Michael Kitces, MSFS, MTAX, CFP®, CLU, ChFC, RHU, REBC, CASL, is partner and Director of Wealth Management for Pinnacle Advisory Group. He’s also co-founder of XY Planning Network, co-founder of New Planner Recruiting, and a publisher of the newsletter The Kitces Report and the Nerd’s Eye View. As if that wasn’t enough, Michael is a former editor of the Journal of Financial Planning, a co-founder of NexGen, and a 2010 recipient of the Financial Planning Association’s “Heart of Financial Planning” award. 

In addition, he has variously been recognized as financial planning’s “Deep Thinker,” a “Legacy Builder,” an “Influencer,” a “Mover & Shaker,” part of the “Power 20,” and a “Rising Star in Wealth Management” by industry publications. He also happens to have ADHD. With such a full schedule and a rich career, this episode is a deep-dive into Michael’s work, including how he structures his busy 65 to 70 hour weeks, how he fills up “his mason jar” (aka his schedule), and what keeps him going. There’s so much to take away from his insights and experience, especially if you’re a new planner trying to juggle “all the things.”

Making time for everything

One of the major themes of our discussion was time management and how some things tend to take on a life of their own. When Michael started the XY Planning network with his friend Alan Moore, for example, they thought they’d have a few dozen planners join. Today, they have over 1,000 members and a staff of nearly 50 people to manage everything. On top of that, he has over 50 speaking engagements a year and writes or edits a 3,500+ word blog nearly every single day. All of this adds up to one thing: a strong focus on prioritization and planning.

There is plenty to learn from Michael, who shares Stephen Covey’s “mason jar time management theory.” But he also talks about the importance of motivation and true passion for the work you do, if you expect to produce at higher levels. 

Motivation to help people

During our chat, Michael discussed his career path into financial planning. Originally, he started out as a psych major and eventually moved into insurance planning. He realized, though, that he didn’t have the qualifications (or knowledge) to truly advise on the financial decisions people were making. This led him into the financial planning profession, where he firmly believes that
giving people advice on what to do with a resource that’s essential for survival is a sacred duty. 

That’s also part of why he does so much. He produces so much content and speaks to so many people because of what he calls the “multiplier effect”: he’s not just talking one-on-one to clients. He’s talking to financial planners to impact the way they talk to their clients, which results in exponential impact. That also aligns with his BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) — reaching 10,000 advisors to reach a million consumers. 

Over the 19 years that Michael has been doing this work, he’s found his strengths and interests. But it wasn’t always that clear-cut. As he tells us, it took time to get there.

Finding strengths and roles in the profession

As new financial planners, the expectation to “know your place” in the profession can feel overwhelming. When first starting out, it’s hard to know where your true strengths lie, what you don’t like, and what you’ll create over time. Michael touched on this in our discussion, where he shared that he feels like he finally “came into his strengths” only about 4-5 years ago — after 15 years in the profession! 

During that time, he was saying yes to opportunities, growing in his work, and connecting with a ton of people. But that meant he learned a lot about himself, including what he doesn’t love (managing people) and what he’s good at (being a visionary). The same goes for younger planners who are just starting out: you won’t know what your strengths are until you try things on for size.

Michael also explained that the second decade of his career has been about building things and being very hands-on. Over the next 10 years, he thinks he’ll focus much more on how to make an even bigger impact. There’s so much that changes over the life of our careers, so it’s OK to not have all the answers right now. 

If you’re looking for an inspiring episode on the power of hard work, the balance between effort and workaholism, and how careers (and strengths) develop over time, check this one out.

Hannah's signature

 

What You’ll Learn:

  • The benefits of Twitter in the financial planning profession
  • Whether or not Michael actually sleeps
  • The importance of structure and time management for busy schedules
  • What rocks, mason jars, and pebbles have to do with your to-do list
  • The risks that come with saying “Yes” to too many things
  • What drives motivation to produce and work at higher levels
  • The multiplier effect and how it applies to financial planning
  • The impacts of workaholism 
  • How career changes and “failures” are necessary to find the work we’re meant to do
  • The necessary pairing of a visionary and an integrator
  • Why knowing your strengths comes with time (and experience)
  • Why knowing your “goal planning style” is critical to goal success
  • What the future holds for Michael 
  • The power of community

 

Show Notes:
In this episode with Michael Kitces, we reference:

 

Show Transcript

Episode Transcript


Hannah: I’m excited today to have Michael Kitces here on the podcast with us. Michael has a long list of accomplishments and things that he does. He is a partner and director of wealth management for Pinnacle Advisory Group. He’s a co-founder of XY Planning Network and the New Planner Recruiting, is a publisher of the newsletter The Kitces Report, and the Nerd’s Eye View, publishing daily. Is that right?

Michael: Yeah, once a day. One really long article every day.

Hannah: What’s your average word count?

Michael: Oh, gosh, average word count articles now probably 3500-4000 words.

Hannah: Every day. So he’s writing like a book every couple months?

Michael: Yeah.

Hannah: So he’s a popular speaker going to 50 to 70 events every year. So you’re traveling. That’s crazy. Lots and lots of recognitions. He’s been the former practitioner editor of the Journal of Financial Planning, a co-founder of NextGen. He has been called a deep thinker, a legacy builder, an influencer, a mover and shaker, part of the Power 20 and a rising star in wealth management. You’re also an active Twitter user, which I don’t … I’ve never figured out how to use Twitter and still be efficient with my time.

Michael: Well, frankly the key is probably assuming it’s not going to be efficient for your time. For me, I think Twitter is the, like it’s the equivalent of taking the break at the water cooler. That’s not efficiency time. You don’t take a break, walk out of your office, go down the hallway to the water cooler in the kitchen to be efficient and productive. You use it to chitchat with people and blow off steam for a little while before you get back into whatever it was you were going to be doing next for work.

Michael: It’s much more, Twitter is the break between moments of productivity for me, not necessarily means of productivity, but in the end, lots of relationships that have formed over Twitter, like I’ve gotten business over Twitter, I’ve gotten speaking engagements over Twitter. Alan Moore and I originally met and connected basically over Twitter, and then got to know each other through NAPFA and Association World, and then started a business together several years later.

Michael: As with anything, I think in the broad label of “networking,” when you put yourself out there in an environment where you connect with other people and you show up periodically and regularly, it’s kind of amazing who you meet and may build relationships with, turn out to be meaningful later, even if you don’t realize it at the time.

Hannah: So you are writing a 3500 word blog every day. You’re active on Twitter. You’re traveling everywhere, all the time. You’re always speaking. You’ve consulted with multiple organizations. You’re the co-founder of all these things. So, the one question that I had as I was preparing for this is do you ever sleep?

Michael: We get that a lot, to the point where on the little about Michael page on Kitces.com, we actually have a screenshot of my FitBit sleep tracker to prove I actually do sleep. I’ll admit, I don’t have the best social life these days. Something’s got to give when you do that much stuff, and work that many hours, but the good news for me, and frankly just what makes it manageable is while I’m involved in a lot of different businesses, most of those teams are remote.

