Jeffrey Levine, CPA/PFS, CFP®, believes that the key to getting started in this profession is to know your stuff. And he’s a testament that it works. Jeff is a self-proclaimed retirement tax guru, and has found his passion within retirement-focused financial planning and helping others organize their financial lives.

When he got started in the profession, Jeff worked for Ed Slott of Ed Slott and Company, LLC. Being surrounded by such big players in the financial planning profession at such an early point in his career, Jeff learned first hand that being engaged with information and with people who are willing to guide and mentor you is a big key to learning as much as you can, and being the best advisor you can be.

As one of Investment News’s 40 Under 40 and a successful co-founder of Blueprint Wealth Alliance, he has truly thrived living by the “know your stuff” philosophy. Many young financial planners are nervous when first sitting down with clients. Jeffrey takes time in this episode to outline how researching your niche, studying financial planning, and embodying what it means to be an expert can eliminate your worry when you’re just getting started.

Jeff also encourages people to stay patient and do the hard work that this career requires. With time, your dedication will pay off!

Hannah's signature

 

What You’ll Learn:

  • What building a successful financial planning practice looks like.
  • What kind of information you need to know when partnering with other planners.
  • Why it’s important to surround yourself with successful, intelligent people who want to help you grow and mentor you.
  • How putting in the hours helps to solidify your “expertise” in the eyes of clients, colleagues, and your own mind.
  • How to manage your calendar to stay engaged – even as you get busier and grow in your career.
  • Why it might be a good choice to start your own firm rather than taking over someone else’s.

 

A Guide to the New 20% Pass-Through Tax Deduction by Jeffrey Levine

2018 NAPFA Spring Conference Speaker

 

 

 

 

 

Show Transcript

Ep89 Transcript


Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today Jeff.

Jeffrey: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Hannah: Yeah. I’m so excited to have you on. You have had quite an interesting career that doesn’t necessarily line up with a lot of I guess traditional financial planners. You worked at Ed Slott and Company, working with America’s IRA expert. Can you tell us what that was like working for that large brand and what your role was within that?

Jeffrey: Sure. It’s funny, you’re right, life really takes you in some really funny directions at times. My goal growing up was never to be in the financial planning industry or financial advice or to be a CPA or a CFP. But through a series of really odd occurrences and just happenstance I ended working with Ed Slott and Company. It started out really just as an opportunity to learn and to contribute and to be someone on the team who was really doing a lot of grunt work at the time. A lot of research, a lot of writing up of tax court cases and diving into code sections and doing the background work. It really taught me at an early age the importance or really putting everything you have into a particular area and becoming a specialist in that area.

One of the things that struck me was, I think it was probably my second year with Ed Slott and Company. I must have been about 26 or 27. An attorney actually came to meet with us in the office, with me in the office. We didn’t do a lot of consultations with the public, most of it was B2B with other advisors and other professionals in the financial industry. But occasionally we did what we call these IRA consultations and charged $500 for up to an hour’s worth of time. So whether it took five minutes or whether it took the full 69 minutes, it was $500.

The reason for that, Ed always said, “We spend the time to learn this stuff so that we can answer a question quickly. We shouldn’t be penalized for our really deep knowledge. Just because we can answer that off the cuff doesn’t make it any less of of a difficult question. So this attorney came into the office and I could see as soon as I walked out to greet him, he kind of had this look on his face. He had driven actually four hours to come down and meet, and I could see he was like, “Oh my God, I’m here to meet with this 20 year old kid who doesn’t know anything. Why am I doing this? Why?” You could really sense, so we promised, “Listen, if I cannot answer your questions at the end of this, I promise we’re not going to bill you.”

By the time he walked out, he was apologizing, “I’m so sorry. Please forgive, it’s just that this is complicated and you’re so young.” It really taught me the value of diving deep into an area and becoming an expert, because at the end of that meeting he didn’t care that I was 20 or 25 or 45 or 85. He just wanted to know that someone was competent enough to answer his questions in a way that would help him to alleviate the issue that he was dealing with and know that it was the right answer. That’s really what he wanted.

Hannah: We talk a lot about confidence with new planners, and how when I talk to all these young planners it’s always, “How do I be confident in these meetings?” I love your solution of, “Just become an expert.”

Jeffrey: That’s it. When you know your information, people know you know your information. Your confidence comes naturally because … and you love it. You want to show people how smart you are, and to tell them, “Oh yeah, I saw that. There was this odd case from 1969 that came out,” and people look at you like, “How do you know that?” It’s because you spend the time you put it in. Right now the Olympics are going on and I suspect that none of those Olympians just walked in at the opening ceremonies and said, “Hey, I’m going to compete in this.” They’ve been training for years at one thing to do it really, really, really well. I think that’s what a lot of new planners should do, is do one thing but do it really, really, really well.

Hannah: So did you always know that you wanted to be more on the technical side of the profession?

Jeffrey: No. Like I said, I never even wanted to really be in the profession. It was such a fluke. Growing up I always was planning on being a doctor, from the time I was two to the time I was 21. And then my last years in college I just decided I wanted to go in a different way. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Ultimately I decided, “Hey, I’m going to become a financial planner.” Now Hannah there’s actually one thing that I don’t know that you know about me which is kind of interesting, and kind of relates to all of this.

My mother is actually the managing partner of Ed Slott and Company. Yeah, so she’s not a technical person at all. She doesn’t know anything about the tax code. If you ask her about her finances she’ll say, “I don’t know, ask my son.” But she’s a great, great, great businesswoman and she’s excellent with relationships. So I have known of Ed and known Ed Slott and Company since I was a young kid. I remember at 11 years old, I think, I worked in his office and his father was still alive at the time, he was also a CPA. I worked during a holiday break. In fact, I think it was probably the February break that we’re close to now.

