We are so excited to have Amy Irvine on the #YAFPNW podcast this week. We discuss how financial planning is about more than investment advice and number-tracking. Financial planners are helping people build lives that are meaningful to them and that feed their soul.
Amy opens up about what her ideal client looks like, how she found her way to her current role as a financial planner, and what we can do to promote an environment of learning in the profession.
“What in your life doesn’t have to do with your financial life?”
Things You’ll Learn in This Episode:
- How different roles in the financial planning profession can impact your career.
- How to have meaningful conversations with your clients about their lives – and how to use that information to help them plan their financial lives.
- Why education is so important – for you and your financial planning clients.
- How to approach your target market.
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Hannah: Well, thanks for joining us today, Amy.
Amy: Thank you for having me.
Hannah: You are the owner of Irving Wealth Planning Strategies and we’ll talk to you about it a little bit more. But, I’d love to know how did you get started in the financial planning word?
Amy: Well, it actually dates back to my college days. I was around 19 and I was very actively involved in the student senate for my alma mater, which is Alfred State College, and the receptionist/secretary that worked for the student senate, her husband worked for a company called IDS, which is now American Express. I was an accounting manager, but I was also looking to side hustle to help pay for college a little bit, or I should say expenses. She suggested that I do some part-time work for him. I started doing cold calls for him to schedule appointments.
He would go to events and he’d have this little card that people could fill out where they would says, “I want some more information about,” it might be retirement planning or something along those lines. My job was to actually call these people and try to get appointments for the planner at that point in time. I did it for about six months, then I’m like, this job stinks. I don’t like it. I thought it was going to be fun. It was working with numbers, and I thought I was actually going to get to do something that was a little bit more than just calling people to schedule appointments.
That was my first introduction to the financial planning world, but there was a little bit of a light that I saw whenever … Darren was the name that I worked for. Whenever he would share with me just a piece of the puzzle, I thought, well, that’s really interesting. It stuck in the back of my head, and after I graduated from college, I worked for a transient company for a very, very, very short period of time because I quickly learned that that was not the environment that I wanted to be in. I sought out a job and it ended up being a trust company.
But, I actually interviewed with several, it would have been insurance companies back then. This was around 1994 that I started pursuing this specifically and one of the things that I tested for, New York Life actually, and the gentlemen that I interviewed with said to me, “Your scores are great. You would make a great advisor. But, as a woman, I really don’t think this is the best career for you.” That sealed it for me. Somebody told me I couldn’t do something, that’s it. I’m doing it. My mother has always said, “Just, if you want Amy to do something, tell her she can’t.
I actually went to work for a very small trust company. I kept looking, kept looking, and there was an opening in a very, very small trust company in their trust department. I was dealing mostly with estate planning, fulfilling trust documents, beneficiaries, all of that sort of stuff that, investment management, that goes along with the trust side. That’s really the organization that I would say launched my career because they exposed me to so much in a very short period of time that it was just … I felt the passion for it and said this is my career. This is what I want to do. I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to do it, but I knew that being in that environment was really fun.
What I didn’t particularity like about being in that particular trust department was that it was working with people that had already grown their wealth. There wasn’t a whole of true planning on the sense of how do you get there? It was how do you protect, which is important as well. But, I was 23, 24 years old at the time. I saw a lot more opportunity within the industry. That was my first what I would call true job in the industry. It’s a great people for people to start out in.
Hannah: I love this idea that you were working this trust company. Were you thinking of how do I help my peers as somebody in your 20’s, or what were you viewing as a landscape of opportunities?
Amy: As soon as some of my friends heard what I was doing, they started to ask me questions, and I really didn’t know the answers. It wasn’t like I was learning about their problems. I wasn’t … How do you mortgage a loan, or how do you mortgage a house, or how do you pay down student debt, or how do you save for retirement? I’d look at them and say, “Oh, I don’t do that. I don’t know the answer to that.” I’m actually investing millions or working on investing millions of dollars. I don’t know how you actually grow it.
Intuitively, I was being asked these questions and wondering, well, how do I do it for myself. One day I actually was home … I don’t know if it was a Labor Day or President’s Day or one of those bank holidays that we had, and I was watching the Today Show and Jean Chatsky was on The Today Show that day, and here was this vibrant, young woman who was talking about saving and budgeting, and investing, and I thought, man, that’s what I want to do. I want to talk about these things. I started, at the time, again, 1994, 1995 … The internet wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. I started going to the library and getting books on how to budget and how to save and basic things that we talk about, but we were never taught.
