Hannah: Thank for joining us today, Anne.
Anne: Thank you for having me, Hannah.
Hannah: I am really excited for people to hear your story, but how did you get into the financial planning and wealth management business?
Anne: I randomly fell into it right out of college. I worked in banking right after I graduated high school and throughout college, and when I graduated college I had an idea of what I think I would do, and that was to work in economic development in Latin America. I studied Latin American Studies and Economics in college. I speak Spanish fluently, so I’ve always been drawn to Latin America and I thought that I would go down there and work on economic development.
I had a professor in college who sat down with me when I was about to graduate and asked me what my plans were, and he actually worked for the Inter-American Development Bank, which is like the World Bank but just focused in Latin America. Long story short, he basically told me that he didn’t think that I should go in that direction because he thought that I would be very unhappy with the bureaucracy that is part of that organization, just economic development in Latin America in general.
I did, at that point, what every college student who is completely lost did, I put my resume online and waited for companies to call me. I had some interesting opportunities, but the one that really caught my attention was from, at that time, American Express Financial Advisors, which very shortly after became Ameriprise Financial.
I went in for an interview. There were probably 60 other people there for the interview. It was a whole process, but that is, inevitably, how I ended up becoming an advisor. I was offered the job and went to study for my licenses and then went into production.
Hannah: So when you went into production was it one of the deals where you’re supposed to make a list of your 200 closest family and friends and start with them?
Anne: It was, but I did not do that. I made the list, but I didn’t feel right going to my family and friends knowing that I knew absolutely nothing. I really took to cold-calling and doing these lunch presentations that we would do, and I hustled as much as I possibly could so that they wouldn’t actually force me to touch base with my friends and family. I’m lucky that I didn’t actually have to use that as a marketing strategy, but it absolutely was very much one of the main marketing strategies that they preferred.
Hannah: What did that look like when you’re talking about hustling and cold-calling? What was that like? I’m assuming you’re 22, 23 at this point?
Anne: I was 22. Yeah, I was 22. It looks like a lot of hours and a lot of nos. You had to develop a very thick skin over a very short period of time because remember, you actually really don’t know anything. You’re on the phone calling people who are decades older than you because we were really trying to focus on people who were thinking about retirement, and you sound like you’re 12. You have the knowledge level of a 12 year old for financial services. So it’s really, really challenging.
I look back to some of the initial clients that I acquired and that still work with me today. First of all, I’m just in awe at their generosity, and I’m grateful that they gave me an opportunity, but I think really the only reason they gave me an opportunity is because somewhere deep down they knew that I was a good person, and I was an honest person, and I wasn’t going to try to hurt them in any way.
But, aside from that, there’s not really a lot of compelling reasons to … that I could look back on anyway, for someone to hire me. It was really, really challenging.
Hannah: What kept you going? I’ve heard lots of stories where people were just saying, “I can’t. I can’t do this”, but what kept you doing that?
Anne: Yeah, that’s a really, really good question, and it’s something I’ve reflected on a lot because I can tell you that multiple times in my first three years probably, I was one day away from calling it quits. Multiple times I can tell you that it just was so hard. I was working so many hours. I wasn’t making a lot of money. I had this question a lot of times, “What am I doing? Is all this worth it?” The only thing that kept me going was I would acquire a new client, and I would make a promise to this client, and I would get excited about working on their case. Again, I would be so grateful that they were entrusting their financial planning to me, that that was the only thing that stopped me from quitting.
Because I had just made this commitment, just made this promise to this family or this individual who had hired me, how could I disappoint them and how could I quit at that point? I look back and you add up one client acquisition with another client acquisition with another client acquisition, and it just got me through. I think probably around year three or four, I finally started feeling a little more confident in what I was doing.
Hannah: That confidence in what you were doing, did that just come from experience? How did you get better at doing investments or financial planning?
Anne: I made it a point to educate myself as much as I possibly could. I had a mentor early on who I am so very close with to this day, and he said to me, “You’re not going to be able to know everything.” He had been in the business for probably 20 years at that point, and he was telling me even 20 years in, he would learn new things on a regular basis.