At the end of the week, I’d worked in there for the whole vacation because my mom had no one to babysit me, his father came over and gave me $100 bill. My mom promptly ripped it out of my hand and gave it back to his father and said, “You can’t give him $100. What are you? What are you, nuts?” He said, “No. He’s going to learn the value of hard work under my watch.” So I had grown up around this, and I’d heard this. I remember even as young kid, when Ed was first doing local radio, my grandfather and I would sit by the radio just to make sure that if there weren’t enough question asked at the time we could always call in and be a question for him. So it goes back many, many, many years. When you hear something so many times it becomes ingrained in you.

A typical line that I joke around with people is like, “I knew how to roll over before I knew how to roll over.” It was a really, really young exposure to this. So after deciding not to be a doctor I said, “I’m going to become a professional financial planner.” I see Ed working with all these wonderful advisors, I want to help people just like they help people. So like many of your listeners, many other advisors in this field, I went and I did some research and I tried to find what was the best company at the time offering training. I went there and the first week was fantastic. It was rah-rah, we’re going to help people. The second time we went, during the second week, one visit per week, the second week was one of the best motivational lectures I have ever heard in my life, called, “212 degrees.” Are you familiar with it?

Hannah: I’m not.

Jeffrey: Okay. So I’m a science nerd. Even though I’m not a doctor or didn’t go down the science path, I still am a science nerd at heart, so this really appealed to me. The whole idea behind it was, basically water, summing up an hour discussion in 30 seconds. Basically water from 32 degrees to 211 degrees Fahrenheit goes from being cold water to hot water. There’s a lot of energy being put into that system, but nothing’s really changed. If you were to put in a little bit more energy, just one fraction more amount of energy into that system, all of a sudden you go from 211 degrees to 212 degrees and the water turns from water to steam. Now we can power locomotives and send ships across oceans and lift things with steam power.

The whole concept of it was that you could be putting in all this effort to something and you think you’re giving it everything, and you’re not seeing any results and maybe you get frustrated. But maybe it was just that last little bit that you could have put in, and all of a sudden you would have seen everything happen for you. It always stuck with me all these years. I’ve said, “Am I at 211 degrees or is there something else that I could be doing to get to that 212 degree to see the results I want.” That was great.

The third week was a discussion about life insurance, which is fine. If you’re going to be an advisor you’ve got to know the tools of your trade. But by week four it was the classic, “Hey, bring in a list of everybody you know and let’s see how much financial product we can push down their throats as quickly as possible.” Now that’s not of course how they worded it. It was, “We’re going to help people and your friends and your family and the friends of your family.” But I have this crisis of conscious, I’m not a salesy guy. I couldn’t it, and more than anything being in the unique position that I was growing up, I said, “How could I possibly sit down across somebody now, look them in the eye and say, “Give me your money,” when I literally know hundreds of other advisors who are way more qualified than I am? So I got really frustrated and I did something I never do, I said, “I can’t do this. I’m not going to do it.”

And again, life works in mysterious ways. Ed Slott and Company was putting on a technical program and they were short-staffed so they needed help. So of course I fly in, and I’m telling this exact same story to a group of financial advisors I know, just again from growing up around them. Lo and behold, there’s an advisor at a table behind me and he overhears everything. “Hey Jeff,” the next day he comes up to me, “Hey Jeff, listen. I work in a CPA firm down in Florida and it’s one of the largest CPA firm in South Florida. We do the financial planning for this firm. How would you like to come down and essentially be my junior? You don’t have to go out there and hunt for clients or whatnot. We have enough volume coming in as it is, you can just learn the business under me. You’ll sit in on my meetings, et cetera.”

I was like, “Wow.” This is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to learn. I wanted to apprentice. I wanted to become an expert before I sat down with someone and said, “Trust me with your life savings.” So I jumped at the opportunity. I ended up moving to Florida. After about a year and half or so in that position, it was an unbelievable opportunity, I learned a lot, but at the of the day it just wasn’t the right fit. So, I was going to go off on my own. I didn’t know what to do. I’m in my mid-twenties. How do I start a practice? Which way do I go? So I called up Ed and Ed say, “You know, I don’t know that he’s hiring but I have a good friend down in Florida,” or, “someone I know. He’s a high quality professional, been in the business for years. Why don’t you go see him? I bet you he can give you some tips about starting your planning practice.”

So I make the call and I spoke to this advisor. He says, “Absolutely. Any friend of Ed’s is a friend of mine. I’m happy to meet you. We just can’t do it tomorrow because I have a book signing. Why don’t we meet the following morning?” “Okay, sounds great.” That was the plan, and then right before he hung up I asked the question that without a doubt changed the direction of my life, changed the course of my career path, et cetera. I said to him, “Do you mind if I come to your book signing? I’d love to buy a copy of your book and meet you.” Really it was my way of saying, “Thank you for taking an interest in me. Let me take an interest in what you’re doing as well.”

So the next evening I went to his book signing. I introduced myself. I bought a copy of his book, he signed it. I went home that night, and then I thought to myself, “What can I do to show this guy that I am really serious?” I decided I would stay up all night and read his book cover to cover, so that I could go in the next morning and talk to him about it. It was a great book. It’s still on my bookshelf, in fact I’m just turning around now to take a peek at it. It’s an awesome, awesome book for financial advice. But there was this on problem, it had about three or four really esoteric IRA mistakes. I didn’t know what to do, because this guy is doing me a favor, right? He’s going to give me free advice and take some of his really valuable to come sit with me, someone he’s never met, never heard of.

