos I was putting out, and it’s really just me tinkering. There’s nothing too organized about it right now. I’m just experimenting with that. But, the blog is weekly, the newsletters monthly. The 160+ media clips and features all have link backs to the newsletter signup. All of the things that, as you start building your own internet marketing machine … I left out the distribution channels of social media, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, for us. They all go hand-in-hand. They’re all part of this massive marketing plan and personal branding for the business. Not even personal branding, but the business’s branding. It’s such a big beast now, and all of these moving parts. It’s just, again, this area that I have a lot of fun with.

                                A tip I would give anybody is, if you don’t find that piece fun, like you don’t find building the brand and building the business fun, I strongly urge you to think about what you want. But you like this profession, I strongly urge you to think about what you want you to and who you want to be in this field. It’s okay to not want to be that full-fledged entrepreneur building your own brand and getting clients and running your business. That’s cool. There’s plenty of avenues to go down. This is just my way of having done it.

Hannah:               Yep. So, when you made that switch, were you able to bring clients with you?

Douglas:               Yeah. One of the most important pieces of leaving my last firm and creating Bone Fide Wealth, and staying with my broker-dealer is that I pretty much existed in a silo from day one. Meaning, my clients were assigned to me. There was no partnership agreement. Commonwealth viewed me as my own financial advisor. Those clients were mine.

                                By the way, we didn’t talk about what kind of legal documentation and agreements were put in place with me and my then partner. Everything was always mine, literally, from when I moved up from Florida. The deal that I was striking with my employers was that any time I got a client, I had 100% equity in them. I think that’s, you know, “How audacious of me?” The reason I earned that, is because of the four years. I could be plugged into their practice. No one spent a dime training me. The only person who’s ever trained me is my dad, and that is nine years plus ago.

                                So, am I saying something about how hard … Yeah, I am making a comment on how, perhaps, there’s a pretty big managerial problem in the industry. I believe that to be true. I kind of had a school of hard knocks way of being managed. I really just did that myself. Put myself through business school, took a lot of management courses. It’s one of my specializations, actually, because I’m infatuated with management for the fact that I was never managed. So, yeah, that’s a really important point.

                                From, “Did the clients come with me?” Yeah, yeah. No one had to do anything. They were always mine. Literally, it was flipping of a switch. Now that, that could have been very interesting, had it not been that. I’m sure a lot of young advisors who find them self in the position where the clients are that of the firm or of their senior. Oh, boy, you have whopper of a convo if you’re leaving and you want the intention of taking those relationships with you. That could be interesting.

                                I tend to be of the belief that clients are won by relationships, not by firms. So, if you have the relationship. Would that person want that client, if they don’t even have the relationship? It’s probably not going to look good on them, either. But, It does get pretty messy there, right?

Hannah:               Yeah. And, so for people who want to know more about that, we did a podcast episode, what we wish we knew before we left. We had four advisors talk exactly about that: The contracts and what are you signing when you start with a firm.

Douglas:               Yeah. I would say, “Go listen to that.” Because, I kind of baked in my own safety net from day one. Again, remember how I keep talking about that competitive advantage of being so young in doing this. I had a little bit of leg up. My dad was a fellow. A really, really amazing business man, engineering mind, actually. He was good at it.

Hannah:               So, let’s talk more about this marketing. One of the things, we were talking a little bit before this podcast aired, but can you talk a little bit about, what does your day or week look like? How much time does marketing take for you?

Douglas:               A lot. 40, 50% of my day is spent marketing.

Hannah:               What do you mean by that? What does that look like?

Douglas:               So, granted, a lot of this, my staff, Marie, is capable of assisting with and working on. But, if I break it down into original content, stuff we’re making, whether thinking of our next info graphic, or free piece of content we want to give away … We have a download section on our website you can check out. The only thing I’m asking for is your email address, and yeah, you’re going to be enrolled in our monthly newsletter. Opt out if you don’t want it. But I’m giving you amazing free content to literally get you financial planning ready. It’s crazy. It’s the most value out there, I think, that you can get for free, without having to pay a financial advisor. You’re welcome.

                                That’s first-party content. Our blog is first-party content. Our newsletter. My wife and I wrote a book we talked about. Talk about, you know, that was a huge, huge time commitment, over 18 months. That came out in August. When I say 50% of our day is marketing, excuse me, that was just first-party content.

                                Then, you’ve got third-party, right? Third-party would be relationships with the press and the media, whether it’s getting to the studio to catch a spot on Nightly Business Report, or a news program. A lot of it’s really written, working with editors and writers at all kinds of media outlets. We’re approached now, after having written the book, by places like, you know, I work with Fatherly, as a writer for them, to create financial content for dads, which is super cool. Everyone comes to us now, which is flattering, and an indication that we’ve been doing the right things. That’s third-party, and a little bit of first-party content.

                                Then, there’s the social media and SEO part of things. Social media being our distribution channels, getting what we’ve made or someone else has made with us in it, and distributing it out the right way. There’s a whole game to play there. Data is your friend. You can see when you should be posting things, what hashtags work, what videos, or columns, or content, specifically, are the winners. Then, the SEO thing, which is really like the overarching piece. Working on getting link backs, and your name in …

                                Everything you’re doing is contributing to that singular thing. That’s where you’re earning the business, and it’s the reason you’re creating all that content and you’re spending all time marketing is to get that traffic, earn that traffic, get it in your funnel, and get a prospect to turn into a client. Boom! Sounds super easy. Yeah, right. That’s five years of non-stop grinding and hustling and working that machine, to get it here today, where it works.

                                We’ll get two to four high quality leads or prospects from all of this activity. Think about that. Even if it’s two. Let’s go to the low end. Two times twelve is twenty-four. Twenty-four clients you want to work with. Poof! Out of the internet, because of what you’ve done. My minimum financial planning fee is right there on my website. It’s there for a reason. It does a good job of weeding people out. But, 24 clients a year. I do that three times. That’s 72 clients. You can’t do that forever. You’re going to have to hire advisors, or scale, and that’s a whole other conversation.

                                You don’t need to get five to, people are like, ten referrals a month. Wow! Ten referrals a month. Wow! That’s 120 in a year. How is that going to shake out? It’s great, don’t get me wrong. If you want to do quantity, be my guest. But, I’m more focused on quality.

Hannah:               Let’s talk a little bit about, when you get these new Millennial clients, how are you working with them differently than you did with the other clients that you’ve had in the past?

Douglas:               It’s relatability and where you are in your life. I’m 33, so it’s settling down, having kids, getting married, buying homes, dealing with student loan debt from graduate programs and undergraduate programs, negotiating jobs. I’ve been there on a lot of those things. I can lead by example. I have a lot of clients and a lot of stories to pull from. I can really give relatable advice on those areas, and that’s what my clients want. They want relatability. They don’t want someone that reminds them of mom and dad. It’s not the feel that they’re going for. I’ve made myself available, and I’ve marketed myself into that space, to be searchable. That’s what’s going on there. It’s not crazy. It makes sense. Again, relatability is huge. That’s what the whole marketing idea that I had was about, is that facet.

Hannah:               And then, you charge an upfront financial plan. Are you managing assets in the backend, or how are they paying you?

Douglas:               Yeah, so the goal here is, you lead with financial planning. That is where it’s at. You want to deliver value to your clients, do financial planning. You lead with that. Investments products, all of that, second. I’d say, third. Saving them time is second. That should be part of everything. For example, with investments, okay, it’s a commodity now. Same with insurance and products, they’re commodities. My hardworking clients, they don’t have time to even click on rebalance in their betterment portfolio. They don’t have time for that. That’s why I can win there, on saving them time. But, there’s only so much value there, so you go over to financial planning.

                                On that download’s page, you can check out, “What does your financial advisor do for you?” Oh my God, look at all those areas of value that you can generate. You start with a written financial plan. You want to get that deliverable there. Quarterly service model is where I’m at. Start at $1950 for a financial plan. That’s starting. And then, once you deliver your plan, you’ll have your recommendations there.

                                My goal is to help my clients make informed financial decisions when it comes to their money. So, when we’re going over what the recommendations are, there’s no hard sales here. It’s, “Here’s what the recommendations are.” Is it investing, it is insurance, it is getting estate planning done, is it going to hire an accountant? How you want to execute on that, I tell you what your options are, “You can do it yourself, you can do it with me, you can do it with another advisor. Let’s talk about all of those options and what they mean to you, and help you make a decision.”

                                I find that to be very effective. We’re at about 70+ million in assets under management at the firm. With, I think, the capacity to do double that. Yeah. Those are the metrics here.

Hannah:               That’s exciting. And it’s so exciting to realize what opportunity there is for serving our peers.

Douglas:               Yeah, there’s a huge opportunity, and I think something to really point out with those metrics are, we can dive deeper. We’re not going to right here, but these are … What’s so great about it is, the vast majority of this are people that I want to take care of, and I’m passionate about, and relate to. They’re hardworking, young professionals here in this city and the surrounding area, as well. I feel like we all get it. We all have the same challenges, and it’s just like, to me, that’s the dream come true. Right?

                                And look, I serve very wonderful, wonderful Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. The book is very diverse as well, and they’re truly wonderful people. Most of them are high net worth, or ultra-high net worth. They love the fact that I’m putting my passion in. They’re getting the best service out of me, no doubt. That’s my offering to them, while I go do this long term play, is I’ll never forget that a lot of them are heavily weighted clients. But, that’s just good communication, making sure that the people who love you, and support you, and work with you know what you’re up to. They love seeing me on TV. I don’t say that to brag, but you’re worried about marketing to Millennials when you got a 70 year old client with several millions of dollars under management. They’re like, “Oh my God, where’s the love?” No, no, no. You got them in a spot where they want you to do well. There’s no doubt about that, and just remember you got to give them the service and take good care of them. Don’t ever forget that.

Hannah:               So, as we wrap up, do you have any final words of advice, or thoughts that you want to be sure our listeners have before they leave the podcast?

Douglas:               I find myself stealing a lot of Gary Vaynerchuk lines, and we talked about how my big goal is to be the Gary V of personal finance, or even 10% of that. So, to steal one of his bits of advice, is “Patience.” I’m a very impatient person in my life, in general. But the one area of my life I chose to be patient was here with my business. Here we are, 13 years later. 13 years of success, failure. Of contemplating not doing this. It’s been quite the ride. But my patience in knowing that, “Hey, I want this to happen for myself.” That’s the big one. I think for a lot of young people, they don’t realize how much time and dedication, and energy goes into becoming a successful advisor.

                                You’re in your 20s, you’re going to have to put in that time and be patient. Just make sure you’re on the right path. Focus on what you can control. But, yeah, patience is the one. If you’re young, you got time on your side. Use that to your advantage and figure out what you want, and how you want to grow, and how you’re going to carve out your pathway. I’m just one story, you know.

                                Hannah, you and I were talking about how we both wish young advisors would never have to go through our respective paths. I agree with you. I really do hope that in the future, young advisors can come out of their program in college, and literally jump into a proven path to get whatever it is that they want out of this profession. Because God knows, the profession needs them. I hope we get to see that. Patience will get you there.

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When Douglas moved to New York City he knew he wanted to work with millennials. Tune in to this episode to hear how he started, how he marketed his practice, and how you can do the same! Millennial Money Fix. Douglas has always had a passion for financial planning – starting with his father owning his own financial planning practice. Douglas started out working for his dad, and slowly started to build his own brand while he was there.
When Douglas moved to New York City with his college sweetheart (now wife), he knew he wanted to work with millennials. Now he’s branded himself as the financial advisor for millennials in NYC, and is working to spread the gospel of financial planning for younger generations.
Tune in to this episode to hear how he started, how he marketed his ($70M+) practice, and how you can do the same!

“My whole career I was told to go out there and follow the money. You’re in your 20’s and 30’s and you’re being told to go relate to someone in their 60’s and 70’s. It just does not make sense to me.”

What You’ll Learn:

What “Paying Your Dues” looks like
How to spend 40-50% of your time marketing your new firm
How to build a brand within an existing firm
The struggles of working as a junior advisor

“Paying Your Dues” Is About Gaining Real Experience –
Douglas on
What We Wish We Knew Before We Left

Hannah Moore clean
Positive Psychology in Financial Planning Tue, 05 Dec 2017 21:27:02 +0000 0 In this episode we go over how to incorporate positive psychology into your planning with Dr. Martin Seay. Learning how to incorporate positive psychology into you practice can help to improve your planning, communication, and relationship with your clients. As financial planners, we may often see how our work aligns with psychology.  Although most of us aren’t qualified to be a full-fledged financial therapist, there are ways for us to incorporate psychology into our practices.

This week, your host Hannah Moore sits down with Dr. Martin Seay, Ph.D., CFP®, to talk about positive psychology in financial planning. As financial planners, we impact the lives of our clients in profound ways.. We can use positive psychology to lower our client’s stress, help them to grow an optimistic outlook both in their finances and their life and thrive in their financial and personal life.

Think about: what value are you trying to add to your client? If it’s to make them happier, to make them more successful in their retirement, think about what’s going on in their head and ways that you can support that.


What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • How to implement positive psychology in your practice.
  • How to reframe negative money mindsets.
  • How to communicate positively with clients.
  • How to relieve the tension your clients feel about money.
  • How to create positive money scripts.
  • How to energize the conversation around financial planning.


The Institute of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University

Sarah D. Asebedo, Ph.D., CFP®

The Kinder Institute of Life Planning

Sudden Money

Money Quotient

Evidence-Based Financial Planning: To Learn . . . Like a CFP

Sonya Britt-Lutter

How Clients’ Money Scripts Predict Their Financial Behaviors

John Grable, Ph.D., CFP®



Show Transcript

Ep75 Transcript

Hannah:               Well, thanks for being with us today, Martin.

Martin:                 Thank you for having me.

Hannah:               Can you tell us what is positive psychology?

Martin:                 So, I’m gonna read you a definition and I want to read it directly. I apologize for that, but I think it’s pretty powerful. So, positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. To me that’s a pretty powerful statement. It’s about allowing people to thrive by building on strengths and enhancing experiences of love, work, and play. That sounds a lot like financial planning to me.

Hannah:               You mentioned the assumption that that was based on, that people want to thrive in life. What are the other assumptions that people base different psychological theories on?

Martin:                 Yeah. So, positive psychology is sort of an evolution in psychology. Traditional psychological theories and psychology itself is more focused on … there’s some sort of deficit or disorder or maybe something wrong, and we’re trying to address that and pull somebody back to functioning. What makes positive psychology unique is it says, “Well, there’s more to life beyond that functioning, and let’s take those people that are well-adjusted, that are happy and that are performing well, but maybe they could be better off. Maybe there’s a way to raise them to a higher level of well-being to allow them to flourish.

Hannah:               Obviously we can see the tie over to financial planning, but how have you seen this applicable to financial planners? Or maybe a better question is have you seen financial planners starting to incorporate this into their practice?

Martin:                 I think the whole framework that’s used for the clients has really evolved over time. I think we talk a lot more with clients without even knowing it, without even thinking about positive psychology. We talk a lot more with clients about goal achievement and finding out what really makes them happy and understanding we’re not financial planners to help them have more money. I mean, that’s obviously great, but money, for most people, is a means not an end, and us financial planners are having conversations surrounding goals, surrounding … Life planning has many aspects that tie into what positive psychology would say, but the whole conversation has shifted away from satisfying … maybe it’s an insurance need, maybe it’s, “What’s that dollar amount I need to have for retirement,” to, “What does retirement look like? How do I thrive in that? How do I support my clients through that conversation?” So, the whole framing surrounding financial planning has really changed in a way that speaks directly to positive psychology.

Hannah:               So, one of the things we talk about a lot on the podcast is, “What is financial planning versus what it is not?” So, if we’re doing positive psychology, I mean, does that really … if you’re having these conversations with your clients, does that really land you in that financial planning camp?

Martin:                 I’d certainly think so. I mean, there are a lot of elements around what makes a good financial planner and there are a lot of different ways to practice it, but at the end of the day financial planning is really about holistically understanding a client and moving them to meet their goals. If you’re doing positive financial planning, that is financial planning through the lens of positive psychology, I think you have to be doing that comprehensive financial planning. I also think it’s really sort of the next level, the evolution and the future where we can … a lot of people are already doing this, the strength is the scientific grounding, which I could talk a little bit about more later, but we’re already doing this in that we are taking people to that next level. We’re going past the financial advice, going past the product selection to fill a need to really providing opportunities for fulfillment.

Hannah:               One of the terms that you coined in your paper was “positive financial planning”, and I thought that was a really great way of kind of bringing them together. How much time does this take for an advisor? When I hear these things … and I spend quite a bit of time with my clients, but I know other people don’t. Is this something that can be incorporated efficiently or is it something that just requires time to do, to do it well?

Martin:                 Yeah. That’s a really good question and it’s a really good point. There’s always a cost to a planner for using something extra. It’s got to be worth the time, it’s got to be worth the effort, and I think so. I think a lot of what positive psych offers is not necessarily additional work, it’s just the lens through which you communicate with your clients. You establish the relationship and you communicate about the value that you are providing to them. So, many of the circumstances would just be slightly altering the conversation in ways that connect, but one of the easy ways that you could do this is … There are a number of questionnaires out there, and so there’s a questionnaire that here we talk about in the paper is well-being theory. It talks about positive emotion, engagement, relationship, meaning and accomplishment.

                                There’s a 23 question survey that you can use, you can provide to an individual, and you can get a really easy… once again this is free … you can get a really good understanding of where they’re at mentally, where they’re experiencing happiness and where maybe they’re shortcoming, where they need a little bit of help. But what’s more powerful is, when you do your annual checkup, how about you ask those questions again, and then you not only see where they are today, but you see how they’ve changed since last year. It’s very easy to have that conversation as you start your meeting. “Hey. So, it looks like you’re down a little bit in feeling the meaning of life. Is there something going on? Is there something I can help you with?” Very easy conversation starter that really allow you to connect with the mental state that your clients are in.

Hannah:               Okay. So, I love the psychology of financial planning, but where’s the line between our role as financial planner versus financial therapist?

Martin:                 Sure. You have to be very careful. You need a license to practice therapy and there’s intensive training that’s required to do that, so you can’t operate as a therapist, although I know financial planners often feel like they do. I would view this more as a lens to guide your conversations and understand what’s going on in a client’s head as opposed to providing a lens through which for you to provide therapy and change themselves. But it is important and it is important that you don’t overstep your bounds and get into places where you could be practicing therapy.

Hannah:               So, as I said … well, I like to think I do some of this work with clients, but have there been any studies or anything besides anecdotal examples of where this has helped … Is there any quantifying how this actually helps clients in practice, or is that kind of the next steps?

Martin:                 So, there is evidence in other domains, and so I’ll share a little bit of that. Right now, we’re working hard on following up to the next steps, and I have to make sure that I mention Sarah Asebedo. She was a graduate student at Kansas State. She’s now a professor at Texas Tech, and she’s one of the ones that spear-headed this and wouldn’t be here without her, so I wanted to make sure to give her a shout out. But let’s talk about why research that does exist, and it’s not necessarily in a client setting, but why is it important to facilitate this well-being? Well, positive emotions … those that feels positive emotions are … and it’s important to think about what comes first.

                                Those that have positive emotions are then more likely to earn more money and then more likely to succeed at work. Those that have positive emotions are more likely to exhibit will power and self-control over unhealthy urges. They’re more likely to save money. They’re more likely to have a preference for the future. They’re more likely to stay out of debt. And they’re more likely to take time before making significant decision, so there’s real impact there and carry over to the financial planning lens. So, until we get to applying positive financial planning in let’s more of a clinical setting to really see the benefits, I think there’s really strong evidence there that this would help financial planners.

Hannah:               One of the things as I was reading through your paper that kind of stuck out to me is there’s a lot of programs out there right now, so like the Kinder, his three questions. You have Sudden Money, you have Money Quotient. How do those factor into this idea of positive psychology?

Martin:                 So, I filter back to Dave Yeske and I filter back to evidence-based financial planning. If we’re gonna move forward, our financial planning practices need to be based in scientific research and scientifically validated, let’s say theories or perspectives. So, I think they’re fantastic. I think they’re amazing. It brought amazing value to clients and they do really good things. I think one of the things that we’re trying to do, though, is develop positive financial planning from established academic work, take what we know in academia and apply it to planners, and certainly there’s a lot to be learned from what planners do. But let’s say that we can provide you scientific evidence that if you communicate with clients in this way, you’re going to have “X” better outcomes. They’re going to … whether it’s save more, whether it’s goal achievement, whether it’s they’re gonna be more satisfied in life you’d pick the financial planning outcome, but I think that’s where we’re trying to go.

                                It’s not that any of those models are wrong. I think they provide tremendous value, but let’s go ahead and ground those in academic theories and filter it from there. I want to be clear, at the end of the day there won’t just be one model. There’s gonna be some models that work better for some planners, their communication styles, the way they work with individuals, and there’s gonna be some communication methods that work better with different types of clients. The engineer that wants to focus on the numbers probably … it’s not gonna really click with him if you try to talk to him about the soft side, “Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.” But ideally what we’ll do, let’s say, at Kansas State or another academic program is we’d be able to train students in several different communication styles or methodologies to work with clients, and we’d be able to communicate to them, “Hey. This is the type of client this works for and this is what it does. Or these are the type of scenarios where you might want to operate through this lens based on, as Dave Yeske would say, evidence.”

Hannah:               That’s a whole … It feels like a whole different world than maybe everything we study for the CFP Exam.

Martin:                 Sure. Well, you know, the CFP Exam is focused on a lot of content — you got to know that content to be a financial planner — but applying that content in real life scenarios is a very different thing. We talk about how it takes you three to five years of experience before you get comfortable working with clients. Well, the day you become a marriage and family therapist … you learned that in school. You’ve learned how to work with clients in psychology. You learned how to work with clients in a number of different professions, and they have these theories and perspectives to get there. I’m not saying at the end of the day financial planning is gonna look like that, but we can try to emulate some of the things that work well for them, I think.

Hannah:               When I was reading through, again, your paper, you talk about importance of purpose and how we as financial planners can help our clients find purpose in their lives. That feels like a tall order, I mean, especially younger planners working with older clients. So, how do you see financial planners helping clients find their purpose?

Martin:                 So, that’s a really good question. There is a balance between … and I think what you’re getting at it is helping individuals find purpose that maybe don’t have it or helping people align their resources and their time with a purpose that they feel. I think many time with clients, if you ask them they can tell you what it is that they really want to do, but they don’t know if they can do it. They don’t know if they have the resources. They don’t know what’s going on there, and so I’m not saying that financial planners can have in depth conversations to figure out the hidden purpose in life that people don’t know that they have, but they can work with clients to help them realize, “Hey, this is my purpose and I know this. This is what makes me feel like I’m worthwhile.” “Well, what can we do to shape your life in ways that would allow you to follow that purpose?”

Hannah:               Yeah, that’s really interesting. As you’re saying this, I’m envisioning this is not one conversation, this is years of conversations. What are your thoughts?

Martin:                 So, one of the techniques that is used in some therapy conversations is scaling, and that’s really understanding where people are now and then how they respond differently to different questions over time. I think it’s really important … The real power from this is not “set it and forget it”, that is let’s understand where they are when they begin as clients and then we’ll have a conversation and be done. I think where the power would come is if you understand and you measure what’s going on in their mind … and I know you do this through conversations with your clients already, you check in with them, you ask what’s going on, what’s going well, if there’s anything that is bothering them, but what about if you ask this …

                                From a scientifically based method, you’re able to say, “Hey. Look, it looks like something’s going on here. Is that real?” Knowing that they’ve answered the questions before and now it’s dipped. That’s telling you something if you can follow that over time, so I think this is … once again, it’s a lens through which to have your conversations with clients and it would be something that, to really have effectiveness, you would have to use with clients over time.

Hannah:               One thing that I have found with clients and even myself personally is you don’t have these conversations a lot in life, so to be able to have a place where it’s just these are the types of conversations I think is really powerful in itself.

Martin:                 But what’s your value proposition? If your value proposition is to help people align their investment portfolio, well the market’s gonna get pretty competitive really quick. Your value proposition is to listen to people, understand what they really care about, and help them to meet their goals and I think … to flow back to when you were asking about what’s comprehensive financial planning or what is financial planning, I think part of that lens is there and this is just another tool to facilitate you on. So, some things take time, but maybe it’s worthwhile.

Hannah:               Another concept from your paper was … You talked about developing optimism, and what surprised me was that you suggest that closing the gap between advice and action could actually be rooted in optimism. Can you speak more to that?

Martin:                 Yeah. So, it’s really interesting. The disposition of a client when advice is given really matters. So, let me talk about some research that Sonya Britt did and then I’ll get to optimism. So, Sonya Britt, who’s a faculty member at Kansas State, she did some research and she uses … its biomarker, so she understands people’s temperature and their temperature is actually pretty reflective of their stress level. What her research has shown is that if an individual is more stressed when advice is given, they’re less likely to follow with that advice three to four months later. If they are less stressed when advice is given, they are more likely to have followed that advice, so it’s clear evidence that the state in which the client is from a stress standpoint, which by the way there’s a lot of information out there about how you can effect a client’s stress level in a meeting, is going to lead to different actions, better outcomes for that client. Related to optimism, it’s really about the explanatory style.

                                We provide an example in the paper that’s talking about market performance and let’s say it’s been down. An explanatory style for why an individual would say the market is down can really lead to different interactions. So, an optimist let’s say in cases of a down thing would say, “Hey. The market was down last year, but it can probably go up in the future. It was an off year.” A pessimist would say, “The markets are down. They’re never gonna go up again.” Well, you can understand as a planner how what they would ask you to do would be very different depending on the explanatory style. Is it a transient thing, “I think everything will go up again in the future,” or is it pessimistic? Now, certainly that doesn’t mean you need to ignore your evaluations of markets and things like that, but in terms of the mental state the client is in, that will lead to different advice.