He first said, “Try not to learn everything right away because you’re just not going to be able to do that. And if you spend all day reading and trying to learn everything you possibly can about the industry, that means you’re not out trying to meet people. And if you’re not out trying to meet people, you’re not going to be acquiring clients, you’re not going to have anyone to share this knowledge with, and you’re going to fail out of the business.”
I tried to balance my thirst for wanting to know as much as I possibly can and learning and growing, with also making sure I was actually out there talking to people. But I would spend my weekends reading magazines like Barron’s, and I would read The Wall Street Journal every morning, and just try to immerse myself in the vocabulary. I wanted to be able to know what was going on and be able to have intelligent conversations with people when I met them.
I think, for me, it was a balance of wanting to learn and spending my free time really reading books and magazines and articles about the industry, but also not spending that precious time during the day that I could have been on the phones cold-calling or I could have been doing a lunch presentation or out networking.
Hannah: You talked about the, you said 60 or 90 people who went in for that interview. How many of the people that you started with were still in the business in three years?
Anne: Oh, gosh. Probably … definitely less than 10. I want to say probably seven or so of us were still there of my class, yeah, after three years. Most of the people would actually leave the industry, they would go into a completely different direction. Some people left being an advisor and went to get a job that was still in the industry, but I would say most people got burnt out from the industry, and just had a very bad taste in their mouth and became a teacher or went into a completely different industry.
Hannah: Now you’ve been in financial services for 10-plus years at this point?
Anne: Yeah, I’ve been in since I’ve been in production, a licensed advisor, about 12 years, plus my banking experience. But, again, I started that right out of high school.
Hannah: Looking back now at the cold-calling, what are your thoughts on that? Is that an effective way to start a business today?
Anne: It’s not.
Hannah: What would you change if you were starting over tomorrow?
Anne: It’s just not. Let’s just me real. I’m sure you get cold-called all the time. I do, too. No, i just … If you’re not coming to me with a warm referral introduction. Occasionally I’ll get a compelling email that grabs my attention that’s a cold email, but am I ever taking action on it? No, because I have no idea who this person is who’s reaching out to me.
No, if I were starting now today, I think absolutely cold-calling is not the way to do it. Even when I started, so I went into production in 2006. That was the beginning of the Do Not Call lists becoming really popular, and people figuring that out. I think that even when I was cold-calling, it probably looking back wasn’t the most effective use of my time.
But, again, I didn’t want to go to my natural market so I was very motivated to make cold-calling work. I don’t know how many hundreds of dials I would make on a daily basis, but we had this whole matrix of how many meetings we had to schedule or how many dials we had to make, and we had to report on the numbers on a weekly basis. I’m also pretty competitive, so I never wanted to walk into that Friday morning meeting looking like a slacker. I made sure that I hit my numbers on a weekly basis.
But, no, I think if I were starting today, cold-calling would not be the way I would market.
Hannah: That’s funny. We’ll talk a little bit more about what you transitioned to away from cold-calling, and what that transition looked like for you, but I’m interested. So you started production in 2006, so 2008 was just two years away, so you hit that in your second or third year of the great recession. What was that like as a young advisor? What did you learn through that process?
Anne: It’s almost inexplicable just how difficult and challenging and chaotic that time was, but I look back at that time, and I’m so grateful for that experience so early on in my career. This was a once in most of our lifetime, hopefully, our lifetime experiences from a recession and a market selloff perspective. I just remember complete and utter chaos and fear. I remember portfolios. From 2006 to the top of 2007, so about a year, every investment I put my clients in had done well. If you looked at Morningstar reports looking back, sure, there were years here and there where things were down. 2001 was obviously a challenging year for the market perspective but, for the most part, things looked really rosy on Morningstar reports.
To answer your question about what I learned, I think first I learned to be very, very sensitive to the downside. I saw in real life how losing money actually hurts more than making money feels good. It’s one of the behavioral finance principles. People do not like that feeling of losing money, and they get really terrified.