Then, I started sharing it with my friends. Every time we were together, I’m like, “Okay, budget tip 101, how can we go out tonight and only spend like $25? How do we do this. “It became this huge passion and I’m sure my friends would roll their eyes, or like yeah, you thought it was a passion. You drove us nuts. But, it did launch, even more so, wanting to work with that younger generation. When I left the trust company, my next step was actually to go work for a union benefit office. I actually did a lot of the healthcare and the pension administration for that particular firm and this union environment. I was actually working with a bunch of the members of the carpenters’ union. The age range was huge. It was from apprentices, all the way up to people that were looking at retirement.
Working with them was exciting because when somebody new joined and you got to tell them about all of these benefits that they were going to have and how that all worked, they would start to ask questions about, “That’s great, but what do I do for life insurance, or should I have a will,” which of course the answer is always yes. But, that’s the start of the questions that people started to ask me, and again, it was building this, well there’s more out there, right? There’s more than just retirement and now I’ve gotten into healthcare and everybody’s asking me about saving for their kids’ college now.
I started to seek out a company that would … I knew that I knew enough that I didn’t know a lot and I needed to get some education and experience under people that did. I started to look for other opportunities within that industry and I actually went to the trust environment again, working for a trust company that had a much larger trust department. It had a separate investment, a separate tax, separate estate, and then also a separate retirement administration. Under that retirement administration, we worked with IRA’s and 401K plans, and this was around 1996. This was before a lot of 401K plans were daily administration and you can go in and check your balances frequently. We were sending out quarterly statements, and sometimes only annual statements still.
But, I would go out and help people enroll in these 401K plans, and there again, people would say, “So, what else should I be doing?” I went back to the trust company and I said, “There’s this CFP thing. I really think that would be beneficial for me to pursue this because it does all of these other areas that I just don’t feel knowledgeable about, and I really didn’t feel knowledgeable about the insurance piece, or even the taxes piece at that point in time.
They said, “You know, not right now, but, maybe in the future.” I was 29 at the time and I was driving about two hours a day, one hour to work, one hour home, and I really saw the potential of this program, the CFP program, who my alma mater was just launching at that point in time too. That’s how I knew about it. They were just starting this program, and I thought, you know, I think I really, really want to pursue this.
My husband and I talked about it and we sat down and said, we can do this. We can tighten up our budget. We can live off of one income for about two years or me to go through this program, and so I did. I left that company and went back to college at that time, 30 years old and pursued a bachelor’s degree in the CFP program, and then ultimately a Master’s degree and it was the best thing I ever did, because that was … I got a full breadth of the feel that I had the opportunity to interact with other individuals that were coming up through this program. I got to interview as of course of exploring internships, which I had to, which was funny to me because I’m like I have ten years of experience. I still have to do an internship? But, it was really 10 years of different kind of experience, so I’m glad I did it. But, that’s really the start of it all.
Hannah: Well, what I love about your story is you kept seeing these threads of financial planning wherever you went. It was like the client kept saying, “There’s more. There’s more. There’s more,” and it was really you listening to your clients and saying, “Why aren’t we providing more?”
Amy: Once I graduated, I really wanted to … Oh, by the way, my internship ironically, was with [Ameriprise], which was great because I got to see what I didn’t want. That was such an annuity based … There’s nothing wrong with annuities or with broker dealers or anything like that, but that was particularly … I’m like, no, I’m really more interested in looking at the planning side using the products to answer the questions, but really, really focusing on the planning side. I needed to get into a company that would let me do that, would actually let me start with the financial plan and not start with the investments.
Hannah: Can you talk a little bit more about what that internship was like and specifically what about it made you say, “This isn’t where I want to be?”
Amy: Because every meeting, when I sat through them, every meeting was a sales meeting. Every meeting was about what are the products that we are …I hate to use the word pitching, but that’s what it was. It wasn’t sitting down with the client and saying, “Here’s our process. We’re going to sit down. We’re going to learn about you. We’re going to learn what your needs are and then we’re going to come up with some solutions and recommendations.” What I saw was when somebody would come in and say, “I’m thinking about retirement.” “Well, here’s some products that can help you get there.” How do you know that? If you haven’t actually sat down and said, “Well, what are your expenses, and what does your budget look like, and what do you want to do in retirement, and what do you want to do prior to retirement, and what are the competing goals that you have?” How do you recommend anything if you don’t know the answers to those questions. I just didn’t see those questions being asked. To me, that was a red flag.
