Am I the Right Fit for You?
It’s difficult to evaluate whether a financial planner is a good fit for you. When you’re buying a physical product like a car, it’s easy to define the criteria, and to confirm that the car meets those criteria (color, sedan vs. SUV, etc). When you’re shopping for a service like financial planning, however, you won’t know if the service is the right fit until you’ve been through the process. Plus, money is such a personal and oftentimes emotional topic for people that hiring a financial planner is not a decision to take lightly. Although I share my biography and services, this blog post is an opportunity for you to better understand my values, why I chose financial planning as a career, and how I work with clients.
My Values: What Makes me Tick
As part of the Peace of Mind service, my clients complete a “values card” exercise where they sort through a deck of cards with different values (e.g. education, decisiveness, wealth) and pick their top five. This helps me understand what makes them tick, and when I see behavior that’s inconsistent with those values, I can be a better advisor by asking questions; perhaps a client’s values have evolved, for example.
I did the same exercise, and here are my top five values (in no particular order):
- Meaningful Work: career has always been important to me. Working as a financial planner has been rewarding, and I’ll discuss my career path in the next section.
- Autonomy: having the ability to make decisions independently is a major reason why I decided to start my own financial planning business rather than climbing the ladder at a large firm.
- Excitement: “novelty” is a better word, but excitement was the next best option. If I’m not learning something new, I’ll get bored; for example, I was on a recreational dragon boat racing team, and I enjoyed learning a completely new sport as I had grown up playing racquet sports. Once I got the hang of the motion, however, I lost interest and didn’t return for the following season.
- Integrity: if I say I’ll do something, I’ll do it.
- Friendship: I chose this over the “Family” card because it covers a broad range of relationships. Family is important, particularly my nieces and my cat, Zoe. I have close friends from different parts of my life. And volunteering at Cat Town is a big part of my life; I’m there every Friday working with the undersocialized and sick cats (I have a soft spot for the hissy ones who eventually blossom over time).
My Career Path
My work experience at the Social Security Administration, Vanguard, and Aspiriant honed my skills as a financial planner, but I didn’t start with a master plan for my career. I didn’t know what financial planning was until I worked at Vanguard in my early 30s. As Steve Jobs elegantly stated in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, I was only able to connect the dots looking backwards:
- Social Security: I loved working with clients and having a clear purpose to my work, helping people apply for the multitude of programs (retirement being the most well-known).
- Vanguard: my investment philosophy was developed on many of Vanguard’s principles: keep costs low, have a long-term horizon, and invest in a broadly diversified portfolio (stocks and bonds; domestic and international). Vanguard was where I learned about financial planning, the CFP® designation, and the fee-only business model (in contrast to the traditional commission-based model).
- Aspiriant: when I decided to pursue a financial planning career and the CFP® designation, I wanted to take the slow-and-steady path of attaining what I’ll dub Big Firm experience. Although many financial advisors hang up their own shingle from day 1, I thought this was reckless given the enormous responsibility we have to guide people with their hard-earned money. Aspiriant is a premier firm that focuses on both investment management and financial planning (everything beyond your portfolio).
How I Work
My Long-Term Goal
My long-term goal for Jane Financial is to be a client’s advisor for years, if not decades. I want to be there to proactively help as people’s lives evolve, both in good times (marriage, job promotion, welcoming a child) and bad (divorce, disappointing company stock performance, death of a loved one). Because financial planning is an intangible service, I have all clients start with the Guided Start service, which gives them an opportunity to give me a trial run. I have a special focus on millennial and Gen X women who are successful professionals and want a long-term relationship, but they’re stymied by high portfolio minimums. In major metropolitan areas, reputable firms often require at least $1M in investable assets, which doesn’t include home equity.
How I Charge
Instead of charging a percentage of the portfolio, I charge a flat fee. The former is far more common, and it benefits advisors in times of rising markets. If a firm charges 1%, and a client’s portfolio doubles from $1M to $2M, revenues will also double from $10,000 to $20,000 even though the advisor’s workload hasn’t necessarily doubled. I prefer the flat fee approach because it’s more accessible to professionals who are making a good living and are still building their wealth as they’re 20-40 years away from retirement.
What I Do
For clients who upgrade to the Peace of Mind service, my approach is to build the foundation (steps 1-4 below), and then provide ongoing support (step 5):
This is a diagram of the eight modules referenced in item 4, “Dive into the financial planning modules”. Usually the first three modules have already been covered in the Guided Start service: define goals, spending & saving (e.g. cash flow analysis), and investment strategy (reviewing your current portfolio and recommending changes if appropriate):
People sometimes question whether younger people would ever want ongoing help, as though retirees are the only people with have questions and complex finances. My response is that life happens, and oftentimes these life events have important financial repercussions. Some recent client questions include:
- I don’t understand my tax return. How do I decipher it? What will the GOP tax reform mean to me?
- I have a company stock plan (employee share purchase plan, restricted stock units, non-qualified stock options, incentive stock options, etc). What does vesting mean? What should I do with the stock? How much will this cost in terms of taxes?
- I may need to provide financial support to my aging parent(s) sooner than expected. How much can I afford to provide, and how do I discuss this with my siblings and parents?
- We’re expecting our first child. How will our day-to-day expenses change? How much college can we afford? How will parental leave impact our income?
- I want to make sure my family is taken care of if I died unexpectedly. What needs to happen?
What Comes Next
You’ve gotten a glimpse into what makes me tick, and what I do for clients. If you’re interested in discussing your goals and learning how I can help, feel free to set up a “get to know you” consultation http://janefinancial.com/contact/.