                                It also leads to another issue besides the permanence, which is, “Is this temporary or does it last forever,” is pervasiveness, and that would have to do with, “Is this something that’s gonna be universal or specific?” Is it that, “Hey, stocks were just risky last year,” or is that, “Investments are risky overall,”? And lastly would be personalization. If an optimist would say, “Yeah, markets went down ’cause that happens some time,” a pessimist would say, “I made poor investment decisions. I screwed up,” and it’d be the reverse in a case of bad events, but understanding that optimism … and it’s very clear, there’s very clear evidence that you can develop optimism with working with an individual can lead to those different outcomes.

Hannah:               So, I feel like I need a Master’s degree right now to work with clients. So, a really easy takeaway, so like if we wanted to start applying this tomorrow … So, basically what I’m hearing you say is that we can reframe … like when we hear a client say something to us that is in that state where the markets are just always down, and that we can reframe that for our clients and that’s gonna help, is that kind of what I’m hearing? 

Martin:                 So, we share this, and planners say they do it without knowing it. So, if you’re trying to change the disposition, it’s called … sorry to go back to maybe a Master’s degree, but it’s the “ABCDE” pattern of behavior and that is something happens, maybe it’s the stock market goes down — that’s the adverse event. The belief: “Hey, the market’s bad. I’m never gonna be able to do anything.” The consequence: “I don’t want to be in the market anymore.” Where you come in as the planner is the disputation and energize stage, that is, “Hey. I know the market went down last year, but it’s not true that the market is always bad. Let’s talk about what’s happened in the past.”

                                Then through that conversation you can get the client to realize, “Yeah. You know, maybe it was just last year. It’s not all the time. Overall, through my working career, the investments have gone up,” and then you can energize, that’s the “E” on the end of that, and say, “I know markets were down last year, but let’s think about your goals and let’s look at what’d happened in the past. I think that if we stick with this, we can really get that.” So, where the financial planner comes in is the disputation and energize where you can say, “I understand you have that belief, but let’s really think about where that comes from. Is it right or wrong? If not, then let’s figure out where we can go from there.” Is that any simpler?

Hannah:               It is. Thank you. Well, even as you were saying this, I mean, I can even see … I mean, I have several clients right now that are just kind of difficult and I’m like maybe I need to write this out, this activating belief, what do they … the activating event, what is their belief, what is the consequence. I mean, I feel like it’s almost worksheet format.

Martin:                 I think … It may not make sense when I keep on saying “lens”, but what if a client comes up with this and instead of just saying, “I don’t know what the heck they’re thinking,” you think, “Okay. So, maybe they’re being a pessimist here, or maybe they’re just putting too much attention on what happened last year, so let’s think about this disputation and energize,” and it may be that you write it down when you get to real things and do that early on, but long term it’s just a lens for thinking about it. When a client presents something, try to understand where that’s coming from, reframe, dispute and move in before.

Hannah:               So, you’ve been seeing financial planners implementing this in their practices. What has been the feedback that you’ve gotten from planners about your paper and what you proposed and outlined?

Martin:                 So, I think the feedback has been really positive. I think what the concern is is really getting down to the actionable stuff. So, you have a lot of clients, you’re trying to run a business, especially let’s say the next gen folks who might be listening to this, you’ve got a lot of things to focus on as you try to move forward. I think the feedback would be, “Do the best you can as you move forward and try to improve every day. Better is better and don’t worry about it if it’s not the best if you’re constantly getting better.” But I think I come down to … People seem to really like this. I think there’s still … I’m trying to figure out exactly how best to implement it, how best to do this.

                                I mean, the simple ways where you can really move people or with something like a gratitude visit — that is an individual that let’s say is in retirement and is in let’s say the retirement doldrums as they’ve gone through. Challenge them to go out and find somebody that’s really contributed to their life and have them write a letter to that person explaining why they’ve been important and what they’ve done that’s helped them, then they’ll exercise and after that you require them to go … you ask them to go and present and read that letter to the person. It’s kind of psychologically moved them to a place from retirement doldrums to, “Well, there’s some really cool things and I have some good relationships here that I can value on.” So, as we come up with more exercises like that that are directly implementable I think that’s gonna help.

Hannah:               One thing I just want to add ’cause I do a lot of … every client meeting I try to do some exercise like this, if you would, before every client meeting. I know a lot of people are really concerned that it doesn’t fit or clients would be resistant to it, and what I’ve found is if the advisor’s very comfortable with it then the client becomes very comfortable with it.

Martin:                 It’s gonna take time, right? You’ve got to figure out what works for you, and I think, like I also said, at the end of the day I hope there are ten other methods that you can use when working with clients that if your personality, if you’re Hannah Moore and you connect with people and you feel comfortable with the soft stuff, you can use something like positive psychology. If you’re somebody else and emotions don’t speak to you, there’s other ways that you can do this. There’s not gonna be one right way to communicate with a client and that’s gonna go back to the advisor’s strength and that’s gonna go back to the client perspective.

Hannah:               One of the ideas is in order to take a client through life planning you need to have done life planning yourself. So, for somebody who’s kind of looking at this and just kind of curious about what it would look like engaging their clients this way, maybe a good step is to start doing it themselves? I mean, what are your thoughts on that?

Martin:                 Yeah. So, that’s a really good point. So, the exercises specifically, or things like that, you should try it first — understand the mental process that you go through. One of the things that I do when I talk about this is I share my scores from the test that I ask people to provide, clients, related to the positivity that I feel in my life, related to engagement, related to purpose, and show … look, it’s important to reflect on how this would affect you. If you go to somebody else and you haven’t gone through it yourself, it is gonna be hard to make that connection, so I think that’s great advice and that’s why psychologists have to go through psychological evaluation or they have to meet with psychologists themselves before they’re allowed to practice. You’ve got to practice what you preach.

Hannah:               So, in your paper, which is great and everybody listening needs to read this paper, you do several case studies. Could you walk us through the case study with Tom and Adrian?

Martin:                 Sure. So, Tom and Adriana, in this case study … What we try to do with these is just provide examples that financial planners might relate back to their practice. It’s always hard with case studies, but for Tom and Adriana what we tried to do was … A new client, and we were going through the onboarding process, so we don’t know a lot about them. So, as far as the onboarding process along with collecting all their financial information, we wanted to understand a little bit about them. So, in our conversations what we found out is they were a busy couple, they were dual-learning, married with children, and as we know that can cause stress, and they found that they were fighting a lot about money, but what’s surprising is they didn’t really have money problems, but they were receiving gifts from Adriana’s parents on a regular basis. And so, as the financial planner interacted with Tom and Adriana, they did a couple of different things — they went through a developing optimism exercise.

                                What they felt in the couple’s arguments was that Tom specifically was too negative that he said, “Well, we’re always fighting about this,” and it wasn’t the reality. They did have arguments about it, but if they went back to the permanence and the frequency thing they would have saw, well, there was some tensions there, but it wasn’t as big as you thought. We went to the gratitude visit where they were feeling stressed because they were receiving this money and making sure they were using it the right way, but maybe they didn’t actually want the money, they needed to have that independence. So, the gratitude visit was to go and visit with the parents and thank them for the money and try to process through and filter through whether they wanted that money or not. So, just a couple of different ways, a couple of different client scenarios where it might be possible to go through some of these exercises and tease out the major stressors that they’re going through and allow the client to see where the stress is coming from and alleviate that a little bit. Hopefully, that’s right about the case study.

Hannah:               I think it’s such a realistic example. I mean, I think most advisors have had clients come in and they sense that tension and that argument about money. Sometimes they come just to have that third party perspective, so I think that’s great how you’re applying it to actual people.

Martin:                 Well, and I think about Brad Klontz right, so money scripts. positive psychology, none of this should operate in isolation, so the money scripts things that Klontz does, in terms of your relationship with money and how you view it, with couples is a really big deal and you get to huge tensions when they view money differently. So, it’s not just positive psychology, there’s a lot of really good stuff out there.

Hannah:               If somebody wanted to just have one takeaway that they could start implementing tomorrow, what would you suggest? Is there one thing that they can to just start practicing or working on to help them be better in the positive financial planning space?

Martin:                 At the end of the day, I think all that I would suggest people do is really think about what value are they trying to add for their client, and if it’s extra alpha, if it’s something like that, that’s absolutely fine. But if it’s to make them happier, if it’s to make them more successful in retirement, then think about a little bit about what’s going on in their head and ways you can support that and looking at different practices, different scientific methods that are out there to really help you along. Why should you have to struggle to figure it out yourself?

Hannah:               So, what’s next for you, or what’s next for the financial planning research related to positive psychology?

Martin:                 I think the future of research is … This is John Grable, who’s at the University of Georgia … He actually challenged researchers last February to come up with manuals for financial planning, that is distinct approaches that you could train other people to use, and then to test those manuals. That is instead of saying, “Well, it takes 30 years of client experience to figure it out,” let’s distill that wisdom into a manualized approach so that a young planner can cheat, that they can take that experience and go from there and they’ll start at a lower threshold. So, I think the future is developing these different approaches that we try to actually write down and then quantify and evaluate how they work, so that might be a pretty large task, pretty broad, but if we’re talking about financial planning my goal is to lower my students’ learning curve, that is they can graduate year one and be pretty well equipped to handle client meetings, be pretty well equipped to understand some of the dynamics that might be going on in a client’s life and, of course, have the technical knowledge to apply and help them out.

Hannah:               And so finally, as we wrap up, do you have any advice to the new planners who are listening to this podcast right now?

Martin:                 It is really hard to find the firm with the right fit, with the right perspective, to build clients, to learn the practice, to do everything, so just try to get better every day. Try to establish relationships. If you can establish relationships at work and with your clients, everything’s gonna work out in the long run. Don’t get so stressed that you lose sight of that.

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In this episode we go over how to incorporate positive psychology into your planning with Dr. Martin Seay. Learning how to incorporate positive psychology into you practice can help to improve your planning, communication, This week, your host Hannah Moore sits down with Dr. Martin Seay, Ph.D., CFP®, to talk about positive psychology in financial planning. As financial planners, we impact the lives of our clients in profound ways.. We can use positive psychology to lower our client’s stress, help them to grow an optimistic outlook both in their finances and their life and thrive in their financial and personal life.

“Think about: what value are you trying to add to your client? If it’s to make them happier, to make them more successful in their retirement, think about what’s going on in their head and ways that you can support that.”

What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

How to implement positive psychology in your practice.
How to reframe negative money mindsets.
How to communicate positively with clients.
How to relieve the tension your clients feel about money.
How to create positive money scripts.
How to energize the conversation around financial planning.

The Institute of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University
Sarah D. Asebedo, Ph.D., CFP®
The Kinder Institute of Life Planning
Sudden Money
Money Quotient
Evidence-Based Financial Planning: To Learn . . . Like a CFP
Sonya Britt-Lutter
How Clients’ Money Scripts Predict Their Financial Behaviors
John Grable, Ph.D., CFP®
Hannah Moore clean
Finding and Succeeding in a New Job Tue, 28 Nov 2017 22:40:48 +0000 0 This week on the #YAFPNW podcast we re-air Caleb Brown's interview about how new planners can launch their career! Because Caleb has experience in the financial planning world, he understands what the new planners are going through when job hunting. Welcome back for our Post-Thanksgiving episode! This week we’re re-airing our interview with Caleb Brown on finding jobs and launching a career as a new planner.

Caleb Brown, MBA, CFP®, started his career working for a small RIA and volunteering for local financial planning groups. Through that experience, he started New Planner Recruiting, which pairs financial planners with RIA firms who are hiring right now! This service is invaluable for new planners who are looking to jump right into the planning world – and Caleb’s goal is to help new planners achieve their career goals.

Because he has experience in the financial planning world, he understands what the new planners are going through when job hunting. New Planner Recruiting is intended to help bridge the gap. He has great insights into what you can do to set yourself apart from other applicants or excel at your job.  If you want to get to the elite status, this is definitely a must-listen episode!

hannah's signature

“You’ve always got to find that balance of efficiency and customization… Loosen up. And don’t wait around for someone to train you!”

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

  • How new planners can delve into their career.
  • What jobs are available in the financial planning world.
  • How to get involved with internships to jump start your planning career.
  • What challenges new planners face.


Find your local FPA chapter and connect!

Noted job boards: NAPFACFPFPA, & AICPA.

This week on the #YAFPNW podcast we re-air Caleb Brown's interview about how new planners can launch their career! Because Caleb has experience in the financial planning world, he understands what the new planners are going through when job hunting. Caleb Brown, MBA, CFP®, started his career working for a small RIA and volunteering for local financial planning groups. Through that experience, he started New Planner Recruiting, which pairs financial planners with RIA firms who are hiring right now! This service is invaluable for new planners who are looking to jump right into the planning world – and Caleb’s goal is to help new planners achieve their career goals.
Because he has experience in the financial planning world, he understands what the new planners are going through when job hunting. New Planner Recruiting is intended to help bridge the gap. He has great insights into what you can do to set yourself apart from other applicants or excel at your job.  If you want to get to the elite status, this is definitely a must-listen episode!

“You’ve always got to find that balance of efficiency and customization… Loosen up. And don’t wait around for someone to train you!”
What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

How new planners can delve into their career.
What jobs are available in the financial planning world.
How to get involved with internships to jump start your planning career.
What challenges new planners face.

Find your local FPA chapter and connect!
Noted job boards: NAPFACFPFPA, & AICPA.
Hannah Moore clean
A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Financial Planner Tue, 21 Nov 2017 01:14:56 +0000 0 This week Matt Fizell joins us from Middleton, Wisconsin. Matt is only a few years into the profession and working with a CFP® there in Wisconsin. Together, we walk through Matt’s career decisions, and how he sees his path as a financial planner unfolding. This week we sit down with Matt Fizell who is currently working with a CFP® in Middleton, Wisconsin. Matt has been sitting in on meetings, helping with planning work – and more!

Matt has been graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years and has already had an eventful career. He started out at Thrivent Financial, and is now working with a fee-only financial planning firm.

Together, we walk through Matt’s career decisions, and how he sees his path as a financial planner unfolding.

hannah's signature

You’re empowering people to enjoy their life, to go do the things that they want to do. That’s the most exciting part.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • What a day in the life of a young financial planner looks like.
  • Different options that young planners have.
  • How working with an established CFP® can look.


Thrivent Financial

XY Planning Network




Trinity Financial Planning

Money Languages


Show Transcript

Ep73 Transcript

Charlie:                 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.

Hannah:               With Thanksgiving this week I want to say how grateful we are for our listeners and the stories they share with us personally and online in the FPA Activate Facebook group. Our listeners are truly special and we’re going to do great things together. Today’s episode we have Matt Fizell with us. Matt has two years into the business and has a passion for financial planning. In this interview, Matt walks through what his days look like both when he was responsible for bringing new clients to the firm and his new role as an associate planner at an RIA. Matt is a rising star and we’re grateful to have him on the show. Thanks for joining us Matt.

Matt:                     Thanks for having me Hannah.

Hannah:               So, we’re talking about a day in the life of. When you first graduated college, I think first of all what were your expectations as you graduated school as to what your job would look like?

Matt:                     As we spoke previously I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in financial planning and at first I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go into the industry and then a friend of mine he recommended Thrivent Financial. It’s a Christian focused financial services company and what I was sold or what I was told about what my role would be there are Thrivent was really a holistic financial planning position, where you’d go through a very similar process of the CFP where you sit down and do the deep dive into data gather, understanding goals, making recommendations, taking action on those recommendations and having a relationship with that client going forward. That was really what my expectation was going into that job but it turned out to be very different.

Hannah:               On this theme of a day in the life of, what did that job look like?

Matt:                     For those of you out there who are looking for your first role and don’t really know the difference between a broker dealer or true financial planning, the broker dealers generally have a you have to go get it, you have to go find your business mentality. So, a lot of what my day to day was, was doing prospecting whether it was making phone calls or attending networking events, finding groups to get integrated into fine potential business and in the eyes of a broker dealer the bigger bank account numbers the better. It was a lot of prospecting you know, when I did have meetings they were very similar to what I’m doing now, it’s just when it came time to making recommendations the broker dealer certainly had their biases. I’d say it’s a lot like what I’m doing now with the Fee-Only firm, but you had to go get it and at the end of the day all the broker dealer really cared about was your numbers.

Hannah:               Let’s talk about … when you say prospecting, can you walk me through a day what that look like.

Matt:                     Every day is a little different and I think most financial planners can resonate with that but a lot of it was finding time in between meetings. If I had a meeting at 9:00 a.m. to start the day and I got over at 10:30, I was expected to go out to get lunch with a friend of mine or someone in my network or go attend this networking event or go attend this charitable function or whatever it was, just getting your name out there and hoping that business would come of it. Then if you had other meetings, mix them throughout the day. You just kind of do that back and forth go, go, go mentality all the time.

Hannah:               Were you just a rep for Thrivent or you had to find all of your new clients or were you working under somebody who already had a book of clients?

Matt:                     There was a little bit of a mix there. Again I think it was one of those things where they really misrepresented what I was getting myself into, where initially I was supposed to be working with another advisor helping him with his clients, slowly building my own book and getting some clients from old reps who just didn’t pan out and it really didn’t turn out to be much of getting a built book of business or working with an advisor. They just said, oh well we’re changing how we do things now go find all your clients so it was really building it all from scratch. There were a few small accounts that I took over but nothing substantial.

Hannah:               Were you successful in finding clients?

Matt:                     Yeah, I mean there were good days and bad days certainly. I think what I really struggled with was their agenda and what I mean by that is when we look at things like insurance and investments, there’s the right and the wrong way to do things and a lot of my natural market is young professionals. I’m only 24 so right now at that age bracket of getting out of college getting your first job really just getting the foundation set, and I think when I look back and reflect on that experience was what I wanted this shop to be, which was a holistic financial planning job.

                                I’m really excited to do that for young people but it didn’t necessarily fit the broker dealers agenda. I did have success in finding clients but I’m sure they would have rather had me working with more wealthy individuals.

Hannah:               When you went out and found these clients, did you need to sell them like the Thrivent Life Insurance and the mutual funds and everything like that or did you have more of a free range?

Matt:                     It was certainly tied to their products. The unique thing about Thrivent like I mentioned is they are a Christian focused company so in order to own a Thrivent Life Insurance Policy you have to be a Christian to receive that contract and that’s due to their tax structure. It’s actually a really cool concept the way that they can give back to the community but it did limit my market and certainly there was the incentive I suppose to sell the Thrivent policy versus something from like MetLife. We did have access to other products but certainly they wanted us to push the Thrivent product.

Hannah:               I think that’s a really interesting point because some firms really push their own products and there’s other broker dealers who don’t have any proprietary products.

Matt:                     Yeah.

Hannah:               So, a lot of it is really knowing more what’s around you but at the same time how are you supposed to know when you’re coming out of college? It’s such a hard landscape navigate.

Matt:                     Yeah, exactly and I think yeah I’ll definitely accept some of the responsibility in not doing a complete thorough analysis of what I was getting myself into but then again, there was some change in leadership right after I had started there so maybe what I signed up for would have been fine underneath that managing partner but he departed to a different region shortly after I started on there. There were certainly some moving pieces that could’ve influenced my experience not being as great as it could have been but at the end of the day some of the people I’m still in touch with, it’s very much about the Thrivent product and doing things their way.

Hannah:               One thing I will say with my experience in the broker dealer and kind of what you’re hinting at and I don’t really hear a lot of people talking about but this idea that well I don’t know what they called them when you were there but the idea of orphan clients, or you come on and we will give you all these other clients that there’s turnover with other reps or whatever and you’ll get them. That usually isn’t a very good way to build a business.

Matt:                     No, not at all and what’s really funny about this firm I’m working at now is if the CFP I’m working with doesn’t want to work with that client, he just won’t meet with them and it’s very opposite thinking and yes they did call them orphans. It’s such a horrible term that the industry has come up with but you’re strained to I guess continue these relationships with people that you didn’t start the relationship with and you have no idea what the expectations were of that relationship, why some of these recommendations were made and ultimately you’re just kind of trying to patch together their financial plan and that’s very much what the industry should not be.

Hannah:               Again like we say all the time on the podcasts, it’s the difference between the industry and the profession.

Matt:                     Yes.

Hannah:               You’re at Thrivent, how long were you there for?

Matt:                     I was there for about 18 months and there were some other opportunities that started to pop up so whether it was giving guests lectures at the University of Wisconsin or doing some workshops for less financially literate people, that I really wanted to pursue because that’s the background I came from. I came from a single parent household that never had a financial adviser and I want to help those people because those are the people that I think I can help the best and need our help the most. When I got to about month 12 or month 14 I guess at Thrivent, I really started to lose passion for what I was doing simply because I couldn’t help the people I was passionate about.

Hannah:               That’s so interesting. What did you do when you realized that you were losing passion for, I don’t want to say your career but it’s kind of what it sounds like.

Matt:                     Yeah, I mean in a sense.

Hannah:               What did you what did you do at that point?

Matt:                     I really just started to reevaluate what I wanted in a job and there were certainly days where I thought about just tossing in the towel on financial planning but I did my research, I started looking up people who had started their own firm, the guy I’m working for now in Middleton his name is John, I saw that he used to work at Northwestern Mutual. I found him on LinkedIn and he had started his own financial planning firm so naturally I just reached out to him I said, “Hey John,” this is all a LinkedIn message I said, “John I’m working at Thrivent, I don’t really enjoy what I’m doing anymore and it’s becoming ever more known to me that I need to get out of here and I would just want to pick your brain and see what ups and downs you went through in starting your own business.”

                                Ultimately that cup of coffee that we had led to this job I have now so I really just started researching more about the industry. I heard about the XY planning network, I started hearing more about groups like FPA, NAPFA, ACP and I really just was almost reborn in a sense on financial planning that there’s this whole other world out there that Thrivent is not a part of at all, and that’s the world that I wanted to be in was this Fee-Only profession that you and I are a part of now.

Hannah:               I think of and I don’t know if I’ve said this on the podcast but it’s something I’ve been saying a lot lately. We talk about elder abuse like insanely high statistics on how many elderly are abused every year or how many total are abused whether that’s financial emotionally or anything like that but the number one commonality factor with all of that is isolation. I think that’s exactly what happens with new planners and what you’re talking about. You start with your first job and you just get indoctrinated in their way of thinking and the best way out is to start talking to other people.

Matt:                     Yeah, absolutely and if I weren’t to have that conversation with John, I don’t know what I would be today. I don’t know if I would have stuck with the industry or not but it was really refreshing to hear that he had the same epiphany I had so I could you know, we had that connection and he could help talk me through it and understand that I’m not wrong for thinking this way. That he went through the same thing I went through and then eventually working with him, just seeing that ultimately the process isn’t that different from what it was at Thrivent. It’s just … it’s more about the people here it’s not about the numbers and that’s why I got into financial planning was for the people.

                                You can make a great living don’t get me wrong but it’s really just to helping people understand that they can achieve what they want to achieve and enjoy life while trying to achieve those goals.

Hannah:               What does your day to day look like right now?

Matt:                     I’ll tell you what Hannah, it’s a lot different than Thrivent. Thankfully right now I don’t have to do any prospecting if I do eventually I want to start my own business. I know I’ll have to go down that road again but for me the day to day is a little bit different depending on the type of I guess the time of the year that we’re in. When I first came on board with John I was doing a lot of just administrative tasks, getting familiar with their CRM, with their data storage, I did help clean up some of their systems that they just didn’t have time to clean up. I really do enjoy tinkering with business systems and organizational structure so I do some of that when we’re not super bogged down with planning work.

                                In terms of planning work, I really just started out with preparing the back end stuff so getting client notes from previous meetings, reading those, making sure that we had the right recommendations in place based on the conversations we had with the client and as a team, doing some work within MoneyGuidePro, updating the investment accounts, all the fund planner stuff that you and I get to do every day. I also have been taking part in the meetings so the first two meetings I was in I just wanted to get a feel for John’s system. Everyone runs their meetings in a different way but it was really just natural for me to start contributing in those conversations especially since I still have my life and health insurance registration here in Wisconsin and John doesn’t.

                                That immediately gave me some value to add in those meetings and just have conversations with how we do the insurance review, how we come up with these numbers, here’s what you should be looking out for when you go to apply for these insurances. I’ve even started running some meetings on my own so it’s been really nice just to integrate into a system and provide value for the planner I’m working for.

Hannah:               There’s so many questions I have for you. When you’re talking about planning work, I think there’s a lot of confusion around what is financial advice versus what is financial planning. Can I have you speak to that for just a minute especially comparing your Thrivent experience with where you’re at right now.

Matt:                     Yeah, I guess you want to fill me in on your definitions first so I can better answer the question.

Hannah:               I’m not sure I have the best definitions either. I think this is one of the problems with where we’re at. Maybe a better way of saying this, one of the things you had mentioned a little bit earlier was that you were doing a lot of the work with clients when you actually had a lot of the same work with clients when you had them at Thrivent. Would it be possible to do full financial planning at a place like Thrivent?

Matt:                     Yes, but no at the same time and the reason I say no at the same time and I think I understand where you’re driving at with this question now is, financial planning in my opinion is surely doing it for the best interest of the client all the time. When that comes to a topic like insurance, I’m just going to use that simply because I am pretty familiar with it and I worked for an insurance company for a while, planning for insurance isn’t overly difficult. It’s not rocket science you can find a calculator out on the Internet that tells you how much insurance you need, for how long you need it and MoneyGuidePro will help with something like that as well.

                                But the financial planning is helping that client understand why this is a part of their plan not what is becoming a part of their plan and I guess when you say financial advice, right, financial advice is a pretty loose term where yes this could apply, this does apply to your situation but we’re not exactly going to say why it’s important to your plan. Does that make sense, am I going down the right path here?