The other thing I learned was to help people try to manage their emotions. I had a client during the financial crisis, no joke, every single Friday he would call me, every single Friday, and he would try to convince me of why we needed to sell out of his portfolio and go to cash. And every Friday I would have this conversation with him and I’d walk him off the ledge until the Friday, he would call again and we’d have the conversation.
Learning how to help people deal with the emotional aspect of investing and financial planning was one of the largest takeaways I had from that time. And it’s one of the things that I use on a daily basis still today.
Hannah: When you say that financial planning and you use that on a daily basis, what do you mean? Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Anne: Sure. If you are familiar with behavioral finance, which is this fascinating, relatively new body of research in our industry, it’s basically the difference between logically what we know we should do from a financial perspective and emotionally how we actually end up reacting. If you take a market downturn, for example, especially the worst downturn in any of our lifetimes, logically, you’ve heard a million times before, “Oh, you should buy low and you should sell high.” So if the market’s selling off, you shouldn’t be thinking about selling, you should be thinking about buying.
Logically you know that that’s what you are “supposed” to do, but what happens is, fear and very strong emotions come into play and they make you scared and they make you, or they allow you, if you let them, they allow you to make decisions that are completely the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. It’s helping clients take a step back and take a pause and take a deep breath and assess the situation objectively and try to make educated, logical decisions and try not to make emotional decisions.
Hannah: You go through that experience and were you able to find clients in the market downturn, or were you more just helping your current clients manage that process?
Anne: Actually, it was one of the most amazing client acquisition times of my career, which is maybe counterintuitive, but I think, it’s my opinion that when the market goes down, our client acquisition actually goes up. Right now, you can be a monkey and you can throw a dart at a dartboard, and you can make money. It is not hard to make money in the markets right now. People who are either doing their own investments, they’re do-it-yourselfers, and they’re feeling like, “Oh my gosh. This money management thing, this investment thing is a breeze. I should open a hedge fund, I’m so good.” They feel like they’ve got it because everything is going up.
When the market goes down, you have people who are do-it-yourself investors all of a sudden realizing, “Oh, man. Maybe I should get professional help.” And then you also have people who have been working with their advisor for a while and they’re not so dissatisfied that they’re motivated to make a change, but they’re just blah about the relationship. It’s going to take something like the market selling off and the advisor not returning phone calls or not proactively communicating. It’s going to take something like that to motivate them to make a change.
Back to the financial crisis, you had a combination of clients who were potentially managing their own investments and lost a lot of money. They were maybe fully invested in stocks and lost 38% or so in 2008, or you had people who were dissatisfied with their advisor, but it took something dramatic like a financial crisis to motivate them to make a change. I had amazing client acquisition during that time.
I tell advisors today, I’m looking forward to the next selloff because number one: we can buy things a little bit cheaper than we’re able to get them now and number two: there’s going to be so much money movement, it’s going to be an amazing opportunity from a practice growth perspective as well.
Hannah: I love that perspective. How do we position our companies well? And again, like you said, it all comes back down to client servicing and doing what’s best for our clients.
Anne: It does. It does. It also is about proactively talking to prospective clients right now who may not be motivated to make a change, but you want to be the first call that they make when they are motivated to make a change, for whatever that reason is. You want to make sure that you are in front of them so that when the market sells off or when their advisor screws up for the last time or doesn’t return a phone call, that you’re the first person they think of in your position.
That client may not come over today or tomorrow, but that will be your client in the near future for sure.
Hannah: You’re at Ameriprise. You’re not there anymore. What prompted you to look for other solutions?
Anne: I was at Ameriprise and I think I was there for four years. I felt like I had learned a lot. I’m so grateful to Ameriprise for the foundation that I’d got, for the training. One of the things that I still, to this day, have a model calendar, and I make sure I book time for working on my financial planning cases. I don’t book as much time anymore on the practice growth piece of it, I probably should book more time on that.