Michael: I do most of my work personally from a home office, and so I’ve got a day or two a month I’m in some of the various offices for our advisory firm or for XY Planning Network, but most of the time when I’m not traveling, I work from a home office and so when I need to take a lunch break, I go play with the kids. Because we have three little ones who are seven, five, and three, so they’re often home by midday, out of preschool.

Michael: That’s the balance point for me. It’s a lot of work and a lot of family and not a lot of other stuff that fits in at this point, and some sleep, because I actually do need my sleep. For me at least, the fact I can work from a home office and family and kids are really close is part of what keeps that sane for what’s otherwise a pretty ridiculous number of work hours that I do, that leads to this common question, “Does Michael sleep?” To the point where we had to point on my website my sleep schedule, just to prove that I do.

Hannah: So how many hours do you think you work in a week?

Michael: Realistically, to be fair, I probably work about 65-70 hours a week. Pretty long days on the weekdays, and usually a chunk of time on Saturday and Sunday. I don’t work all day, every day seven days a week. I’m usually not really good at finding whole weekends that I’m able to take time off, because there’s usually some spillover. Email, or an article I’ve got to edit or something I’ve got to get through on the weekend because I couldn’t during the week because of all the travel and the rest.

Michael: But it’s five long weekdays, and a couple of hours a day usually on Saturday or Sunday. Might be Saturday morning while the kids are off at swim class. My wife takes them and I work for a few hours on Saturday morning. I might work a little on Sunday morning, and I usually do a little bit on Sunday evening after the kids go to sleep, before the rest of the week picks up again.

Hannah: So you’ve walked through your week, and I’m curious, can you dive more into that? How do you divide your time up in that 65-70 hours?

Michael: It’s been interesting for me that as business has grown, I’ve actually had to put more and more structure to my time and my days of the week and how I handle them from what I did early on. I’ve always had a little bit of a workaholic or at least hard worker tendency. I really like what I do and I got sucked into it. I’m also a fairly severe ADHD case and so I’m easily distracted but when I get sucked into something, I really get sucked into it, which is part of what’s made it work and why I can crank out long blog articles and long podcasts and such.

Michael: So, for a long time, I just managed to whatever came in. I did my stuff and I got my work done, but as the business grew and the platform grew, and more opportunities came, it’s easy to keep saying yes to opportunities, and usually there’s some dollars or business opportunities associated with it. Whether it’s, “Hey, can you write for us here? Go speak there? I want to start a business to do this thing, will you work with us and consult with us on this?”

Michael: I had lots of opportunities coming in, and got overwhelmed, got overworked even for me, which says a lot, and realized I was just, I was really having troubling figuring out where my capacity was. Like, when you’re already a workaholic, figuring out where the line is between a lot and too much is actually really, really difficult. And so what I actually ended out with as a system that I put in place for myself. There’s this metaphor out there about time management. I originally heard it as a metaphor from Stephen Covey of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Michael: I don’t actually know if he originated it, or if it came from somewhere else, but the idea of it is, so if you imagine all the time that you have in front of you for the week, 168 hours a week, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Envision it like a giant glass jar, like a big mason jar. It’s a fixed container, no matter what you do, you will not change the size of that glass container without literally shaking it and breaking it. It is an absolutely fixed container, and into that you put all the different tasks that you’re going to do through the week.

Michael: So, they analogize, the things that you have to do in the week into three pieces. There are the big rocks, the few really big meaty things that you’ve got to do and get done to move your business forward, or power forward in what you’re doing. Then there are the pebbles, which are the medium sized things that have to get done. They’re not big meaty rocks but they’re important things that come along that you need to get done, and then there’s the sand. The sand is the continuous flow of like, “Hey can I bend your ear for five minutes? I’ve got to call you about this quick thing.”

Michael: It’s the onslaught of email that never ends, and social media I would certainly put in that camp as well. And so the challenge that most people have is that they tend to deal with the sand first, because it’s in their face all the time. So, if you imagine this physical mason jar, if you fill up the jar like two thirds of the way with all the various sand, then you go like, “Oh crap, there’s a couple of things I really had to get done this week” so you pour the pebbles on top.

Michael: You’ve now probably filled the jar like three quarters of the way or more. Now next to the jar there’s still these three large rocks that you’re supposed to get done for the week. You pick up the first rock and you try to put it in the jar, and it won’t fit because the jar’s already three quarters of the way full with the sand and the pebbles and it just kind of sticks out over the top of the jar, and you certainly aren’t putting the other two rocks in because it’s already full.

Michael: That’s the challenge that most people have with time, the sand, the pebbles fill it up. You never particularly get the big rocks done, and your business can stall out if you get stuck that way for too long. So, the alternative prescription to this is that you place the big rocks first. Very literally. Now, if you imagine the empty mason jar, you put your three big rocks in first. Now, the three big rocks basically on top of each other, stack almost to the top of the mason jar. They’re offset from each other, because round balls fitting into a cylindrical container.

Michael: The three big rocks are in there, but there’s giant gaps around them. So now, around the gaps, you pour in the pebbles. The pebbles can float in and drift around and fill the empty spaces, because that’s what happens when you’ve got a big jar with a bunch of space and you pour some pebbles in. Now, on top of that, now you pour the sand. It’s actually pretty easy to pour the sand in last, because it’s just finely ground sand, it just pours into every possible nook and crevice between the rocks and the pebbles.

Michael: But what you end out with when you go this route is the big rocks are always literally getting done first. The pebbles are always getting done second, and now if anything’s going to get excluded, and something will always get excluded because there’s more stuff to go in the jar than there is space in the jar, what gets excluded is the sand, which by definition, was the least important thing to do and it’s kind of okay that you don’t get all to the sand, because you’ll never get to all the sand, and if you do get to all the sand, we already know what happens. You fill the jar up so much, you can’t even get one big rock, never mind all three.

Hannah: I’m curious, what are your big rocks?

Michael: I drill down my big rocks to the point that I literally now have a calendar for the entire year, every single day of the year, I make it like a big colorful Excel calendar, and there is one big rock assigned to every day of the year. Now, some of them are days of trying to keep my sanity. I generally peg Sundays as just a big rock called Sunday, which is a nice way of saying, “Don’t put any other big rocks on this.” You’re allowed to do a little bit of sand and pebbles.

Michael: There’s usually some drum of email that I’ve got to respond to, that I didn’t get to through the week, so I’ll pick that up on Sunday, but I’m not allowed to put any other big rock on Sunday. Big rocks for me, in practice, are blog articles, so if I’m going to do an article, it typically takes me a full day to produce one. If I block everything else off of my calendar, so I’m just writing that article in the day, I can generally pump out an article in a day. I’m a pretty fast typist, I have 10 years of producing blog articles, I’m pretty good at cranking them out once I know what I’m going to write about.