Hannah: Yeah. I can say now that I’m on the financial planning side of, it if you would, I can’t invest money unless I have a financial plan. It’s just this complete mindset shift that once you see it, you can’t go back.
Amy: Yeah, when people run into me at a party and find out what I do, they’ll say, “Oh, where should I invest my money?” I’m like, “I have no idea.” I have no tips for you because I have no idea what your situation is whatsoever. Even sometimes, when people will say, “Oh, I just got $20,000, what should I do with it?” I don’t know. Without sitting done and getting the details, I don’t know where to go with that. That’s what I saw on that internship and even if some of the companies, the next company that I went to … When I first went there and was hired, they were … I was also studying for the CFP exam at that point in time. I had met all the education requirements and I was studying during that process and the next company that I went to, when I joined them, I had just sat for the CFP exam, and I was waiting to get the results because when I sat for it, we didn’t know for six to eight weeks.
I was waiting and waiting and waiting and I think I had been, there, maybe a week, week and a half when I found out that I had passed and they actually hired me under the preface of we want a financial planner on staff. We want a CFP. There were no other CFP’s at that point in time. I was so excited. Elated doesn’t even begin to explain how somebody feels when they find out they passed that exam. It really takes away all those months of loneliness that you experience prior to sitting for the exam.
That was supposed to be my focus. Unfortunately, some things changed within the company and one of the supervisors left and I happened to be the only one with … I had sat for the seven when I was doing my internship in the 63, ad I don’t know why, but for the 24, and I happened to be the only one that had that particular license, and so I was immediately by default thrust into a role that I didn’t really want, but I learned a ton from doing.
Hannah: For people listening, the 24 is the compliance license.
Amy: It’s one of them, yep, one of them, yep. When you take on that role, compliance is so important and for anybody who wants to start their own firm … It’s under FINRA, so it’s a little bit different, but it’s still …It was a great learning experience to understand the basis of everything that you can and cannot do. It was a great learning experience. It led to my next role as a chief compliance officer for the RAA that I went to work for after I left that firm. The reason I left was more because as the branch manager for that firm, I also had almost 215 clients, so I was responsible for 11 staff members, had that many clients, really wasn’t doing what I loved, which was the financial planning. It was just putting out fires, and I just kept saying to myself, “This isn’t your why. This isn’t why you got into this. You got your degree and you went back to college. This isn’t my why.”
I started looking for other opportunities that would allow me to reach that and that’s when I went to work for my first RAA firm, which, like I said, I was the chief compliance officer for as well as the … The title was director of financial planning, but really, I was fortunate to be able to bring 35 clients with me and, or approximately … I think it was 30 and potentially 35, and do really nice work with them. It was extraordinary.
Hannah: You brought those clients with you from your last place to the new RAA and you started doing financial planning with them once you got to the RAA?
Amy: Correct, and in more detail, yeah. At that point in time, I was actually able to spend the time focusing at a greater level and engaging.
Hannah: So, as director of financial planning, were you just working with your clients, or was there a bigger responsibility for the firm’s clients?
Amy: There was a much bigger responsibility for the firm’s client. That’s the preface that I was hired under was that … The gentleman that had built the RAA was very focused on investment management. He was extremely successful, very focused on investment management, but was thinking along the lines of wanting to do more for his existing clients. That was where the idea of well, let’s bring Amy onboard and do more for those existing clients and even their family and their friends … Not friends, but family members, especially younger family members … That was one of the ideas as well was to take some of the retires and maybe start working with their kids or their grandchildren.
Hannah: Were you the only true financial planner on staff there?
Amy: I was. There were four employees in total. The owner of the company was a CFP, and then there were two other. One was in an admin role and the other individual had a long background in financial planning but he was not a CFP, and he was not doing the financial planning piece. Really, that was my responsibility.
Hannah: You got your financial planning background through these college programs, your Master’s degree, the CFP. But, you’ve really been the only financial planner trying to create build in financial planning into these firms.
Hannah: Was that frustrating or what were your thoughts on that?