I’m grateful to Ameriprise for the foundation that I got, for the training that I got, also for the belief in financial planning, which is something that I still very strongly believe in. I got to a point where I felt like I wanted to see what else was out there, and I wanted to improve my knowledge and my skills on the investment management front. It happened to be that I had been recruited by UBS to move part of my book, not really a ton of my book made sense for me to move over.
I was recruited by UBS and I thought UBS is exactly what I needed to fill the gap in my skills and in my knowledge. They were a super strong global wealth management firm and I actually had been talking to someone over there, as well, about potentially partnering. So I moved from Ameriprise over to UBS and I ended up partnering with this person. We were partners for five years, so that was why I decided to make the move from Ameriprise.
Hannah: Again, like you were saying, it goes back to those relationships and building up those, even professional, relationships.
Anne: Oh yeah.
Hannah: Were you able to take a lot of your clients from Ameriprise? Had a lot of your clients followed you through the various transitions that you’ve made?
Anne: They have. That’s another thing I’m eternally grateful to them for. I didn’t invite everybody to come with me from Ameriprise to UBS just because it didn’t make a lot of sense just based on what I was doing for specific clients. But the majority of clients who I had asked to come with me from firm to firm have graciously done that.
That’s a big thing to ask a client to do, to repaper their account, and to lose all the history from the old firm. I realize that it’s a large commitment that they’re making, but I’m very grateful to say that most clients have come with me. Even when I went independent from UBS and then switched broker dealers, the majority of them have followed me.
Hannah: I’ve had a lot of questions lately on what advice would you give when you’re making that move, bout managing your client relationships? I see that as you’ve made these transitions, what did you do well or what would be your advice to somebody looking to make those transitions with clients?
Anne: I think that even before you are deciding to make a move, it’s really important that you sell yourself versus you selling the company that you represent. When I was at Ameriprise, I don’t think that very many people hired me because of the really cool Ameriprise Financial commercials that were on TV. When I was at UBS, we had a handful of people that worked with UBS because they were international clients and UBS had a super strong international presence, but it was a handful. The majority of people who decided to hire me and work with me, it was because of me and not because of the firm behind me.
I would say to any advisors out there who are even noodling, potentially thinking about making a move in the future, make sure that you consistently reinforce that the value that you bring to the table is not the sign that’s on your building, but it’s you. It’s you as a person. It’s how much you care about that relationship. It’s that you are going to do everything in your power to help those clients reach their financial goals.
I think that’s something that I did pretty well, is I didn’t sell UBS or Ameriprise or Wells, I sold me and what I was bringing to the table. And that’s something that takes a while. You can’t just flip a switch and decide all of a sudden, I’m not going to talk about my firm as much anymore, I’m going to talk about what I bring to the table. But, in my experience, people hire you because of you, they don’t hire you because of the company behind you. I think that that’s something that I did well.
Looking back at what I would have changed, I’d only ended up being at UBS for about a year. So when I got to UBS things started getting really bad again from … this was in 2009. We’d been through a financial crisis at that point but UBS had their own set of unique challenges throughout that time period. So looking back, I would have, instead of going from Ameriprise to UBS, I probably would have gone Ameriprise independent, which is what I ended up doing about a year later anyway. It would have been just one less move that I had to make and that my clients had to make.
So just really being thoughtful about what is your endgame and what is really important to you and what are you trying to do. In hindsight, the person that I decided to partner with and I at the point, the reason we didn’t go independent was all about fear. It was all about being scared that our clients wouldn’t come with us. Looking back I wish that we would have just gone independent, but I’m also a huge believer in not having any regrets. Looking back at every single experience that I’ve had in my life and being able to identify what I can learn from the experience, so I wouldn’t do anything differently, but maybe that’s advice that would be helpful for people who are considering a couple options.
It was way more work that it probably needed to be.
Hannah: Those moves are a lot of work.
Anne: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. They are.