Hannah:               Yeah, I think so and I think especially as we kind of dive into of the what is financial planning, I was doing a presentation recently for students and it was, we lead with listening when we’re doing planning. The client is part of that process of what’s best for their life.

Matt:                     Yeah absolutely, and I think it really goes down to the deeper level of it is about the people. It’s about developing a relationship because in order to plan effectively you have to have a long term relationship with these people whereas financial advice you know, that could be as simple as saying, “Oh I think you should buy this house.” In a quick conversation. You get those questions all the time like, what are some hot investment tips? Like you could easily give the financial advice there but that’s not really planning because we don’t know enough about the situation to make a plan. Does that make sense?

Hannah:               Absolutely. My favorite question I got asked one time when I worked as a broker dealer was, “Should I buy Coca-Cola stock or Pepsi stock?” Like, I don’t know.

Matt:                     Well and it’s funny we get these people all the time in our meetings that you know, it always comes up in the investment review and John the planner I’m working for, he always makes the point that stocks for example are traded on an exchange so in order to buy something, someone has to be selling it so one of you is going to be wrong. Either one of you is going to buy it and it goes down, or you could sell it and it goes up. It’s an exchange you’re not buying something off the shelf and hoping to sell it later. Does that make sense?

Hannah:               Absolutely but it’s so funny with that example because I’m like, immediately we could just depending on the time frame we just change time frames and both people can be right.

Matt:                     Yeah.

Hannah:               You’re sitting in our meetings already with clients and you are … how many years are you out of school?

Matt:                     I graduated in December of 2015 so I’m coming up on my two year mark.

Hannah:               On your two year mark and you’re already sitting in with meetings of clients. Let’s talk about … One of the things I hear a lot with college students is how do we have confidence working with people who tend to be older than us and have more money than us? In the meetings, how do you go about that or how you kind of tackle that problem?

Matt:                     I think in this particular situation with John, he is a veteran planner and he’s had relationship with these people for quite some time so for me it’s a lot easier to add bits and pieces of things I’m really comfortable talking about with these clients and I have John sitting there to back me up but outside of that situation, I think if you were to just pop me into a meeting tomorrow by myself with some random person, I think the key to getting older people to understand that you know what you’re talking about is just by listening. Ultimately if you can give people the answer that they’re looking for or point them in the right direction, that’s huge and that’s really all they’re looking for.

                                I think one of the biggest things I learned when I was in college, I did do some sales for a company here in Madison it wasn’t financial related but really just listening to the client and if you don’t know the answer just tell them. I don’t know one hundred percent if this is the correct answer. Here’s what I think but let me follow up with you after this meeting and I have some time to do some research. I think just being vulnerable and not trying to act like you know everything goes a long way with people and ultimately it helps build that trust regardless of if they’re 20, 30, 40, 50, 60.

Hannah:               I love that you don’t have to have all the answers you need just to be able to know where to go find the answer is.

Matt:                     Absolutely, I like to … anyone who’s in college right now listening to this it’s much like an exam. The CFP exam obviously there’s a lot of material on that, but it’s not like I could ask you, someone who’s been doing this for quite some time a really complicated question on the CFP you should get it right. But you’re not always going to get it right and I think there’s just so much information out there especially when you take into account outside media influences and what someone’s saying on their Facebook.

                                There’s all these things that you need to know all the time and just being able to admit that you don’t know everything really helps build trust. I think for the CFP sorry I kind of went off on the tangent there but at the CFP we can memorize all of that for the exam but after the exam, we might not use some of that information for years depending on the type of client that you’re working with. It’s a complicated topic when you need to admit you need to do some research just go do your research and move on.

Hannah:               When you were talking with your current boss in the interview process, what were indications in the interview that this was going to be a good fit or a place where you could really do real financial planning?

Matt:                     I think what really helped me understand that John would be a good person for me to work with, one just his track record. He’s been doing this for quite some time so I knew he must be doing well otherwise he wouldn’t be in business for that long. Two, when I sat down with him to initially discuss about me going out and starting my own business, I came in prepared with really good questions for the industry. Where does he see financial planning going, what types of clients does he work with, what does he think his clients drive the most value from and he told me right there. These people as long as you can provide value and the answer to the questions that they need help with, they’re going to stay. That really told me that he cared about his people, that these are clients that have been with him for quite some time and ultimately that’s what I wanted in a financial planning job was a place where I could build relationships with clients.

Hannah:               When you were at Thrivent you talked about being really discouraged about how you weren’t able to help people who didn’t have the resources that maybe the target client did. Are you finding … are you able to work with those clients right now or what does that look like in your life?

Matt:                     Right now it’s kind of an evolving thing that we have going on here with this planner in Middleton. That’s something that I want to do eventually, right now I’m currently not doing it. John and I have had discussions about how do we offer this within his model and ultimately if that comes to fruition or not remains to be seen. Even just in his client acquisition process he’s very much about making sure that we can provide value for the client to justify the fee that ultimately he’s going to be charging.

                                What I really like about his process is he has what he calls a Financial Tuneup, where a client, an onboarding client regardless of asset amount starts off with a very brief process of two or three topics that they for sure want to cover in their financial planning. We go through that process, we have a couple clients coming in they have state pensions, they want some tax planning help, they want to know if they’re going to be okay to retire. So that’s kind of what they want in this initial relationship and this meeting’s coming up so I can’t really say where it’s going to go but ultimately if they have more questions at the end of that first process, then we would consider bringing them into an ongoing retainer. So what I look at that with John is he’s doing the vetting of the client before he signs them on to an agreements.

                                While I can’t work right now with lower asset clients, I can see that he cares about the relationship and that to me means a lot. Is just saying that just because you want a financial planner we’re not going to throw you into this several thousand dollar agreement on an annual basis. We’re going to make sure that we can actually help you and justify that fee before we go ahead and take your money. To me it’s kind of a happy medium, where I’m at right now.

Hannah:               Well and what I like so much about what you’re saying is that you part of the conversation. He’s bringing you in and engaging with you on how to possibly serve other people down the road.

Matt:                     Yeah absolutely and we don’t see eye to eye on everything and everyone at the firm, there’s only four of us when I say everyone. Don’t think there’s a ton of people there but I think everyone has their own systems and how things work and I’ve definitely learned a lot about CRM’s for example and how he stores his files and how his process works. Everyone has their own spin on things and I’ve learned some things that I really enjoy about his process. I’ve learned some things I don’t like so much and ultimately if we work together, again that remains to be seen but if it’s meant to be in it, it’s a good fit. He’s open to the idea which is all that really matters.

Hannah:               I was talking to a group of older planners recently and I told them I was like you are going through this process ask your younger planners they see what’s happening. They have ways to make your process better you’re just not listening to them.

Matt:                     Yeah absolutely and I think not only the processes but looking at the revenue models, I think that a lot of older planners out there value my time the same way that they value their time. And as much as I would love to have the hourly rate that John has, I understand that my experience in this field is nowhere near his and I can’t charge that much. I think that’s my biggest hurdle right now is helping him understand that there’s a whole group of people that this firm can derive revenue from that fit my criteria and what my capabilities are right now and what my hourly rate so to speak is. I think that’s still a hurdle that I’m working on with him but I think it’s a common problem in the profession is that we see what our time’s worth not necessarily what our younger planners are worth.

Hannah:               From a business owner perspective, hearing you say this, you bring on clients, I mean, your income is going to be capped at a lower rate than it would be if you kind of were on the same career path that your boss was on right now. What are your thoughts about that?

Matt:                     I think I definitely understand where you’re going with this question and I’m totally going to answer it. But the way I look at it is right now John’s expertise, he is very smart when it comes to financial planning and he definitely deserves the fee that he charges. It’s just, it’s the truth so the way I look at it is his clients … I like to use baseball as an analogy because everyone really understands it. Where John is, he’s later on in his career path, he’s really helping people right now that are almost rounding third base, they’re headed home, they’re there on track for retirement, he’s done a great job of getting them into that position. I guess I just look at myself as someone coming out of the batter’s box who … I just graduated college, I’m just getting started in my career and there’s a lot of people like me that I can resonate with.

                                I guess I could charge in theory what he charges but my hope I guess is to help set younger people up who have less assets with the tools they need to go around the bases and ultimately they follow me in my career trajectory that I can build a long term relationship with them. Does that make sense?

Hannah:               Absolutely and what I think is so neat is that’s exactly what some of these older advisors did.

Matt:                     Yeah and I mean that’s … obviously I want to be compensated well. I have some goals that I want to achieve just like our clients do but I’m not trying to come out of college and make $200,000 at age 25. That’s not super important to me but obviously I want to be well compensated as I go throughout my career and if I can have these long term relationships with these clients, get them started at a lower rate that makes sense for their budget, and help them develop their financial lifestyle and get that really solid foundation in place that when it comes to middle of your career where you’re starting to see salary increases you have assets in your name and it demands a higher fee, that there’s no question of who they want to go to. I want to be that guy from start to finish.

Hannah:               The idea finding your own clients, are you opposed to that like you’re just … is that exciting to you?

Matt:                     I think it’s really exciting. It was at first at Thrivent and I lost it just because of the way that it’s celebrated there. It’s celebrated in dollars and premiums and commissions and blah blah blah that’s not where I wanted to be. But I think for me the most enjoyable part of my job is when you get to teach someone something they couldn’t understand before and you can see that light bulb moment come on and really when they get excited about the financial plan that we’re creating together because you’re just empowering people. You’re empowering people to enjoy their life, to go do the things that they want to do and that’s the most exciting part. I really do like bringing on clients, it just wasn’t the right system for me at Thrivent.

Hannah:               You asked your boss this question so I’m curious know your answer. Where do you think financial planning is heading?

Matt:                     I think it changes every so often. There’s so much information out there I mean you can read Kitsch article after Kitsch article and X Y planning article and FPA. I personally think that when you look at the industry it used to be commission driven whether it was selling insurance products or selling investments back when we had A-shares and people were getting four and a half percent on that, or a portion of that four and a half percent. I think it’s really going to transition to the fee only world and the reason why is these fees that companies are charging for their investments are just being compressed beyond belief.

                                I just saw something where Schwab is charging like .03% on investments and that was their commercial but ultimately I think my generation cares more about experiences and actually enjoying life. They want someone who cares about what they want to accomplish not just socking every dollar away into their 401K at work or saving up to buy a house, I don’t know. I just think it’s really going to be driven by relationships, honestly that’s my simple answer and I think the Fee-Only model is the way to do that.

                                I saw at Thrivent where someone would bring on a huge client with a big whole life insurance policy and they’re not going to get another dollar out of that client for quite some time. There’s no incentive there to maintain that relationship because once you get your commission in your out of your surrender period or whatever it’s called, there’s really no incentive to service that client anymore. I think our generate … my generation really cares about having someone that they can go to at all times especially when you think about the dependency on technology. Having someone that they can ask questions to and get an immediate answer is really important. I think the Fee-Only, having a solid relationship is ultimately where the industry’s going to have to go. Sorry if I went in circles there.

Hannah:               No, not at all. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and really we talk about compensation models and like Fee-only, Fee-Based, commission only. For some of my clients back when I was at the broker dealer and we did really good work for them like really good financial planning based work for them. And so for me the dividing line seems to be more, are you doing true financial planning or are you not.

Matt:                     I think ultimately … I don’t even know how to answer the question.

Hannah:               It’s not really even a question. It’s just something that the last two or three weeks I’ve been thinking about … Maybe there is no question, maybe totally I’ll just try to edit all this out.

Matt:                     I think the biggest thing is our industry, our profession sorry, they don’t know how to explain financial planning to people.

Hannah:               Absolutely.

Matt:                     Do you think that’s a common problem because I do. A lot of people you tell them you’re a financial planner and it’s like you said it’s Pepsi or Coke which one should I buy. That’s not what we do every day and I think if people knew that so much of what we do is dependent on the person we’re sitting down with, yes we have this big book and this fancy designation behind our name that tells us how to do things, but at the end of the day it’s ultimate what works for them and it’s not what works for us. It’s what works for them and how can we maintain this relationship and ultimately get you to where you want to be. So yeah, I think I answered your … was that your brainstorm there, I don’t know.

Hannah:               My brainstorm. Yeah well I don’t know and we could maybe stop recording we could talk about it more. But yeah I’ve been in the head space lately. I’m kind of pushing you, but I don’t usually push people.

Matt:                     It’s fine I love that and I really do think that I even see it in my network circles that some people just don’t understand the intricacy in the art of financial planning. They understand that they should save money and that they’re going to need to retire someday and they should probably have some insurance but they don’t understand why it’s important to them and I think that’s what financial planners really do.

Hannah:               It’s our job as financial planners to answer those questions and to be able to figure out like you said how we articulate our value?

Matt:                     Yeah exactly and that’s … John’s really good at that. He breaks it down more by the numbers like here’s what we’re saving you in fees and here’s what we’re saving you in taxes. I don’t know if there’s a way that we can … I look at someone who’s 21 or not 21 sorry like 23 coming out of college and they just want to pay off their student debt which is perfectly fine if that’s what they really want but on the flip side I don’t think they understand. We can’t calculate the value of them starting saving for retirement earlier and making the standard monthly payment on their loan that’s at 3% interest or whatever it’s at. Theoretically you can get a much higher return from the market but how do you calculate that value and how do you … you can’t, which sucks. You can’t say like assume. I mean, you can assume but you know what assuming does so.

Hannah:               I love that thought. Speaking to people who are just graduating from programs or considering financial planning, what has helped make you successful?

Matt:                     I think really if I had to pick one thing, it’s just networking. I’ve had some really cool experiences in my short 24 almost 25 years of life. You never know who’s going to help you out and when they’re going to help you out and you should never meet someone with the expectation that they’re going to help you. I think it’s just getting out there, getting exposed to a variety of different things. I in no way want to convey that I wish I didn’t do Thrivent.

                                Obviously you can make that argument that I could have or probably should have gotten out earlier but I learned a lot about the industry, I learned a lot about what I want and what I need to have a fulfilling life. So just get out there and experience things. Working with John has been great, it worked out perfectly right as I exited Thrivent and I was on with him, that was awesome for financial reasons and a great learning experience but ultimately if it’s not the perfect fit, I don’t know if there is such thing as a perfect fit, but just get out there and experience what you need to do to be happy. Having some good experiences, some bad experiences and finding a way to connect with people to potentially find a more fulfilling role down the road.

Hannah:               Are there any projects or anything that you’re really excited about right now?

Matt:                     Yeah. I have a lot, I always have a lot of ideas in my head and I really need a business coach or someone to rein me in sometimes because I can come up with ideas all day but sometimes I need someone to just kick me in the butt and throw me into the fire. One of the projects I’m working on right now it’s a new tool developed by some research done here at the University of Wisconsin, it’s called Money Languages and the reason why I’m really excited about this tool is it really helps younger planners especially but I still think there’s value for older planners as well, to understand what type of person they work the best with. Really what our tool does is based on some research we’ve done on why people make the money decisions they make in what’s really important to them in life. It’s a client survey that they take and it produces a report for the advisor that helps you guide the conversation based on their … basically their money psychology. Does that make sense?

Hannah:               Absolutely, and I love the psychology side of everything.

Matt:                     Yeah and I think you and I can both agree and for the younger folks out there who haven’t been in client meetings and or haven’t done much planning work. You can make the best financial plan under the sun but if your client doesn’t want to do it, you have a whole another problem. We’re only as valuable as the action we can get our clients to take, right?

Hannah:               I could not agree anymore with that.

Matt:                     I guess my excitement for the tool is the soft skills, the communication skills with clients like we were talking about earlier to help build that trust. That is a really hard thing to learn and it’s something you will not learn in college unless you do some sort of sales program or you have … you just naturally have that ability to connect with people. This tool really just give some targeted questions that you should be asking the clients. They’re not anything overly specific. Some things that you shouldn’t talk to them about so that you don’t completely turn them off and you get the rough and tough client that doesn’t want to do anything that you’re suggesting. But it also provides some tips for how do you maintain that relationship going forward and how do you prevent not only you from creating a big headache for yourself, but also how do you keep your client happy and prevent them from getting worried about their financial situation.

Hannah:               That’s great. Somebody is interested where can I go to find out more information?

Matt:                     Right now I heard our website is actually down we’re doing some work on the back end but if you just want to include my LinkedIn or my email address you have on file. If you want to include that in the podcast notes, if anyone’s interested in Money Languages wants to learn more just shoot me a message and I can provide a demo or just a quick phone call with you to talk more about that.

Hannah:               Great. Well, thank you so much for being with us Matt.

Matt:                     Yeah thanks Hannah, I really appreciate your time and thanks for having me.

Hannah:               Thanks for listening and we hope you have a great Thanksgiving break, we’ll be back next week.

Hide Transcript

This week Matt Fizell joins us from Middleton, Wisconsin. Matt is only a few years into the profession and working with a CFP® there in Wisconsin. Together, we walk through Matt’s career decisions, and how he sees his path as a financial planner unfold... Matt has been graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years and has already had an eventful career. He started out at Thrivent Financial, and is now working with a fee-only financial planning firm.
Together, we walk through Matt’s career decisions, and how he sees his path as a financial planner unfolding.

“You’re empowering people to enjoy their life, to go do the things that they want to do. That’s the most exciting part.”

What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

What a day in the life of a young financial planner looks like.
Different options that young planners have.
How working with an established CFP® can look.

Thrivent Financial
XY Planning Network
Trinity Financial Planning
Money Languages
Hannah Moore clean
Entering the Profession with Confidence Tue, 14 Nov 2017 20:54:02 +0000 0 This week on the #YAFPNW podcast, Hannah Moore speaks at Texas A&M University about how new financial planners can overcome obstacles and take charge of their careers. This week we go with Hannah Moore to Texas A&M University. Hannah had the opportunity to speak with financial planning students at Texas A&M about financial planning, her career journey, and how new planners can engage with financial planning clients. Hannah explores fears often faced by new planners, how to own your value and she even shares part of an interview she did with a client!

“It’s not about how complicated it is, it’s about how easy you can make it…They [clients] trust the fact that you know what you’re doing.”

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • How to overcome your fears as a new planner.
  • How to manage uncertainty in your career.
  • How to engage with clients as a new planner.
  • How listening can change your approach to planning altogether.

A Concise History of Financial Planning

Texas A&M Financial Planning Program

FPA Activate Facebook Group

Guiding Wealth Management

CFP Board

This week on the #YAFPNW podcast, Hannah Moore speaks at Texas A&M University about how new financial planners can overcome obstacles and take charge of their careers. “It’s not about how complicated it is, it’s about how easy you can make it…They [clients] trust the fact that you know what you’re doing.”
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

* How to overcome your fears as a new planner.
* How to manage uncertainty in your career.
* How to engage with clients as a new planner.
* How listening can change your approach to planning altogether.

A Concise History of Financial Planning
Texas A&M Financial Planning Program
FPA Activate Facebook Group
Guiding Wealth Management
CFP Board
Hannah Moore clean
This Is My Dream Job: Part Two Thu, 09 Nov 2017 17:11:55 +0000 0 Part two of our #YAFPNW series with Leighann Miko delves into what it’s like to launch your own RIA and how to ride the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. Leighann Miko launched her firm, Equalis Financial, about a year ago. Since then, she’s had tremendous success. Leighann has been named one of Investment News’s 40 Under 40, and works to promote diversity within the financial planning industry through her role as an FPA member.

In the final part of this two-part series, we talk about some of the struggles that Leighann has encountered more recently in her career. In spite of the challenges she’s faced, they ultimately led to her launching Equalis Financial.

We love that Leighann is totally open about her experiences – she has so much wisdom to offer new CFP®s!

“There’s no easy fix to some of these problems – sometimes you’ve just got to go through it.”

What You’ll Learn:

  • The struggles Leighann faced when starting her own RIA.
  • How to care for yourself as an entrepreneur.
  • How to embrace the roller coaster that is owning your own practice.


This Is My Dream Job: Part One

Equalis Financial

Leighann Miko, CFP ® Twitter

40 Under 40 Investment News

Show Transcript

Ep70 Transcript


Leighann:            At the one year mark of us working together, I really was starting to come to the hard realization that maybe this was a mistake, maybe I bit off more than I could chew, and I should have done some more due diligence ahead of time. I realized there was a ton of miscommunication between the two of us. I was starting to see the ugly truth that we just were not on the same page at that point. That’s a harsh realization after a year of working towards something and essentially having nothing to show for it.

Hannah:               When you said that you weren’t on the same page with her, was that just about the retirement and things like that? Or was it more than that, like the practice and how she approached her work with clients, or … ?

Leighann:            All of that. A big part of it was that nothing was happening in terms of the succession and the buy-out. But it was also, you know, you don’t see the inner workings of someone’s company until you actually get in there. You don’t see how they work with clients, what their relationship is like, the services they offer, how they deal with things, until you’re in it. I realized that we were coming at from two different perspectives, and we just weren’t on the same page, which made me realize that it was going to be a little tricky once I started working with her clients for the … That transition was going to be tricky because I did things differently. I provided services differently. I communicated differently. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing compared to the way she did it, it was different no less. I was concerned that that may affect the relationship I had with the clients moving forward.

Hannah:               Did clients know that you were going to be the succession plan?

Leighann:            It was never announced. I think most of them figured out what was going on. I mean, she was older. She was in her 60s. Here I was a young person coming in. It was never officially announced to them, but I think they picked up and they realized, “Okay, we see what’s happening here. You’re introducing us to this new person that’s with the firm. We get it.” But again, it was never made official.

Hannah:               This is so interesting to me. You just decide that this isn’t working out. What were those conversations like with her?

Leighann:            Intense. In one word, intense. Because we were coming at it from such different angles, it was hard, again, to get back on that same page. The way I was seeing things going or not going versus the way she was seeing things going or not going. There were quite a few conversations where she had these expectations of me that she never actually conveyed to me, so I was obviously not meeting them, and vice versa. It was just that lack of communication that just, hey, this is what she was expecting of me. Here I am failing at this objective because I didn’t know it existed kind of thing.

Hannah:               What are example of that, if you don’t mind sharing?

Leighann:            One thing that was expected of me was to bring in a certain amount of new assets under management over a period of time. I didn’t find out there was a number until, I think, 10 months, 11 months, in. By that point, it was a goal that she had set that I would bring in X number of new accounts with X number of dollars within 15 months. There we are at the 10 or 11 month mark, and I haven’t done anything because I didn’t know that was what she was expecting of me. That in conjunction with some contradictory statements that were made in the past, it was just, again, the miscommunication, the lack of understanding, the fact that all of these conversations were either in person … Well, mostly in person … and there was actually nothing in writing, no official anything, was really the undoing at the end.

Hannah:               Was it just due from the beginning, do you think? I mean, looking back, for a new advisor entering into a situation like that, what would be your advice to them?

Leighann:            Get things in writing. Always get things in writing. I don’t know that it was necessarily doomed from the start. I think the intentions were there. I think we both wholeheartedly thought that things were going to go differently. I would say probably around the six month mark is when the red flags and the spidey senses started to go off in my head, where I started to really question whether this was going to actually happen and if it was a good idea. But I figured, at that point, I had spent six months making virtually no money and working my butt off, and committed to this, that I was not going to give in and just throw in the towel. I wanted to move forward and see what was going to happen. At the end of the day, it didn’t happen. But I would rather say that I gave it 100% effort and went through with it, than just throwing in the towel halfway through.

Hannah:               Yeah. I mean, that makes a lot of sense. What was your mindset at that point, looking forward to your future?

Leighann:            That was a very trying, manic couple of days. I’d come to the understanding and accepted the fact there was a good chance that this was going to fall apart before it got anywhere at that point. I resolved myself to the fact that there was a good chance it was going to happen, and that it was okay if we parted ways, it would be okay. I would go on my own way. In one of my very lengthy emails to her trying to figure out what was going on, I said that to her. I said, “If you don’t see this working, please let’s have a conversation about it so I can get my ducks in a row and move on and do what I need to do.” I knew that was a distinct possibility.

That still didn’t prepare me for the conversation where it ultimately everything imploded. It was a Friday morning, and just like every quarter for the past four quarters, I showed up. We were going to do our quarterly planning set up, review the last quarter, set up our projections and our tasks and whatnot for the coming quarter. With no sign of anything, even sending me emails in the days prior having to do with client matters, I didn’t suspect anything. What I got was a 20 minute talking to of how she wanted to go a different direction, and this wasn’t what she was looking for, among some other things that I probably should not discuss. Was handed a piece of paper that said this is my 30 days to wrap up all my outstanding affairs affiliated with her company. That was that. That was Friday morning at 9:00 A.M. I basically spent the weekend, like I said, manic. One minute laughing myself hysterical of what just happened. Then the next minute crying, frantically trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life.

Hannah:               Oh, my goodness. It’s such a reality of this business. I wish it wasn’t. You know what I mean?

Leighann:            I do know. I do.

Hannah:               Okay, so let’s look back at that time. Because that was a year ago, right?

Leighann:            Yeah, that was almost a year ago to the day. It was October, I want to say, 7th or 9th of 2016.

Hannah:               You’re a year removed from that. What do you wish you would have known at that time?

Leighann:            A good question. I mean, obviously, I wish I had a crystal ball to tell me what was going to happen. But we all know that’s not reality. I guess I wish I had known more about how that process works of buying a firm and the succession planning. I wish I had understood who was responsible for what, and what the process looks like, and how it goes, and ways that I could have aided in the process. I mean, I even called the firm that she was planning to use to do the evaluation, and spoke with them to try and get their perspective on what I should do as the buyer. That’s how far I went to figure out, “How can we make this happen? What is stalling? What’s going on? How do I aid this process?” I wish I had been more informed on that aspect of it.