Michael: But there are days in the calendar that are just, the big rock this day is write a blog article. I do a lot of speaking, as you mentioned, so there’s 50 off plus days on the calendar where the big rock that day is do the speaking gig. Now, in practice, and this is the weird thing for speakers, it might be a day or a day and a half or two days of travel to go out, get to wherever you’re going on the plane, on the train, on the automobile, in the hotel, the taxi back and forth, all that stuff, but you only actually have an hour or two of work. Of like go up on podium and do your thing for that hour.

Michael: The speaking world is lots of travel time and it’s very disruptive from a productivity end, but it also actually has a lot of down time, because I’m only literally on the podium for an hour or two, and maybe engaging with the conference for a few hours beyond that because I want to. I really can’t do any other big rock on a day that I travel for speaking, but I can definitely fit some pebbles and sand in, because there is downtime of airports and taxis and hotel room and all the stuff that fills around it.

Michael: So, the whole year for me is a series of knowing what my big rock is going to be every day all the way through the year. There are blog articles, there are speaking days, there are essentially what I call business days, so like so many days I’m going to be up in the pinnacle offices for advisory firm. I’m going to be out in Montana, the XY Planning Network, and AdvicePay offices. I generally hold Mondays as the big rock for Mondays is just all of our team meetings. All of my different internal team meetings just get lined up on Mondays, so I do virtually no speaking engagements on Mondays.

Michael: I don’t do any writing on Mondays. Mondays is always a team day, but I just fill Mondays, so it’s usually anywhere from five to seven hours of meetings, just making sure my team knows everything that we’re working on, what we’re doing, who’s doing what, because I may be hard to reach for the rest of the week. Because I’m either holed up working on an article, or I’m out traveling for a speaking engagement with sometimes limited communication.

Michael: Fridays, the big rock is always my weekend reading. It’s one of the most popular articles that we put out every Friday. We do a recap of the 12 most interesting articles of the week and I usually literally write that on Fridays. I clip articles all week of things I’m seeing that are interesting, but I literally do the write-up on Fridays, because well A, it keeps it timely, and B, it’s really hard to pre-write the news. You kind of have to wait for the news of the week to pass, and then you can write a recap of the news for the week.

Michael: My days are actually very set and structured with a lot of rigor at this point of I know every day for the year what my big rocks are for the year, and ultimately it was hugely helpful for me figuring out where my personal capacity was, and not overburdening myself. Because by the time I put it on the year, I’m not allowed to do any big rocks on Sundays, and Mondays are team meetings, and Fridays are weekend reading, and then I’ve got to write this many articles, so I need that many big rock days for articles, and I’m going to do this many speaking engagements so I need that many big rock days for speaking engagements, and then I need to hold some days for things on the businesses.

Michael: At some point you just literally run out of days, and that’s the point. I got much better about actually managing my time and not overburdening myself by converting to this kind of big rock system so that I make sure I’m not overcommitting beyond things I can do. I always hold a handful of slush days so that if a really cool opportunity thing comes up that wasn’t on the original big rock calendar I set at the beginning of the year, I can accommodate a few one-off things.

Michael: But it’s relatively few. It’s forced me in a good way to learn to say no more often, because I really had the challenge for a couple of years when business started really growing and there were some cool opportunities and growth opportunities coming along that I just didn’t, I had no idea when I had said yes to too many things, and I needed to start saying no. I would only figure out after the fact. I’m like, “Oh, my God, I’m drowning with too many things to do. This is not pleasant.”

Michael: I got to a pretty tough spot in probably 2015. We originally launched the newsletter service and my speaking business in 2008. The blog really launched in 2010. It got growing really quickly over the first few years. By about 2013 it was really sizable. By 2014, it really started creating new speaking opportunities and business opportunities and other stuff. By 2015, I was drowning in it, and really struggling, like I couldn’t figure out what to say yes to and what to say no to. It all sounded neat, there were good opportunities. Business growth, nice problem to have.

Michael: Don’t want to complain about the fact that business was going really well. But it was kind of going too well and I was drowning in it, and trying to figure out how could I create some structure to my world to figure out how to manage all this stuff as someone historically who was very ADHD and pretty much rejected any kind of schedule and structure. And now I find my safety in my structure, like this is my safe space. I know what I can say yes to and what I can say no to, and what I can handle, because my giant big rock calendar tells me. It’s brought me a lot more sanity.

Michael: I still work a lot of hours, but it’s made it much more controlled and it’s now slowly helping me figure out how I can regain more control and get better balance. Because now it just, I know how many days there are at the beginning of the year, I know how many of the rock things I’ve committed to, and so it gets pretty straightforward as I look at it next year. Like, “Okay, you want to create two more weeks of space? All right, well you’ve got to-

Hannah: “What are you giving up?”

Michael: Yeah, what are you giving up? Are you going to give up some article writing and hand it to someone else? Are you going to do fewer speaking engagements? Are you going to transition on one of the businesses so you don’t have to do the days ops of that business. There’s only so much time. The mason jar is fixed. It just, it’s helped force choices and decisions that I otherwise was really not good at making.

Hannah: So I’m curious, hearing you say all this, the question that comes to mind is so what would you say yes to now?

Michael: It’s gotten hard, to be honest. Like, a lot of stuff I’ve said yes to that’s going pretty well and I’m excited to have it go well. My biggest challenge actually for the past couple of years is just that some of the things I said yes to a few years ago happen to be growing really well and have thrown off my time balance. When we, the case in point example is what we do with XY Planning Network where originally, this was kind of a side project for both myself and Alan Moore, my co-founder. He had been involved with NAPFA’s Genesis Group, I was involved early on with FPA’s NextGen.

Michael: We both thought there were some things that those programs did well, but some stuff that they missed that we thought we could do better, by creating an independent organization to do it. We went and launched this thing, but the grand vision when we launched XY Planning Network was we figured like maybe we could get 20 advisors to join us initially and then we try to get one or two a month. So like by a couple years in, maybe there’d be 100 advisors that were involved doing this thing where we were championing and doing financial planning for other young people and get paid on a monthly subscription basis.

Michael: That was the vision for it. That was going to be very much a side project on top of the fact that I was doing my blogging and speaking and stuff, and Alan had his own advisory firm. Now here we are, five years later, about to cross 1000 advisors. There’s 40 something employees across XY Planning Network and its family of companies, there’s another almost a dozen over at AdvicePay, which is our technology firm we made to process all these financial planning fees.

Michael: What started out as, “Hey, I think this is going to be a side hustle. Wouldn’t it be neat to do this thing over here?” Is now suddenly like, “Oh, we have 50 employees and we keep showing up on Inc’s fastest growing businesses list.” This is taking more time than I expected. Frankly, a lot of what I’m saying yes to right now has just been an expanding time commitment. First on the existing businesses that are growing really well, to make sure that I can still support them and contribute to them in a way that’s meaningful for me, and frankly has been positive for me because I can feel the impact, I can see the impact.

Michael: That’s part of even what’s shifted for me is the filters that we use or that I use to figure out what to say yes and no to.

Hannah: Also one of my questions for you is you do all this work, you put in the 65-70 hours a week, I mean we see you everywhere. What really motivates you to do this? I mean, you could have done that anywhere, in any field, but what motivates you?