Hannah: I love that comment on fear of … I know for me personally I almost have this … I notice that fear now when they come into decisions and it’s, again, like you’re talking about with clients, about how the behavior finance side of it. Most as a business owner, even if we’re not a business owner, in your career, if you get that sense of you’re doing something because you’re afraid, that’s really a time to pause, step back, and say, “Do I really need to push through this?”
Anne: Yeah, absolutely. And I think looking back on times in your life when you’ve been fearful and you’ve done it anyway, and how that feels, how it turned out. I had a friend recently who’s a business owner who’s actually in the technology space. He told me that every time he feels fearful about a business decision that he’s going to make, he actually gets really excited about it because he can look back in his career. He’s owned his business for over 20 years now. He can look back at his career and every time he’s felt that fear and he’s pushed through it and he’s done it anyway, it’s been the catalyst for the next wave of growth that his company experienced.
So I thought that was a really cool mindset, that when you feel that fear, instead of letting it paralyze you, actually try to channel it into the energy that you need and the motivation that you need to push through, make that decision anyway, and get excited about what is on the other end of that fear.
Hannah: I love that. Some of the best things in life are on the other side of fear.
Anne: Yeah. For sure.
Hannah: You said that you ended up working with a partner, and then now you’re by yourself. You have a staff but you’re not in a partnership relationship anymore, right?
Anne: That is correct.
Hannah: Can I just have you-
Anne: That was another exciting learning experience.
Hannah: Let’s talk about … oh partnerships. Let’s talk about, I don’t know, maybe a case for partnerships and maybe a case against partnerships, not against partnerships but you’ve been through both of those, can you just reflect back on why you went into partnerships? What were the positive things about that? But then, what ultimately led you to back away from a partnership and do it on your own?
Anne: Sure. I think that the idea of a partnership is supposed to be that you bring two people together and one plus one equals three, as opposed to one plus one equaling two. In the partnerships that I’ve seen, the successful partnerships that I’ve seen that are few and far between but they do exist. Great partnerships absolutely exist. The ones that I have observed that are successful, that is absolutely the equation and sometimes one plus one equals four, as opposed to three.
That’s the benefit to having a partnership is we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses, and if you can get really clear on your strengths and also what you really enjoy doing in this business because we all wear lots of hats. If you can really get clear on what is it that you are really exceptional at and what is it that you really enjoy, and you can find someone who complements your weaknesses and their strengths are your weaknesses, then game on. It makes so much sense. That’s, on paper, what I think are some of the benefits of partnerships.
But you’re bringing two human beings together. So there are all sorts of challenges. I was in my partnership for five years. Ultimately, why I decided that it was no longer going to work for me is we had different ideas around how to run and grow the business, so clearly that’s a big deal if you’re running a business with someone, and you have different visions of where you want to take this. So that was a problem.
We also had different, let’s say, levels of commitment to just actually putting in the hours. I was willing to work a lot and hustle a lot and worked long hours. My business partner just was at a different stage in his life where he wasn’t as willing to do that. That was a problem because you build resentment for that person and you feel like, “Oh my gosh. I’m here busting my tail”, and the other person is not meeting you there. That’s challenging. To maintain over a long period of time the same level of commitment and work ethic is challenging.
It ultimately came down to this feeling that I had gotten to a place where I learned a lot from being in that partnership. I can look back now and be grateful for that experience. Again, I wouldn’t do it any differently, but I got to a point where I knew if I wanted to reach my own potential, both personally as well as professionally, I needed to let go and I needed to move forward on my own.
I’m making that sound really easy right now and it’s a very long process. It was definitely very stressful in there. Our split was not the most amicable split. There were a lot of challenges but moving through that and, again, looking back I’m grateful for the experience and I learned a lot.
Now I’m in a place where I’m the only advisor in my practice and I have three people who work with me who have different responsibilities in the practice. I feel really great about my team and the synergies. I feel like for the most part during the day, we’re working on things that we enjoy, and that we’re really good at. We complement each other really well.