What’s funny is that in the time since then, I have seen so many webinars and so many FPA meetings centered around this exact topic. Like, “Where were you two years ago? I really could have used this guidance.” That’s probably the number one thing I wish I had known.

Hannah:               Did you still go into work for those 30 days?

Leighann:            I had to. I had outstanding plans that I was working on. I had outstanding work I was taking care of. In the time I was working there, I did bring on a few financial planning clients. For all of those clients that were technically my clients, I basically spoke with them all over the phone, explained in very simple terms what was going on. They all had options as to what they were going to do moving forward. I laid it all out to them. Then spent the next 30 days finishing up what I could, and closing out any open engagements, and tying up loose ends. I was able to get it all done and wash my hands of it, and finally get that new start that I needed.

Hannah:               You were able to take your clients. Were you thinking of starting your own firm at this point? Or was it just more of you were just so overwhelmed with everything that was happening?

Leighann:            The conversation where everything unfolded was a Friday morning. Like I said, I spent that weekend manic, trying to figure out what I was going to do. On the one hand, I could start my own firm. On the other hand, I could go work for someone else. Having known what I know about myself in terms of how I work with people and what a control freak I am, I realized that probably not my best bet because I had likely get fired for the first time in my life. I’m in my early 30s, I’m pretty set in my ways. Like I said, stuck in my ways and a little unwilling to change certain things. I’m very confident in what I believe. I knew that does not make for a good employee.

Recognizing that, I was like, “Well, the only other real option is to start my own firm. But do I have both the mental, emotional wherewithal and the financial means to do this? What does this mean for me financially? Because I’ve the last year basically living just above the poverty line. What is that going to mean? How many months can I afford to do this any longer? What’s that point where I have to throw in the towel, and is it worth it? Did I have the confidence at the time to put myself out there?”

Monday morning rolled around, and I ended up talking with three of her clients that I had grown really close to, and was working very closely with. They knew what was going on. She had emailed all of her clients I was working with to very implicitly state I was no longer with the firm. That’s all it was, no anything.

I spoke with them all. They had actually reached out to me after. I had sent a very nice email saying it was wonderful working with them and wished them well. Actually, three of them called me in the next two days. They were all so encouraging and so wonderful. Just encouraging me to keep doing what I was doing, and praising me and our work together. That was the confidence booster that I need to say, “Okay, clearly I’m doing something right here if the three of them went out of their way to call me and tell me how much they enjoyed working with me, and how much they benefited from it. Like clearly, I’ve got something here.” That really was the deciding factor in getting everything going.

Hannah:               Wow. Because that was one of the things I was wondering about as you were talking. Because I know you had mentioned this before that how confidence, like there is a confidence issue to get in front of clients and to take over that lead advisor. These clients who reached out to you, that was really what it took? Or were there other things that added to your confidence along the way?

Leighann:            I mean, I think over that year that we worked together, there was a lot of client facing work done. I think the accumulation of working with all of those clients and really starting to get out in front of the clients. I had a year to build up that confidence and really figure out my communication side with clients, and how I was going to interact with them, and tweaking that and making sure that I was taking into consideration personality types and adjusting my methodology for communicating with them based on that. I had a good amount of time to do that. By the time this all rolled around and they called me … No one, obviously, had given me feedback saying, “You’re doing really great at this.” To hear them say that was like that was what I needed, that, “You’re doing great. You should keep doing this.”

Hannah:               You finished up these 30 days. Do you have a good sense that you’re going to be your own firm at this point?

Leighann:            I do, yeah, so I totally get sidetracked. That Friday everything happened, Monday, Tuesday, are the days they call me. That Wednesday, I started drafting all of my documents. I signed up for my IARD account. I started drafting my ADV, getting all of that stuff together, my U4, gathering all the documents, everything I was going to need to submit to the state. Then it was just a rat race to how quickly I could get it done.

Hannah:               How long did that take you?

Leighann:            Too long. Unfortunately, given that I had my business plan all set and ready to go, and I was working diligently and doing everything I could as fast as I could, the good all state of California had recently gone on a hiring frenzy in the California Department of Business Oversight, who handles California Registered Advisors. I was saddled with a guy who had been on the job for two weeks. That process was just a nightmare because he had no idea what he was doing. The only way to get information back from him was to pester him via email, and then he would actually do it. It ended up what should have been probably a four week process, ended up taking about 10 weeks. It was just a bunch of nonsense that didn’t need to happen. I was at the mercy of the CBO. There was nothing I could do but just say, “Okay, any time you’re ready to get things done here.”

Hannah:               You have no income coming in at this point. Did you pick up a side job, or were you just 100% all in on this?

Leighann:            That happened the beginning of October. I had enough money to get me through October. Then I made that phone call that I swore to myself as a 33 year old woman that I would never make. I called up Mom, and I said, “Hey Mom, you know that offer you extend to me pretty much every day to move back in with you? I’m going to take you up on it finally.”

Hannah:               Wow.

Leighann:            A couple week later, I actually moved back in with my Mom. I thought, “If I’m going to give my clients sound advice and request of them to compromise certain things when they need to meet an objective, I’ve got to take my own advice. I can’t sit here and say, ‘Do this,’ and then be irresponsible with my own financial life.” It didn’t sit right with me.

Hannah:               That’s a hard thing for somebody to do is to go back and move in with their parents. I think this is reflecting more on me than anything else. What did people around you think? You have other planners. You have this network that you’ve built out. Were they aware of what was happening?

Leighann:            For the most part, yeah, at that point. I had become a little bit of a recluse. I wasn’t as socially engaged, both professionally and personally at that point, just because I was dealing with so much. By nature, I’m a relatively … Like I said, I’m an introverted person and I do very much value quiet time. Going through the stress of all this, I kept to myself a little bit. When I did engage with friends and other colleagues and trusted professionals, and explained to them, to them, it was like, “Oh done. No brainer. Of course.” They were all just like, “Well, be thankful that you actually have someone who’s willing to let you move in with them and not pay rent,” and all of this jazz. It was support all around. I never encountered one ounce of negativity or questioning or anything. Everyone was so supportive and so understanding, and so great, which obviously made the process go that much smoother mentally and financially, all of those things. It worked out really well.

Hannah:               When did you officially open your doors for your new company?

Leighann:            Officially January 2, 2017.

Hannah:               Okay, so was this, this moment of just euphoria, like you finally have a company set up now?

Leighann:            It was pure elation. I got the go ahead from the state. My website was active and live. Everything was in place. I just was counting down the days until I got that first client. It was crickets, crickets for a bit. I started to get a little scared there, not going to lie. I was a little paranoid as January went by, and then February went by, and nothing.

Hannah:               That’s such a hard place to be. You’re not bringing in any money. You have this whole business plan put together. Were you doing marketing at this point?

Leighann:            I wasn’t doing marketing per se. I had listings on all the NAFPA, FPA, CFP. I was going to FPA meetings and looking into joining other networking groups. I was reaching out to all of my contacts, clients I had worked with in the past, friends, family, everyone. I started to get some inquiries, which was great. But what I didn’t necessarily account for mentally was that time period between when someone first contacts you and when they ultimately end up deciding to be a client. It’s not as if they contact me on a Tuesday, and on a Wednesday, we’re signing a contract. Though that actually has happened before, but that’s not how it usually happens. What are the statistics, 3% of people are ready to sign on the dotted line right away? Everyone else, it could be at any point.

Hannah:               Did the clients from the firm where you were working at before, did they join you?

Leighann:            Not exactly. To date, I’ve worked with four clients that I worked with at the previous firm. They were all clients that I had worked with in a limited capacity then, and again, in a limited capacity now. They were all looking for a refresh on their budgeting and cash flow projections, or a refresh on their investment analysis kind of thing. Those were very limited scope engagements that were a one time deal.

Hannah:               Let’s talk about these two months. Can you talk more about what that experience was like?

Leighann:            You know, as much as I enjoy rollercoasters, and I really do. I find them very fun. This rollercoaster hasn’t been as much fun. To be honest with you, it’s been everything from left me in the fetal position crying to nearly vomiting out of fear. That’s not a really good place to be mentally, but at the end of the day, I’ve never been happier. Honestly, I’ve never been happier than I am right now. I would not change a thing. Looking back on everything that’s happened over the past couple of years has led me to this point. I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons. I’m happy.

Hannah:               So many questions about this. During those times … Because I think this is the real side of being an entrepreneur. That you said vomiting in fear and crying in the fetal position. That’s pretty strong emotions. That is what it is. I heard somebody, “You have the highest of highs and the lowest of lows sometimes in the same day.” How do you deal with that from a self care perspective? How do you handle that?

Leighann:            I don’t even know. I wish I had some sort of magical like this is what I do, and it cures me right away kind of thing. It’s more or less, I think it depends on the state of affairs at the moment. What’s going on in my life in that moment. For me, I have four nieces and nephews, ranging in age from one to seven at this point. They are just little balls of smiles. Typically, when you’re having a really rough day, looking at a kid smiling and laughing and giggling is really wonderful for the psyche. On those hard days, I literally would just go over to my brother’s house, sit down with the kids, and say, “Get my mind off of things.” Then we would play with their dolls or their GI Joes or whatever it was that month.

Hannah:               Oh, that’s great. I love that. Well, and I love the realization that there’s no easy fix to some of these problems. Sometimes you just got to go through it.

Leighann:            Yeah, and I have a really hard time shutting my brain off. There’s no, “I go into the office at nine. I leave at five. When I flip that light switch off, my brain goes off with it.” It’s a 24/7 thought process. It doesn’t just shut off. It’s constantly looking at, “How can I make things better? Oh, I got to do this for this client.” Because it never leaves you. It’s always there. To this day, I still struggle with how to separate work and my clients from my life, so it’s not bogging me down and stopping me from enjoying just the things that give me joy. It’s been a really tricky process of figuring out what that looks like. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Hannah:               Please do. We’ll have a whole another podcast on that. Let’s talk about … You do have clients. We know that from the beginning. When did you start getting clients? How did clients start coming to you? What has that been like?

Leighann:            Again, that rollercoaster. I signed my very first client, signed their contract on February 28th. Then March just turned into some sort of sick twisted joke. I ended up signing, I think, nine clients that month.

Hannah:               Whoa.

Leighann:            I know. Yeah, it was an onslaught. It was just madness at that point. Part of it, I worked with a client at the previous firm who sought me out, and so somewhat unrelated to her, but when I opened my doors, I sent an email to all my folks. I had just let them know what was going on. She was, unbeknownst to me, plastered it all over her Facebook. She is an entrepreneur herself and a wedding photographer, so she had a ton of reach on her Facebook. I think three of her friends and/or previous clients reached out to me almost immediately. That caught me off guard because I had no idea she’d even done that. I was like, “Hey, where’d you get my information?” They were like, “Oh, so and so.” I was like, “Really?” I am forever indebted to her, and her and her husband, who are such amazing people.

Between them and then again, to my great surprise, I joined NAFPA through XYPN, they say, “Okay, you can join this.” I thought, “Well, it’s a benefit provided through my membership in XYPN. I’m going to do it. It’s free. Why not?” I started getting flooded with inquiries from NAFPA. I was getting probably one a week, which again, I did not anticipate. I had no idea because I had been a member of FPA and been on the CFP board search engine. I would get maybe one every two months. I thought, “Well, that’s probably what’s going to happen here.” No, quite the opposite.

Hannah:               Wow. Have you gotten clients from the NAFPA website?

Leighann:            I don’t know the exact numbers. I should actually look at that. I’ve gotten at least six clients. I would say at least six clients from NAFPA.

Hannah:               Wow. How many clients are you servicing now?

Leighann:            Year-to-date, I have 32 clients, some of which were just a project one-time deal. Then some of which are ongoing financial planning and/or investment management. 32 more than I thought I’d have.

Hannah:               That’s so impressive. Especially considering your first client signed on February 28th of this year. We’re recording this at the end of October 2017. That’s really impressive. Well done.

Leighann:            Thank you. Yeah, it surprised me as well.

Hannah:               Let’s talk about how you structured your company, that business plan that you started how many years ago in your CFP courses. Does your practice reflect that business plan?

Leighann:            For the most part, it does. The business plan definitely takes more of a bigger picture view. It essentially is lined up as my ideal practice as I see it when it’s ideal or optimal working. It’s basically set up as if I’m completely successful, and I’ve gotten to a certain point, and can implement some of these things, and projects and programs that I want to implement. It like that ideal scenario, not necessarily the beginning stages. I know some folks have said, “You know, you create a business plan based on where you want to be at the beginning.” For me, it was like, “Well, no, I’m going to create a business plan for the ideal business structure,” meaning multiple people involved, different types of programs that I’m offering. It’s like more of what I’m striving to get to than that first step.

Hannah:               Let’s talk about your niche because you have a special niche. Can you share what that is, and how that became your niche?

Leighann:            I’ve long been the underdog my entire life. I think that’s really what’s led me to focus on underserved communities. It’s primarily the LGBTQ community and young professionals with a side order of single women, either widows or divorcees. These communities have long been ignored for the most part until recently. As we see this NextGen wave of advisors coming in and realizing they are these demographics that just aren’t getting serviced. There aren’t enough advisors out there who are focusing on them for one reason or another, young professionals in particular. Because if you look at the typical advisor, they’ve got that $500,000 minimum, or they won’t talk to you kind of thing.

Young professionals, unless they’ve inherited money or the next tech startup wiz, just don’t have those assets, but they need the guidance. Having been an underdog my entire life, I thought, “It would be perfect for me to work with clients who have been the underdog as well. People that have been thrown to the wayside and said, ‘No, you don’t have what we want. We don’t want to work with you because you don’t have X Y or Z, or because we don’t understand you,” those kinds of situations.

Hannah:               You designed your firm knowing who you wanted to serve, is that right?

Leighann:            Yes, absolutely.

Hannah:               How are you uniquely serving them where other firms don’t?

Leighann:            You know, since marriage is now legal for anyone regardless of whether they’re marrying a man or a woman, whatever, it’s definitely taken that unique planning element out of the equation, which is great. A lot of people, when this happened, said, “Oh, well there’s no need for advisors with specialize in working with the LGBTQ community because they essentially have all the same rights and everything as straight folks. You don’t need all these fancy planning techniques anymore.” At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily just about having the deeper understanding of what those special planning techniques may be in order to level the playing field with the heterosexual counterparts. It’s the walking into someone’s office and wondering whether they’re going to judge you or accept your life and who your partner is. It’s wondering if saying my husband, if you’re a man, is okay, or if that’s going to set off red flags for someone, or whether they’re going to treat you equally.

It’s that common ground that they come to me and they understand you are not going to judge me. You have experienced much of the same things I have experienced all my life as a member of the LGBTQ community, and you understand where I’m at, where I’m coming from, what my needs are, what my experience is. To me, that’s more important. I think that as far as the LGBTQ clients I have, it’s the same thing. It’s that they knew I wasn’t going to look at them and go, “I’m sorry, you’re what now?” when a woman introduced her wife and not her sister.

Hannah:               Right. On your website, on your homepage, which I love your website. People should definitely go check that out. The first sentence on your homepage, it just struck me as very deliberate. I feel like there’s a story behind it. Maybe that’s the whole way you approach everything. It says bold as, “Hello. We’re Equalis Financial and we have the financial help you’re looking for. Focused whole-heartedly on the principle of equality, we’re an independent, fee-only firm …” I love that phrase “Focused whole-heartedly on the principle of equality.” Can you talk more to that? What’s really behind that?

Leighann:            As a member of the LGBTQ community, I came out of the closet 20 years ago this month actually. I’ve experienced 20 years of what it’s like to be a non-heterosexual person in this world. Seeing and experience the discrimination, and the looks, and the questioning, and the different types of attitudes across the board. I also have a lot of friends whose families are not from the U.S., who are culturally different. For me, my biggest thing is leveling the playing field. I want everyone to have the same start. I want everyone to have the same access. There’s no reason why Tom and Nancy should have a headstart or access to services that Jim and Bob don’t have access to.

The name of my firm, Equalis, is a play on the Latin word, aequalis, which is Latin for equal. My mission is to provide that equality. I want everyone to be on the same playing field and to recognize that despite our differences, we all deserve the same treatment, the same access to information, the same access to resources, and the same everything. There’s no reason why it should be any different for any one person.

Hannah:               Oh, I love it so much. I love how powerful that is and how … On your website, it’s the first thing that you’re leading with. That’s so cool to me.

Leighann:            Thank you.

Hannah:               Looking at your firm, do you have minimums? How do you structure that?

Leighann:            I don’t have any minimums. Unlike most advisors, especially in the LA area, where there’s a lot of big money here, and people have a certain expectation of what an advisor is going to look like and present themselves and their office and all that jazz, I do the exact opposite of that. So, no minimums, I don’t keep a traditional office space. That’s, in large part, due to a lot of research. Even my own experience with clients is that people are more inclined to effect positive change when they’re in an environment that they’re comfortable in. Sitting in a conference room with super bright, white halogen lights and this massive table and white walls, usually is not their comfort zone. It does not reduce stress. We all know most folks, when they talk about money, it tends to stress them out. One thing what couples fight most over, money. The idea is that I want to reduce those stressors. I want them to be comfortable because I know that it’s going to help them to make better decisions.

Hannah:               That’s really neat. Do you have an office where you meet clients at?

Leighann:            I don’t. It’s funny because in the age of technology, you would think that clients would want to meet remotely, and we can do FaceTime or any number of online resources do these things. I find that clients don’t necessarily want that. What I offer is I say, “Hey, I will meet you in a place you’re most comfortable with.” Whether that’s their house, their office, or a local coffee shop, those three places are where they tend to go most. I travel to them.

Hannah:               Your clients are choosing to meet with you in person instead of virtually, is that right?

Leighann:            It is. It’s funny because we would think with people, especially my clients in their 20s and 30s that are more comfortable with technology, that they would be totally fine and into meeting remotely because then you can sit there in your pajamas. You don’t have to leave, whatever. It just tends to be easier. I find that they still want to poke me, so to speak, to make sure I’m real. They want to have that physical interaction to make sure I’m not a robot, and to just have that more … It’s a more intimate vibe when you meet with someone, and you’re sitting there in their living room, and they’re telling you this how they grew up with money, and this is how they value money, and this is what’s important to them. They would rather do that to your face than sitting on a computer looking at you. I’ve accepted that. At this point, I essentially cater to that if they want to do that then. I honestly like meeting in person as well, so it’s probably a little bit of me being insistent upon that as well.

Hannah:               How are your clients paying you right now?

Leighann:            Right now I have probably close to two dozen clients that are on an ongoing retainer type planning relationship. They all pay me via AdvicePay. That’s the new payment processor that allows advisors to collect payment from clients. I do have some of my old school clients who prefer to pay via check. I usually will only accept that if it’s for a one-time payment. If it’s for a recurring, ongoing planning, I’m adamant that they use AdvicePay.

Hannah:               Do you have a minimum fee for clients?

Leighann:            I don’t necessarily have a minimum necessarily. I like to keep it at least at $1,200 a year because if you break that down hourly, it makes the most sense. Then it starts basically at 100. Then I think my highest fee I’m charging is 250 a month. 100 to 250 is the range. Usually, they’ll fall somewhere in that range.

Hannah:               Are you managing assets as well?

Leighann:            I am managing assets. It’s not as much of a focus. It’s the non-sales-y person in me, in that I do have quite a few clients who have assets, mostly at Vanguard, that are just sitting there hanging out in Vanguard funds, who I gave the option of doing investment management for. They ultimately ended up choosing to just doing the ongoing planning. I always give them the choice. I lay out all of the options. I explain the pros and cons to each, the costs to each, and let them decide what’s in their best interest. As long as I feel like I’ve educated them on all of their options and what it means for them, I’m okay with whatever they choose. I try not to push them into one or the other because, again, don’t want to be that cheesy sales person. At this point, I have just a handful of clients who I manage assets for. Year-to-date, I’ve got a million dollars on the books, and another 1.4 under contract that I’m transitioning over to TD Ameritrade.

Hannah:               That’s great, especially with getting your first client not that long ago. That’s really impressive.

Leighann:            I’m going to keep saying, it keeps surprising me.

Hannah:               Okay, so let’s look to the future. What do you have planned? What do you envision going forward?

Leighann:            Because I’ve been so focused on this year, and because I had such a large shift and unexpected amount of clients sign with me this year, I honestly haven’t been able to do a lot of forward business planning. I’m focusing right now, 90% of it is on my current clients and making sure that I’m taking care of them, servicing them, and that their needs are met. Then once I feel like I’ve been able to get on top of that, I’ll probably switch focus. I’ve actually made the decision recently that I’m not going to take on anymore clients in November or December, so I can make sure that come January 1st, I’m all caught up, all clients are in a good space, and then 2018 will start fresh and go from there. I have some targets that I’ve set, ideal numbers and it’d be nice to hit them, but I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself in terms of meetings numbers.

Hannah:               Right, numbers that are hypothetical.

Leighann:            Exactly. Again, because I feel like based on what other advisors have showed me of what they’re doing, I feel like I’m a little ahead of the curve in my first year. Again, that helps me to not put so much pressure on myself for a year or two.

Hannah:               Looking to the new planners, what have been … Touch on the value of your network. I’m sure your network has quite a few new planners in it as well. What are, I don’t want to say issues, but what some things that you would caution new planners about?

Leighann:            The number one thing I hear from some new planners, and even a secondhand comment from other advisors who’ve spoken to new planners, is that recent graduates feel a little emboldened by technology and resources on the market to feel and think that they can open their own practice relatively soon after graduating from college. To me, that would be a huge mistake. I say that because I had eight and a half years of experience behind me of learning every facet of the business.

If you come out of school, and you’re in early 20s, and you think that, “Yeah, there’s this resource here that’ll help me do it. I should totally do it,” don’t. I think it’s incredibly important to … I don’t want to be that person, that older person that says, “Pay your dues. Put in the time,” because that’s not necessarily what it is. I think it’s really important to learn from the generation of planners before you. From my experience again, it’s learn what you don’t want to do, but learn what you do want to do as well. I think it’s really important to gain that experience. It’s invaluable. It’ll help you from avoiding certain mistakes that you may make had you not had that experience.

Hannah:               That’s great. What would be your advice for new planners? I hit it on a little bit, but for somebody starting out or thinking about financial planning as a career, what would you tell them?

Leighann:            I think the first bit of advice is to obtain the CFP, go through the coursework. If anything, especially if you are a career transitioner, go through the coursework. Yeah, it’ll cost you maybe a couple thousand dollars out of pocket to go through the courses. But what it’ll do is give you that high level overview of what the industry is all about. If at the end of it, it’s not something you see yourself doing, well you just educated yourself and spent a few bucks, but you’re no worse off.

I think getting the CFP designation is hands down the most important thing. A lot of these colleges actually have joint programs now, where it’s your undergraduate degree in combination with all of the courses required to sit for the CFP examination, which I think is fantastic. If only they had had that when I was in college, that would have been wonderful, but it exists now. For college students to go through and have that fundamental knowledge and understanding of what it is, is really great. I think the experience requirement obviously before being able to use the CFP marks is very necessary, but I think having that is really important. It really is the gold standard for proving your credibility and your knowledge.

Hannah:               When you took the CFP exam, where did you take that in your career, and what was your experience around that?

Leighann:            I had a fun, roundabout path with my CFP journey. I started taking the online courses through the College for Financial Planning right after I graduated from college, which was mistake number one. I didn’t let myself breathe after school, after school, after school. I should have given myself more time. What I also realized was that I needed something a little more structured. I didn’t have the self discipline to take an online course. What that made me realize was that there was no way I was going to retain the information, and I was undoubtedly going to fail the exam if this is the path I kept taking.

I decided to enroll in the UCLA Personal Financial Planning certificate program, which again was an in-person deal with other classmates, so it forced me to be there every week, and to pay attention, and to have this structure around it, which was really helpful for me. Not everyone needs that, but I definitely needed it. I think it’s important to recognize that in yourself if you’re the same type of person.

I went through that and I finished my last course in the winter of 2011. That was actually before the practicum course was required by the CFP board. UCLA just added it in there, which I thought was great. They were a little ahead of the curve. Because it wasn’t required, I was actually able to register and sit for the November 2011 exam, which I did despite being incredibly unprepared. That was also back in the days where the exam was on paper, and it was over two days and 10 hours. It was a nightmare. I’ve never been more uncomfortable in any sort of environment than that. It was just sitting there with 100 other people, listening to two hours of instructions every day. It was terrible. Thank god it caught up with modern technology and you can do it on the computer now, because that was terrible.

Needless to say, I failed. I did not pass it that first time around. I knew it going in that I wasn’t prepared. I had again resolved myself to another reality that I wasn’t going to pass. By the time I’d realized that, it was too late to reschedule or get a refund. I ultimately looked at it as a very expensive practice test. It set me up to say, “Okay, this is what it’s like. These are what the questions are like,” which I thought again, I was trying to turn it into a positive like, “Yes, you failed, but you can now take the experience. You know what the test is like. You know what the environment is like. Use that to your advantage for when you take it the next time.”

Hannah:               When did you retake the exam then?

Leighann:            Well, several years later. My original intention, obviously, was to take it within six months. For one reason or another, I made an impulsive decision to apply to grad school and got in. Then realized that there was no way that I could work full time at 40 hours a week, take two graduate level courses per semester, and study for the CFP exam. I decided that I would put the CFP exam off until I had finished graduate school. That worked out pretty well.

Six months after graduation, I tackled that beast once again. Fortunately this time, I came out the victor and actually passed it. Again, despite my feeling of failure as I went into it. Sometimes I wish I could get the video from the Prometrics Center that records above you to make sure you’re not cheating. Because to see my reaction to that screen. By this time, technology was on computers. To see that screen that actually popped up and said, “You passed,” I’m pretty sure I nearly fell out of the chair.