Do I look at him and say, “Thank you so much. By the way, there are mistakes in your book. You’re a top advisor and I don’t have anything to hang my hat on. I’m just telling you you’re wrong.” Of course not, I could never do that. So I called up Ed and I said, “What do you think I should do?” He said to me, “No, no, no. This guy, there’s no way there’s mistakes in this book. It’s not possible. I know him. He’s a top advisor, been in the business 20-30 years.” I said, “Ed, I’ve been listening to you for a long time, I’m pretty sure I’m right.” He says, “No. No, it can’t be. In fact, I know the editor of the book. They would never let a mistake go by.” “Ed, I’m faxing you the pages. Humor me and take a look would you?”

I fax him the pages and 10 minutes later he calls back and says, “Son of a gun. You’re right. How did you know that?” And that’s what I said to him, I said, “I have been listening to you all my life. Doesn’t everybody know this?” To me it was this stuff that was like one plus one is two, you know this things. He was like, “No, this is really technical stuff.” So long story, which this was already but to shorten it up, he said, “Come to New York, I want to talk to you.” It turned into a job offer to start doing some grunt work. He said, “Clearly you’ve got a mind for this and a talent for this. How would like to come work with me?” And whenever there’s somebody that’s the top in the country at anything and they say, “Would you like to work with me?” Your answer should always be yes, I don’t care what it is. They’re the best garbage man, I’m going to work with them for a while because I want to learn how to be the best at whatever I can be.

So I packed up and that was that. After a while I ended up moving back to New York and that’s where I am now, it’s where my practice is. It was an unbelievable opportunity to learn a lifetime’s worth of work in a really condensed period, because there we weren’t getting the easy questions, we were getting everybody’s hardest questions. So you have to learn these things really, really, really quickly. It was awesome, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity of working there.

Hannah: I have to ask, with the advisor who got it wrong, did you ever tell him that he got it wrong?

Jeffrey: Ed actually called him before I went in. He said, “You’re not going to believe this but he’s actually kind of smart.” And that was the foray. He told when we met, he said, “I did call him,” and that was it. Yeah, but I couldn’t possibly bring that up. I would have looked like such a jerk at the time. I mean really, it is a great, great, great book. When I say esoteric I mean these are really mundane things, and unless you’re nose deep in the tax code you probably have no business knowing. But everybody has their unique ability.

Mine is you sing a song twice and I know all the lyrics. So having heard Ed speak about it many times, again it was just ingrained in there. It was by osmosis, I just picked that up. It was just an unbelievable learning experience for that time, and again it really changed the course of my life because when people find out, “Oh, your mother’s managing partner of Ed Slott and Company,” the first thing they think about actually is, “Yeah, you have a job because mommy works there.” And in fact that was a big concern for me. It was a real big concern.

When I came back to New York and I sat down with Ed and he offered me the position, I said, “That’s great but I have two thoughts. One is I really love financial planning. I love that interaction one-on-one with clients, and that same sense of satisfaction of someone saying, ‘Thank you. You’ve helped me.'” That was the thing that drove me more than anything, was seeing that look on someone’s face, where they were so concerned and then all of a sudden they understood that they were going to be okay, or that there were things we could do to improve on their situation or to protect them against potential hazards, and they just felt relaxed and calm. That sense of satisfaction, I said, “I have a hard time giving that up.”

He was very, very fair about, he said, “Listen, if you’re going to write for us or research, I don’t care if you do it at three in afternoon or three at night, as long as you get it done, done well and done on time. So if you want to continue to do financial planning on,” I hate to say on the side, because basically for the entire time I worked at Ed Slott and Company I worked like 90 hours a week because I was doing two full-time jobs. “But if you want to continue doing that as well, go for it,” and so I did. But my other issue was, I said to him, “I don’t want to work somewhere where everybody looks and says, ‘You only have a job because mommy works there.'”

His answer was true but I took it as a challenge. He said, “You’re going to have to know twice as much and be twice as smart to get half the credit as anybody else who works here because of that.” I just took it on as a challenge. I said, “All right, so be it. Let’s roll.” That was what led to the next I think eight, nine years of my life.

Hannah: So you were building a firm while working full-time with Ed Slott, is that right?

Jeffrey: Yeah. Building … I certainly wasn’t ignoring a firm, but building is a tough word for me to use because I wasn’t really out there actively marketing in the sense that a lot of other advisors are. It was really very soft word-of-mouth, the occasional client that came in. Since I’ve left Ed Slott and Company now and started to focus more on my advisory practice, I would say that now I’m really building something. There it was more of … It really depends on your definition of building. You’ve got a lot of time when it was more in the running and working of the business, and I didn’t always have an administrative assistant or staff at the time or partners like I do now, so I was doing a lot of that stuff myself and that was a necessity because my hours were all over the place.

I would be traveling with Ed Slott and Company for teaching or doing things, so it really was difficult at the time to get to train someone else to help me with some of those tasks. It was a challenging time for, and because of that I never wanted to take on too much and really go out there and let’s say open the flood gates and now I can’t serve all these clients by myself and do my Ed Slott and Company job. It was growing but it was kind of growing really ultra organically, I would say.

Hannah: What made you take the jump and leave Ed Slott and Company and start your own … I mean not start your own, you already had it, but really dive full steam ahead into your own practice?

Jeffrey: I was very fortunate, in that when I got into the space and when I had the situation when I left the other firm in Miami, most people would have to roll up under somebody or they may have to go to a large firm. I was able to call in a favor if you will and start out as an independent broker dealer in essentially my own branch with no clients and no existing revenue. Basically, someone said, “Hey, he’s a smart kid who’ll do the right thing. Give him a chance,” and they did. Which is unusual for an independent broker dealer, because why are they going to take on the risk of someone when there’s really no corresponding revenue.