One of the things you and I have talked about being a mom in this business. One of the things that was challenging is I just had my second son. He’s eight months old now. When I had my son, I was in a business partnership so when I had the baby, I was able to take more time off. I knew that things were going to get handled at the office. This time around, I have amazing staff who was able to handle almost everything, but at the end of the day, clients want you for some things. That was a unique challenge that I just recently went through.
You get through it, and it’s all worth it, again, all part of the process of learning and growing.
Hannah: A couple questions off of this, another thing that I’m hearing a lot from advisors, or people who are starting out, is that they really have this desire to be on a team, and that’s preventing them from starting their own practice or doing something along those lines because they’re like, “We want that support.” What would you tell that person?
Anne: I actually agree with that. If I were starting out today brand new, I think about this a lot. I wonder, I ask myself, would I go the same path that I went down and based on what I know now, the answer is no. I would absolutely try to team up with a nice, functional, successful team that works well together and I would try to learn as much as I possibly can.
If I felt really strongly about having my own practice in the future and starting that journey, then I would. But I think it makes a lot of sense to join a team, especially if you’re just starting out because there’s so much infrastructure, ideally, hopefully already built there that you can learn a lot and grow a lot from that experience and see where it leads you.
Hannah: You mentioned having two different babies in your time as an advisor. There’s a lot of talk about women in the profession and I know, gosh, we could probably spend a whole, several hours on just that topic-
Anne: Yeah, a whole interview.
Hannah: But I think it’s a really … Looking through having your own business, going on maternity leave, being a mom in the business, and just the expectations that moms have and business owners, can you just reflect on that a bit?
Hannah: And what would you want women coming into the profession to know?
Anne: One of the things that makes me very sad about our industry is any time I see a report about just how terribly we’re doing as an industry in terms of attracting females into the business. It’s been about the same number for the last three decades and at least the reports that I’ve seen recently don’t look like we’re making any improvements there, and that makes me very sad because in my experience, I think women are really good at this business. We’re empathetic and I think that we’re, for the most part, women have high levels of compassion and integrity. We can really kick butt and take names in this industry, so it makes me very sad that more women don’t get in the industry.
One of the things that I love about this business, and this is more so if you run your own practice than it is if you are an employee, so that’s just a reality. One of the things I love is that you absolutely, once you get to a certain point and you’ve built up a book of business and you’re not having to hustle as much as you did in the beginning, not that you ever stop hustling but you’re not having to hustle as much as you did at the beginning. You manage your own time and you manage your own calendar.
If I know that I have a … My older son is six, he’s in kindergarten now. If I know that he has something going on at school or a field trip or a play or an event, I can book that in my calendar and I’m not seeing any clients during that time. I have full control over what my calendar looks like, when I see clients, when I don’t see clients, if I want to take time off. So that’s a huge benefit, I think, especially, not that it’s less of a benefit for men or for dads, but I think it’s a huge benefit especially for moms as we do get to manage our time, and we can really be there for activities.
You know, kids get sick. Oftentimes even if you have a very hands-on dad, the kids want mommy when they’re sick. We have flexibility to manage our time, which I think is hugely important.
Hannah: For maternity leave with running your business, you said you were in a partnership for the first one and not the second one. Were you able to take time off? And what did that look like for you?
Anne: Yes and no. I’m the type of person who likes to be connected, even when I go on vacation, I like to check my email. I just find that if I completely check out for a week, it just produces more anxiety in me than is worth it. I know some people who absolutely just want to check out and I think that’s awesome. You just have to know what works for you.
For me, when I had my second child, I did not check in, did not check email, had no idea if the office was blowing up for three days, which may not seem like a lot of time, but for me, that was a big deal. I was completely present at home with the baby, with my older son, my husband, my family. I was completely present for those three days. And then I would start, I started checking my email more and checking in more. I did not see anyone, any clients. I did not have any meetings or any conference calls for the first six weeks.
I was at home. I would come into the office here and there, but for the most part, I was at home for those first six weeks. For the next probably month and a half, I would see meetings as need be. So if we had a client who had an emergency and had a time constraint decision they had to make, I would see that meeting. I would take a conference call. I would meet with prospective clients that we were referred to, but we weren’t actively trying to schedule review meetings during that time. It was more just on a one-off basis.