A lot of things came together. Fortunately, I was literally going to have to question whether this really was the path for me if I didn’t pass that second time around.

Hannah:               Any other pieces of advice or thoughts that you have for new planners?

Leighann:            If school is your thing, I think getting an advanced degree is probably a good idea. Again, a lot of programs nowadays, they integrate the CFP curriculum into Master’s programs if your undergraduate degree did not include it. It’s another way, especially for younger students or younger advisors, to really boost your marketability and add value for your clients.

Something I looked into because I was a younger woman and I realized that I also looked like I was probably eight years younger than I am. I had this fear that no one was going to take me seriously. I thought, “Well, if I get a Master’s degree, that’ll give me some credibility. It will give me a little more influence with these future employers and even clients.” I just said, “This is probably going to be better for me in the long run.”

I got my Master’s in taxation, which let me tell you what a ball of fun that was. The reason that made sense to me was because I had throughout the years looked into getting my MBA, which is the go-to advanced business degree. But it didn’t make sense because how is an MBA going to help my financial planning clients? Whereas, the Master’s in Tax really helps me to do advanced planning strategies, doing analysis and whatnot. I thought, “That really provides a value to my clients. Whereas, an MBA or anything else really wouldn’t have that effect.”

Hannah:               Are you glad that you did that?

Leighann:            I’m incredibly glad. It’s been really helpful. Again, there’s been several instances where someone will make a comment about having my Tax degree or Master’s. They’ll say, “Wow, yeah, no, this makes things way better. I really trust you. I think you do have a knowledge.” It’s been a bit of a confidence booster for me knowing that this advanced degree that I got is helping give my clients confidence in me. For me, personally, it’s definitely helped. To this day … I’ll be 34 in December … most people still think I’m in my early 20s. Whatever advantage I can have in that front, I’m going to take.

Hannah:               That’s great. Well, anything else, or any other things you want to mention before we jump off?

Leighann:            Yeah, a few other resources, like I mentioned earlier. Joining the FPA is a really, really, really wonderful thing to do because you’re able to make connections and maybe not necessarily people who’ll get you clients or lead to clients, but people who can give advice, people who have been around the industry for a while who you can run ideas by, bounce ideas off of.

Also, the continuing education component of it is always great. They have opportunities like the diversity scholarship, of which I was a recipient of in 2012, which was amazing. They paid for me to go the FPA annual conference. That was my foray into the conferences. It was a mind blowing experience, something that … the FPA conference is a fantastic conference that I think everyone should go to at least once if not more.

Then getting involved in the board of directors and giving back to the profession. Again, casting a wider net in terms of your network. You really have to put yourself out there. For me especially, as uncomfortable and as foreign as it was, I’m still reaping the rewards to this day for putting myself out there in 2000, what was it, 10. I think it’s really important to do that.

Then in terms of resources that exist, New Planner Recruiting is a fantastic company. Caleb Brown, who runs New Planner Recruiting, is such a phenomenal human. His mission is to connect or bridge that gap between new planners and advisory firms. He’s done such a great job of building this community, and working with advisors, and helping them to understand the value of hiring recent college graduates. Where most people will just go, “No. I don’t want to train someone, and spend all this money to do it.”

They focus on candidates with zero to five years of experience, and help place them with firms who have a great culture and are trying to cultivate the next generation of planners. Even though I was never able to use his service, he was always a really great source of information. I really encourage any new planner to go check out their website. I believe it’s They’re constantly posting jobs or opportunities across the country, as well as they have a newsletter and what not that they send out that’s always got really cool bits of information, tips, tricks, ideas, things to boost your marketability and whatnot. I think it’s incredibly helpful. I really love what they’re doing there, so check them out.

Hannah:               Absolutely. They have so many great resources even just on their website.

Leighann:            Yeah, absolutely.

Hannah:               Awesome. Anything else?

Leighann:            I guess that last thing I would say is because technology is at the forefront of financial advising at this point, and there’s so many different offerings, and it’s important to know. One thing I always tried to do was download all of the free trials of every software. That way, when you go into an interview with company X, and they use XYZ, CRM or what have you, you can say, “Yes, I’ve seen that software. I know what it does.” You can familiarize yourself with these softwares. I really think that’ll give you a leg up in an interview if you can say confidently that yes, you know this software. You’ve used it. You’re comfortable with it. You can learn it really quickly. Again, it’s free.

Hannah:               That free is a really good word.

Leighann:            Yes, free. Just do the trials. Don’t get crazy. Well, some will offer some for a trial, a week, two weeks, whatever. Just get an idea of it, understand what it is, so you can have that advantage.

Hide Transcript

Part two of our #YAFPNW series with Leighann Miko delves into what it’s like to launch your own RIA and how to ride the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. In the final part of this two-part series, we talk about some of the struggles that Leighann has encountered more recently in her career. In spite of the challenges she’s faced, they ultimately led to her launching Equalis Financial.
We love that Leighann is totally open about her experiences – she has so much wisdom to offer new CFP®s!
“There’s no easy fix to some of these problems – sometimes you’ve just got to go through it.”
What You’ll Learn:

The struggles Leighann faced when starting her own RIA.
How to care for yourself as an entrepreneur.
How to embrace the roller coaster that is owning your own practice.

This Is My Dream Job: Part One

Equalis Financial
Leighann Miko, CFP ® Twitter
40 Under 40 Investment News
Hannah Moore clean
This Is My Dream Job: Part One Tue, 07 Nov 2017 18:53:34 +0000 0 Leighann Miko launched her firm, Equalis Financial, about a year ago. Since then, she’s had tremendous success. Leighann has been named one of Investment News’s 40 Under 40, and works to promote diversity within the financial planning industry through her role as an FPA member. In part one of this two-part series, Leighann Miko chats […] Leighann Miko launched her firm, Equalis Financial, about a year ago. Since then, she’s had tremendous success. Leighann has been named one of Investment News’s 40 Under 40, and works to promote diversity within the financial planning industry through her role as an FPA member.

In part one of this two-part series, Leighann Miko chats with us about the start of her career. We cover everything from the moment she realized she wanted to be a CFP®, to the difficult conversations she chooses to have with clients now after going through the market crash in 2007-2008 as an advisor.

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

What You’ll Learn:

  • How Leighann used her experiences to hone in on the career she truly wanted.
  • Different options that are available for new CFP® Pros starting their career.
  • What kinds of difficult conversations you learn to have with clients as a result of your experiences.
  • How to embrace who you are when finding your ideal role.

Equalis Financial

Leighann Miko, CFP ® Twitter

40 Under 40 Investment News

Show Transcript

Ep70 Transcript

Hannah:               Well today on the podcast, we have Leighann Miko with us. She is the founder and financial planner at Equalis Financial. Thank you for joining us, Leighann.

Leighann:            Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Hannah:               Leighann, you started your firm earlier this year. Is that right?

Leighann:            Yes, I did.

Hannah:               You are about ten months into the business. Can you give us just a brief picture of what your firm looks like today?

Leighann:            Today, my firm basically at this point, I … I feel like I’m a hamster stuck on it’s wheel. It was a slow ramp up period; but then a couple of months in, it was just … It started to get crazy with the inquiries, and new clients, and what not. Today, basically I wish I had an age range that was simple; but I have clients all the way from their 20s to their 70s at this point, doing everything from getting ready for retirement, to buying their first home. I work the gamut. I work with a ton of different types of clients and different age brackets in different stages in life. I’ve got some older clients who are doing retainer planning. I’ve got some clients who are younger just doing project-based planning. It’s kind of a melting pot of everything at this point.

Hannah:               Ten months into the business, that’s really impressive.

Leighann:            Thank you.

Hannah:               Yeah.

Leighann:            It’s been crazy. I didn’t expect it to go off this quickly and to this degree; but I am grateful no less.

Hannah:               Before we get into more of your firm, I want to hear more of your story. How did you get into financial planning?

Leighann:            I think it was mostly dumb luck. Growing up, I was convinced that I was going to be a teacher; until I was about 20 years old. To the point where I would line up my stuffed animals and teach them. I would put on class. I would go so far as to actually collect unused school materials from teachers to bring home and use as if I was the teacher. I’ve always had this desire to share knowledge. It was kind of that need to just … help people educate people. Even if it was my stuffed animals who would never retain any of this information because obviously they were not living or breathing, it didn’t matter. It was me on my platform sharing anything I could.

Being a teacher just seemed like the natural avenue for that. I also knew that, even as a kid really, is that being a teacher provided a steady salary and benefits. It would keep food on the table for me. I grew up in a family of modest means; which is really the gentler way of saying we were pretty poor. I knew from a young age that … thanks to teasing and taunting of my fellow classmates that we were not wealthy. We didn’t have a whole lot of money and I knew that I wanted to do more with my life. I knew that I never … I didn’t want to repeat the cycle. I didn’t want to end up in the same position as my mom did.

I knew that some sort of steady income was what I needed to do.

Hannah:               You talk about growing up and not having a lot of money. When I went to your website, you included that in several places. That’s a pretty personal thing to put on your website when you’re trying to help people with their money and their finances, and trying to get people to trust you. What are your thoughts on has it benefit to you or what … what has been your experience really leading with your story?

Leighann:            I think what it really has done is, it’s number one, it’s transparency. I never want to hide anything from my clients. I’m always kind of …

I just say, “I’m an open book. Personal, professional, ask me any question and I’ll answer it;” obviously within reason. I just try and put myself out there. To lead with that kind of negative notion with money, I think has been a benefit for me because I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the devastation not having money can cause. I’ve seen it from that angle. When I’m working with clients who do have money, it’s really helpful for me to understand number one, many different backgrounds. I definitely work with clients who grew up in similar situations; so I can identify with them.

I can say, “Hey, I understand the struggle. I understand these money behaviors based on your past, because trust me, I lived through it myself.” It’s not as if I grew up super wealthy, and had all this money, and didn’t understand the plight of those who didn’t. Obviously money is a wonderful tool that can help get us from where we are to where we want to be. I think having that less than enjoyable experience growing up really lends itself to me helping my clients in a more meaningful way.

Hannah:               That’s great, so your clients have really responded positively to this.

Leighann:            Absolutely. It certainly was a fear that ‘Oh no, if I tell clients that I grew up with modest means,’ we’ll say. ‘Is that going to lead them to believe that I don’t know what I’m doing because I’d never had money, or I didn’t grow up with it. I found quite the opposite to be true, and that they recognize where I’m coming from and why it’s important to me, and why I work the way I do, and put that message across.

Hannah:               I love that. That’s so good. I think that’s such a lesson for everybody, myself included. … Let’s go back to your story. You wanted to be a teacher. You are kind of … I guess looking around at the world and what you’re naturally drawn to. Where does the story continue?

Leighann:            Again, growing up, all through elementary, junior high, high school, I was set. I was going to be an elementary school teacher. I would have these dreams, daydreams, thinking about, ‘Oh, this is what I would do if this happened, and then this is the kind of classroom I would have.’ Then, in my second year of college, a good friend of mine, very bluntly helped me to realize that there was no way that I could deal with kids in a classroom day in and day out while maintaining my sanity. That’s a good friend. That’s a really good friend. Fortunately, she and I are still very good friends. We still have those moments every now and then, be it not to this magnitude of completely changing my career focus; but that’s a good friend to have.

I went back to the drawing board. I really started to think, ‘Okay, if teaching isn’t my thing, what is? What’s still going to appease that need to share knowledge and what not?’ Then I thought back to when I was in high school. I was the nerdy kid who took accounting and business management classes, and thrived. Those were my favorite classes. It was just like the nerdiest thing, but I loved it. I didn’t care what anyone else thought about me, because I certainly got made fun of for it.

Then it dawned on me as I was reminiscing on these times of high school, and again, starting my college journey, and doing it without the help of anyone else, having to foot the bill on my own and create my own budgets, and figure out how I was going to make ends meet while also going to college. I realized that finance was something that could satisfy that need for me to share knowledge, but also … put food on the table and maybe in a more … abundant way than being a teacher; because we all know we pay our teachers crap. Another story for another day. What I did was I immediately changed my major from child development to business management, and then it was just kind of … [inaudible 00:07:51] … from that point.

Hannah:               When you’re in school and you’re going through business management, did you have any idea that personal financial planning was a career option?

Leighann:            No, no clue. I had taken an economics class; and that kind of taught us how to read the stock market in the newspaper and what not. At that point, there was … and to this day, most high schools, there is no education in terms of personal finance, how to write a check, how to do these super basic things that all people should know how to do; but have no access to the information. In that time, again, the internet … It was around, obviously. I’m not that old, but the resources weren’t there. Computers weren’t in every home; so gaining access to that information was a little difficult. For me, I had no clue. Again, coming from a family who didn’t have much, I just thought kind of, ‘Well, this is just how life is and you deal with it.’

Hannah:               You graduated with a business management degree then, is that right?

Leighann:            Yeah. Well technically at that point, it was a financial services degree; which was close enough to financial planning as you could get at that time.

Hannah:               Okay, so what happened next? You graduate college and then what?

Leighann:            Well actually, I hadn’t graduated college just yet. I, like many people, decided … Or I had met someone and unfortunately, they were in a different part of the state. The angst-y young and naïve adult part of my brain convinced myself that I should move from LA to Sacramento. I always told, ‘Oh, I’m going to go to school there.’ I went to Sacramento State for a year, and that to me was like, ‘Yeah, I’m justifying this.’ That didn’t last long. I really … Things did not work out with that person. I realized that I was too much of an introvert and I had too much social anxiety to make the most of my time there. Ultimately, after about a year, I decided to move back to LA.

At that point, I had realized that something in finance was my calling. I didn’t know exactly what. I just knew working with numbers, and money, and finance. Something in that arena was what I was meant to do. I started searching the internet for jobs, anything related to finance. I was looking at job posting, looking at this title going, ‘Okay, that’s what that kind of person does. … And that’s what that kind of person does.’ I cast a wide net to figure out what all of those options were.

Then back in the day, Craigslist wasn’t so creepy. I got on the website one day and I was looking in the finance and accounting section. There it was, this listing with the title that read something along the lines of ‘CFP looking for part-time assistant.’ I had no idea what a CFP was, or what that even stood for, but I thought, ‘Hey, it’s in the finance section. Let’s click it, see what it says. I can be an assistant. I’m in college. I need to work part-time. This is great.’

A week or so later, she responded back and I went in for an interview. It was in that interview that she started to explain how she works with clients and what she does. That’s when the light bulb went off, and I went off, ‘Holy crap, this is my destiny. This woman just described my dream job working with people.’ She was a CFP working, doing financial planning and investment management, mostly for families. Luckily, I had gotten some really nice reference letters from my previous employer in Sacramento. I think that really sealed the deal. A couple weeks alter was my first day.

Hannah:               What did she say to you in that interview that really made you say, “Holy crap, this is what I’m supposed to be doing?”

Leighann:            Her big thing was that she … wanted to reduce the complexity in her clients’ lives. She wanted to simplify things. You’ve got people who’ve got all these different sources of income, and revenue streams. They’ve got houses and all of this stuff. They didn’t … There’s so many moving pieces that unless you’re really trained in finance and really focus on and understand it, it’s tough to handle.

When she was explaining how she really simplifies her clients’ lives by doing all of these things, that resonated with me. I understood. I was like, “Yes. You can educate them. You can help them understand all of the different pieces,” and you can put together … put the puzzle together for them in a way that makes sense for them and is easy to understand, but making it seem like it’s simple when in reality, on the back end as the advisor, you’re doing all the complicated things and saying, ‘Okay, here’s this simple beautiful picture. This is what you have to do.’

Hannah:               I love it. It’s so … I just love financial planning. Maybe that’s what I should just say, I just love financial planning.

Leighann:            It’s such an amazing … I don’t even want to call it a profession, because really when someone … It’s a passion. It’s not just a career or something you do. It is a passion. It’s something that I feel very passionate about, that gets me up out of bed in the morning. It’s not just a career or a job. It’s happiness.

Hannah:               I always tell people once they really get financial planning and they … whether they’re working for it or that they’re … working as an advisor, or if they’re a client, you can’t go back to anything else. It’s that powerful.

Leighann:            It really is.

Hannah:               Yeah. How did your intern … Well, I guess your part-time work. How did that … what was that like being a college student working for her? Can you tell me more about that job?

Leighann:            When I first got hired to work there, it was January 2007. Everyone was happy. The stock market was at all time highs. Things were going great. People were enjoying life. Then, October 2007 approached and it kind of just gave me the finger and said, ‘Oh, that was cute; but here’s what the real world is like.’ It literally … I mean talk about sink or swim. It was like this high-high to this low-low as I watched the market crash. My first foray into the business, I had been doing it for what? Nine months at that point. All of a sudden, it was a barrage of calls from clients panicking, freaking out. Their deepest fears were coming true. They were losing all of their money, all of their retirement savings.

For me, being in my 20s and a college student, I didn’t fully understand the ramification of what was happening all around me. It took me years to fully comprehend the devastation that occurred over the next 18 months; but it no doubt had a lasting effect on the way I work with my clients. In a way, I’m grateful for that, because it’s definitely shaped my perspective. It’s shaped the way I look at my clients and their financial situation, helping them to understand the value of their money, and that it literally could just disappear.

Hannah:               Let’s talk more about that. … What does that look like on the day-to-day as you’re talking with your clients, or in meetings with them.

Leighann:            It depends on the client.

Hannah:               Yeah.

Leighann:            I tend … because of that first experience as the market crashed and what not, I do tend to take a more conservative approach when it comes to planning with my clients; because … not to a debilitating extent, but my logic is this: is that you’re better off underestimating something than overestimating something, if that makes sense.

No, you’re better off looking at things and saying, “Hey look, let’s save a little bit more in the off chance X, Y, or Z happens. Let’s maybe not put all our chips in … or eggs in this basket. Let’s kind of … not get … too consumed with certain things.” I help them to understand that … things are going to happen in life. It’s better to be cautious, a little cautious, than take too much risk. I don’t even mean like investment risk; just risk in general.

Hannah:               No, I think that makes a lot of sense.

With my clients, every time we have an … we review their investments now I’m like, “You know, the market’s going to fall sometime,” and just put that expectation out there that it’s going to fall. I think that changes the conversation and the perspective of investing.

Leighann:            You’re absolutely right. I, too, have been doing the same thing. It’s a little bit … I’m trying to set the scene. I’m trying to plant that seed in their head, so when it does eventually happen, that they’ll … hopefully that will give them a little piece of mind, and keep them calm knowing that, ‘Hey, we planned for this. We knew there was a good chance this was going to happen, and we took these precautions in the event it did happen.’ Yeah, I’m right there with you in trying to just prepare them that these things can happen, but we’re planning for them, and it’s not the end of the world.

Hannah:               Yup, it’s such an important conversation to have with clients. Yeah. The market’s going down. How long were you at that firm for?

Leighann:            In total, I spent about three and a half years. I soaked up as much information as I could. I did everything from doing the compliance, which was super fun. Everything to the portfolio analysis, to financial planning, and of course, the dreaded admin responsibilities that everyone loathes to do. They certainly aren’t glorious; but what that did was it helped me to understand the operational side of the business that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I think that’s valuable experience that every new planner should try to get is kind of seeing all of the different facets of the business.

It’s not just sitting in front of clients and reassuring them that, “Yes, you can meet your objectives.” It’s everything else behind that, that really counts as well.

Hannah:               With the three and half a years of experience, did you feel like you had a good sense on how a financial planning business was run from the admin, and compliance, and all of the different facets of that?

Leighann:            I really did. I had worn so many hats over those years, advancing from part-time assistant to basically a para-planner at that point. I felt that I had kind of moved through each phase as I needed to, and learned all of these different elements of the business. Was I ready to go start my own firm at that point? Absolutely not, but I felt confident in moving … basically moving up in that direction, taking a step up into a role that had more responsibility; maybe did have some client facing work, something that just wasn’t in the cards at that current firm just due to capacity and the way … the size of the practice.

Hannah:               What ended up causing you to move?

Leighann:            I plateaued, basically. I think I just gotten to a point there that there was just … there wasn’t enough room for growth. It became a little stale. It was a lot of doing the same thing, day in and day out, with not much room for growth. Again, that wasn’t anyone’s fault. It’s not as if she was holding me back. It’s just that’s where the firm happened to be at that point. They were at a certain amount of clients, a certain amount of revenue. I wasn’t necessarily at the point where I was ready to be an advisor and take clients on my own, which left me in this weird gray area where there wasn’t enough room for me to grow there. I needed something that was going to get me to that level where I eventually would be able to start seeing clients on my own.

Hannah:               How did you find that second job?

Leighann:            The good old Financial Planning Association. One thing I always encourage new planners to do is join their local FPA chapter. The continuing education is always great. They put on a lot of really great speakers and events, and what not; but the network you’re able to build is incredible. It’s very powerful. For me, … funny story was that I actually joined the FPA because that boss at this first firm basically threatened to fire me if I didn’t join FPA. She knew how important it was to my career that I join.

Now the problem is that I’m a closet introvert and … a new term I just learned is I’m a circumstantial extrovert, so it’s only when I need to be, I have to force myself to be. The idea of joining this professional organization by all these established people when I was in my early 20s at that point was terrifying; but, I also wanted to keep my job. So, I did it. It was in that … those first couple of meetings that I started to make some connections there. I started meet … I met a few planners who were … a few steps ahead of me. I started to befriend them and kind of get … have conversations with them, what their process was, and how they got from A to B, and what that looked like for them to see if that was something that I thought could be possible for me.

Ultimately, I ended up … volunteering because I thought … they had called for volunteers; said “Hey, we have open board positions, and volunteer positions. Is anyone interested?” Everything in me screamed ‘no,’ but I raised my hand because the logical side of me knew that I needed to force myself to do something like this because what it would do is it would force me out of my comfort zone, but it would also allow me to meet other people. When you’re in that role of being in charge of something, people tend to come to you because they have to if they want to have anything to do with certain things. What it did was it allowed me or really forced me to start communicating with other people; and again, making other connections, and being involved so I could get comfortable in that kind of environment.

Hannah:               Are you still a member of FPA?

Leighann:            I am, yeah. Different chapter, but I am still a member. I did lapse for a year or two because one of the firms I was working for, I was just literally so busy that I could not take the time off to go to the meetings anymore. Once I left my last firm, I rejoined, because I knew I’d be able to make more of the commitment at this point.

Hannah:               Okay, so you moved from this firm that was so great, that gave you so much experience, you’re plateauing. What was your next firm like? What was that experience?

Leighann:            The next firm I moved on to, there was this promise of expanding my knowledge and responsibilities in working with clients. I learned a lot while I was at that firm. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, unfortunately. That was one of those eye opening moments where I realized the kind of advice where I didn’t really want to be. Again, it was one of those necessary evils that I needed to experience to really hone in on who I wanted to be, what kind of advisor I wanted to be. At the end of the day, I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing them or anything, but it was definitely a mutual parting of ways, despite my introverted-ness. I’m not soft spoken, nor do I lack an opinion on most things. That can get me in a little bit of trouble, and I recognize that. Ultimately what I realized was that this firm … kind of skipping two years there, it just … that was not a good fit for me.

Hannah:               What I find interesting about your story is you’re saying this wasn’t a good fit. It’s not who you wanted to be professionally; but it was still a good experience. An experience that you learned a lot from.

Leighann:            It was. It’s not … the firm wasn’t … It wasn’t a bad firm. They weren’t doing bad things. They were always on the cutting edge of technology, always willing to explore things, make things better on that front. It’s just when I saw myself as an advisor, I saw myself in a particular light. It was more kind of a … friendly atmosphere of this is somebody who I would invite over to dinner. That’s how I wanted to treat my clients as if they were a part of my family. I wanted … I just saw a different vision for myself. I didn’t necessarily … agree with the way that they interacted with clients, and the way they presented themselves, I guess. It just, again, reinforced who I did want to be, and how I did not want to work. But also still, that’s invaluable experience because I’m the type of person … I don’t necessarily learn from positive reinforcement. I tend to learn from mistakes and watching people’s mistakes, and doing … learning the things I don’t want to do. Which to me, it has worked out in my favor, for the most part.

Hannah:               Well, and it’s just that idea of even if you take a bad job, that’s okay.

Leighann:            Absolutely.

Hannah:               You don’t have to stay there forever.

Leighann:            Exactly, and understanding that, and still … You’ve got to find the value in everything. Everything has a lesson. Everything has an experience. It’s up to you to really figure out what that is and make the most of it while you can.

Hannah:               What was next for you?

Leighann:            Once again, I reached out to my network to figure out or to see what the local landscape looked like. It wasn’t pretty. Let me tell you, it was … at that point, there wasn’t a lot of hiring going on. There weren’t a lot of firms in my purview that were independent REAs where I really wanted to work. The thing was, I was dead set on one thing. It was that I wanted to continue to work in the independent space. I didn’t want to go work for a broker, dealer, or wire house; that I had already spent, at this point, five and a half years working at REAs that were independent and autonomous.

The last thing I thought was, ‘Yeah, let’s go join Merrill Lynch and be put through the wringer, and have to cold call a bunch of people, including my friends and family.’ That just wasn’t something I was interested in doing. I was definitely … The Merrill Lynch folks, they tried to recruit me into their new advisor programs. I would give them the time of day. I’d listen to them, but again, it was one of those things where, as they were telling me about it, it was like, ‘No way. This is not … this is not what I want to do.’

The big thing about wire houses that tend to bug me is the sales mentality. I may get yelled at for saying some of this stuff by people, but that’s okay. They’re very heavy on the sales. If there was one thing I knew about myself, was that sales was not my strong suit. My very first job was as a telemarketer when I was 16 or 17. I was let go two weeks in because I was that awful. I couldn’t even get people to go for a free vacation for sitting through a seminar. If I can’t get people to take advantage of free things, like I know my sales skills are dreadful.