Michael: I think the driver that motivates me is just, it’s the impact effect of A, just what we do in financial planning, as financial planners, for people who know a little bit of my backstory, I started out in the industry, straight out of college. I had no background to financial services. I was a psych major, theater minor, pre-med student who decided I didn’t want to do psychology, theater, or medicine, so I landed in the industry pretty randomly, based on a pitch from a sales manager, a life insurance company to come be a “financial advisor.”

Michael: “Great income potential, and we want good, smart people who work hard” and all that stuff that sounded great. It took me about a month to realize I was a life insurance salesperson. The challenge for me that hit me really hard in the first few months that I was a life insurance agent, was when I realized I am sitting across from people who have been, at that point who had been saving money literally longer than I’d been alive.

Michael: I’m giving them advice about what to do with their life savings, like the stuff they literally spent 20, 30, 40 years saving and accumulating. I’m giving them advice on what to do with it, and knowing deep down, I don’t know anything about what I’m doing. I had no training and education, experience in being a financial advisor. I took my series exams, but those don’t actually teach you how to be a financial advisor. They teach you the laws that will apply to you so you don’t get in trouble with your regulatory authorities while you’re selling things.

Michael: What hit home for me is that there’s so much that we can do to impact people with good financial planning advice, and just helping them have this better relationship with money. Because it’s so essential to what we do. As Dick Wagner used to point out, being able to handle your money now is literally a survival level skill. If you can’t handle your money, you won’t be able to get access to food, clothing, and shelter, if you’re really down with it. It matters that much.

Michael: Giving people advice on what to do with that, when you’re giving them advice on how to manage a resource that’s literally essential for survival, to me is an incredibly sacred duty. So, a lot of what drove me and drove me deeper into financial planning is just an appreciation that I really do think that what we do as financial planners amounts to that level of a sacred duty to help people with something that if you screw it up, you can literally destroy their life.

Michael: The multiplier effect that it has when you can help, not just help people with that, help clients with that, but I think what ultimately drove me was I like helping the advisors who helped the clients do that, because for me there’s a multiplier effect. If we can each do deep financial planning with 100 clients, then I can go out there and try to get my 100 clients, I can work with a firm that gets 1000 clients, or I can try to help thousands of advisors who each reach hundreds of clients, and have a 10x, 100x impact.

Michael: Even as we look at it from things like the XY Planning Network perspective, our BHAG, big, hairy, audacious goal, for those who know the Jim Collins Good To Great reading, our BHAG is helping 10,000 advisors reach a million consumers. That to me is, like that’s a legitimately achievable goal. We could actually impact a million people to have better financial planning advice and better relationships with money through that one business alone.

Michael: Frankly, we already have even more of a readership reach than that with what we do with the Nerd’s Eye View blog. It’s that multiplier effect for me that I think … It’s the helping people with their money and the sacred opportunity to really have the potential to change someone’s life that drew me into the financial planning world in particular. It’s the impact reach and the multiplier effect that’s now driven me towards building businesses and platforms that can help many advisors help clients, as opposed to just solely focusing on helping clients directly as I did for basically the first 10 years of my career.

Hannah: I’m listening to everything you’re saying, so if I summarize it, you work 65-70 hours doing work that you seem to love to do. You’re building up this team, you’re having this crazy impact on the world. It kind of sounds like you have your act together on all of this. But I’m curious, what do you find most frustrating? I’ll say professionally, but like what … Yeah, I’m curious, what do you find most frustrating?

Michael: I guess I’d answer that a couple of different ways. One, I think it’s probably the, it’s the burden that any of us have when we’re workaholics that like the work that we do. There’s never enough time in the day to do all the things that we want to do. Like, not withstanding the number of businesses I’ve been involved with and helped to create, there’s literally more than a dozen more in my head that I just don’t have the time to get out and build.

Michael: I try to find new partners I can work with as often as I can, just to build and create new things, but even that gets hard, because I can only manage so many relationships with so many partners before eventually I run out of time even supporting lots of different businesses. When I’m working with partners, even if they’re going to largely run the day-to-day, but I’ve got the vision, I’ve got the strategy, I see the opportunity. On the one end, I really am one of those people that just I look at the world and I see the gaps, and not in a bad way. Look, “Look at all the bad things in the world that we’re not doing.”

Michael: But I see the gaps as opportunities, like look at all the things in the world that aren’t getting done, that could get done, that would help all this stuff be better. That’s what’s led me to do everything from the blog to the speaking business, to New Planner Recruiting and XY Planning Network and AdvicePay and what we do at our advisory firm, and then the TAMP platform we made for our advisory firm, and our fpPathfinder business for flowcharts and checklists.

Michael: Just all these different things, like I see all these gaps and opportunities about how the advisor community could be served better to help more people and have more reach and bring more people in who would be successful. And I just literally can’t find the time and the people fast enough to get all the stuff out of my head, and see all of that come to fruition.

Michael: The second challenge to me, which is kind of a weird corollary to it, is so the first 10 years or so of my career, I bounced around for the first few years. As I said earlier, I was a life insurance agent and then I worked in an independent broker dealer for a couple of years before ultimately landing in the RA channel and the firm I joined in the RA channel, I joined them as the director of financial planning. My role was really building and developing this growing team of financial advisors, the financial planning deliverable that we would give clients, just actually going out and delivering plans to our clients. I did hundreds of them.

Michael: But a lot of it was focused on managing, growing, and developing this team of people and one of the things that I figured out in the process of growing, managing a team of people is that I don’t actually love managing people. I’m really not terribly good at it. Setting a vision for where we’re going, setting strategy, I’m really good at that stuff. I love that stuff, but just the day-to-day, week-to-week management of people, I know it’s important, I can drive myself through it to do it and do a passable job to get things done.

Michael: We get things done in our business, but that is not the thing I wake up excited to do every day. There are people out there who do, like more power to them. The folks that wake up every day and just, they’re just excited to develop a team and see it grow. Wonderful people, amazing people, I am not one of those people. It’s not how my brain is wired.

Hannah: Do you consider yourself a visionary?

Michael: Yeah. I mean, I very much put myself on the visionary end of that spectrum. One of the books that had probably the biggest impact on me over the past year or two is a book called Rocket Fuel.

Hannah: Yep, love that book.

Michael: By a guy named Gino Wickman. The basic thesis of Rocket Fuel, so literally like rocket fuel is explosive because it’s actually the mixture of two chemical compounds that individually are relatively inert, but you mix them together and they’re so explosively big that you can lift rockets up to space. It’s all about the mixture of two. Part of the point that Wickman makes early on in the book is that if you actually look at a lot of the biggest, most successful businesses that are out there, we tend to see the visionary who leads the business and usually don’t realize that virtually every one of those businesses, it actually wasn’t built by a single person visionary. It was built by a duo, by a pair.

Michael: One of whom was the visionary, and the other of whom was what Wickman calls the integrator, who basically takes the visionary who has all these crazy things in their head, that sees the world in a different way and wants to create things, and actually makes them happen in real life with real people that you have to manage and execute with. Everybody knows Walt Disney is the great visionary that he was, but Walt was actually such a bad businessman that he almost bankrupted Disney I think three different times.