My first year was a pretty successful year, as going the independent route. I really then hovered kind of level for the next six or seven years, again because I wasn’t really focusing on growing it so much. It was just as it was coming in. Ultimately, I decided to make a change back in 2015, because I just felt a change was in order. I wanted to really expand the practice and team up with some other individuals. I ended up switching broker dealers, but very quickly I realized something that I probably knew in my heart but just wasn’t ready to admit. Which was it just wasn’t the right space for me.

I’d already transitioned most of my business into the advisory space before and really didn’t do too much in the brokerage side. But I really thought that the advisory side was for me, but I didn’t want to build my own advisory firm. It seemed unmanageable, and at the time I was still working with Ed Slott and Company, and I was concerned that if I became an employee somewhere else or part of another advisory team, it’d be very challenging to serve two masters who demanded my time on an ongoing basis. When it was my own practice, it was me versus Ed Slott and Company, but if I had two essentially employers, I think it would have been very difficult, if not impossible.

So ultimately I decided to leave the broker dealer space. It just wasn’t worth it, and as much of a challenge as it would be to start putting together an advisory practice from scratch and go through the SEC registration process and all of that, from soup to nuts. That’s what I did in 2016 with someone I actually met down in Florida while I was working down there initially. We became very good friends. We always wanted to work together. He’s kind of the yin to my yang. We enjoy doing the polar opposite of things in the financial planning spectrum and we’re good at different things in the spectrum.

It was really a very seamless partnership, and probably would have happened much earlier if we weren’t always at odd points in our life, where I was moving back to New York, or he was having kids, or I was having kids. It was just the timing was never there, and then ultimately it was, and it took off. It took of really quick. I was really left with a tough choice. It was very demanding to have both jobs, if you will, full-time.

So in June of 2017, Ed and I talked and it became apparent that Ed really needed someone to do what I was doing, and only be doing that, and I had other interests. I really do enjoy the planning. I still love speaking, I still travel to speak and I love business to business consulting and working with other advisors and helping them as well. I love writing, I still do a ton of it. I love reading and researching. When the tax code came out, the new tax law, I think I sent out 200 tweets in the first day or something like that. I love pouring through and learning new things, but it just couldn’t be with Ed Slott and Company. I needed to have more control over all aspects of my life, so it was time.

They’ve since moved on and brought in some new talented people there. I think it’s been the best thing that I ever could have done for myself, my practice and my family. It’s given me more time with them and that’s been really important to me as well.

Hannah: That’s great. What I like about your story is that sometimes people get in jobs and hope to stay there there rest of their lives, and sometimes there’s a natural point where it’s better for both parties if you just move on, and it’s a really healthy and good thing.

Jeffrey: It is. It is. You know what, I didn’t expect it, and I think a lot of people were caught off guard because I would go places, and obviously it changed somewhat from place to place, but the standard introduction was like, “And here’s the heir apparent to Ed Slott.” Which was certainly never words that I used, but they were use quite frequently as the introduction. Like, “How do you introduce you?” “Well, you can say whatever you want.” “Okay,” and that’s how they would introduce me. So a lot of people really thought that I was going to be there, again especially because I have family working there as well. As a managing partner it was just assumed, like, “He’ll be here to take over one day.”

And you know, perhaps if I didn’t really enjoy financial planning as much as I did, maybe that would have been a possibility. But I can’t really imagine my life without working with some of the amazing people I work with on the client side. I just love that sense of satisfaction, of helping someone to have that peace of mind and to know that they’re going to be okay. There’s no substitute for that for me. I don’t have to do it all the time, but I don’t think I could do it none of the time.

Hannah: That’s really interesting, I mean hearing you say all that. You chose to start your own practice instead of potentially taking Ed Slott and Company someday. That’s crazy, hearing that.

Jeffrey: Yeah, maybe to some people but you know what, there’s no guarantees in life and it’s not like there was a contract in place that said, “Hey, when something happens you’re going to be here.” I was the younger person on the staff who had the knowledge and there wasn’t a clear second person. And yeah, again, I’d taken over a lot of the speaking responsibilities and someone of the things that Ed had done previously, he had passed onto me over the years and I had taken on much greater responsibilities within the firm of higher level tasks and so forth. But there were certainly other very, very talented and super knowledgeable people that I worked with there for many, many, many years, twice the amount of IRA information in my brain. It just was a matter of where are you at that point in life? It has to be the right time, the right position and the right place and it just didn’t line up.

Hannah: Yeah. You know, we talk about succession plans a lot on this podcast and various places, and your life has to line up with that. There has to be a larger narrative around that. It sounds like your larger narrative was leaning towards your own practice, or partnering with somebody.

Jeffrey: Yeah. I love doing, I love having a little bit of both part. Speaking really excites me, and I think that if I were to say, “What is it that I am the best at? What is that I do better than anything else in my life?” It’s taking really complex, really mundane things, and making them simple to understand, before even more important than that, fun to listen to and exciting presentation. Something that’s not boring, because no one wants to listen to someone yap about taxes for eight hours when they sound like Ben Stein from the dry eyes Clear Eyes commercial. Like, “Dry eyes, try Clear Eyes.” You just want to fall asleep, and that’s the typical tax seminar that advisors or CPA’s go to.

So I think that’s an area where I want to continue to focus and build out. I really enjoy doing that, but again I could never leave entirely, at least at this point, my individual clients. I love that too. So I don’t think people have to pick just … As you grow and as you find out your course, I don’t think you have to just do one think. I think that you have to develop the expertise in one or a few areas, so that you can choose to pursue those areas in various ways that you want.