Amy: It was actually and I think that’s why ultimately I ended up going out on my own to be honest, Hannah, because that was the piece, and I can look back on it now. There was always something that just was like, what is wrong with these people?. Why don’t you get it? I don’t understand. It’s so plain to me, and it just always seemed like this uphill battle of why isn’t it that we start every client in this method. Why would we ever invest their money if we don’t have the financial plan in place? Not just that, but also, when I decided to leave that last firm, one of the reasons was because when people have built their wealth, yes, there’s financial planning involved, but again, I’ll go back to that same preface that I said prior. There’s a lot of people that haven’t built their wealth, and one of the things that I kept saying that we needed to do is start to reach out to those 30 and 40-something-year-olds and do financial plans for them.
Let’s take the business and tweak it a little bit. Let me really do financial planning. Let me get into this problem solving and this proactive way of dealing with people’s finances instead of the reactive way. If I can help somebody, and I’ll give you an example. When I was at that firm, I had somebody come to me and say, “I’ve got all this student loan debt, and mom and dad are going to help me, but I really wish that I hadn’t done it at all.”
Well, what if we had sat down with mom and dad and student, and said, “Okay, here’s some ways that we can fund college?” That’s really proactive. The graduate doesn’t walk out feeling this heavy weight on their shoulder even though mom and dad have said they’re going to help. It’s still a heavy weight. That’s proactive planning. I kept thinking that’s what we need to be doing and we need to be talking to people that are my age, in their 40’s, and mid-40’s, and have kids that are looking at going to college in a year or two or three. That’s planning and we should be talking to them about how they’re saving for retirement. I see some of these retirees that have all of their money in after tax buckets.
Now, they’re at a point where they’re having to take the RMD and it’s making the Medicare higher, their premiums higher. It’s making their social security more taxable. It’s actually creating and putting them into a higher tax bracket than they would have had they split up their savings and retirement. That’s how we can proactively help people and everybody was saying to me, “But, how do you make money on them?” Well, they’re willing to pay a fee. They’re willing to pay whether it’s hourly, or some sort of retainer model. There’s just not that much out there for them.
Hannah: You just needed somebody to tell you that you couldn’t do it.
Amy: Yeah, that’s what happened actually was when I pitched this idea to the other firm, he said, “No, I really don’t see where that will be successful.” All right. Let me show you. It wasn’t quite like that, but, it’s when I started to say, “I think it really is.” You know what? What’s the worst that’s going to happen, if it’s not, I’ll go to work for another company. But, I really think that this is going to be successful.
My husband and I sat down again, and we started thinking about things. We started exploring opportunities and thoughts and took the next step, and it was brutal. I know you just recently did a couple podcasts with what you wish you had known before you left a firm, and I wish I had listened to that podcast before I left that firm because it was a brutal parting. It was really brutal and it’s tough when you’re in the same city. There are lots of things that I wish I had done differently.
Hannah: Yeah, as amazing as financial planning is, there’s some really, really dark sides to the industry and yeah, when money’s involved, people do crazy things.
Amy: Well, one of the things that I’ve always said is when I get to the point where I’m bringing advisors on and able to do that with sustainability is I won’t have that non-solicit, non-compete, because if somebody wants to work with that person, then that’s who they should work with. Who am I to say you can’t work with X, Y, Z person. That’s the things that just kills me about this industry. This is such a personal industry, such a personal relationship industry that if person X wants to work with person Y, who am I to say they can’t. I think that that’s just why … I don’t know any other, or very few industries that say that. If you like a particular doctor, you follow that doctor. If you like a particular financial planner, you follow that financial planner. I just will never have that in my firm when I get to that level.
Hannah: You weren’t able to take any of those clients with you that you had done the financial planning work with?
Amy: I wasn’t able to take any that belonged to the firm. Those people that I ultimately brought with me from the firm prior to that, I was smart enough to have language I there to say if I brought them from firm X, that I could take them. I was actually able to start the business with a group of very loyal clients that I will forever be grateful for because they gave me enough income to at least, along with my savings, get me through that first year. It wasn’t enough to sustain forever, but it was enough to help us along with some savings that we had get through that first year, which is, I will say the toughest year emotionally, physically, and it just … It takes a ton of energy in that first year, and even part of the second year I would say to really keep saying to yourself, “I did this for a good reason. It’s all going to work out. Just keep doing the right thing and everything will work out.” They not only stood by my side through the transition, they were the best of referral because they said, “Oh, finally a firm that there isn’t this barrier to have somebody work with you. I’m going to refer my friends.” They did and I don’t think there can be any better compliment than that and I’m very … They’re extremely solid in my heart.