Michael: It was his brother, Roy, who was actually the business executor who held it together and turned all these crazy visions in Walt’s head into an actual, executable thing. Steve Jobs had Wozniak, Bill Gates had Ballmer. When you go through the list of all these great visionaries that built big businesses, virtually all of them had integrators behind them. You don’t necessarily see them as often, because the visionaries tend to be the visible ones, but the visionaries don’t work without the integrators and the integrators don’t work without the visionaries because they may be incredibly good at business management and execution and getting things done and building and developing teams, but they, because they’re so good at focusing on the guts of running and executing the business, they’re often not great visionaries to see what the business should be doing next.

Michael: It’s these pairs that work so well, and part of why Rocket Fuel had such a big impact on me is what I realized reading this of like I am so not an integrator. I am a visionary, I am so far out on the visionary end of that spectrum that that’s my challenge. I realize that actually a lot of the business partners that I’ve taken on over the years are very often integrator types. They’re good at taking a bunch of this vision stuff that I can lay down, and help translate it into a business execution reality, and build and develop the people and the teams that are necessary to do that.

Michael: It’s now even from my end, led me more in the direction of I’m always looking for more people who are integrators and have that integrator personality type because frankly I think I’ve got enough vision stuffed in my had to power about a dozen more integrators. I’m just trying to find them, like the people who have that particular skillset of translating vision and execution and building and developing teams and managing people and all the stuff that goes with it to help turn visions into realities. I’m really good at the visions, but I’m actually so wired towards the visions, I’d actually, once I come up with a really good vision of a business opportunity, I would so rather think of the next one than actually be building the first one.

Hannah: I’m curious, how many businesses do you own or are a partner of?

Michael: Oh God. It depends on how you count them, but something around eight. Some are blended together. We have our advisory firm, Pinnacle Advisory Group, but we also launched a TAMP platform for other advisors, particularly folks that are in the 10-100 million dollar realm who don’t always get a lot of love and attention from bigger TAMPs, but we’re built to support advisors on that end.

Michael: It’s technically not a separate legal entity, but it’s an entirely separate business line with Pinnacle. We have Pinnacle Advisory Group which serves clients. We have Pinnacle Advisor Solutions which serves other RAs. I count that as two, although it’s legally just one business entity. There’s two over there, and then we’ve got XY Planning Network and AdvicePay, and fpPathfinder, and New Planner Recruiting, and then a bunch of different business lines that we run on the blog itself.

Michael: I’ve got a speaking business, I’ve got a newsletter, member section business, and so by the time you mix all these different pieces together, you end with about eight or so, depending on how you count them and carve them up.

Hannah: How would you say is your sweet spot? Are you really that consultant, that visionary in each one of these roles?

Michael: Yes, for the most part. With the caveat that human beings are wonderfully different and varied, so every business has its own personality. Every partner has their own needs about what I need to do to support them as a partner. I’ve got a vision and strategy role in all of these businesses. That’s certainly I think just happens to be one of my core strengths. In fact, I’m also a big fan of the tool called StrengthsFinder, which is literally all about focus your strengths and spend time on your strengths.

Michael: They assess I think 33 different strengths in four different categories. Strategy, execution, influencing, and I’m blanking on what the fourth category is. Something around relationships and team building. Eight of my top nine strengths are all eight of the strategic strengths. The only other one that’s in there from the executing side is the achiever strength, which is I like to figure out how to have measurable impact, which is why I end up with all these businesses that try to do high impact and multiplier effects.

Michael: I’m very much wired in that strategic visionary role for all of the businesses, but for some businesses, that means applying the strategy to figure out what can we do and what can we feasibly do without overwhelming the business? So, at XY Planning Network, my co-founder and our CEO is Alan Moore. Alan’s actually also a very strong vision and idea guy, but he’s particularly good at what they call the activator strength, which is just he gets things from zero to one. He gets them off the ground.

Michael: As I know you’ve seen even in our business, there are a lot of people that might be successful advisors in the long run, but they really struggle just to launch and get something going, particularly if they’re creating their own firm from scratch. Alan has this amazing gift that he can get things off the ground. He gets them started. He’s got this great natural driving ability to get things done. The problem, though, is he’s also a great strategic visionary like I am, which means he actually wants to fire up so many things at once that sometimes it gets a little overwhelming for everyone that surrounds him.

Michael: The running joke for a long time is our unofficial titles in the business are he’s the director of speeding things up and I’m the director of slowing things down. I’m always trying to pull us back just a tiny bit to like, “Okay, but what’s the vision of the thing that we actually can do with the resources that we have, so that we don’t overwhelm our team?” Then he tries to pull us forward and always keep us marching forward, and it’s been a very good balance between the two of us.

Michael: Whereas for some of the other businesses that I’m involved with, I’ve got partners who are a little bit less in the speedy start realm. They need a little bit more of a nudge, so they may be very good at executing, but my job with them sometimes is to speed them up and say, “Look, here’s a direction that you can be building towards and here’s the thing that you’ve got to make sure you’re working on this month so that we’re getting to where we need to be for the quarter, so that we’re getting where we need to be over the year, so that we’re ready to do the things strategically that we need to do next year to build the business over the next three to five years.”

Michael: As people vary, so do actually does my relationship to the partners and to the businesses. It always has a strategic lens, again, that’s just the area I love to be in and that fits with my strength. But what the people I’m working with need in order to make that work as a partnership varies by the partner and the partnership. That’s something I had to learn and figure out for myself in just my own personal maturity and growing phase, in working with more businesses and more partners of just trying to get better at understanding what does my partner actually need? Some need to be slowed down, some need to be sped up, some just need to be lifted up every now and then because entrepreneurialism, even when it goes well, knocks you on your backside some days when bad things happen and setbacks occur.

Michael: Different partners need different things and the businesses need slightly different things from me, but it all wraps around that strategic lens.

Hannah: There’s the book out there called Essentialism, and I’ve heard many businesses talk about the importance of focus. So, you hear about your 8+ and probably growing number of businesses, what’s your response to that book and this idea of a singular focus?

Michael: So first of all, I love the book. One of my favorite quotes from Greg McKeown is that, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” Because that’s what lets them keep their focus. He also has a wonderful analogy in there of what he calls the paradox of success, which is that people that build a business or do a thing, and are successful with it, early on they get some great growth, they get some great momentum. It all feels positive and great.

Michael: And then other people start to notice what you’re doing, and then they want to be a part of it. Maybe they want to join it, maybe they want to be your partners, maybe they want to nudge you in a new direction because they see a new opportunity and want you to be involved. Maybe they’ve got a new business opportunity that relates in, and the challenge for so many people is after they have their first round of success, all these opportunities start coming in. You start saying yes to them because they sound really neat and they’re good opportunities, and they may be, but eventually you end up so spread out doing all these different opportunities that you lose the focus on the thing that made you great in the first place.