Hannah: One thing that you said that you do, I don’t know, a lot might be not great word, but is a lot of B2B consulting. What does that look like for you? What are you consulting on?

Jeffrey: In the past, when I was in Ed Slott and Company, that was one of my primary roles. We had a group of about 400 advisors that trained on an ongoing basis. They essentially, as part of their membership fee if you will, had carte-blanche access to the Ed Slott and Company technical team. It was me and generally, depending upon what year you were talking about, anywhere from two to three other individuals. We would be responsible for answering all the questions that came in. They came in by phone. They came in by email. They came in by message board.

That was one aspect of it, and then we also had advisors who weren’t affiliated with that group who just needed additional help on certain complex matters, often times for their client. They would be working with a client who was either already an existing client, or they would be trying to win a new client relationship and as part of their value proposition they would essentially say, “Here, I’m going to pay for this consultation with this firm because this is an area where we need to bring in experts.”

That’s kind of translated, I still do that to a degree. It’s admittedly probably the smallest portion of my business makeup at this point. Speaking makes up a significant portion. My financial advisory practice makes up a significant portion. I also run and service the technical content expert for the Horsesmouth Savvy IRA Planning program. That’s another area in which I focus.

And then, the business to business at this point has really, has taken a backseat, just because it’s not something that I’ve pushed as heavy, because it’s not scalable. At least not until I have let’s say a whole crew of other people like me working with me in the technical space. So it’s just not a scalable thing day one because everything has to delivered for one-on-one, is not one-to-many. I’ve tried, at least at this point, outside of my financial advisory practice to focus on the one-to-many things that I can do.

Hannah: You just went through a whole list, that sounds like two or three full-time jobs, of everything that you’re doing right now. How do you manage having so many different roles with various places?

Jeffrey: It’s something that I’ve had to become better at to be honest. Managing time and being super organized isn’t something that comes natural to me. I freely admit that I … I would even go so far to say there are times that I really, really struggle with it. Certain things that other people do I’m amazed. There’s someone in my office, he’s the most organized human being I have ever met in my entire life. He has lists for everything and everything is categorized. I look and I marvel, it’s like, “My goodness, I don’t even know how to start with that.”

But I’ve really tried to embrace three things. The first being other people, delegating. That’s been something that I’ve worked on a lot lately. The other, the second thing is to embrace no. I’m really bad at that. I think probably I pegged it one month at about 10% to 12% of the time that I was spending on a working day was actually being spent, when I tracked it for a month, on tasks that were not related to really any of my businesses. They were just things that I said I’d help people out with.

Like, “Yeah, sure I’ll call the IRS for you for that one and see if I can help take care of it.” Just because I didn’t want to say no. I wanted to be the guy who says yes to everything. I’ve really tried to embrace saying no. Which sounds awful but it’s really important, and I’ve learned its importance.

And then the third thing is technology. Technology has really helped me to become a more organized person and to become much better at time management. I still work a lot. I still work more hours than I’d like to, but I look at this really as a startup phase for the next 20, 30, 40 years of my life.

I really love what I do now, and so I don’t ever envision the traditional retirement. I just think that I might maybe speak less or travel less, or maybe at some point I don’t see as many clients. But I don’t ever imagine that traditional retirement because I don’t know what I’d do with myself, that I love this too much.

Hannah: Thinking back to earlier in our conversation, you were talking about the well-respected advisor who wrote a book and there were IRA mistakes in his book, and just with the work that you’ve done with so many advisors, especially speaking to younger planners, how do we be sure that we’re not the guy who’s writing a book, or gal who’s writing a book, with mistakes in it like that? What would be your advice on that?

Jeffrey: You know, the first thing is don’t … This is going to sound like really the dumbest statement ever or the most obvious thing but don’t trust everything you read on the internet. That’s the very first thing I would tell people, especially for young advisors. A lot of the younger advisors that I spoke too, they’ve grown up with the internet. They don’t remember the days of pre-internet, and so everything is a Google click away from them.

Google is amazing, and there are some tremendous resources out there on the web. But just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s right. What I always used to do if there was something I was looking up, I’d always try to find someone who’d written about it from a place that I would trust normally. But then I would go back and do the background research. I would try to find the actual code that they reference, or the private letter ruling that they referenced, or the court case that they referenced, and read it for myself and make sure that I really understood it.

That’s not going to be for everybody but if you focus on an area and you become very knowledgeable at that one thing, then you expand it just a little bit, and then you expand it just a little bit more. The other thing that I would say is write. Write as much as you can. Writing is probably the easiest way to become an expert at something, because when you write there’s no hiding.

We’re recording this podcast now, and maybe I said something before that’s not 100% correct. Now hopefully not but maybe I did. You can excuse someone when they’re speaking extemporaneously and they’re just going off the cuff and answering a question or having a discussion for the mistake here or there. Because sometimes our mouths don’t work as fast as our brains do.

But when you’re writing, it’s there and it’s permanent. Someone’s going to be able to print that and 10 years later they’re going to be able to walk back to you and say, “But you wrote this.” It’s kind of almost a catch-22, is how do you become at writing and make sure you don’t make that mistake. But writing in the first place is important, doing that and starting that process, and then having people check your work.

That is extremely important, having people check your work. Again, it’s not that people will make no mistakes. We’re people. We’re no infallible. We’re going to make mistakes. But having someone check your work is extraordinarily important. Back when I was working with Ed Slott and Company we did a blog on … We blogged I would say usually three to four times a week on different topis.