When I came back, it was about three months that I had a modified schedule, let’s say. Then after three months I came back full-time. I got all my reviews in that I should have seen during that time and came back to my normal schedule.
Hannah: Very cool.
Anne: The beauty of technology, I’ll just say, these days, when I had my first son, you couldn’t work remotely as much. He, again, is six years old. We just couldn’t do as much back then. I was with Wells, so there were limitations on what I could do from home. But now, it’s just so great because you can do so much from home. There’s even ways that you can make phone calls and your clients, it looks like you’re calling from the office. There’s just so much more flexibility that we have these days from a technology perspective to leverage if you do need to take extended time off like for having a baby.
Hannah: Or just a sabbatical. It doesn’t have to be just a baby.
Anne: Sorry. What’s that? Could you explain what that … Can you define what a sabbatical is? That sounds amazing.
Hannah: You started your own-
Hannah: You left your partnership. Did you move to LPO or were you guys already at LPO?
Anne: No. We were with Wells. I split my partnership and moved broker dealers all in one fell swoop. You know because why not? If you’re going to have change, just have big change and be done with it.
Hannah: Rip the Band-Aid off.
Anne: Exactly. Yeah.
Hannah: When you moved to LPO, you started your company. Are you branded as, is it Curo Private Wealth?
Anne: Curo Private Wealth. Yes.
Hannah: Can you talk about that name? How you came up with that? Kind-of just the bigger branding of your firm and what you want to be for your clients?
Anne: When I had made the decision that I was going to split up my partnership, and I was going to basically start my own firm and rebrand solo, I really wanted a name that meant something. My business partner and I, when we started our company, it was our last names together, which is fine and that works for a lot of people. But I really wanted my name to mean something. I wanted to be able to tell a story about it and I wanted it to really be impactful.
I started asking clients as I was in the process of making the decision to split the partnership and start my firm. I asked clients a couple of questions. Why did they hire me? What did they like about working with me? Why did they continue to work with me? Why do they stay with me? Because clients are actively making a decision to continue to work with you on an ongoing basis.
I got lots of different answers, but the answer that I really cared kept coming up over and over again. Clients would say, “You know when we met with you, we could just tell that you care about us or you care about what you do or you care about our money and you care about our financial plan and the investments and all that, but you also care about us as people and you care about our family.” Again, the term to care kept coming up over and over again. I thought, “Okay, what can I do with that?” Because that was really the theme that came out of these conversations with clients.
I went on to the Google and I Googled how to say to care in different languages. Curo came up. It’s Latin for to care. I thought, “That is absolutely perfect.” So that’s how I decided on curo. What I want our brand to stand for is exactly that. I don’t want to be all things to all people. I don’t want to work with every single prospective client who comes in the door. And, in fact, gratefully, I’m at a point now where if I don’t feel like there’s a good connection, with the prospective client in that initial meeting, I will graciously let them know that I don’t think we’re a good fit and I will kindly decline the business.
That’s what I want us to be about, is that we care about our clients. We care about everything that we do. We’re completely committed to working with people with whom we feel a great connection, with whom we share values. We want our clients to care about us, too. We want to work with people who appreciate what we do and who listen to our advice, and who are kind and respectful to us as well. That’s what I hope our brand is all about and I work on that on a daily basis to make sure that we are upholding that.
Hannah: I like that. Keeping that culture within your firm, I think that’s such an interesting conversation. How do we keep culture? How do you maintain that culture through your staff and your employees in every interaction?
Anne: Yeah. Absolutely. I think it’s really important initially before you even hire anyone to do a good job of assessing that, those values. Because people will say a lot of things in an interview, but it’s important to make sure that you are hiring people that will not only say what you want to hear in an initial interview, but will live your culture every single day in the interactions they have with your clients.
Hannah: How many staff members do you have now?
Hannah: Three staff members. Very, very cool. How many clients do you have?