Michael: That’s when the business falls and the business flat lines. He calls it, I think very aptly, the paradox of success which is that being successful at doing something often brings the opportunities that if you don’t figure out how to say no to the right things, create the opportunities that cause the success to end. The success can actually kill itself if you can’t figure out how to keep the focus to it. I’m very sensitive to that, and not ignorant of the ironies, that has like eight different businesses.

Michael: What it’s meant for me and what I’ve been slowly and steadily figuring out over time is to me, it doesn’t necessarily have to quite be boiling it all down to one business. Although, I think for many people, it does and probably should. I happen to have a particular kind of role that fits okay to multiple businesses, because the particular thing, the particular singular one thing, essentialism focus that I happen to be particularly good at is literally visioning businesses, which tends to be a thing that supports multiple ones.

Hannah: When did you realize that was a strength of yours?

Michael: Probably sometime around the fourth or the fifth one got created. No joke. I didn’t really, I didn’t view that as a strength of mine. I just saw these opportunities to do things and then went and did them, and they worked out well. We’ve really only had one business of all the stuff we ever did that didn’t grow successfully, and that was primarily just because I unwittingly ended out with a partner who wasn’t actually that interested and oriented towards growth, so lesson learned to me about how to better understand partners and their motivations to make sure we’re aligned and on the same page.

Michael: But it didn’t struggle for its lack of vision. Just I didn’t have the right partner on that one. I think it was around that time of like 2015 when I realized I’d started and got into so many different businesses at once that I was starting to drown in it a little. Struggling with time management, struggling to figure out what to say yes and no to, unable to figure out what my capacity was. That’s when I went down the whole, “I’ve got to find me a system” and the big rocks thing came into play for me.

Michael: I think it started around that point when I realized like, “Okay, I’m doing a lot of these things and they’re really cool individually and I enjoy all of them, but in the aggregate, I’m basically starting to drown myself” so I’ve got to figure out first of all just my capacity, what to say yes and no to, so that was driven very much by putting this big rock system in place for myself.

Michael: Then the second question becomes, “What do you want to say yes to?” I look at this in terms of filters. So, early on in your business, you pretty much take any opportunity you can possibly get. That’s what we all do rely on. Like, you just want revenue.

Hannah: Yeah, I want to frame this out a little bit.

Michael: Sure.

Hannah: How many years are you in the business right now?

Michael: 19.

Hannah: So you’re 19 years in the business, and four years ago you realized what was your core strength?

Michael: Yes.

Hannah: I mean, that’s crazy when you listen to it. I mean, I know I’ve been in the business about 10 years now, and I know the pressure that I felt to know my place. For years I felt that.

Michael: I will say it’s been a little bit iterative for me. The first cycle of this for me probably took me, well basically about eight years. I started in 2000, right at the market peak, fantastic timing to start an advisory career. I started in 2000 and I started down the traditional advisor realm and bounced around a few times, different firms, different roles, as I mentioned earlier.

Michael: So, it was by about 2008 that I was starting to realize that the thing I was doing which was this director of planning role, and developing and training advisors, and doing plans for clients, and delivering them was not my highest and best use, that there were some other skillsets that I had that I just, I was better at.

Michael: It was mostly around this writing and speaking and teaching thing. I just, I could look at information, pull it together, synthesize it and share it with others in a way that seemed to be really helpful for them, with a wider reach potential than just what I was doing in the firm. That was what led me to say, “Okay, well I’m going to pull back from the advisory firm, dial my time way down, go and launch this writing and speaking thing,” which started out as the Kitces report newsletter, and a speaking business that turned into the Nerd’s Eye View blog a few years later.

Michael: The first wave of it I think came then. It was just this realization that I have this particular skillset around pulling and synthesizing information together and being able to package it in a way that’s helpful for other people. I suppose in retrospect, it was kind of like I see the world, I vision the world a little bit differently than everybody else, because I’m particularly good at connecting these dots and bringing it all together for folks, but I don’t even think I quite realized what I was doing with it yet beyond about eight years in I realized I like gathering this information, synthesizing it and sharing it, much more than sitting across from the next client, so I’m going to go do more of that.

Michael: I think the first realization was there, and in the context of your comment, that only took eight years. And then I did that for a while and then it was probably seven more years of doing that before I realized that actually isn’t quite the right way to frame my strength. It happens to be part of it, but really it’s the way I can take in a lot of information and synthesize it to see the world a little bit differently. That’s just not a writing thing or a speaking thing. You can actually get partners and solve those problems rather than just write about them.

Michael: That’s what I think started the shift towards creating businesses which kind of happened a little bit in the early 2010s, but really got underway in 2014-2015, and then I started drowning in it a little. So, as I began to move towards this big rock structure, so I could even just figure out what I had capacity for, then the question became, “Okay, well what do you want those rocks to be and what do you want them to look like?”

Michael: What I increasingly realized was those rocks need to be tied to strategic vision stuff, like the more time I spend doing that stuff, the more I tend to grow businesses, be able to have more impact, do more things to help more people with the added side bonus of it tends to also actually grow businesses and income and positive things from a financial perspective, as well.

Hannah: I’m curious, I hear everything you’re saying and it all makes sense, of what I know of you. But do you think-

Michael: “But.” I feel a but coming.

Hannah: There’s no but. Do you see a day where you’re not writing blogs?

Michael: Frankly, it’s shifted some already. Three years ago, coming out of the 2015 pain into 2016, I was really still, like I was writing basically everything. Every now and then I would have a guest post from someone else, but probably 90-95% of the content was me. Now in practice, I still do our podcasts on Tuesday or Financial Advisor Success Podcast on Tuesdays, or Kitces and Carl podcast on every other Thursday.

Michael: I still do the weekend writing, because it’s actually just good accountability for me to make sure I’m always reading, keeping up on industry news and trends which I need to do from the strategy end anyways. I can’t skip out on my weekly reading as a professional for my own development. Because I promised a zillion people I was going to make a summary of the 12 best articles and send them out by 3:00 p.m. on Friday. So, really good personal accountability mechanism to stay on target.

Michael: But the rest of the content, which is basically what we write on Mondays and Wednesdays, Monday is normally a practice management industry trends article. Wednesdays are some kind of technical planning strategies article you can get a continuing education credit for. Three years ago I was still writing basically 100% of the Monday and Wednesday articles. By last year I was only really writing about three quarters of them. This year I’m only actually writing about half of them. Next year I’ll probably be writing less than half of them.

Michael: I don’t really ever see that going to zero. There’s still a bunch of things in my head. Not all of them I’m going to make a business on. Some of them I just want to write about. I always need some writing output to get the demons out of my head, the creative, artistic thing in my own weird, nerdy way. I think there’ll always be some piece of the writing, but I am very much in a portion of that transition myself from … I mean, you go through this in the advisory business as well.

Michael: A lot of people are very, very good advisors, and they can build very successful practices around themselves. But if you really want to build an advisory business, you have to transfer yourself from being an advisor to being an advisory firm business owner that employs advisors, who do that advisor stuff. Because you have to run your business. Particularly if you want to grow it much larger.

Michael: I’m now in a transition, I think of a similar kind of phase. Even a lot of advisors that have built very large, very successful firms still keep a handful of clients for themselves. Similarly, I’ll probably still keep a handful of articles that I continue to write for myself. But I’m in a version of that process transition right now to say, “Okay, so from the business perspective, as an advisor, how do I take this great advisor skillset that I have and teach it to other people so that they can do the same great advisor work that I did because I taught them and then I don’t have to actually do it, because I taught them to do it?”

Michael: I’m now in a similar kind of transition with respect to our blogging and writing platforms. What it means to publish a Kitces article won’t change, but I won’t be the one that writes all of them. I see our platform over time, evolving from what certainly started out as essentially a personal brand platform, like it was my name on it and I wrote the articles, and I was the person, I was the blogger, into what eventually becomes a brand where the Kitces brand stands for a certain kind of content quality and depth and relevance and impact for the advisor community.

Michael: But I want to teach people to create that kind of content, so I’m not the sole, only one that’s creating it. Because that’s what I have to do if I want to take the business to the next level.

Hannah: What does the future hold for you?

Michael: Well, I don’t really know how to stop, because I can say nine top strengths, eight are strategic, and the ninth is achiever, which is basically a skillset of always have to be marching forward and have some measurable way to see that you’re making progress and impact in the world. I don’t know how to stand still. Almost kind of literally. It’s the ADHD in me. I literally don’t stand still. It’s why I walk on the stage and have a standing desk. I cannot stay still.

Michael: But it’s very much true for me on the business end as well, and so I don’t know how to stop. I wouldn’t know how to stop. I compulsively can’t stop, so it has to continue forward and growing. As I said earlier, I’ve got a never ending list of new businesses, new ideas, new opportunities in my head. We just hired a director of platform for the Kitces website, like I’ve got a half a dozen things that he’s going to be working on and building for years to come.

Michael: I’ve got a dozen plus business ideas in my head, I’m just trying to find the right partners and integrators who reach out and say, “Hey, I want to work with you on this thing” or, “I want to work with you. Give me a thing, I’ll go build it.” I think that direction just continues for me. It’s a funky thing that I know a lot of the traditional business wisdom and advice is that if you want to get somewhere, you have to have a goal of where you’re going.

Michael: There’s all this research, like people who write down their goals are 17% more successful than those who don’t, or whatever the number or percentage is. Frankly, I have found that I do much better when I don’t write down those goals. The reason is that I think we tend to underestimate the impact of compounding and compound growth. Our clients do it all the time, right? They don’t understand, they might totally be on track for their retirement goals. They just don’t realize how much growth compounds when you keep it invested and stay the course for multi-decade periods of time.

Michael: There’s a similar effect I think that happens in businesses where we sometimes get a little bit too anxious it’s not growing fast enough this year, and underestimate how much bigger it gets in 5 or 7 or 10 years, if you just let the compounding continue. The problem actually I have is businesses when run well, tend to grow with compounding, and most of us set goals that are very linear. Like, “I want to get from here to there and here’s how much I need to do each year to get from here to there.”

Michael: And what I realized pretty early on is that, I mean even reflecting back on the businesses we’ve had, if I had set goals for myself, I am completely certain I never would have grown businesses and had the impact I’ve been able to have already. Because I never would have dreamed three or five years ago, much less 10+ years ago, that it would have grown to the size that it has. I couldn’t have dreamed it was going to grow that big.

Michael: I knew we were doing a thing, that was helping people. I was very confident in that, but how many people showed up and the ways that it compounded, and all the things that grew from it, I never could have visioned that. Three years ago, I still ran a personal team that was just me and a part time assistant I was making full time, because I had external partners but I kept my core business to myself. By next year, we’ll probably have 8 to 10 employees on the Kitces platform doing a whole range of stuff behind the scenes to power the platform forward.

Michael: XY Planning Network and AdvicePay are already 50 employees in five years. I never would have dreamt of this stuff, and frankly if I’d set goals, the goals would have been linear, smaller, and I probably would have taken my foot off the gas when I got to them. Would have been like, “Cool, had a goal, got it. Good. I’m good now. Can cruise for a little while.” Not setting a goal and just allowing the compounding to happen, frankly has taken all of this stuff, just so much further than I ever thought or dreamed that it could have.

Michael: So, even from a business management and … There’s a little bit of one year and two year planning I do and have to do now, because you’ve just got to figure out, particularly once you have employees. You’ve got to figure out things like will you be able to give your team raises? Do they have growth opportunities? Will the company get bigger so they can move up the org chart and get promoted someday? Because good people want that to stick around.

Michael: There’s some level of planning, at least a couple of years out that we have to do, just from a very tactical, get stuff done in the business. Like, “Hey, are you going to outgrow your lease in two years? You probably have to do a business projection to know that you’re going to need a new space lease by the third year.” But short of that, which is still relatively intermediate term, a year or two of business planning, three at the most.

Michael: Most of what I do right now is actually just focused on do we have the right habits? Do we have the right systems? As long as we’re continuing to produce content that goes out to an ever growing number of advisors who read it, engage it, consume it and share it with other people, and God bless Google Analytics, like you can try and track all of that now. As long as that needle continues to move forward, I’m willing to just let the compounding happen and see where it goes.

Michael: Likewise, even as we looked at what happens from businesses like XY Planning Network and AdvicePay and some of the others, we’re not necessarily trying to set super concrete goals of like, “We must get by here to be a success because there would be a failure and this number is too unimaginably large.” We do a little bit of that over 1-3 years, just so we can make very practical business hiring decisions, but that’s another platform that already is so wildly larger now than what we ever thought five years ago. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we were at 100-125 after five years?”

Michael: We’re at 1000, like we 10x’d the goal. Just couldn’t have dreamed of it then, but we weren’t really building for 1000 per se. We were building a thing that was useful to people, we were listening really closely to make sure that what we were building was useful, and that the core metrics were growing, which for that business is pretty straightforward. I remember signing up and then [inaudible] retaining.

Michael: If you just focus on doing those things well, at some point the compounding tells you where the business is going to go. Even as I look forward from here, I know we’re going to keep helping advisors, I know there’s more ways that we can do that. I’ve got to make sure that we do it in ways that we can pay the people who are helping us, because it’s important to me to give our team some reasonable job security.

Michael: And short of that, I don’t know how big it’s going to get. I never thought it was going to get this big. Maybe it’ll slow down in a few years, maybe it won’t. I know when we focus on helping people, people show up and are willing to engage us and that seems to work out in the long run. That’s mostly where I’m focused now, and at a personal level, it’s just figuring out what can I do with my time that has the biggest impact and multiplier effects to help make that happen. Am I doing something that eventually pigeonholes or shoehorns myself into a role that limits what I could do because I’m stuck doing things that bottleneck the business instead of expand the opportunities of the business?

Michael: That’s a lot of my hiring personal team and taking us over a couple of years from like one up to 8-10 employees is all really built around trying to repurpose my time. Because in essence, as I look at it, the first decade of my career in my 20s was actually really mostly about getting my core skills foundation. Like, learning all my technical stuff, getting my alphabet soup of degrees and designations after my name. Like, learning my profession of being a financial planner and sitting across from clients and delivering plans.

Michael: The second decade for me, as I’m now coming up on my 20 year anniversary in the business, the second decade for me was mostly about building things and just being very hands-on, like building things, working with partners to build things, getting things done and off the ground. As I look forward to the next 10 years for me, it’s very much shifting again and it’s much more about impact and reach and figuring out, “Okay, not only got some team and resources, how big could we make this and how many people could we impact? Am I spending enough time focused on those issues to actually help the businesses get there? What do I need to redo with my time and my team around me in order to make that happen?”

Hannah: This is an FPA podcast and you’ve been a long time member of FPA. But you’ve also published some articles recently that have been some would say critical of FPA. So, my question for you is why is FPA important to you? Is it the mission? Is it the people? Why is this important?

Michael: Well, so there’s a few layers. One, I’m a big person around community, and that everybody needs a community of people like them, that they can build relationships with and connect with. To me, the young advisor community frankly was underserved for a long time. That’s why we went and made NextGen. We want to make a community for the planners who weren’t getting served in the ecosystem back then 15 years ago.

Michael: We created XY Planning Network as a community for certain types of advisors. The whole Kitces platform is a community for certain types of advisors who are serious about their craft and really hold financial planning in high regard as a sacred duty. If you just want to be salesperson, you’re not going to enjoy the content on our platform. It’s nerdy and takes too much time.

Michael: I’ve always been focused on communities and organizations and systems that can support and serve communities. To me, FPA is the community for financial planners, for people who’ve chosen to take on CFP certification as a way to make their mark, that they’re serious about their craft and trade of being a real financial planner. Those folks need a community and people on the independent channel side in particular need a community. Not to make this an independent versus employee captive channels, but just again, if you work at a large captive firm as an employee, the mothership provides you a lot of community. Your coworkers are your community.

Michael: When you’re an independent advisor, and you sit in the four walls of your office with no other advisors in your space, because you’re an independent, and you need community, you have to have organizations like the Financial Planning Association to provide that community. It’s a support system, it’s also an educational system, it’s also a business success system. There’s a lot that attaches to what happens when you find your community and then find ways to get success within your community. Just CFP certificants who are financial planners need a community. There’s 85,000 of them.

Michael: You have to have a community for them. They desperately need a community, and I think FPA, well is that community, or is at least best positioned for that community, even if it under serves the community right now. But we all need a community to be part of, and FPA should be the one for financial planners. Should be the anchor one. There can be other ones that serve subsets of the community, XYPN is a vision, NAPFA has a vision. There will be others that attach on, but there’s always one that’s the center. To me, that’s FPA, and we desperately need it. So, I just desperately want to see it succeed.

Hannah: So, I have two, hopefully fast questions for you. If I’m a new financial planner and I have one credit for Audible, what book should I get?

Michael: Are you really going to make me pick one? I want to give like two or three. I’m going to cheat and give two. You can yell at me later. I’ll give you two. One is Advice That Sticks by Moira Somers. Because I think it’s a really powerful book because it talks about the difference between just telling clients what to do and actually trying to give them the advice that will stick, i.e. that they will actually take.

Michael: When you get out of the realm of just trying to sell a product, like I know how to measure the success, they bought my insurance policy or my managed account, whatever it was. When you get down to driving advice success, like it only works if they take the advice and follow through on it. Moira talks about how to think about what clients need to get advice they can actually act on and implement in a way that to me is completely different than anything that’s ever been out there in our advisor space about what it really means to give advice and be a good financial planner.

Michael: The second book I’ll give, because I just can’t be held to one, is The History of Financial Planning by Denby Brandon and Olly Welch. The History of Financial Planning, to me, it’s kind of our bible as professionals about where we came from. All groups, all communities have an origin story about where they came from and how they were brought forward and the dynamics that brought this thing forward from where it was in the past to where it is today.

Michael: History of Financial Planning, as the name would aptly imply, literally is the book of where we all came from and how we got to this point that 13 people got together in a hotel room 50 years ago in Chicago to start thinking about what it would be like to create this certified financial planner thing into 50 years later, we have 85,000 CFP certificates and we’re talking about fiduciary rules that would require everybody to adhere to that standard.

Michael: So, I think it’s an incredibly powerful book, even down to just the history of all the different organizations we’ve got and the merger of the FPA and it’s predecessor organizations, and why there were all these internal rifts, and where the CFP board actually came from. It’s really powerful to understand the roots of your own profession, and so I recommend anybody and everyone who’s serious about becoming a financial planner, you have to understand where your profession came from. It also just helps to clarify why certain organizations fight with certain other organizations and some of the regulatory challenges that we still have today.

Michael: That would be my second book, is you get the history of financial planning and actually understand where we came from. Because it’s very helpful as you then try to think about where we’re going from here.

Hannah: My last pressing question for you is just how much of your stuff actually has to go through compliance?

Michael: How much of my stuff actually has to go through compliance? The answer is actually very little. That was a pretty deliberate and careful decision from me early on, plus some constructive work with the partners in my firm that said, “Look, I want to do this writing and speaking thing outside of our advisory firm, essentially we’re going to disclose it as another business activity and OBA.” But it’s not specific to our advisory firm. That’s part of why you don’t see my firm’s name on there, you don’t see solicitations. We don’t talk about our investment performance, or frankly anything we do ever at our advisory firm, because it’s not built and meant to be a solicitation for the advisory firm.

Michael: It’s an outside business activity that provides speaking, content, and continuing education for financial advisors. There are some people obviously who are going to see our site, read it, they’re consumers, they’re going to want to know more about us and they’ll eventually end out on our advisory firm, but then when they end up on our advisory firm, that’s all of the normal regulated oversight compliance activity that ties to it.

Michael: It frankly ties my hands in many ways about things I can and cannot write about. Fortunately, it’s not really the things I wanted to write about which is what we’re doing in our firm. I want to talk about what we can do in the profession and how we can get better as financial planners that are aligned well. If I was doing it because I was trying to develop business and grow my client base, it wouldn’t work that way and everything would have to run through compliance.

Hannah: Which would slow things down.

Michael: Which would slow things down a little bit. Or, just require more infrastructure on the compliance so they could deal with my volume of stuff. But because it was built to be something that is literally beyond our advisory firm, we run it as an outside business activity and that actually limits a lot of the scope of the obligatory compliance oversight that’s tied to it. But I’m also super careful with what I do to not do things that are solicitations for the firm, not write about anything that we do at the firm. Not do anything that would invite regulators to say, “Hey, it looks like this is an advertisement for Pinnacle. Why aren’t you doing compliance oversight, like advertising?” It’s not and we keep it really separate for that reason.

Hannah: Makes sense. Well, thanks for joining us today, Michael.

Michael: Absolutely. My pleasure. Thanks for having me on the podcast.

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