Hannah:               Oh, that’s funny. Did you quit your job knowing what your next step was?

Leighann:            At that point, again, I had had some conversations with the lead advisor there. Again, we both kind of came to the mutual understanding that it was best if I started looking for a new home, so to speak. That’s what I did. He knew I was planning to leave. I knew I was planning to leave. It was just a matter of time at that point. Even though I knew that I was kind of anti-broker/dealer/wire house deal, I accepted an offer to have lunch with … again, another member of FPA who I had met.

He was the senior VP of franchise for a pretty big broker dealer. I thought, ‘Let’s just see what he has to offer. Let’s just … Maybe he’s got some good pointers, if anything. It’s always good to just sit down and hear someone out.’ So we did. As it turned out, he had an advisor who ran … well, still runs … a franchise office and was looking to hire on a financial planner; because they were growing pretty rapidly. They could no longer handle the workload.

I had my reservations, but I contacted the gentleman and I sent my resume. I thought, ‘You know, if anything, I’ll get experience out of this.’ That’s the worst that can happen is I walk away with a little more experience. I submitted my resume. A few weeks later, went in for my first of three interviews; which was the first time that had happened. I think I had had one interview each time for the other jobs, and kind of just skated in. They were very serious, which I took as a very positive sign that they were taking this seriously and really wanted to find the right fit. Fortunately, I beat out the other candidate, and a couple weeks later was my first day. …

The number one thing I learned through that process, though, was that, that phrase everyone says: don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s ultimately what I had done, and going through this process helped me to realize that I’ve got to stop doing that. I’ve got to stop bashing wire houses and the broker dealer situation, because they’re not all the same. They’re not all awful.

Hannah:               Let’s talk more about that, because I think that’s … There’s this idea that if you want to do real financial planning, you have to go work at a fee-only RAA. I hear a lot of new planners or students talk about that. That wasn’t your experience, right?

Leighann:            Not with this last firm. I understood … like I still understand the desire to go work for a RAAs, because they do have a different landscape. They are more independent. There’s less red tape bureaucracy around home office and submitting these documents, and doing this through compliance. It is a little easier. I think the misconception is that they’re all the same. I certainly allowed myself to believe that; but have since realized that again, just because you’re part of Merrill Lynch, or Ameriprise, or whatever, that doesn’t mean you’re a commission hungry monster. It varies a great deal. You don’t know until you get in there and really have a conversation with someone.

Hannah:               Do they do a lot of planning at this broker dealer?

Leighann:            A ton of planning. That’s really what sold me on working there was that the majority of their portfolios were AUM wrap fee. Yes, they did sell some insurance products, but the great thing was they only sold them when the planning dictated it. Who was doing the planning? I was.

When I would sit there and I would say, “Hey, Mary and Steve, it looks like you’re short on life insurance according to these black and white planning numbers, maybe we should look into getting you an additional policy.” Instead of having to go to a third party, they would do it in house. I felt very confident that where there may be a conflict of interest in other situations, that that didn’t really exist in this firm. I really enjoyed that. I really liked that everything they were doing definitely was in the best interest of their clients, despite the fact that yes, they could collect certain commissions on certain products, insurance policies, and what not. That wasn’t the core of their business. It was just a small fraction of it.

Hannah:               Planning really drove everything that they did.

Leighann:            It really did. The lead advisor who led this franchise was hands down the most empathetic and caring human I have ever met. He was just such a phenomenal human. Watching him intervene in certain … There was some horrible things that ended up happening to a client. He went above and beyond to protect her, even when she refused to protect herself. Watching the way he treated our clients, I mean he would literally … He would take anyone off the street. If they needed help, fine. Come on in. We’ll take care of you. It didn’t matter if they had two cents or two million dollars. He didn’t care. That really was an eye opener for me, just watching someone who just … He was a phenomenal business man. He was running this great practice, generating a ton of revenue; but also doing such great things at the same time.

Hannah:               For people who are going into interviews, and especially I’m thinking of students or even those earlier in their career, what are things that they can ask in the interview to see if there’s a firm like that, that they’re talking with?

Leighann:            I don’t think it would be out of line to ask what their fee structure is and how … the products or services they offer, and how they charge. I think that’s an important question to ask. You want to see if it aligns with your values and what not. How they work with their clients, how they engage with them, really understand the planner or the advisor/client relationship. I think it’s important for them to understand because even if you’re young, or you’re a student, or just graduating, you still have these ideas of what you … who you are and how you want to work with clients. I think it’s important for them to know how advisors work with their clients. There are many different ways clients and advisors work together. If you want to have that touchy … I’m going to step back from that one. If you want to have … a very close relationship with your clients beyond just black and white, ‘Here’s a portfolio. Here’s this. It was nice meeting with you, see you later, Tom.’ That’s … I don’t think it’s out of line to ask those kinds of questions.

Hannah:               From that difference, is that really planning? Is that kind of the core of the difference?

Leighann:            I believe so. To me, planning is the heart of your personal finances. Planning is the heart of it. That is where everything should start. For me, if an advisor … If they start off the conversation and it’s all about investments, that’s always a red flag for me. Investments, yes, are necessary. They ultimately drive the plan but if you don’t have a plan in place to determine where you’re going, what good are the investments if they’re just roaming around aimlessly?

Hannah:               Okay, so you’re working at this firm. You’re doing a lot of the planning work. You’re in the broker dealer space. How long were you there for?

Leighann:            I was there in total for about three years. Over that time period, I must have completed upwards of 200 financial plans. Another thing that I really liked about the practice was that with their investment clients is that, they would consolidate the financial planning and the investment management. We were doing plan updates annually, which I don’t know was very common in that world; but just the way the two pieces worked together, and the fact that they were so … intertwined. We had to do these updates every year. I loved that; because for me, a plan is not … something you print out and stick on a shelf. It’s kind of a living, breathing document that is constantly changing and needs to be watered, so to speak, right? You need to pay attention to it. You need to update it because life changes really quickly. If you’re not taking that account into account in your plan, there’s a good chance you veered off track and you need to fix that. There has to be corrective action to get you back onto the path to where you need to be.

Hannah:               At this point, have you … was it in your mind that you wanted to start your own firm?

Leighann:            It wasn’t. I think it all boils down to my fear of … whether I thought I was capable of being a lead advisor, and I was capable of … working with clients and being the face, being what they see versus kind of hiding behind the scenes, doing the back end work of doing all the planning. That’s what I was doing. I was doing all of the financial plans. I would essentially hand them off to a lead advisor, and he would take it over from there. As far as they were concerned, I didn’t exist for a while there. To me, it was always challenge as to whether I thought I was up to the task of being the client facing advisor, and if I thought I had the confidence to do that.

At this firm, because I was doing such great work and meaningful work, I put that to the side and said, “You know what? I think I’d be okay if that wasn’t the case,” but I think deep down, I knew that at some point, I wanted to transition into being a client facing advisor.

Hannah:               What ended up being the trigger that made you leave this firm?

Leighann:            It was a sad day when that happened. I had learned so much working there, and I had such a great time. Unfortunately, there were some personnel changes and some personality conflicts that just made it impossible for me to continue my journey there. Again, it kind of goes back to the I’m not lacking an opinion kind of thing; which … got me into a little bit of trouble. Again, it was a mutual understanding that what I needed was more than what was there. What they were looking for was maybe a little bit different than what I was able to … give them.

Hannah:               Was it a mutual leaving?

Leighann:            It was. We had a kind of sit down, albeit the decision was somewhat impulsive based on the circumstances at the moment. It happened. I think the scariest part at that point, though, was that because it was impulsive, I had no exit strategy. There was no next step. There was nothing going, ‘Oh, it’s okay because I’ve lined up this interview in this next job.’ It literally was like, ‘Oh my god, what did I just do?’ That moment was filled with both relief because I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t have to deal with this kind of stuff anymore. I can kind of relax. The stress, but oh my god, … what am I going to do?’ The terror set in of, ‘Oh god.’

Hannah:               It is very scary without knowing what’s next.

Leighann:            Yeah, and I had never been in that position. I mean, literally since I was … 17 years old, I had had a job. If that job ended, I was immediately in another one. It just kind of continued that way. I had never not had that next step. That’s probably the planner in me. I was always planning ahead, ‘Well, what’s next? If this falls through, what’s going to happen here?’ There was always a plan in place. It was the first time where I was like, ‘Okay. I … I don’t know what I’m doing here.’ I think I was 31. There was no, ‘Oh, I’ll just go get some part-time job in the meantime.’ It was beyond that.

Hannah:               How long were you unemployed before your next … job?

Leighann:            Well, that’s where the fun really starts. A couple months before I had impulsively given my notice, I had begun a dialogue with a mentor of mine who was looking to retire in the next couple of years. We had kind of toyed with the idea of her potentially selling her practice to the current practice I was working with; but she didn’t really want to go that route because she was independent. They were a broker dealer. I understand that.

I started kind of poking around saying, “Well, what is your succession plan? What is the end goal here? And maybe how do I fit into this kind of thing?” It was perfect. It worked out really well, because her practice focused on the same niche that I wanted to serve. It was the perfect size client-wise, asset-wise. It was just enough for one person to handle.

I sent her a copy of my business plan, just kind of a, “Hey, just wanted to shoot this into your inbox and … you know, let me know what you think,” kind of thing. That’s where things started. We talked about it a little bit. That was … The business plan via email happened probably just a couple weeks before my impulsive decision to quit my job. There hadn’t been a lot of time to ruminate on that and figure out what her thinking was just yet.

Hannah:               You had already created a business plan. Was this just something that you would kind of do in your free time? What was … Was there something that caused you to do that?

Leighann:            It was actually an assignment in my practicum course for the CFE certification curriculum. It’s just one of the assignments you do all these plans, all this. Then you said ‘Hey, and then here’s the next assignment. Let’s all create a business plan. If you were to have your own financial planning practice, what would it look like?’ I took that incredibly seriously; because I looked at the assignment as an opportunity to map out my future practice as I saw it then.

So much so to the point where I actually asked him not to share it with the rest of the class, because he was just posting all on the forum. I kind of had this irrational fear, ‘Please don’t share my business plan, because this is legitimately my business plan at this point; and I don’t really want anyone ripping off my … everything I’m doing here.’ Which was silly in hindsight, because it’s not about sharing. It’s like let’s help each other out. At that point. I didn’t see that. It was just like I had spent so many hours working on that thing. I knew … I don’t know, actually. I don’t want to say that, but I assumed that the other people in the class were kind of just like … ‘Well, this is … could be it.’

They weren’t taking it seriously, and I just didn’t want to feel like I had done all that work and then someone was easily able to click save, change the name, and say, “Here’s my business plan.” Yeah, it took a while. It had been quite a few years. I think I started it in January 2012. At this point, it was April of 2015. I had spent a couple of years tinkering with it, and adjusting it, and making changes; especially as I learned more about the industry, and the different type of firms, and what not. But I was excited that it was finally able to see the light of day and wasn’t just residing on a … in a folder on my computer anymore.

Hannah:               I love this so much because it’s like you knew where you wanted to go. You knew the type of business that you wanted to do. Even if you weren’t thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to go start my own business,’ you were already formulating what you wanted.

Leighann:            Again, it goes back to the … It’s the planner in me is that I’m … I had this idea, and I was like, ‘No, I can make this happen at some point,’ and I knew it. It was like, ‘Let’s play … ideal scenario here. In an ideal world, what would my practice look like?’ I always, again, chalked it up to like this would be great for it to be this way, and for this to happen, and this to happen. I think the rational side of me was like, ‘Okay, let’s not put the cart before the horse here. Let’s just slow down and take it one step at a time.’ Yeah, I’ve always had a pretty good idea of how I wanted my practice to be, even if I didn’t know when or if it would actually ever come to fruition.

Hannah:               It’s like that’s really important work for planners to do. Even if you stay in a firm for the long term, it’s you’re still developing the way you think about planning and the way you think about how business should run. That’s really, really valuable.

Leighann:            Absolutely. That’s where all of that operational side of planning, or operational side of the business and learning compliance, and all of those pieces, really came together to help me create this business plan.

Hannah:               You send this business plan to your mentor. She gets it in her inbox. What is her response to that?

Leighann:            Her first response was to send it back to me with her … red pen notes, which was appreciated; although kind of a little bit of a slap in the face because here I am thinking I had the answers to everything and I’m so smart. I was like, ‘How dare she mark up my business plan? This is my business plan.’ Then after I got over that, I was like, ‘Okay, these are actually some good notes here. I should take her advice.’ We ended up meeting for coffee a couple of weeks alter, and really starting to discuss it and talk about options.

She was really was of the mindset … She wanted to retire. She was … halfway out the door trying to figure out what her next steps were. She had already engaged in a couple of other advisors and firms to potentially partner with … her succession planning. I was a little bit late to the party here of saying, ‘Hey, can I throw my hat in the ring? And give me a shot here to see what we can come up with together.’

Hannah:               At this point, how many years of experience did you have?

Leighann:            At that point, I was … just over eight years.

Hannah:               Okay. Did you feel like you were prepared at that point to take over a practice?

Leighann:            I still had a slight reservations, just because my client facing experience was a little limited. There was no doubt that I could handle the back end of everything. I mean I had more than enough hours of working on running the technology, running the programs, doing all the back end work, running the compliance side of things, the operational side. There was never a question of that. It was more so, am I ready to handle the client interface? Again, a little bit of … a few reservations there; but nothing a good morning talk in the mirror can’t fix.

Hannah:               Did she start considering you for a succession plan?

Leighann:            She did, to my great surprise. She started asking me some questions about how I saw things going, kind of giving me her rundown of what the things she wanted to see if this was going to be a reality. She laid out a plan for when she was going to have her firm evaluated and doing all of those … things to get everything going there. That sounded great to me. It was, ‘Okay, she’s going to do all of this, and then once she gets the valuation, … it will be time to negotiate a potential buy out deal.’ I was like, ‘Okay, this could not be going better.’

Then, a couple months later after she had done that, she sent me and email and said, “Hey, you know, I think there’s a way where I can … hire you and get you some income for the next couple of months while we figure things out here.” I ended up going to work for her, kind of on a part-time independent contractor basis to get to know her practice and clients, so I’d have a full understanding of what I was potentially buying. That worked out pretty well.

Hannah:               So you went from full time positions to a part-time position.

Leighann:            Yeah.

Hannah:               Was that difficult on the personal … your financial plan, and what you needed to do to pay rent, and live?

Leighann:            Oh yeah, I had no problem getting into that one.

Hannah:               Can you talk about that? What was it … I mean that’s full time to part-time work. What was that like?

Leighann:            When I quit my … well paying full time job, I was making good money. There was a little more in between there that kind of happened that I skipped over for right now, but ultimately what had happened was I was studying to take the CFPA exam. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll give myself three months between when I quit in May to when I took the test in July,’ and at that point, I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got enough saved in reserves to get me through this point.’ Then it was kind of a, ‘I guess we’re going to see what happens here’ type of situation.

Once I passed the exam, and ultimately, that’s when she hired me, it was a 60% pay cut. That forced me to make some significant changes to my lifestyle. … LA is quite an expensive city. It was not easy. I burned through savings and ultimately ended up accruing some debt, which … is not the best thing to do as a financial planner. Debt’s not always a good thing. It was always with this … thought in the back of my mind that I’m doing this for the long term. Yes, it hurts in the short term and I’m making some sacrifices now. But, … it’s all going to pay off. Right?

Hannah:               Yeah.

Leighann:            The question mark at the end of that one was ever so important. It was definitely tough. It hurt financially quite a bit. Like I said, I had to make some pretty serious sacrifices in order to make it work; but always with that thought in the back of mind of, ‘this is going to pay off in the long run, and it’s going to be worth it.’

Hannah:               Well I guess maybe we should just ask. Was it worth it?

Leighann:            Oh god, was it worth it? Yes and no. … I mean the financial struggle was tricky. It was like flashbacks of being a kid, of … Wasn’t so great. I still am paying off that debt to this day of … that I accrued in dealing with that, so that hurts every month. … In the long run, I don’t want to be that person that says ‘everything happens for a reason.’ I really think that there’s some sort of reason why it happened the way it did. I’m confident that it needed to happen for me to get to the point where I am today. So in that sense, yes, it was absolutely worth it.

Hannah:               Can you tell us more about what … about that experience working for her … and that process of ‘I’m looking for a succession plan,’ you’re in there to try to see if it’s the client base that you’d want to work with.

Leighann:            Sure, yeah.

Hannah:               What was that like?

Leighann:            It was … really exciting at first. Everything’s always exciting at first, right? Until you start to see the nitty gritty and step back and go, ‘Oh wait, wasn’t … didn’t realize this was going to be the case.’ The way I looked at it was that … if I was going to be the succession plan, I was going to buy this firm, it would give me the ability to start a practice and not have to start from scratch at that point. It would kind of give me that foundation to really form this practice into something that would be mine, and that I would then grow and turn into my own. That was the big idea behind it.

Like I said, LA is really expensive. I was, for all intents and purposes, single at the time. I didn’t have a spouse to support me in this endeavor. That really was kind of the issue there in starting my own firm was I didn’t have the financial means to do it. I thought, ‘Well, doing this, buying her firm, … that’s a viable option.’ We … The day … she had originally said that January 2016, she was going to have the valuation done on the firm; and sometime around March we would start the negotiations. Well, January came and went. Nothing happened.

Then, she told me, “Well, we’re going to do it … I’m going to do it now, as of June 30th, 2016. Then again, June came and went, and nothing happened. I started to get a little nervous. I was like, ‘I’m literally resting my future on this decision around this process,’ and it’s kind of just … lollygagging. Nothing was happening. This time frame that she had initially set out, we were just blowing it out of the water, and being kind of naïve and the buyer … I didn’t know what to do.

I couldn’t exactly take the reins and say, “Hey, you know, I’m going to go get the valuation done,” because I didn’t know the inner workings of the firm. I didn’t have access to the information to have someone do that. That was her job. That was her responsibility to take care of that. … At the one year mark of us working together, I really was starting to come to the harsh realization that maybe this was a mistake. Maybe I bit off more than I could chew, and I should have done some more due diligence.

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Leighann Miko launched her firm, Equalis Financial, about a year ago. Since then, she’s had tremendous success. Leighann has been named one of Investment News’s 40 Under 40, and works to promote diversity within the financial planning industry through ... Equalis Financial, about a year ago. Since then, she’s had tremendous success. Leighann has been named one of Investment News’s 40 Under 40, and works to promote diversity within the financial planning industry through her role as an FPA member.
In part one of this two-part series, Leighann Miko chats with us about the start of her career. We cover everything from the moment she realized she wanted to be a CFP®, to the difficult conversations she chooses to have with clients now after going through the market crash in 2007-2008 as an advisor.
“People like to work with people who are excited about what they’re doing.”
What You’ll Learn:

How Leighann used her experiences to hone in on the career she truly wanted.
Different options that are available for new CFP® Pros starting their career.
What kinds of difficult conversations you learn to have with clients as a result of your experiences.
How to embrace who you are when finding your ideal role.

Equalis Financial
Leighann Miko, CFP ® Twitter
40 Under 40 Investment News
Hannah Moore clean
LIVE From FinCon17: Kali Hawlk Tue, 31 Oct 2017 17:15:09 +0000 0 We had so much fun sitting down with Kali Hawlk of Creative Advisor Marketing at FINCON17. This week she shares with us how to talk marketing, hiring a writer, and how to evaluate whether your marketing strategy works for you! We had so much fun sitting down with Kali Hawlk of Creative Advisor Marketing at FINCON17. Kali focuses on marketing strategies for financial advisors and helping them communicate their value to clients and prospects.

Tune in to learn Kali’s top marketing tips for financial planners, who in the industry is doing a phenomenal job with their marketing, and how trial-and-error isn’t something to be afraid of!

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Know your audience – and try everything yourself first…When you have that experience you can make better judgement calls on how to do your marketing and who can help you.

Creative Advisor Marketing


Workable Wealth

Define Financial


Show Transcript

Ep69 Transcript


Hannah:               Well today, we are recording live from the FinCon podcasting booth, if you would. And I have Kali Hawlk, she is the founder of Creative Advisor Marketing, an inbound marketing firm designed to help financial planners communicate their value to their target market. And she’s already been speaking at FinCon and I’m so excited to have you, so thank you for being here Kali.

Kali:                        Yeah no, thank you for having me. I appreciate it. I’m excited.

Hannah:               Yeah. So even though your intro, you help financial planners communicate their value to their target market. What is the biggest barrier that you have seen financial advisors communicating their value?

Kali:                        I think the biggest one is that financial advisors, they know a lot. You’re an expert in what you are doing, you have a lot of training, you have a lot of experience. And most advisors feel like they need to get all of that and capture it and make sure their audience knows that. And it’s tempting to want to give all that information because it’s showing how much of an expert you are, how good you are at what you do, but most people don’t really care about your solution, they care about their problem. And that sounds harsh, but it’s just human nature. We kind of think in terms of what’s going on in our world. And most advisors don’t make that distinction. And it’s tough, it’s hard.

I think the other part of that that’s difficult is when you’re marketing online specifically, a lot of it is through writing. And most advisors are very good when you sit down and you talk with them. They’re very articulate, they can communicate very well. But that doesn’t always translate into written communication and something kind of gets hung up there. And usually we’re better at one or the other. We’re better at speaking or we’re better at writing.

Hannah:               So, you said that, you know, when there’s a distinction between what we know and what needs to communicated, can you give just an example of what you’re talking about on that?

Kali:                        Sure. Let’s see. I think that it comes back to thinking about your solution, which is your knowledge, your expertise, what you can do for somebody else. That’s what we usually focus on telling people. So we’re like, “Oh, they can make an informed decision now that they know how good I am.” Right? But most people don’t hear that. They’re not in a position to really get that. They’re more focused on, again, what’s going on for them, their problem. So if you can communicate in terms of their pain points. And this is going to depend on who you’re trying to reach. What they’re struggling with. If you can show you get what it’s like to walk in their shoes, then you can get their attention, you can be heard, and at that point you can start transitioning to talking about, “Here’s what I know and here’s how I can help you.”

Hannah:               So clients don’t really care about our asset allocation at the beginning, they more care that we have a solution for them is that … ?

Kali:                        Yeah, I don’t think they care so much about what your thoughts are on asset allocation at the beginning, like you said. And I don’t necessarily think that they are looking at how good a financial planner you are, I think most people are looking at, do you understand where they’re at and what they’re dealing with and can you relate to that specific problem or challenge that their having. Because if they can get that you understand that, then their gonna be much more receptive to like, “All right, how do we move forward then, how do we progress?”

Hannah:               It’s like you’re a perfect example of that, you know, Creative Advisor Marketing, you’re speaking specifically to your audience. I mean, you even included advisors in the title of your firm.

Kali:                        Yes, I decided to be obvious rather than clever.

Hannah:               Like, we’re not gonna hold any punches on that one. So, if you were starting out or advising a financial planning practice from scratch and that had a very limited marketing budget, how would you start?

Kali:                        I think we always have usually one of two resources, time or money. And when you’re starting out, the biggest resource that you have is your time. If you’re starting from scratch, and you have no clients, then the most affective thing you can do is to invest your time into … To me, I’m biased, but it’s inbound marketing. And it’s a good position to be in because that’s the biggest thing you need in inbound, is time. So take the time to research your target audience. Really find somebody you want to serve, somebody really specific or a specific group of people, understand them, do some research on what they’re dealing with, really try to walk in their shows as much as possible, use your empathy to get what they’re going through.

Identify your target market, really define a niche. And I say niche instead of niche because I am not fancy, so I’ll say niche. But define that, know precisely who you’re talking to and then think about, “What kind of content can I create for those people?” And that could be a blog, it could be a podcast like this one, it could be a video. You have a lot of options. And the right one is gonna depend on … you’re gonna have to go back to that target audience and all that work that you did to understand them. You’re gonna wanna be where they are, and you’re gonna want to deliver your content in a way that they like to consume it. So, for example, a lot of people maybe have a long commute to work. They may not read a 2,000 word blog post, but they may listen to an hour long podcast because they have the time in the car. So that’s just an example of what I mean by “in the way that they like to consume content.”

Hannah:               Well what I like about this is I talk to a lot of planners who are like, “Maybe someday I’ll start my own firm,” a lot of this is work that they can be doing now, trying to see, when you’re working with clients, who are you naturally drawn to, who’s drawn to you, and do a lot of that market research like right now.

Kali:                        Absolutely.

Hannah:               Even before you step out on your own or step into a producer role.

Kali:                        Yes, and that’s a great point that people can be doing if they are starting to think about, “Well I want to start my own firm and I’m gonna be building it from the ground up.” Don’t wait to market. And I don’t mean that as in start putting stuff out there because that might not work for you, but you can be sitting and writing and having those blog posts ready to go when you launch. You can be doing, like you were saying, all of your market research. Understanding your target audience, having the conversations with the people you want to serve now so you can start building up this knowledge about those people. And then again, in the time that you have, be creating whatever content, whatever marketing materials, assets, whatever you want to have so that when you launch, you have this whole arsenal or marketing stuff to put out there and to use.

Hannah:               Well I love the analogy of financial planning process that we use with our client, I feel like marketing’s very much the same way. It is a process, and we can be doing a lot of that now.

Kali:                        Right, definitely.

Hannah:               You know, before when you were talking, you were saying that advisors are usually either kind of, people in general, are either geared towards more speaking or more writing. And I’ll say that I’m much obviously more geared towards speaking. But if writing’s the weak point, how do you get better at writing?