Anne: We have about 100 households right now.
Hannah: Oh that’s great. What’s next for you? Are you looking to grow your practice? Are you interested in other endeavors? What does the future hold for you?
Anne: I am definitely always looking to grow the practice. I was told by a mentor early on in the business that you’re either growing in this business or you’re dying. I don’t want to die, so I’m going to continue to grow. But I want to grow in the right way. As I said, I’m very committed to making sure that we bring on clients who share our values and who appreciate what we do and with whom we feel a great connection. I want to grow, not just for the sake of growing, but I want to grow those types of clients that we’re looking to work for.
Definitely growth is on the horizon. I think in the near future I’d like to bring on an associate financial advisor who can be the relationship manager for a number of our clients and also help with growing our business. The way that I see this working is we have an investment minimum right now, and I’d actually like to bring that down but would like for the associate advisor to be able to be the lead relationship manager with those clients. I’d like to be able to work with more people, and I feel like if I have that associate advisor we would be able to work with and help more people, which is exciting.
Then I’m also potentially interested if the right opportunity came my way, in practice acquisition. I think that there is so much opportunity in our industry. I think the average age of a financial advisor in the US right now is around 60, so there are a lot of advisors who are looking to retire, and I absolutely would be open acquiring a practice or two if we found the right one. That would be a growth goal over the next probably five years or so.
Hannah: Looking at new planners, what would be your main piece of advice for people who are entering the profession today?
Anne: I guess it would depend on their role. If their role was to find clients, I would pass on the same advice that I got, which is if you’re sitting behind your computer or behind a book all day or trying to learn everything that you possibly need to learn before you put yourself out there, don’t do that. You’re never going to make it if you don’t put yourself out there and you don’t try to find clients.
If your role is not really trying to find clients, and is not really more of a business development role where you’re doing the work, I would say to constantly be networking. Join a financial planning association, XYPN, if you can do that. Join organizations that are near you so that you can network with colleagues and potentially people who can offer you opportunities in the future. But put yourself out there and develop those relationships even if they can’t do anything or you can’t do anything for them today. You never know where those relationships will lead you.
Networking, which is not something we’ve talked about, but networking has hugely beneficial for me and my practice. One of the things that I did when I was cold-calling and hating it the first few years is I laid out what I wanted my intermediate term and my long-term marketing strategies to look like. I knew that I had to cold-call to make it and to hit my numbers and to not get fired. So I had to keep cold-calling even though I despised it. But I knew that one day I wouldn’t have to do the cold-calling, so I wanted to be really clear on what those intermediate and long-term marketing strategies looked like.
For me, networking was a huge one. I, right away, started trying to build relationships with CPAs and attorneys and I joined a VNI group. I knew that those relationships wouldn’t pay off right away but 50% of our new business every single year comes from centers of influence. It comes from CPAs and attorneys and real estate agents and loan officers and roughly 50% of our new business comes from client referrals.
I would just network and try to build those relationships as early as you possibly can.
Hannah: It’s really interesting. You talked about your marketing plan, your short-term, medium-term, and then long-term marketing plan. So your short-term was the cold-calling, medium-term, was that the networking? And what would be the long-term?
Anne: My short-term was the cold-calling and those lunch presentations I mentioned, which was very much an Ameriprise thing. It was called Lunch and Learns. That was my short-term. My intermediate-term was more of the networking. It was also speaking engagements. I really enjoy speaking and so I wanted that to become more a part of my intermediate-term. Then longer-term was more media.
One of the things I started doing is I tried to get more TV interviews. I was actually on a show that we had in DC called Washington Business Report. I was on quarterly just talking about the outlook of the markets and the economy and that was really fun until the station got acquired by a national TV company and they weren’t as interested in the micro DC assessment, so they canceled that show unfortunately.
The intermediate and long-term is networking and potentially more media opportunities as well as practice acquisition.
Hannah: Great. Well, thank you for joining us, Anne.
Anne: Thank you for having me, Hannah. It’s been a pleasure.