Hannah: Yeah, I definitely can relate to that. I remember when I made my move … The clients that came with me, I feel like I owe them. There’s such a debt of gratitude that [crosstalk 00:27:22]-
Amy: Oh, yeah, huge.
Hannah: … and they feel loyal to me and I’m just like, anything you guys need, I got you.
Amy: Absolutely. I don’t care if it’s a Saturday or a Sunday. You know what? You had my back, I’m going to have yours. Not that I don’t feel that same sense of loyalty towards the new clients, I do. But, it’s just slightly different because they were my support beam. Without them, I would have bruises that never would have healed I think.
Hannah: Yeah, I remember when I was making the transition, and it was not easy or pretty, or … It was pretty ugly if we’re going to be honest-
Hannah: And they are one of my largest clients and they called because it’s just like, I don’t know how to present this to them. He was like, oh, well we always follow the advisor, not the firm. That’s great. We’re excited. I will never forget that short conversation that I had with him. It was just a given that they would follow me, and I was just like, wow, that’s what this business is about. It’s about the people.
Amy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).Yeah, it is and that’s why I said earlier I would never make somebody sign a non-solicit, non-compete because who am I to stand in their way if that’s who they want to work with?
Amy: Hopefully they’d never leave, but-
Hannah: Right. If we create good work environment, people will want to stay.
Hannah: So, let’s talk about your current firm, Irving Wealth and Planning Strategies. You’re doing it your way in what you see. What does it look like for a client to work with you?
Amy: Well, as you mentioned, I decided when I started my firm that I would do it very differently and one of the things that we start with is the financial plan. When somebody comes to me and says, I’m looking to either start working with an advisor, particularly maybe even change an advisor, the first conversation that we have is, “Well, tell me about you. Tell me about who Hannah is. What is your passion? What gets you going? What gets you excited about life? If money weren’t a barrier, what would you be doing differently? Tell me about you,” because those conversations are going to drive every other recommendation that I have for you.
Then, let’s dig into the numbers. Let’s look at what does your employer offer for benefits? What do you want to do with your career? What have you already saved and why and what do you think that you would like to do for the next 10, 15, 20 years. That’s a challenge because if somebody asked me that question, I’m like, well, I’m doing it. But, I have dreams at the same time. Do I want to travel a little? Yeah. Do I want to spend time with my family? Yes. All of those things are really important to me. But, is there something that really stands out to you that you want to make sure that you do?
We start with that financial planning process and then as we go along, this document, if you want to call it that starts to form, and as we get into those different sections of financial planning, then we can say, maybe it’s better to wait on making a recommendation until we actually take a deep dive into the tax side of things because I don’t want to make the wrong recommendation on … Let’s say it’s savings for your kids’ education. I don’t want to tell you, you should do a 529 plan if that affects in some way, shape, or form your taxes down the road because maybe there isn’t a defined college plan in place. Maybe it has to do with stock options or whatever it might be. Sometimes, it’s better to hold off on making those recommendations until we really have everything put together and it’s about a year long process to go through that.
Hannah: Yeah. I want to hit on something that you said at the beginning about how you take them through this discovery process and ask them, “What is it that you want to be doing, and your future and everything like that,” and I think you would agree with this. There’s some clients that I have when I go through that process where they’re just like … They can’t even process that, and I think that’s okay. Really, I think what we’re doing is we’re trying to get them to start thinking that way, and that maybe they’re not going to have that answer today or in six months, but in a couple of years, they might be coming back to us and saying, “Hey, here’s something that I never thought of before. Could this be possible?
Amy: Yeah, and if they can’t come up with something, then I’ll often ask them what makes you happiest right now? If there’s a point in your life that, or a particular part of your life that makes you happy or happiest, what is it, because that’s probably what they want to be doing.
Amy: If it’s involvement in their church, or spending time coaching their kids, or doing other volunteer work, it’s feeding the soul in some way, shape, or form, well, that’s probably what you ultimately want to be doing, so how do we get you there? It helps them.
Hannah: Yeah, one objection that I’ve heard from people is I’m not sure my clients would be comfortable having these conversations with me. What would be your response to that?