Kali:                        The biggest thing you can do is just practice. It really is just … Set a time in your calendar, every single day, maybe it’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning or maybe it’s the first thing you do when you get into the office. Just put 30 minutes on a timer even so you know you don’t have to do more than 30 minutes but just sit down and do the work. That’s the biggest most useful, helpful thing you can do to be a better writer is to write. That doesn’t mean that it’s any less painful if you’re not good at it right now. And then some things that you can do to help with that, once you’re in the habit of just writing, you can … You don’t necessarily have to sit down at your computer and type out your content. Pull up your voice to text dictation. Use that if you’re just really not into writing. Talk it out and then go back and edit the written content. That would be maybe one work around if sitting down at your desk and writing everyday sounds like you’d rather put a fork in your eye or something.

Hannah:               Well it’s like we tell our clients to budget and I feel like it’s the same thing where our clients are like, “Oh my gosh, that’s like poke my eyes out.” You know? But it’s like it’s just a discipline that you need if you really want to be doing a lot of your own marketing.

Kali:                        Absolutely. Yeah, that’s a good comparison. Good analogy.

Hannah:               So, there’s a lot of ideas when you start reading about content marketing and inbound marketing. How do you prioritize the most important things? So like we’re told to build a herd email list, to be emailing clients, to be emailing people who are on our list on a regular basis, blogging, social media, eBooks, podcasts, there’s just this whole list. If somebody’s not doing a whole lot right now, where should they start? Or how do you prioritize that?

Kali:                        I think you always start with knowing your audience. And a lot of questions I get asked about marketing, that’s the answer. It’s always know your audience, go back to them. If you know who they are and you know where they hang out and you know their habits, you know what they think, what they care about, their beliefs, their world view, I mean really getting into their heads and understanding how they operate, the operating system they use to navigate day to day. If you know that, the tactics kind of reveal themselves. And what I mean by tactics is, all those things that you listed out. Blogging, eBooks, podcasts, video, all of those are good options, all of them are right in some situation. The one that’s gonna be best will depend on who it is that you’re trying to reach. So I would say start there, but that’s not a direct answer to your question. So a direct answer would be to start with whatever feels easiest to you. If you’re not doing anything and you’re getting stuck somewhere, just start with something so you get that momentum.

Hannah:               A lot like the low hanging fruit. Just get that out of the way.

Kali:                        Yes, absolutely.

Hannah:               Well and a really tangible thing can be, if you already have an existing client base or you’re within a firm, just send out a survey and ask people where they are, what they want to hear from you. I mean, maybe.

Kali:                        Yeah, no. Surveys are a good place to start. Just make sure that you’re not asking leaping questions, try to have them open ended. And whenever you have a chance, have a real conversation with somebody instead of sending a survey. I think they’re good resources and good tools. But sitting down and having a face to face conversation where you can ask, and then you can ask follow up questions, depending on what their answer is, that’s really useful, really valuable.

Hannah:               So you’ve worked with a lot of people. What are realistic expectations for firms who are evaluating doing content marketing?

Kali:                        I think the biggest expectation I can set is that it’s gonna take six months to a year before you start seeing results. This stuff takes time. It takes time to create, it takes time just doing the same consistent action over and over and over again, and I feel like that’s back to the idea that this is kind of like financial planning where it’s a process. The weight of financial success is not like one big huge leap, huge good idea. It’s the same simple action that you take just over and over and over again. Consistency is gonna be a word that I need to look up later but that’s a key, consistency is key. You have to just keep pounding the pavement, create like this steady stream of content.

Hannah:               So what are your thoughts on paying somebody to write for you versus writing for yourself?

Kali:                        It depends. It depends on-

Hannah:               You do sound like a financial planner.

Kali:                        I know right?

Hannah:               “It depends.”

Kali:                        That’s the answer, isn’t it. “Well, it depends.” Unfortunately, it does depend on what you feel comfortable with and what you truly have time for. I think if your revenue is not over six figures yet, if you’re … I mean really, I would say 150 to 200,000 dollars, if you’re firm is not generating that in revenue, you need to do it yourself. You don’t need to spend money on marketing. I don’t think it’s a good investment because there’s so much you can do yourself for free. And I think you’re gonna get more value out of it if you just put in the work, put in the time. I know it’s hard, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or fun necessarily to do all that extra work, but I think it’s probably the best thing to do until you hit that revenue mark. And then, if it’s something that you hate doing, if it’s something you’re not good at doing, outsource it. Get rid of it. Any point where you’re like, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” and you have the budget to outsource it, don’t hesitate. Outsource it.

Hannah:               So, you know, you’re talking about you need 6 to 12 months. So people who’ve been doing it 6 to 12 months on a regular basis, I mean I know people who’ve done that consistently and even longer than that, how do you evaluate whether that content marketing is working well or not? I mean I feel like … one of the things I appreciate about marketing is that you can be measurable and that’s one of the things that I’ve learned personally in the last couple of years, is that that’s actually drawn me to more marketing.It’s because you can get very tangible with that. So if you’ve been doing it for 6 months or 12 months, what is … How do you know if you’re being successful?

Kali:                        First thing I would do is make sure you have goals that you’ve set. If you don’t have goals, then you just need to back up and start there, because there’s nothing to judge it by. Make sure you have goals, make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and make sure that you’re tracking those metrics.So if you don’t have those things in place, I would get those in place first and then start doing the leg work again. Do another 6 months of it. If those things were in place and you still don’t know why something isn’t working, I think you take a step back and you look at your strategy. And it really comes back to why are you doing what you’re doing? And the strategy is just based on, again, who are you trying to reach? How are you communicating with them?

I think if you’re looking at tactics first and you’re constantly asking, “Well what’s the next thing? What can I do? What can I do? This isn’t working,” there’s something missing on the big picture side, the more intangible side. And I think we’re culturally kind of conditioned to want to do the things that are easy to track and easy to measure. But sometimes word of mouth, content marketing, social media is really hard to measure the ROI on, but it’s some of the most affective stuff you can do. So I think it’s just … When it’s not working or you’re not happy with the results, take a step back and look at what big picture pieces are you missing? Do you have goals, metrics, strategy? And then get honest with yourself about, what am I missing here? What do I not know? And what do I don’t know I don’t know? It’s hard to take a look at that and see where the missing piece is.

Hannah:               I just keep seeing all of these parallels between what we do with clients and this marketing, because what you’re saying is what so many clients who come to us who are like, “I’ve been trying to do it and nothing’s been working or successful.” And that’s where financial planners can add the most value and maybe that’s where marketers add the most value. And maybe that’s where reaching out to somebody and talking to somebody could be really good. So many of our listeners right now work at firms, so how would you pitch this idea of content marketing to firm owners?

Kali:                        Pitch it to firm owners who don’t believe in it or who- ?

Hannah:               Quite frankly, I mean, we’re all financial planner who might not even know that that term exists.

Kali:                        Ah, okay. I think … This is another one of those like, “It depends,” answers but truly I don’t really pitch the idea to somebody who, A, doesn’t believe in it or doesn’t think it’s worthwhile. They’re not my target market. I don’t bother. Because there’s probably a solution out there that’s better for them if there’s some reason that they’re very against it, they’re like, “No, it’s not gonna work.”

Hannah:               So maybe it’s not a battle even worth fighting?

Kali:                        I don’t think so and I mean, going back to financial planning, that’s what I tell financial planners when they’re marketing. If they have a target audience that doesn’t want a financial planner, then don’t market to those … You don’t want to try to convince somebody that they’re wrong. Just think about if you’ve ever tried to argue with somebody by telling them that they’re wrong, did you ever change they’re mind? Probably not. So it’s the same sort of idea. If you have an audience that absolutely does not … “I do not need this. I do not want to do this.” Whether it’s financial planning or it’s marketing, I think you need a new target audience.

But when it comes to just educating someone, I try to look at the data, and I try to show them where the tangible return is first. Because usually numbers are pretty compelling to advisors. They want to see where they’re gonna get a return for the budget that they put into it. And then I also make the case that content marketing is about building a relationship with somebody when you can’t talk to them face to face. And that’s critical in this industry because it’s a relationship based profession.

You have to have relationships and connections with the people that you work with, or they’re not gonna trust you. And especially if you’re working with clients, one in four millennials doesn’t trust anybody for financial advice. And millennials are not teenagers and people in their early 20s. At this point, the oldest millennial is 37, 38 years old. Either they have some assets, a lot of them do, or they’re high income earners. So they are good clients, so you can’t dismiss it just because oh millennials. There are some good clients out there that are younger and one in four doesn’t trust anybody. They don’t trust their parents, they don’t trust their friends, and they certainly don’t trust some advisor that they don’t know, that they have these preconceived notions about. So content is a way to bridge that gap. To build trust in somebody when they don’t know you, when they’re skeptical of you and are questioning you. It’s a good way to show who you are and to authentically share that you get where they’re at and that you have a way that you can help them if they’re interested.

Hannah:               So, for the planner who’s looking at going out on their own, could they do … Okay, again this is probably gonna be another “it depends” question. But could content marketing be their full marketing plan? Or do you have to supplement it with other typed of marketing?

Kali:                        I think you should start with content marketing as your full marketing plan, again because all of content marketing you can do yourself and you can do it for free. That may not be the best long term idea but it’s a way to get stared. It’s a way to get momentum going. And then, if you get to a point where you feel like you want to take it up a notch, you’ve been doing content marketing, I said about six months to year period at least, you’re gonna have a big log of organic content.

And what I mean by organic is not advertising. It’s something that you generated yourself and it earned attention rather than you paid to get eyeballs on it. Once you have that big silo of content, you can look across you’re organic content and you can say, this post performed well or this type of content does really well. And if you’re interested in going above and beyond content marketing, it’ll tell you where to start putting your dollars so you can back your winners through content that did well for paid campaigns or other types of marketing, rather than just kind of shooting in the dark like, “Well I like this post, surely it’s gonna do well.” That rarely happens.

Hannah:               It’s about us instead of the client.

Kali:                        Right, exactly.

Hannah:               [crosstalk 00:19:07] do that, yup.

Kali:                        Yeah. But I do definitely see people who, when they feel like they start getting stuck … So back to your previous question about what should you do if you feel like it’s not working. Just because you do content marketing, doesn’t mean you should have to ignore more traditional old school ways of getting clients. Like networking. Join a BMA group. Be somewhere in person. Start your own community. That’s been a really cool way that I’ve experienced myself. Like just growing my network and building new connections is I started a community of female entrepreneurs in Boston and the specific thing that ties everybody together is that they’re not originally from Boston. So that’s created this really great comradery. There’s hundreds of people in the group now and it’s just really cool. So you can build you’re own community. And that kind of combines some content marketing, it can combine in person events, more traditional ways of marketing yourself or growing your firm.

Hannah:               Well that’s great, I love that. And it’s so authentic. It just feels very much like that’s who you would already be in your daily life.

Kali:                        Right, yeah. When you’re doing something that you enjoy doing, that’s a good sign. No matter what kind of marketing it is. If it’s coming from an authentic, “I love this,” sort of place, “I want to do this regardless of what business ROI I get from it.” It’s a good track to be on.

Hannah:               So who are the people or companies in our space who are doing content marketing really well today.

Kali:                        In our space meaning financial planning? Let’s see. I think Mary Beth Storjohann from Workable Wealth does a really nice job. Define Financial is another one. Taylor and John are over there. They do a really good job of putting out content that’s relevant to the people that they’re working with and they do a great job of being consistent with it. And they’re both very strongly branded, they have a unique voice, they have a unique tone to what they’re doing. I really like how Mary Beth uses … She’s got a blog, she’s got a podcast, she’s got a book. And she has a Facebook group, a community, as well. And I feel like she’s really working on building up this connection between her and her reader. She likes to talk about a lot of personal things. She puts a lot of personal things on social media, and the target market that she’s working with really resonates with that.

Hannah:               And her Instagram. I love following her on Instagram. I know that’s so silly, I’m like … I love advisors on Instagram.

Kali:                        Yeah, she does a nice job. And I like Taylor and Jon have … They have but they also have this whole other separate site called And it’s just a blog and a podcast too now I think, but it’s used as a marketing tool for Define Financial. So I like how they have that set up. It’s a cool strategy if you can commit the time to, now it’s two websites. It’s like even more complicated. But it’s neat because they made that super specific to their local area and they talk about things that people in San Diego care about.

Hannah:               So as we wrap up, what have you … I’m gonna kind of give you two question and kind of let you go with where you want to go.

Kali:                        Alrighty.

Hannah:               So since you’ve been working with advisors, what have you learned about advisors or working with what’s best? And I’ll kind of wrap that into, what is your biggest piece of advice for advisors? Just from your perspective?

Kali:                        I don’t think I can say know your audience again. But really, that would be a big one, is know your audience. I think the other one is to try everything yourself first. Just give it a try. If you suck at it, that’s fine. You don’t have to publish it or put it out there or anything like that. Nobody but you has to see it. But try to do this marketing by yourself first. Because doing that will allow you to learn what you’re good at, what you’re not, what you like doing, what you hate doing, what would really be worth it for you to learn and dig into, and what just needs to go out the door to somebody else to let them handle it. I think when you have that experience, you are able to make better judgment calls on how and who to help you … Or how to do your marketing and who can help you do it.

Hannah:               Great, thank you.

Kali:                        Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it.

Hannah:               Excellent.

Hide Transcript

We had so much fun sitting down with Kali Hawlk of Creative Advisor Marketing at FINCON17. This week she shares with us how to talk marketing, hiring a writer, and how to evaluate whether your marketing strategy works for you! Kali Hawlk of Creative Advisor Marketing at FINCON17. Kali focuses on marketing strategies for financial advisors and helping them communicate their value to clients and prospects.
Tune in to learn Kali’s top marketing tips for financial planners, who in the industry is doing a phenomenal job with their marketing, and how trial-and-error isn’t something to be afraid of!

“Know your audience – and try everything yourself first…When you have that experience you can make better judgement calls on how to do your marketing and who can help you.”
Creative Advisor Marketing
Workable Wealth
Define Financial

Hannah Moore clean
A Passion for People and Proactive Planning Tue, 24 Oct 2017 17:04:23 +0000 0 This week on #YAFPNW we chat with Amy Irvine on about approaching your target market, how to have meaningful conversations with your clients (even when it’s uncomfortable), and more. We are so excited to have Amy Irvine on the #YAFPNW podcast this week. We discuss how financial planning is about more than investment advice and number-tracking. Financial planners are helping people build lives that are meaningful to them and that feed their soul.

Amy opens up about what her ideal client looks like, how she found her way to her current role as a financial planner, and what we can do to promote an environment of learning in the profession.

hannah's signature

What in your life doesn’t have to do with your financial life?

Things You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • How different roles in the financial planning profession can impact your career.
  • How to have meaningful conversations with your clients about their lives – and how to use that information to help them plan their financial lives.
  • Why education is so important – for you and your financial planning clients.
  • How to approach your target market.

Irvine Wealth Planning Strategies


Show Transcript

Ep68 Transcript


Hannah:               Well, thanks for joining us today, Amy.

Amy:                     Thank you for having me.

Hannah:               You are the owner of Irving Wealth Planning Strategies and we’ll talk to you about it a little bit more. But, I’d love to know how did you get started in the financial planning word?

Amy:                     Well, it actually dates back to my college days. I was around 19 and I was very actively involved in the student senate for my alma mater, which is Alfred State College, and the receptionist/secretary that worked for the student senate, her husband worked for a company called IDS, which is now American Express. I was an accounting manager, but I was also looking to side hustle to help pay for college a little bit, or I should say expenses. She suggested that I do some part-time work for him. I started doing cold calls for him to schedule appointments.

He would go to events and he’d have this little card that people could fill out where they would says, “I want some more information about,” it might be retirement planning or something along those lines. My job was to actually call these people and try to get appointments for the planner at that point in time. I did it for about six months, then I’m like, this job stinks. I don’t like it. I thought it was going to be fun. It was working with numbers, and I thought I was actually going to get to do something that was a little bit more than just calling people to schedule appointments.

That was my first introduction to the financial planning world, but there was a little bit of a light that I saw whenever … Darren was the name that I worked for. Whenever he would share with me just a piece of the puzzle, I thought, well, that’s really interesting. It stuck in the back of my head, and after I graduated from college, I worked for a transient company for a very, very, very short period of time because I quickly learned that that was not the environment that I wanted to be in. I sought out a job and it ended up being a trust company.

But, I actually interviewed with several, it would have been insurance companies back then. This was around 1994 that I started pursuing this specifically and one of the things that I tested for, New York Life actually, and the gentlemen that I interviewed with said to me, “Your scores are great. You would make a great advisor. But, as a woman, I really don’t think this is the best career for you.” That sealed it for me. Somebody told me I couldn’t do something, that’s it. I’m doing it. My mother has always said, “Just, if you want Amy to do something, tell her she can’t.

I actually went to work for a very small trust company. I kept looking, kept looking, and there was an opening in a very, very small trust company in their trust department. I was dealing mostly with estate planning, fulfilling trust documents, beneficiaries, all of that sort of stuff that, investment management, that goes along with the trust side. That’s really the organization that I would say launched my career because they exposed me to so much in a very short period of time that it was just … I felt the passion for it and said this is my career. This is what I want to do. I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to do it, but I knew that being in that environment was really fun.

What I didn’t particularity like about being in that particular trust department was that it was working with people that had already grown their wealth. There wasn’t a whole of true planning on the sense of how do you get there? It was how do you protect, which is important as well. But, I was 23, 24 years old at the time. I saw a lot more opportunity within the industry. That was my first what I would call true job in the industry. It’s a great people for people to start out in.

Hannah:               I love this idea that you were working this trust company. Were you thinking of how do I help my peers as somebody in your 20’s, or what were you viewing as a landscape of opportunities?

Amy:                     As soon as some of my friends heard what I was doing, they started to ask me questions, and I really didn’t know the answers. It wasn’t like I was learning about their problems. I wasn’t … How do you mortgage a loan, or how do you mortgage a house, or how do you pay down student debt, or how do you save for retirement? I’d look at them and say, “Oh, I don’t do that. I don’t know the answer to that.” I’m actually investing millions or working on investing millions of dollars. I don’t know how you actually grow it.

Intuitively, I was being asked these questions and wondering, well, how do I do it for myself. One day I actually was home … I don’t know if it was a Labor Day or President’s Day or one of those bank holidays that we had, and I was watching the Today Show and Jean Chatsky was on The Today Show that day, and here was this vibrant, young woman who was talking about saving and budgeting, and investing, and I thought, man, that’s what I want to do. I want to talk about these things. I started, at the time, again, 1994, 1995 … The internet wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. I started going to the library and getting books on how to budget and how to save and basic things that we talk about, but we were never taught.

Then, I started sharing it with my friends. Every time we were together, I’m like, “Okay, budget tip 101, how can we go out tonight and only spend like $25? How do we do this. “It became this huge passion and I’m sure my friends would roll their eyes, or like yeah, you thought it was a passion. You drove us nuts. But, it did launch, even more so, wanting to work with that younger generation. When I left the trust company, my next step was actually to go work for a union benefit office. I actually did a lot of the healthcare and the pension administration for that particular firm and this union environment. I was actually working with a bunch of the members of the carpenters’ union. The age range was huge. It was from apprentices, all the way up to people that were looking at retirement.

Working with them was exciting because when somebody new joined and you got to tell them about all of these benefits that they were going to have and how that all worked, they would start to ask questions about, “That’s great, but what do I do for life insurance, or should I have a will,” which of course the answer is always yes. But, that’s the start of the questions that people started to ask me, and again, it was building this, well there’s more out there, right? There’s more than just retirement and now I’ve gotten into healthcare and everybody’s asking me about saving for their kids’ college now.

I started to seek out a company that would … I knew that I knew enough that I didn’t know a lot and I needed to get some education and experience under people that did. I started to look for other opportunities within that industry and I actually went to the trust environment again, working for a trust company that had a much larger trust department. It had a separate investment, a separate tax, separate estate, and then also a separate retirement administration. Under that retirement administration, we worked with IRA’s and 401K plans, and this was around 1996. This was before a lot of 401K plans were daily administration and you can go in and check your balances frequently. We were sending out quarterly statements, and sometimes only annual statements still.

But, I would go out and help people enroll in these 401K plans, and there again, people would say, “So, what else should I be doing?” I went back to the trust company and I said, “There’s this CFP thing. I really think that would be beneficial for me to pursue this because it does all of these other areas that I just don’t feel knowledgeable about, and I really didn’t feel knowledgeable about the insurance piece, or even the taxes piece at that point in time.

They said, “You know, not right now, but, maybe in the future.” I was 29 at the time and I was driving about two hours a day, one hour to work, one hour home, and I really saw the potential of this program, the CFP program, who my alma mater was just launching at that point in time too. That’s how I knew about it. They were just starting this program, and I thought, you know, I think I really, really want to pursue this.

My husband and I talked about it and we sat down and said, we can do this. We can tighten up our budget. We can live off of one income for about two years or me to go through this program, and so I did. I left that company and went back to college at that time, 30 years old and pursued a bachelor’s degree in the CFP program, and then ultimately a Master’s degree and it was the best thing I ever did, because that was … I got a full breadth of the feel that I had the opportunity to interact with other individuals that were coming up through this program. I got to interview as of course of exploring internships, which I had to, which was funny to me because I’m like I have ten years of experience. I still have to do an internship? But, it was really 10 years of different kind of experience, so I’m glad I did it. But, that’s really the start of it all.

Hannah:               Well, what I love about your story is you kept seeing these threads of financial planning wherever you went. It was like the client kept saying, “There’s more. There’s more. There’s more,” and it was really you listening to your clients and saying, “Why aren’t we providing more?”

Amy:                     Once I graduated, I really wanted to … Oh, by the way, my internship ironically, was with [Ameriprise], which was great because I got to see what I didn’t want. That was such an annuity based … There’s nothing wrong with annuities or with broker dealers or anything like that, but that was particularly … I’m like, no, I’m really more interested in looking at the planning side using the products to answer the questions, but really, really focusing on the planning side. I needed to get into a company that would let me do that, would actually let me start with the financial plan and not start with the investments.

Hannah:               Can you talk a little bit more about what that internship was like and specifically what about it made you say, “This isn’t where I want to be?”

Amy:                     Because every meeting, when I sat through them, every meeting was a sales meeting. Every meeting was about what are the products that we are …I hate to use the word pitching, but that’s what it was. It wasn’t sitting down with the client and saying, “Here’s our process. We’re going to sit down. We’re going to learn about you. We’re going to learn what your needs are and then we’re going to come up with some solutions and recommendations.” What I saw was when somebody would come in and say, “I’m thinking about retirement.” “Well, here’s some products that can help you get there.” How do you know that? If you haven’t actually sat down and said, “Well, what are your expenses, and what does your budget look like, and what do you want to do in retirement, and what do you want to do prior to retirement, and what are the competing goals that you have?” How do you recommend anything if you don’t know the answers to those questions. I just didn’t see those questions being asked. To me, that was a red flag.

Hannah:               Yeah. I can say now that I’m on the financial planning side of, it if you would, I can’t invest money unless I have a financial plan. It’s just this complete mindset shift that once you see it, you can’t go back.

Amy:                     Yeah, when people run into me at a party and find out what I do, they’ll say, “Oh, where should I invest my money?” I’m like, “I have no idea.” I have no tips for you because I have no idea what your situation is whatsoever. Even sometimes, when people will say, “Oh, I just got $20,000, what should I do with it?” I don’t know. Without sitting done and getting the details, I don’t know where to go with that. That’s what I saw on that internship and even if some of the companies, the next company that I went to … When I first went there and was hired, they were … I was also studying for the CFP exam at that point in time. I had met all the education requirements and I was studying during that process and the next company that I went to, when I joined them, I had just sat for the CFP exam, and I was waiting to get the results because when I sat for it, we didn’t know for six to eight weeks.

I was waiting and waiting and waiting and I think I had been, there, maybe a week, week and a half when I found out that I had passed and they actually hired me under the preface of we want a financial planner on staff. We want a CFP. There were no other CFP’s at that point in time. I was so excited. Elated doesn’t even begin to explain how somebody feels when they find out they passed that exam. It really takes away all those months of loneliness that you experience prior to sitting for the exam.

That was supposed to be my focus. Unfortunately, some things changed within the company and one of the supervisors left and I happened to be the only one with … I had sat for the seven when I was doing my internship in the 63, ad I don’t know why, but for the 24, and I happened to be the only one that had that particular license, and so I was immediately by default thrust into a role that I didn’t really want, but I learned a ton from doing.

Hannah:               For people listening, the 24 is the compliance license.

Amy:                     It’s one of them, yep, one of them, yep. When you take on that role, compliance is so important and for anybody who wants to start their own firm … It’s under FINRA, so it’s a little bit different, but it’s still …It was a great learning experience to understand the basis of everything that you can and cannot do. It was a great learning experience. It led to my next role as a chief compliance officer for the RAA that I went to work for after I left that firm. The reason I left was more because as the branch manager for that firm, I also had almost 215 clients, so I was responsible for 11 staff members, had that many clients, really wasn’t doing what I loved, which was the financial planning. It was just putting out fires, and I just kept saying to myself, “This isn’t your why. This isn’t why you got into this. You got your degree and you went back to college. This isn’t my why.”

I started looking for other opportunities that would allow me to reach that and that’s when I went to work for my first RAA firm, which, like I said, I was the chief compliance officer for as well as the … The title was director of financial planning, but really, I was fortunate to be able to bring 35 clients with me and, or approximately … I think it was 30 and potentially 35, and do really nice work with them. It was extraordinary.

Hannah:               You brought those clients with you from your last place to the new RAA and you started doing financial planning with them once you got to the RAA?

Amy:                     Correct, and in more detail, yeah. At that point in time, I was actually able to spend the time focusing at a greater level and engaging.

Hannah:               So, as director of financial planning, were you just working with your clients, or was there a bigger responsibility for the firm’s clients?