No article ever went up without at least two people looking at it first, even if it was super easy and it was the most basic topic and we were just doing a refresher. And a lot of these articles were written consumer-focused, not necessarily for the advisor. So they were fairly simple at time, some of them were more complex but a lot of them were very simple, and even those always had a second technical expert on the team look at the article before it went out. You know what? You’d be surprised the thing that you find. You’re putting dates on there for required beginning dates and RMP’s, you type a number wrong, you type a year wrong, and you’ve written it and you’ve read your own work so many times that you read what you think is there but what’s not actually on the page. You know what I’m talking about, right?

Hannah: Yeah, absolutely.

Jeffrey: You read, you see what you want to see as opposed to what’s actually on the page. So having someone check your work, and to be humble, to be able to accept criticism and to not look at it as being negative but to look at it as improving you, to making you better.

And then I would throw one other thing out there, it’s to invest in yourself. I think you’ve got a wonderful podcast. I think what you’re doing to help new planners come into the business Hannah is just phenomenal, because no one should have to come into the business and be forced to sell, sell, sell, sell, sell and hopefully stick around long enough so that they can learn something.

I always say, “You should learn before you earn, and not the other way around.” I think what you’re doing is incredible. This is a great start. Those who spend the time to listen to this podcast each week are probably upping their game. But to take it a step further, if you want to focus on let’s say working with business owners, go out there and find a course that specializes in dealing with business taxation or succession planning.

Take your game to the next level and spend the money on education. It is by far the investment that … And you know what, of all the things that Ed Slott and Company, my time there taught me, it was to make sure invest. Some places have some tax services to get you updates on the latest tax developments. We had four of them. When there was a new book that came out and there was a subtle change from year to the next, you probably need the new book. We got new books every year to make sure we always had the best material.

This is like a carpenter going to work with a hammer that’s not quite really attached. You’ve got to have the tools of your trade. You’ve got build out the resources around you in order to provide that high level of guidance that today’s consumer demands.

Hannah: You’ve talked at several points about being an expert and how, really find what you can specialize in and be the best in that. My question for you, and again it’s a little bit of a rhetorical question. How would you advise young planners as well? But how did you know that you were an expert? And how did you know that you had enough to offer clients before starting out on your own, really providing those services on your own?

Jeffrey: Wow, it’s deep. I don’t know that there’s ever moment where you say to yourself, “I’m an expert.” I don’t even know that I would say that today, because I’m still learning things every single day. Every single day. I think becoming an expert is like the end of a rainbow that you can never quite get to. You can become as close as there is but there’s always something more to learn. There’s always something new.

And literally every day I learn something. I can’t think of the last day that came, that went by where I … something on the technical of things I didn’t pick up, some little nuance that was not known to me, or known to me beforehand. So I don’t know that there’s a time where you can strike out and say, “I’ve done it. I’m here. I’m ready to go.”

You build up essentially an expert bank if you will. You build up the street cred, and over time … You know, it’s not an overnight process. It’s about … I’ll give you the best example. You asked, how did I know when I became an expert. Again, I’m not going to use that word, but let’s just …. the time when I most surprised, I said, “All right. I might know what I’m doing.” I needed to look up something and I couldn’t remember what it was so I went and I googled it.

I can’t remember what the exact topic was, but I went and googled it, and an article came up. I was reading and I was like, “Wow, this is pretty good.” I finally finished it and I got to the end, I’m like, “Wait a second, I think I remember this.” It was something I had written eight years ago that was picked up on another site, that I hadn’t authorized. They basically copied my work and pasted it onto their website. Yeah, not really great from a copyright point of view.

But I looked at it, it’s like, “Yeah. I wrote that. Okay.” That’s when I was like, “Okay. When you can start googling yourself for technical information, then that’s not a bad sign.” But you know what? It’s a process. It’s a process. When I first started out I could answer let’s say 90% of the questions, but that meant I had to ask either Ed or some on the technical staff to help me out with the other 10%. And then maybe year two it was 95%, and 99%.

Along with becoming a specialist or an expert in any field comes knowing when something is beyond your scope. I still run across that today, and every planner will, and every advisor will, and every CPA will. There comes a time when it’s not your area of expertise, or it’s just above your pay grade so to speak. The worst thing you could is to try to extend yourself, because that’s when you go and make those mistakes. You reach and you don’t want to say no, because no one likes to say no, but you’re so much better off telling someone, “Listen, I can help you with all this other stuff but this one thing, you really need to go see this attorney for,” or, “this CPA for,” “this other advisor for,” whatever it is.

That’s I think a really important thing, and as an expert the last thing you want to do is make a mistake because then that calls into question your credibility as expert. So much better to defer and put something off and to say, “I can’t do this,” and to not make the mistake, than to try to take it on and not be able to fulfill that promise.

Hannah: You’ve mentioned several times about writing, and writing seems to be maybe a difficult skill for a lot of planners. It’s been interesting, I’ve been talking with professors and they’re actually making students write blogs in their colleges classes now as they prepare to enter the financial planning profession. I think that’s an interesting angle on it. But how do you … Number one, should just be expected that financial planners can write? And then also, how do you … I mean I guess it’s practice, but how do you get good at writing?

Jeffrey: I think that you don’t have to be a great writer. I think that you just have to be good at conveying a message, because there are a lot of different ways that you can convey that message. You can write and type, but you might use a program like Dragon Dictation let’s say and just go out there and just talk. Talk as if you were talking to your client, and maybe that’s your blog. Maybe your blog isn’t the, “And thus, therefor, this is … ” Maybe your blog is the super conversational blog, or maybe you just never write it all, you write three sentences to caption the video that you do, and you record a video on your iPhone once a week about a topic that’s of interest to you or that you want to express some information on.

There’s a lot of different ways in which you convey it. I like writing because people tend to be able to keep that writing. I think of myself and what I do, and I don’t know how many of your users, or rather listeners, use Evernote, or whether you use Evernote or a tool like Evernote. I had kind of created my own Evernote without knowing what Evernote was. Then about two years ago someone came to me and said, “Why don’t you use Evernote?” It was revolutionary. It saved me so much time building my own essentially information library.

I store all these articles that I want to go back to at some point, or that I want to be able to reference, by tagging them with keywords and so forth. You can do that relatively easily today. I can pull that article anywhere. I can pull it on my cellphone. I can pull it up on my computer. You can’t necessarily do that quite as easily with the video medium, so I really love writing.

I love video too, but I love writing because I think it’s one of the best ways to get a message out there permanently. People like to read things more than once on the technical stuff. They want to read that passage again because it’s complicated and they need to make sure that they understand it. When you’re listening to the audio or watching a video, it’s not as convenient to drag it back. You do of course, but …

There are a lot of different ways to get that message out and to be a writer without necessarily having to write well. I think it definitely helps, and there are classes out there. In fact, there are people who teach classes just on writing and blogging for financial advisors. So if someone wants to become better at it, maybe you’re never going to be great. I don’t think I’m ever, ever, ever, ever going to be great at organization. I’ve gotten much better but that’s my Achilles Heel. I’m not naturally an organized person. I have to work hard to organize myself, and use tools, and read about it, and take best practices, because it just doesn’t come naturally to me.

Maybe writing doesn’t come naturally to someone else, but if they work hard I’m pretty confident that, like anything else practice makes closer to perfection. Not perfect but it certainly gets you closer there. So that would be my advice, and don’t be afraid, put it out there. People, you’d be amazed …

One more tip too. One last thought on that that I think is really important. There is rarely an original thought today. When a new law comes out or there’s a new case, then obviously everybody’s working on it simultaneously and there’s almost a rush to be first to print, the latest thought. Which is why I like Twitter so much, you can get out in 140, or 280 now, characters bits of information on things and almost be first to market on the new information. Which I think is awesome.

But other than that, there really is no new thought. So if you were writing on something, I would read five other articles on the same topic that you’re writing about. Obviously you don’t want to plagiarize, you don’t want to steal anybody’s information, but see how something is presented. Maybe it kicks a thought in your mind as to how you would organize it.

A lot of times I read something and I say, “You know, this was really great but I think I would have understood much better if it was presented in this order or this format, as opposed to the way this person chose to present it.” So then when I write it, I’ll present it in that matter. I think that can be a helpful tip for those who aren’t really confident about their writing either.

Hannah: I like your point of I think would agree that to be a good, especially if you’re client-facing, you have to be a good communicator, and writing is just a way to communicate.

Jeffrey: Yeah, it’s just one communication medium. I mean there are … I know a advisor in, he’s in Nevada, he’s a young advisor, and he doesn’t write at all. When I say not write at all, I’m sure he actually sends emails from time to time, but almost everything he does is a video message to his clients. They’re all younger, millennials. He doesn’t work with … He does work with some older individuals but they all have to tech savvy, that’s kind of his rule, his thing. He answers everything by video because it takes him way less time to write. He doesn’t really like to write. He doesn’t enjoy it. He says he’s not very good at it. So he just sends video clips to everybody. When someone sends him a email, he answers it with a video message. When he wants to make a phone call or update a client, he does it via video. That’s what works for him and hopefully everybody finds what works well for them.

Hannah: One of the things that you’ve talked about is researching, and researching deeply. Going, you said reading court cases, or reading the tax code or things like that. Can you talk a little bit more about that? When I’ve talked to other advisors, it seems like that kind of in-depth research feels very overwhelming and feels very out of reach for them.

Jeffrey: I think that that’s going to change over time. I think technology is going to force that to change over time. Because the traditional bounds where a advisor, or where a client would find an advisor, are not going to continue to be the same. For instance, in the past the primary limiting factor to the advisors that you could work with was generally a geographic location. You wanted to be able to go and see you advisor and sit down in their office.

There are still a lot of people who want that face to face interaction, but clients of all ages, whether they be young millennials or boomers or even older, have gotten increasingly comfortable with digital communication or doing video conferences remotely, et cetera. If you’re not going to be a specialist, then you’ve got to look and say, “Who am I working with? Why are these people working with me?” It could just be, “Hey, I’m the local advisor and I’m the one that’s close to you, and I’m like you generalist doctor.”

Look, generalist practitioners that are doctor, they make good livings. There’s nothing wrong with that and we need generalists. In fact we’re short generalists right now. But specialist is where the money is physicians, and I think that’s going to continue to be the trend for advisors. Especially as these geographic barriers continue to be broken down. Because I type in, IRA expert, social security expert, business succession planning expert, into Google and I’m going to look and I’m going to see who comes up on the first three pages of Google, today maybe the first page of Google.

I’m going to start there if I don’t really care, if I want to go to the best at something. And a lot of people want just the best at something. I think advisors have to do a gut check. Like, “What is it that I want to do? Do I want to be that generalist?” Maybe if you’re only in the business for another five or 10 years it’s not a big deal for you. But for young advisors, for like you, like me, like I’m sure many of your listeners, who are going to be around for the next 20, 30, 40 years or more in the profession, I think you’ve got to figure out what it is that you do really, really, really well, and then figure how to become great at it.

Not everybody’s going to be lucky enough to fall into a situation like I did, literally, where they can study under the best at something. But there’s ways that you can go out. Reading. I talked to an advisor, maybe it was four or five years ago. He had asked a question about a law that basically had changed in 2002. We’re talking about this advisor and that was in 2012. He’s completely off the books, or off the rails, for a law that had changed a decade ago.

I said, “You didn’t know that?” He says, “No. I don’t really like reading much.” How could you be an advisor and say, “I don’t like reading much?” How do you not stay up to date on the latest changes? And not even the latest changes, the changes of the last decade. You’ve got be willing to put in time.

Advisors bill time in their calendar for calling clients and for … A lot of advisors time block their time. “These are the times that I meet clients. These are the times that I do phone calls. These are my networking times.” I would say build in educational time into your practice block. Build in self-improvement into that time block and take it very seriously. Don’t let that be the first thing to go when you’re backed up on paperwork. Stay the extra hour at the office and get it done. Put in that time for you to get better at whatever it is that you really, really, really want to do.

There is no substitute for time. A lot of the old advisors, older advisors, or I shouldn’t say old, but those who have been in the profession longer, the more mature advisors, they remember the days of dialing for dollars. In fact, I have an advisor in my office who built his initial book doing that same thing, dialing for dollars. I look at it today, it’s like, no, the modern advisor is going to be learning for dollars, reading for dollars, writing for dollars, not dialing for dollars.

The old days of you reaching out to clients is really going away. This is much more a business of attraction, as opposed to reaching out to that client. You need to do something to attract them to you and make that person want to work with you, as opposed to trying to convince them that they should work with you.

Hannah: If you were to start over, whether that means starting over in the profession year zero, ground zero, or if you were looking to start over with a firm without maybe your background or your name recognition that you already have. Where would you start?

Jeffrey: Without a doubt I would … this is an easy one for me to answer because I tell almost every young person who asked me that same question the same answer. The first thing I would do is I would try, while I was a student let’s say, is to intern as many different places as possible. Get your feet wet and figure out what it is that you really enjoy. You can find out what your passionate about. Find out what you love doing, because the things that you love doing you’ll inevitably be much better at than the things that you don’t enjoy doing.

And on top of that, by getting those things out of the way and figuring out what you want to do early on, you’re way ahead of a lot of other people who have to change mid-stream or make adjustments along the way. That’s the first thing, but the second thing is if you want to become a financial planner. If that’s really your goal, the thing that I would say don’t focus on money right away. Focus on the best educational opportunity.

Give up a year or two of income if it means that. I’m not saying that you should make nothing. I don’t want people to live on bread and water. But the first job, when I went down to Miami, it was not a high paying job. For me it was, “Hey, I get to learn under an advisor, where I don’t have to go out and hunt for clients. I’m going to be apprenticing and I’m going to learn everything I need to know, so that when I go out on my own I can do those same things and do them with confidence and do a good job for clients.

That’s what I think young planner … If I could apprentice 100 young planners over my career, I don’t think that will happen. It’s probably too lofty of a goal, but my goodness, that would make me feel amazing because I want more people to get into the business the right way. To me the right way is finding a place where you can learn, where you’re not out there day one meeting with clients. It’s not your role. You don’t know enough day one.

The worst thing is when you don’t know enough, or when you don’t know what you don’t know, that’s even worse. I think it was Donald Rumsfeld years ago who said something like, “There are known knowns. There are known unknowns, the things that we know we don’t know, and then there are unknown unknowns.” It’s those unknown unknowns that are super dangerous to advisors, because you don’t know where you’re giving someone the wrong answer. The only way you can really, to resolve that is through experience.

So I would say, go out, find your local advisory firm, find your local financial planning firm. If you want to be an asset manager find your local asset management firm. Listen, if you want to be a broker and that’s what you want to do, then find a brokerage firm. Find someone who’ll take you on and do whatever it takes to get them to say yes, because all you want to focus on is learning from someone who’s really good. That’s the only thing you should focus on those first few years.

The money will come. I promise you. You know that old adage of people not making it in the business, it’s because they were going out and trying to sell when they had no knowledge. Of course more people were bound to fail. I don’t remember what the exact statistics were but it was way more advisors fail than succeed in the business. Again, it’s because you’re going out there and trying to sell something that you don’t even know enough about to really sell, which is you. Right? Your information, your knowledge, you haven’t built it yet.

So if you build it, because corny as it is if you build it they will come. They, being the client. So build that educational base. The best way to do it in my opinion is to go out and find someone to apprentice under. You have to entice them to do it, because as the owner of a practice or as a, let’s say a primary financial planner, maybe they’re not looking for that junior at that time. Maybe they don’t want that junior. You’ve got to be willing to do whatever it takes. Whether that’s filling out the paperwork or maybe staying afterwards.

Maybe you fill a role during the day which is learning and sitting in with meetings with them, but when you sit in with meetings you’re not doing the other work that needs to be done. So you might have to put in the longer hours afterwards, or on weekends. That’s the trade-off I think for that type of opportunity to learn and to not have come into the business and to be hocking friends and hocking family members about buying this or putting money you. You’re kind of gambling on people’s livelihoods. It’s just not a good way to start.

Hannah: Great stuff there. Well, thank you for being with us Jeff, we really appreciate it.

Jeffrey: It was such a privilege. Really, I really wish all of your listeners the absolute best. For those that have struggled who think about, “Is this really for me?” Just keep at it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it really … you asked me, what would I change if started over. Not much. I really love what I do. If this is something you really love, if you stick with it, if you’re passionate about it, you put in the time, it will work out. There are opportunities out there for you. Hannah, thank you so much for letting share my story with your listeners. It was really fun.

Hide Transcript