Amy: I think at first, when we start having these conversations, they look at me like, what does this have to do with financial planning? When I say to them, if you can just trust me, I’ll get you there. What in your life doesn’t have to do with your financial life? No matter what it is, I’ve always said that there’s basically three things that are nearest and dearest to everybody’s heart. It’s their God, their family, and their money. When people say that … When other financial advisors say I’m not sure I’m comfortable having these conversations, you really need to change your mindset, because if you want to be a good financial planner, you really need to know those things because if you’re helping them build what is most meaningful to them, what else could there be? I can’t fathom not knowing that about a client. I can’t fathom not knowing what feeds their soul. If that means that they, if they’re uncomfortable having those conversations with me, then I’m not the right planner for them because I don’t know how to plan if I don’t know the bottom line of who you are as a person.
Hannah: I want to take a second and just contrast this with some of the firms you were at before. The firms that said they wanted to do financial planning and that they were bringing you in as the CFP to bring financial planning to their firm, is it possible to do that?
Amy: Boy, that’s a really hard question because I think it’s possible … I think it’s possible if the firm really, truly believes that and understands it. I think the problem that I’ve had in the past is they … It’s almost a cliché, like of course we want to bring in financial planners. Of course, we want to do this financial planning, but they don’t actually understand what it is. If the firm truly understands it and truly wants to bring that person in to change the culture of the firm, but boy, I would do my homework on that if somebody is saying that. That’s one thing that I would say, “I didn’t know what questions to ask,” so if somebody is looking at a firm that is saying that, call me and I will give you some questions to ask.
I think there are certain firms out there that probably already have that core beam. Joining those firms is going to be a lot easier than finding a firm that says we don’t currently offer that, but we want to bring it in. I just found that they were truly looking to check a box is my experience, and I’m hoping that the industry changes, and I hope to help change the industry, them, so that they’re not just checking a box.
Hannah: Yeah. Well, if these firms, for them to truly do financial planning, they have to give up a lot of control. To do financial planning really well, that means developing deep relationships with somebody else that can leave and take clients. There’s a lot that goes into it.
Amy: I think that’s a tough one. It’d have to be the right business and I’d want to really have somebody explore it pretty deeply.
Hannah: Back to your firm and the process … After these deep discovery conversations, how many meetings are you having with clients?
Amy: In the first year, it’s often, probability six to eight meetings. That first year is a little meeting heavy, and then if they choose to stay onboard with the firm, then it goes to about four times a year. There’s a lot to discuss in that first year. There’s a lot of decisions, and if you allow too much time, then they’re like, what did we talk about again, and what’s my homework. If you give enough time to work on things, but not too much time to put it off too far … It depends on people’s schedule, but usually somewhere in the neighborhood of every two months, I try to have them on the calendar to get back on board and see where you’re at.
There’s a lot of in-between communications, emails, phone calls of, hey, do you need help with this? How are you making out? Where are you struggling? In my experience, if I lay it all on you in that first meeting … If I have a discovery meeting and then I say oh, here’s your financial plan, and here’s all your actions steps, you might as well thrown that in the garbage because they’ll look at you like, okay, I just got blown over by that fire hose and I don’t know where to start. It’s usually the pain points that I start with as part of that first meeting. I’ll say, “Why now? What was the impetus that you started working with a financial planner,” and really start to focus on those particular things first because those are the points that people are most motivated to work on. Then, everything else follows. It’s a lot of meetings that first year.
Hannah: What does your ideal client look like right now?
Amy: That’s a great question and it took me a long time to figure this one out. When I first went independent, I knew that I wanted to work with people around my age. That was the general theme of it. Let me work with people in their late 30’s, mid-40’s to late 40’s, around my age. Because we’d always worked in an industry where you took everybody right, it didn’t matter what the person was. You just took them.
It took me probably a good year and a half to figure out, I really, really enjoy working with women, really enjoy it and not that I don’t work with couples or men, but, if you said to me what would you like every new client to look like, it would be a woman in her mid-40’s, early to mid-40’s who wants to be educated, who wants some guidance, who wants to ask a lot of questions, who enjoys the relationship, and isn’t afraid to say I don’t know to something, and really wants to take those lessons that I am teaching them and take it down to their kids. If I could hand pick that particular person … Again, it can be a couple, but I want that. My ideal client is somebody who comes in, even as a couple where the woman in the conversation really wants to be engaged. I think there’s so much to teach.
Hannah: Well, and I just love what you said about teaching each of their children. I don’t know that I’ve heard that when people talk about their ideal clients, but that’s really neat and really a distinguisher.
Amy: We learn from our parents, right? We learn from our educators and so in my opinion, what I see and what I hear is that boy, I wish somebody had taught me this in high school or college. I don’t know how to teach my … Because we’re only as smart as we’re taught, right? That’s all we know. We do what we know, and if we can start taking that down to the next generation, then they’re going to be walking out of high school and college with this leg up because they know, hey, when I find my first job, I should be looking for a company that has a 401K plan, or that might offer some help with student loan debt repayment, or has a good health insurance plan.
These are things that they are not intuitive. What I find often is that what’s happening is when I start to look at the benefits that some of these couples and women have, they don’t even know what they mean. What’s the difference between an FSA and an HSA? What’s the difference between a PPO and a high deductible plan? Oh, I can get life insurance through my company at basically bottom basement price, but should I? What about disability?
These are all the things that when we walk through this stuff with our clients, they were like, I had no idea this excited. My company’s not so bad. They really want to take care of me. They just need to educate and then you take it to the next level. Take it down to your kids and like look, if mom and dad ever become disabled, this is some of the stuff that we have. You should be looking for that when you have a job offer. If you look at some of the way that I’m reaching out to this particular target market is that I recently started having something called Wine and Dime.
It’s the second Monday of every month throughout the Spring, Summer, and early Fall because I go to Florida in the Winter months for December, January, February, and March. So, I host it in the months that I’m up in upstate New York in the Finger Lakes area. I host this Wine and Dime, and it is just for women. It is an environment that we have some snacks, we have a couple bottles of wine available and women come and they talk about anything under the sun that they want financially, and sometimes sidesteps to that … The last one I had we actually started talking about the breastfeeding accommodations that employers offer.
Well, I don’t see that happening in a room full of mixed environment, but it was a very comfortable environment where people were talking about, well, how do you plan for having your first child, and how do you stretch that leave of absence so that you don’t have some of these things, or what accommodations are employers offering, and ideas that this young woman could take back to her employer to help her during that transition. These are things that are really relevant to women right now. Where some very definite changes come into somebody’s life, right, and I had women that were retired on one side of the room and women that were in their early 30’s on the other side of the room. I didn’t set it up that way.
They just walked in and that’s where they sat and it was so interesting because as I was talking about different events, the women that were retired, they were saying, “Oh, I wonder if my kids are thinking about that.” Then the women that were in their 30’s, are saying, “Well, I wonder if my parents are thinking about that. For me, being the moderator of the conversation, it was so unique to see the two sides interacting in exactly what I was hoping for whereas women of all ages, we can sit down and talk about those different topics, and we have multiple caregiving responsibilities often as woman. I’m not saying that men don’t, built, we tend to be the ones that get sandwiched often, statistically speaking, and even have struggles with our career that we can really be there and be supportive of each other.
That’s one of the ways that I’m focusing on helping to promote education and really working with that women demographic that I’m most interested in working with. To complement that, I just recently released a Wine and Dime podcast to boot. My first release actually just went out last Monday. As you know, even learning experience on something like that, right, so that’s again, something that is … I want to get education out there, and I’m bringing guests on that we talk about all those different career choices that are available to women, just educating them on that while we’re sipping on a glass of wine. It’s the perfect world, and we talk finance to boot, so I’m in my glory when I record those.
Hannah: I was going to say, this is the dream life, right?
Amy: Marrying two passions together, I get to talk finance, I get to drink a little wine, and where I live in upstate New York, it’s like a wine country. It’s like the Sonoma of New York. I’m often featuring those local wines and I’ve loved some of the recordings. I’ve just released one, but I’ve recorded several of them, and I ask everybody what do you think about this. They’re like, this is so unique. I’m like, that was what I was going for. Anyway, that’s how I’m reaching out to that particular group of people that I really want to work, but it took me a long time to figure it out and now I’m, as you can tell probably from my elevated voice, I just feel so blessed and so excited to get up every day and say, “So, what am I going to do for this group today?”
Hannah: We’ve talked about the demographic that you service. How do they pay you? How do you make money on this process?
Amy: I have three tiers of services basically for most clients. There are some only financial planning services as well as some hourly services, but I primarily make money with three layers that people want to hire me in. The first layer that they can come onboard with me is on a quarterly basis they can pay me $650 to be on call. It ends up being $2,600 a year that they pay me and we have a very defined risk of things that we go through every quarter. There’s a service schedule and the first part of the year is taxes, and talking about any goals that are for the year, what kind of vacations are they wanting to plan, but it’s not limited to that kind of conversation.
Then, throughout the course of the year, we have our quarterly meetings, and again, any questions that pop-up, somebody wants to buy a car, having those conversations about that, should they finance it, should they put money down, should they lease. That’s one model and that includes investment advice on assets outside. If they had 401K plans, I would wrap that in and I would provide them with recommendations on who they might want to allocate all of their assets. It could also include working with a third party portfolio manager. I’m not physically, necessarily managing the assets, but I’m giving them advice on how to allocate based on the goals that we’ve set in that first year of planning, which also takes into consideration risk and risk tolerance and need for return.
That’s the first level, then the second level is taking it up a notch where they say to me I really would like you to be doing the investment management and I want to be able to have your particular models in play for the overall, as well as all the financial planning that goes along with it. Because of the additional time that that takes, that fee actually ends up going up to $5,000 a year, so each quarter it ends up being $1,250. Then the final level is I want all of what you’ve already offered, but I want you to offer it to my kids, or perhaps even grandkids in some cases. In that situation, we charge $8,400 a year to give basically advice not only to them, and all of the financial planning that goes with them, but to take it down to the next generation, and that ends up being $2,100 a quarter.
I love when people hire me for that level because now I’ve got mom and dad. I’ve got the kids, and in some kids, I’ve got the grandkids, and really knowing those family dynamics is extremely beneficial. I’m going in with a leg up because I can understand what the education has been up to that point, and what the knowledge has been and what the family mentality is. You’re not starting from scratch on some of that even though there might be different goals, those same values usually come into play.
Hannah: Are you meeting with the kids on a quarterly basis, or is it more a special project time basis?
Amy: Well, that ends up being more like once or twice a year, or if they do have something come up that … For example, I just had a client whose wife, the actual daughter-in-law, accepted a new job. My client’s daughter-in-law accepted a new job and she had all of these benefits that she was like, I don’t know what any of this means. They called me and said would you help us through this enrollment process and I was drooling when I saw her benefit package because it was extraordinary, and as we talked through all of the different, basically no-cost options that she just had to enroll in, and I explained to them the benefits of some of that, they were so grateful. They were grateful for their parents because their parents elected to have this plan, and they were grateful to have somebody who actually knew what some of this stuff meant.
Hannah: Yeah, you’re really meeting clients right where they’re at instead of waiting for them to get to a certain point and then you’ll help them.
Amy: Yeah, like I said before, the proactive nature of financial planning, instead of trying to fix what somebody did, let’s try to prevent it.
Hannah: On the investment management piece, do you have any caps on … Can somebody with $5,000,000 pay $5,000 a year for you to manage their investments, or who do you approach that?
Amy: Yeah, the actually could. One of the goals that I had about the firm, and this back to the focus of it, is that investments are a tool to help you get to whatever your goal is. They are not the plan. I wanted to take it to the next step and say that’s what I’m going to have the practice focus on is that if you have $5,000,000, $5,000 is the max that you’re going to have. Now, if there’s some complexities to that $5,000,000 and I see that there’s going to be some additional time that’s going to be required above and beyond what I would normally spend on something, then I’ll have a conversation with them and say, “Look, this is” … For example, if we were going to be trading options, like covered calls and some of those sort of things, that’s above and beyond what’s in that package. Let’s talk a little bit about how do we add on some additional costs to cover my time for those more complex situations. But for the most part … Because again, my target isn’t people that have wealth right now. My target is to help people that are building their wealth. I don’t know that I’ll ever run into that situation.
Hannah: Amy, as we wrap up, what would be your advice for planners who are just starting out into the financial planning world?
Amy: Probably the number one piece of advice that I would give is get a mentor. Get somebody who has been in this industry for a while, who can try to help you avoid some of the pitfalls of the industry, give you some coaching pieces of education that you might want to pursue. Remember that you haven’t ended your education, you’ve just started your education because this is a constantly changing world, and just get a little direction and there’s a safety net in doing that. I didn’t know that was an option. As easy as it is for me to say it now, I honestly didn’t have anybody I can go to and I think running things by people that have a few battle wounds that they’re willing to show you can be very, very helpful.