Amy:                     There was a much bigger responsibility for the firm’s client. That’s the preface that I was hired under was that … The gentleman that had built the RAA was very focused on investment management. He was extremely successful, very focused on investment management, but was thinking along the lines of wanting to do more for his existing clients. That was where the idea of well, let’s bring Amy onboard and do more for those existing clients and even their family and their friends … Not friends, but family members, especially younger family members … That was one of the ideas as well was to take some of the retires and maybe start working with their kids or their grandchildren.

Hannah:               Were you the only true financial planner on staff there?

Amy:                     I was. There were four employees in total. The owner of the company was a CFP, and then there were two other. One was in an admin role and the other individual had a long background in financial planning but he was not a CFP, and he was not doing the financial planning piece. Really, that was my responsibility.

Hannah:               You got your financial planning background through these college programs, your Master’s degree, the CFP. But, you’ve really been the only financial planner trying to create build in financial planning into these firms.

Amy:                     Yeah.

Hannah:               Was that frustrating or what were your thoughts on that?

Amy:                     It was actually and I think that’s why ultimately I ended up going out on my own to be honest, Hannah, because that was the piece, and I can look back on it now. There was always something that just was like, what is wrong with these people?. Why don’t you get it? I don’t understand. It’s so plain to me, and it just always seemed like this uphill battle of why isn’t it that we start every client in this method. Why would we ever invest their money if we don’t have the financial plan in place? Not just that, but also, when I decided to leave that last firm, one of the reasons was because when people have built their wealth, yes, there’s financial planning involved, but again, I’ll go back to that same preface that I said prior. There’s a lot of people that haven’t built their wealth, and one of the things that I kept saying that we needed to do is start to reach out to those 30 and 40-something-year-olds and do financial plans for them.

Let’s take the business and tweak it a little bit. Let me really do financial planning. Let me get into this problem solving and this proactive way of dealing with people’s finances instead of the reactive way. If I can help somebody, and I’ll give you an example. When I was at that firm, I had somebody come to me and say, “I’ve got all this student loan debt, and mom and dad are going to help me, but I really wish that I hadn’t done it at all.”

Well, what if we had sat down with mom and dad and student, and said, “Okay, here’s some ways that we can fund college?” That’s really proactive. The graduate doesn’t walk out feeling this heavy weight on their shoulder even though mom and dad have said they’re going to help. It’s still a heavy weight. That’s proactive planning. I kept thinking that’s what we need to be doing and we need to be talking to people that are my age, in their 40’s, and mid-40’s, and have kids that are looking at going to college in a year or two or three. That’s planning and we should be talking to them about how they’re saving for retirement. I see some of these retirees that have all of their money in after tax buckets.

Now, they’re at a point where they’re having to take the RMD and it’s making the Medicare higher, their premiums higher. It’s making their social security more taxable. It’s actually creating and putting them into a higher tax bracket than they would have had they split up their savings and retirement. That’s how we can proactively help people and everybody was saying to me, “But, how do you make money on them?” Well, they’re willing to pay a fee. They’re willing to pay whether it’s hourly, or some sort of retainer model. There’s just not that much out there for them.

Hannah:               You just needed somebody to tell you that you couldn’t do it.

Amy:                     Yeah, that’s what happened actually was when I pitched this idea to the other firm, he said, “No, I really don’t see where that will be successful.” All right. Let me show you. It wasn’t quite like that, but, it’s when I started to say, “I think it really is.” You know what? What’s the worst that’s going to happen, if it’s not, I’ll go to work for another company. But, I really think that this is going to be successful.

My husband and I sat down again, and we started thinking about things. We started exploring opportunities and thoughts and took the next step, and it was brutal. I know you just recently did a couple podcasts with what you wish you had known before you left a firm, and I wish I had listened to that podcast before I left that firm because it was a brutal parting. It was really brutal and it’s tough when you’re in the same city. There are lots of things that I wish I had done differently.

Hannah:               Yeah, as amazing as financial planning is, there’s some really, really dark sides to the industry and yeah, when money’s involved, people do crazy things.

Amy:                     Well, one of the things that I’ve always said is when I get to the point where I’m bringing advisors on and able to do that with sustainability is I won’t have that non-solicit, non-compete, because if somebody wants to work with that person, then that’s who they should work with. Who am I to say you can’t work with X, Y, Z person. That’s the things that just kills me about this industry. This is such a personal industry, such a personal relationship industry that if person X wants to work with person Y, who am I to say they can’t. I think that that’s just why … I don’t know any other, or very few industries that say that. If you like a particular doctor, you follow that doctor. If you like a particular financial planner, you follow that financial planner. I just will never have that in my firm when I get to that level.

Hannah:               You weren’t able to take any of those clients with you that you had done the financial planning work with?

Amy:                     I wasn’t able to take any that belonged to the firm. Those people that I ultimately brought with me from the firm prior to that, I was smart enough to have language I there to say if I brought them from firm X, that I could take them. I was actually able to start the business with a group of very loyal clients that I will forever be grateful for because they gave me enough income to at least, along with my savings, get me through that first year. It wasn’t enough to sustain forever, but it was enough to help us along with some savings that we had get through that first year, which is, I will say the toughest year emotionally, physically, and it just … It takes a ton of energy in that first year, and even part of the second year I would say to really keep saying to yourself, “I did this for a good reason. It’s all going to work out. Just keep doing the right thing and everything will work out.” They not only stood by my side through the transition, they were the best of referral because they said, “Oh, finally a firm that there isn’t this barrier to have somebody work with you. I’m going to refer my friends.” They did and I don’t think there can be any better compliment than that and I’m very … They’re extremely solid in my heart.

Hannah:               Yeah, I definitely can relate to that. I remember when I made my move … The clients that came with me, I feel like I owe them. There’s such a debt of gratitude that [crosstalk 00:27:22]-

Amy:                     Oh, yeah, huge.

Hannah:               … and they feel loyal to me and I’m just like, anything you guys need, I got you.

Amy:                     Absolutely. I don’t care if it’s a Saturday or a Sunday. You know what? You had my back, I’m going to have yours. Not that I don’t feel that same sense of loyalty towards the new clients, I do. But, it’s just slightly different because they were my support beam. Without them, I would have bruises that never would have healed I think.

Hannah:               Yeah, I remember when I was making the transition, and it was not easy or pretty, or … It was pretty ugly if we’re going to be honest-

Amy:                     Yeah.

Hannah:               And they are one of my largest clients and they called because it’s just like, I don’t know how to present this to them. He was like, oh, well we always follow the advisor, not the firm. That’s great. We’re excited. I will never forget that short conversation that I had with him. It was just a given that they would follow me, and I was just like, wow, that’s what this business is about. It’s about the people.

Amy:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).Yeah, it is and that’s why I said earlier I would never make somebody sign a non-solicit, non-compete because who am I to stand in their way if that’s who they want to work with?

Hannah:               Yeah.

Amy:                     Hopefully they’d never leave, but-

Hannah:               Right. If we create good work environment, people will want to stay.

Amy:                     Yeah.

Hannah:               So, let’s talk about your current firm, Irving Wealth and Planning Strategies. You’re doing it your way in what you see. What does it look like for a client to work with you?

Amy:                     Well, as you mentioned, I decided when I started my firm that I would do it very differently and one of the things that we start with is the financial plan. When somebody comes to me and says, I’m looking to either start working with an advisor, particularly maybe even change an advisor, the first conversation that we have is, “Well, tell me about you. Tell me about who Hannah is. What is your passion? What gets you going? What gets you excited about life? If money weren’t a barrier, what would you be doing differently? Tell me about you,” because those conversations are going to drive every other recommendation that I have for you.

Then, let’s dig into the numbers. Let’s look at what does your employer offer for benefits? What do you want to do with your career? What have you already saved and why and what do you think that you would like to do for the next 10, 15, 20 years. That’s a challenge because if somebody asked me that question, I’m like, well, I’m doing it. But, I have dreams at the same time. Do I want to travel a little? Yeah. Do I want to spend time with my family? Yes. All of those things are really important to me. But, is there something that really stands out to you that you want to make sure that you do?

We start with that financial planning process and then as we go along, this document, if you want to call it that starts to form, and as we get into those different sections of financial planning, then we can say, maybe it’s better to wait on making a recommendation until we actually take a deep dive into the tax side of things because I don’t want to make the wrong recommendation on … Let’s say it’s savings for your kids’ education. I don’t want to tell you, you should do a 529 plan if that affects in some way, shape, or form your taxes down the road because maybe there isn’t a defined college plan in place. Maybe it has to do with stock options or whatever it might be. Sometimes, it’s better to hold off on making those recommendations until we really have everything put together and it’s about a year long process to go through that.

Hannah:               Yeah. I want to hit on something that you said at the beginning about how you take them through this discovery process and ask them, “What is it that you want to be doing, and your future and everything like that,” and I think you would agree with this. There’s some clients that I have when I go through that process where they’re just like … They can’t even process that, and I think that’s okay. Really, I think what we’re doing is we’re trying to get them to start thinking that way, and that maybe they’re not going to have that answer today or in six months, but in a couple of years, they might be coming back to us and saying, “Hey, here’s something that I never thought of before. Could this be possible?

Amy:                     Yeah, and if they can’t come up with something, then I’ll often ask them what makes you happiest right now? If there’s a point in your life that, or a particular part of your life that makes you happy or happiest, what is it, because that’s probably what they want to be doing.

Hannah:               Yeah.

Amy:                     If it’s involvement in their church, or spending time coaching their kids, or doing other volunteer work, it’s feeding the soul in some way, shape, or form, well, that’s probably what you ultimately want to be doing, so how do we get you there? It helps them.

Hannah:               Yeah, one objection that I’ve heard from people is I’m not sure my clients would be comfortable having these conversations with me. What would be your response to that?

Amy:                     I think at first, when we start having these conversations, they look at me like, what does this have to do with financial planning? When I say to them, if you can just trust me, I’ll get you there. What in your life doesn’t have to do with your financial life? No matter what it is, I’ve always said that there’s basically three things that are nearest and dearest to everybody’s heart. It’s their God, their family, and their money. When people say that … When other financial advisors say I’m not sure I’m comfortable having these conversations, you really need to change your mindset, because if you want to be a good financial planner, you really need to know those things because if you’re helping them build what is most meaningful to them, what else could there be? I can’t fathom not knowing that about a client. I can’t fathom not knowing what feeds their soul. If that means that they, if they’re uncomfortable having those conversations with me, then I’m not the right planner for them because I don’t know how to plan if I don’t know the bottom line of who you are as a person.

Hannah:               I want to take a second and just contrast this with some of the firms you were at before. The firms that said they wanted to do financial planning and that they were bringing you in as the CFP to bring financial planning to their firm, is it possible to do that?

Amy:                     Boy, that’s a really hard question because I think it’s possible … I think it’s possible if the firm really, truly believes that and understands it. I think the problem that I’ve had in the past is they … It’s almost a cliché, like of course we want to bring in financial planners. Of course, we want to do this financial planning, but they don’t actually understand what it is. If the firm truly understands it and truly wants to bring that person in to change the culture of the firm, but boy, I would do my homework on that if somebody is saying that. That’s one thing that I would say, “I didn’t know what questions to ask,” so if somebody is looking at a firm that is saying that, call me and I will give you some questions to ask.

I think there are certain firms out there that probably already have that core beam. Joining those firms is going to be a lot easier than finding a firm that says we don’t currently offer that, but we want to bring it in. I just found that they were truly looking to check a box is my experience, and I’m hoping that the industry changes, and I hope to help change the industry, them, so that they’re not just checking a box.

Hannah:               Yeah. Well, if these firms, for them to truly do financial planning, they have to give up a lot of control. To do financial planning really well, that means developing deep relationships with somebody else that can leave and take clients. There’s a lot that goes into it.

Amy:                     I think that’s a tough one. It’d have to be the right business and I’d want to really have somebody explore it pretty deeply.

Hannah:               Back to your firm and the process … After these deep discovery conversations, how many meetings are you having with clients?

Amy:                     In the first year, it’s often, probability six to eight meetings. That first year is a little meeting heavy, and then if they choose to stay onboard with the firm, then it goes to about four times a year. There’s a lot to discuss in that first year. There’s a lot of decisions, and if you allow too much time, then they’re like, what did we talk about again, and what’s my homework. If you give enough time to work on things, but not too much time to put it off too far … It depends on people’s schedule, but usually somewhere in the neighborhood of every two months, I try to have them on the calendar to get back on board and see where you’re at.

There’s a lot of in-between communications, emails, phone calls of, hey, do you need help with this? How are you making out? Where are you struggling? In my experience, if I lay it all on you in that first meeting … If I have a discovery meeting and then I say oh, here’s your financial plan, and here’s all your actions steps, you might as well thrown that in the garbage because they’ll look at you like, okay, I just got blown over by that fire hose and I don’t know where to start. It’s usually the pain points that I start with as part of that first meeting. I’ll say, “Why now? What was the impetus that you started working with a financial planner,” and really start to focus on those particular things first because those are the points that people are most motivated to work on. Then, everything else follows. It’s a lot of meetings that first year.

Hannah:               What does your ideal client look like right now?

Amy:                     That’s a great question and it took me a long time to figure this one out. When I first went independent, I knew that I wanted to work with people around my age. That was the general theme of it. Let me work with people in their late 30’s, mid-40’s to late 40’s, around my age. Because we’d always worked in an industry where you took everybody right, it didn’t matter what the person was. You just took them.

It took me probably a good year and a half to figure out, I really, really enjoy working with women, really enjoy it and not that I don’t work with couples or men, but, if you said to me what would you like every new client to look like, it would be a woman in her mid-40’s, early to mid-40’s who wants to be educated, who wants some guidance, who wants to ask a lot of questions, who enjoys the relationship, and isn’t afraid to say I don’t know to something, and really wants to take those lessons that I am teaching them and take it down to their kids. If I could hand pick that particular person … Again, it can be a couple, but I want that. My ideal client is somebody who comes in, even as a couple where the woman in the conversation really wants to be engaged. I think there’s so much to teach.

Hannah:               Well, and I just love what you said about teaching each of their children. I don’t know that I’ve heard that when people talk about their ideal clients, but that’s really neat and really a distinguisher.

Amy:                     We learn from our parents, right? We learn from our educators and so in my opinion, what I see and what I hear is that boy, I wish somebody had taught me this in high school or college. I don’t know how to teach my … Because we’re only as smart as we’re taught, right? That’s all we know. We do what we know, and if we can start taking that down to the next generation, then they’re going to be walking out of high school and college with this leg up because they know, hey, when I find my first job, I should be looking for a company that has a 401K plan, or that might offer some help with student loan debt repayment, or has a good health insurance plan.

These are things that they are not intuitive. What I find often is that what’s happening is when I start to look at the benefits that some of these couples and women have, they don’t even know what they mean. What’s the difference between an FSA and an HSA? What’s the difference between a PPO and a high deductible plan? Oh, I can get life insurance through my company at basically bottom basement price, but should I? What about disability?

These are all the things that when we walk through this stuff with our clients, they were like, I had no idea this excited. My company’s not so bad. They really want to take care of me. They just need to educate and then you take it to the next level. Take it down to your kids and like look, if mom and dad ever become disabled, this is some of the stuff that we have. You should be looking for that when you have a job offer. If you look at some of the way that I’m reaching out to this particular target market is that I recently started having something called Wine and Dime.

It’s the second Monday of every month throughout the Spring, Summer, and early Fall because I go to Florida in the Winter months for December, January, February, and March. So, I host it in the months that I’m up in upstate New York in the Finger Lakes area. I host this Wine and Dime, and it is just for women. It is an environment that we have some snacks, we have a couple bottles of wine available and women come and they talk about anything under the sun that they want financially, and sometimes sidesteps to that … The last one I had we actually started talking about the breastfeeding accommodations that employers offer.

Well, I don’t see that happening in a room full of mixed environment, but it was a very comfortable environment where people were talking about, well, how do you plan for having your first child, and how do you stretch that leave of absence so that you don’t have some of these things, or what accommodations are employers offering, and ideas that this young woman could take back to her employer to help her during that transition. These are things that are really relevant to women right now. Where some very definite changes come into somebody’s life, right, and I had women that were retired on one side of the room and women that were in their early 30’s on the other side of the room. I didn’t set it up that way.

They just walked in and that’s where they sat and it was so interesting because as I was talking about different events, the women that were retired, they were saying, “Oh, I wonder if my kids are thinking about that.” Then the women that were in their 30’s, are saying, “Well, I wonder if my parents are thinking about that. For me, being the moderator of the conversation, it was so unique to see the two sides interacting in exactly what I was hoping for whereas women of all ages, we can sit down and talk about those different topics, and we have multiple caregiving responsibilities often as woman. I’m not saying that men don’t, built, we tend to be the ones that get sandwiched often, statistically speaking, and even have struggles with our career that we can really be there and be supportive of each other.

That’s one of the ways that I’m focusing on helping to promote education and really working with that women demographic that I’m most interested in working with. To complement that, I just recently released a Wine and Dime podcast to boot. My first release actually just went out last Monday. As you know, even learning experience on something like that, right, so that’s again, something that is … I want to get education out there, and I’m bringing guests on that we talk about all those different career choices that are available to women, just educating them on that while we’re sipping on a glass of wine. It’s the perfect world, and we talk finance to boot, so I’m in my glory when I record those.

Hannah:               I was going to say, this is the dream life, right?

Amy:                     Marrying two passions together, I get to talk finance, I get to drink a little wine, and where I live in upstate New York, it’s like a wine country. It’s like the Sonoma of New York. I’m often featuring those local wines and I’ve loved some of the recordings. I’ve just released one, but I’ve recorded several of them, and I ask everybody what do you think about this. They’re like, this is so unique. I’m like, that was what I was going for. Anyway, that’s how I’m reaching out to that particular group of people that I really want to work, but it took me a long time to figure it out and now I’m, as you can tell probably from my elevated voice, I just feel so blessed and so excited to get up every day and say, “So, what am I going to do for this group today?”

Hannah:               We’ve talked about the demographic that you service. How do they pay you? How do you make money on this process?

Amy:                     I have three tiers of services basically for most clients. There are some only financial planning services as well as some hourly services, but I primarily make money with three layers that people want to hire me in. The first layer that they can come onboard with me is on a quarterly basis they can pay me $650 to be on call. It ends up being $2,600 a year that they pay me and we have a very defined risk of things that we go through every quarter. There’s a service schedule and the first part of the year is taxes, and talking about any goals that are for the year, what kind of vacations are they wanting to plan, but it’s not limited to that kind of conversation.

Then, throughout the course of the year, we have our quarterly meetings, and again, any questions that pop-up, somebody wants to buy a car, having those conversations about that, should they finance it, should they put money down, should they lease. That’s one model and that includes investment advice on assets outside. If they had 401K plans, I would wrap that in and I would provide them with recommendations on who they might want to allocate all of their assets. It could also include working with a third party portfolio manager. I’m not physically, necessarily managing the assets, but I’m giving them advice on how to allocate based on the goals that we’ve set in that first year of planning, which also takes into consideration risk and risk tolerance and need for return.

That’s the first level, then the second level is taking it up a notch where they say to me I really would like you to be doing the investment management and I want to be able to have your particular models in play for the overall, as well as all the financial planning that goes along with it. Because of the additional time that that takes, that fee actually ends up going up to $5,000 a year, so each quarter it ends up being $1,250. Then the final level is I want all of what you’ve already offered, but I want you to offer it to my kids, or perhaps even grandkids in some cases. In that situation, we charge $8,400 a year to give basically advice not only to them, and all of the financial planning that goes with them, but to take it down to the next generation, and that ends up being $2,100 a quarter.

I love when people hire me for that level because now I’ve got mom and dad. I’ve got the kids, and in some kids, I’ve got the grandkids, and really knowing those family dynamics is extremely beneficial. I’m going in with a leg up because I can understand what the education has been up to that point, and what the knowledge has been and what the family mentality is. You’re not starting from scratch on some of that even though there might be different goals, those same values usually come into play.

Hannah:               Are you meeting with the kids on a quarterly basis, or is it more a special project time basis?

Amy:                     Well, that ends up being more like once or twice a year, or if they do have something come up that … For example, I just had a client whose wife, the actual daughter-in-law, accepted a new job. My client’s daughter-in-law accepted a new job and she had all of these benefits that she was like, I don’t know what any of this means. They called me and said would you help us through this enrollment process and I was drooling when I saw her benefit package because it was extraordinary, and as we talked through all of the different, basically no-cost options that she just had to enroll in, and I explained to them the benefits of some of that, they were so grateful. They were grateful for their parents because their parents elected to have this plan, and they were grateful to have somebody who actually knew what some of this stuff meant.

Hannah:               Yeah, you’re really meeting clients right where they’re at instead of waiting for them to get to a certain point and then you’ll help them.

Amy:                     Yeah, like I said before, the proactive nature of financial planning, instead of trying to fix what somebody did, let’s try to prevent it.

Hannah:               On the investment management piece, do you have any caps on … Can somebody with $5,000,000 pay $5,000 a year for you to manage their investments, or who do you approach that?

Amy:                     Yeah, the actually could. One of the goals that I had about the firm, and this back to the focus of it, is that investments are a tool to help you get to whatever your goal is. They are not the plan. I wanted to take it to the next step and say that’s what I’m going to have the practice focus on is that if you have $5,000,000, $5,000 is the max that you’re going to have. Now, if there’s some complexities to that $5,000,000 and I see that there’s going to be some additional time that’s going to be required above and beyond what I would normally spend on something, then I’ll have a conversation with them and say, “Look, this is” … For example, if we were going to be trading options, like covered calls and some of those sort of things, that’s above and beyond what’s in that package. Let’s talk a little bit about how do we add on some additional costs to cover my time for those more complex situations. But for the most part … Because again, my target isn’t people that have wealth right now. My target is to help people that are building their wealth. I don’t know that I’ll ever run into that situation.

Hannah:               Amy, as we wrap up, what would be your advice for planners who are just starting out into the financial planning world?

Amy:                     Probably the number one piece of advice that I would give is get a mentor. Get somebody who has been in this industry for a while, who can try to help you avoid some of the pitfalls of the industry, give you some coaching pieces of education that you might want to pursue. Remember that you haven’t ended your education, you’ve just started your education because this is a constantly changing world, and just get a little direction and there’s a safety net in doing that. I didn’t know that was an option. As easy as it is for me to say it now, I honestly didn’t have anybody I can go to and I think running things by people that have a few battle wounds that they’re willing to show you can be very, very helpful.

Hide Transcript

This week on #YAFPNW we chat with Amy Irvine on about approaching your target market, how to have meaningful conversations with your clients (even when it’s uncomfortable), and more. Amy opens up about what her ideal client looks like, how she found her way to her current role as a financial planner, and what we can do to promote an environment of learning in the profession.

“What in your life doesn’t have to do with your financial life?”
Things You’ll Learn in This Episode:

* How different roles in the financial planning profession can impact your career.
* How to have meaningful conversations with your clients about their lives – and how to use that information to help them plan their financial lives.
* Why education is so important – for you and your financial planning clients.
* How to approach your target market.

Irvine Wealth Planning Strategies

Hannah Moore clean
Voices of FPA Tue, 17 Oct 2017 15:07:48 +0000 0 In this week’s Voices of FPA episode, we had the pleasure of hearing from so many wonderful planners attending the 2017 FPA Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Hearing their stories, asking their advice, and listening to what inspires them was truly amazing. In this week’s Voices of FPA episode, we had the pleasure of hearing from so many wonderful planners attending the 2017 FPA Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Hearing their stories, asking their advice, and listening to what inspires them was truly amazing.

This episode covers a lot of ground – so feel free to start a discussion in the FPA Activate Facebook group! Not a member? No problem! Joining is easy, and you don’t have to be an FPA member to be part of the group. We want to support all new planners in their career goals and aspirations!



“Step up. Raise your hand. Get uncomfortable. Every impactful career move I’ve made has been a little uncomfortable, it hasn’t felt very great at first. I’ve been out of my element. But it’s been very rewarding.”


Things You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • What motivates experienced and new planners.
  • Resources and tools other planners have found useful.
  • Advice for starting your financial planning career.
  • The most helpful piece of advice planners have ever received.
  • Who or what is invaluable to their practice.
  • What planners wish they could change about the industry.
  • What planners wish had gone differently at the start of their career.
  • Why different planners from all walks of life have joined FPA.
  • How many planners would describe FPA in one word – AWESOME!



In this week’s Voices of FPA episode, we had the pleasure of hearing from so many wonderful planners attending the 2017 FPA Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Hearing their stories, asking their advice, This episode covers a lot of ground – so feel free to start a discussion in the FPA Activate Facebook group! Not a member? No problem! Joining is easy, and you don’t have to be an FPA member to be part of the group. We want to support all new planners in their career goals and aspirations!


“Step up. Raise your hand. Get uncomfortable. Every impactful career move I’ve made has been a little uncomfortable, it hasn’t felt very great at first. I’ve been out of my element. But it’s been very rewarding.”

Things You’ll Learn in This Episode:

* What motivates experienced and new planners.
* Resources and tools other planners have found useful.
* Advice for starting your financial planning career.
* The most helpful piece of advice planners have ever received.
* Who or what is invaluable to their practice.
* What planners wish they could change about the industry.
* What planners wish had gone differently at the start of their career.
* Why different planners from all walks of life have joined FPA.
* How many planners would describe FPA in one word – AWESOME!

Hannah Moore clean
Ben, Belgium, and Behavioral Finance Tue, 10 Oct 2017 19:57:32 +0000 0 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. 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


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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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. 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.

“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
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Institute of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University
Hannah Moore clean
Live Big with Dr. Dave Yeske Tue, 03 Oct 2017 13:00:26 +0000 0 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. 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: