Interviews


Selling a business is an emotional decision that takes a great deal of preparation. For Greg Seal of Seal Financial Services, closing the door on being a business owner was only the beginning. Greg recently celebrated his one-year anniversary since selling his firm in February of 2015. In the last 12 months, he has learned a thing or two. His decision to sell the 31-year old firm was an emotional one that involved giving up his authoritative position as president of the company. For Greg, transitioning from owning and operating a successful firm for more than 30 years to becoming an employee required a great deal of time to comprehend. His first reality check came when he was asked to write a personal performance review. “This was the first review I ever had to compose,” stated Greg. “All of a sudden, your employees no longer look at you as the decision maker, which can be challenging when you are used to having the final say.” In addition, Greg realized the importance of smart negotiating during the sales process. Sellers should have an idea of what they expect to achieve and what is most important to them prior to selling their business. Part of the negotiating process involves having flexibility and the ability to collaborate and park your ego at the door. Identifying Your Market After making the decision to sell his firm, Greg was faced with another challenge. He had to determine whether he was going to internally sell the firm or seek a buyer from outside the practice. In order to maximize the value of his company, he had to line up his business for sale, which meant assessing and organizing financials. This included completing a U4 (a government document that informs clients of advisor backgrounds, work history and any legal actions or lawsuit against them (fortunately there were none), ensuring discretion on assets (advisors have sole rights to make changes on their clients’ behalf), and consolidating investments into manageable groups. Greg started out with 400 mutual funds and 50 ETFs, all of which needed to be condensed into models and manageable assets. When Greg decided to put Seal Financial Services up for sale in 2013, revenue for the business was over $1 million. To prepare the company for the purchase, Greg and his business partner, Janet McCoy connected with FP Transitions, a firm that specializes in helping financial advisors sell their business. Although the company was helpful in evaluating the firm over several years, Greg and Janet instead chose David Grow JR at Succession Resource Group (SRG), as the firm had a more concrete understanding of the compensation...

Read More

Finding your niche as a financial advisor may not come to you right off the bat. Sometimes it takes a bit of fishing around before you find the target market that your business will best serve. Gen Y Planning founder Sophia Bera got into the industry because she wanted to help people grow their wealth over a longer period of time. Focusing on Generation Y, she has been able to help people who don’t have the experience or as much understanding of personal finance as she does. She learned personal financial planning firsthand. Right out of college, she wanted to own her own home. Not having any previous experience in this size of purchase, she went to a local Barnes and Noble to find books on the subject. As she became more knowledgeable, her own friends approached her with financial planning questions. She soon realized that her calling was not to help people become rich, but rather to help them get out of debt, save for emergency situations and prepare for retirement. Clients typically came to her about student loans, and she soon became an expert working through federal student loan programs and public service loan forgiveness. Once a strategy for student loans was complete, she moved on to look at the bigger picture –  what were her clients’ goals and how could they purchase their own home, travel around the world, or start their own business? For Sophia, it’s all about getting people to take the first step, which means paying off high interest debt, saving for retirement, and building emergency savings. Check out this post on Building Financial Security for Gen Y. Sophia has found that speaking with her clients about options and saving for retirement creates additional options. Her clients know they need to do something, so she provides them with options. Working Virtually One of the biggest differences with how Sophia works is that when she gives her clients these options, it is in a virtual form through Skype or communicating via Google Hangouts. She has never met most of her clients in person. Her clients are tech-savvy, world travelers and, in some cases, business owners. They are used to working on the computer and enjoy the flexibility. But this is not a pass to be unprofessional. Sophia believes the key is to have a professional process: 1. Have a 30-minute phone meeting for an introduction call. 2. Send them a link to PreciseFP.com, an inexpensive online questionnaire. 3. Send a link to a Dropbox folder asking them to upload financial documents to their own folder. 4. Set up a Skype call for 90 minutes with...

Read More

Wouldn’t it be nice to develop a niche and have it be more specific than 98% of all other advisors out there? Google “Gen Y Financial Planner” and I bet you come across a great picture of Sophia Bera grinning. Sophia Bera is the founder of Gen Y Planning. She focuses on her generation, the Millennials, as these individuals have different needs than their parents did and in the past were not being served appropriately … at least in the eyes of Sophia. In this post, I will take you through the motivation behind her energy to do what she does, how she began, how she evolved in the business and how she works virtually. In Early Life Twenty five years before starting her firm, she made it evidently clear who the boss was.  At age four, Sophia said to her parents “I am the boss of me; you’re not the boss of me.”  And with that, the dye was cast. As you might expect from that statement, Sophia does not hold back. As a theatre and women’s studies major in college, she projected her energy by vocalizing her thoughts and her performance. She has since taken that love and parlayed it into a job that enables her to speak with people. But as you might imagine, she does it on her terms. She meets with most of her clients virtually by setting up phone calls and interacting via Skype or Google Hangouts. Becoming a Financial Planner After doing 52 performances of The Rivals at a professional theatre company in Minneapolis, Sophia decided to make theatre her avocation instead of her vocation.  She started taking her CFP® classes and began working in the back office of Berger Financial Group, Inc., a financial planning firm in Medicine Lake, Minn. It was there that she got experience with creating portfolios and client reporting. As you might expect from a theater major, she wanted to be closer to the action and to work with people, so she took a position as an associate planner with Cahill Financial Advisors, Inc. Just by looking at Sophia’s resume on LinkedIn, you can tell she has been very intentional about the roles she took on to get the experience she wanted. She would probably be the first to tell you that she was not planning to start a firm as early as she did, but she put herself in the right position to do just that through the jobs she held along the way. Starting a Business Feeling stumped at the lack of progression of working with clients in established firms, Sophia moved to Learnvest Planning Services...

Read More

When Vernon “Vern” Gibson acts on something, there is no doubting why. With great integrity, he helps his clients, employees, and any other person he encounters. He holds the well-being of others as a priority. His sincere and transparent nature means that the entirety of his 60-person staff knows where he stands at any given time. Vern is the Branch Manager for Moors and Cabot’s Boston office.  His 23 years of experience on Wall Street includes working for firms such as Shearson Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Janney Montgomery Scott.  Before beginning his career as a financial advisor, he lived out his call to serve as a teacher and a coach for 15 years. Today, if he is not in the office, you can be sure he is near a basketball court fulfilling his passion. When I spoke to Vern, I did not intend to interview him.  But during our conversation, his knowledge of people, best practices, and how to grow a business became immediately evident. Before finishing the call, I knew his knowledge was worth passing along. 19 and Counting Below is a list of “tricks of the trade” that Vern shared with me. The first six points pertain to successfully working with clients.  Points 7 through 16 refer to hiring and retaining the right people on your team. The last three rules regard integrity of the practice. Vern’s ‘tricks of the trade’ DO THE RIGHT THING. Ask clients what they want and listen. If you say you are going to do something, DO IT. If you can’t do something, say YOU CAN’T. “Value added” is anything you bring to the table. You are only as good as your last play—make every decision count. Hire good people. Beyond just considering genuineness, look for employees with high energy who are able to find creative solutions. If your workplace environment is supportive, honest, and open, good people will come. Let people control their own businesses; let advisors sell their own products. The phrase “trust but verify” comes to mind. Maintain a servant’s attitude—you are never the smartest person in the room. People want to know they are working with other good people. Leave advisors with a sense independence, and they will grow. Let assistants deal with trivial details to give advisors time to sell. But, above all else, show an interest in the lives of all employees. Consider the importance and success of each advisor’s business. Bring the team together; convert the atmosphere of individual advisors into a team environment. Don’t move for the paycheck—stay with the company that has good people and a good environment. Everything else will take...

Read More

As financial advisors, we’re expected to know a lot about a lot. Couple that with the pressures of being “on your game” and then throw in the requirements to become a Certified Financial Planner and your head might be spinning. It’s overwhelming. But it’s also an opportunity to stand out from the rest. From investing to cash flow management, college funding to Social Security planning, the more we know, the better. Rather than get jumbled up in the madness, here’s a rundown on a few topics to boost your knowledge—insights I garnered from a recent conversation with Joe Tomlinson. Joe’s unique experiences as an actuary, financial advisor and now as a researcher and journalist for the financial planning discipline always make the conversation interesting and informative. As an actuary, Joe oversaw the annuity business for a major life insurance company.  After taking early retirement, Joe moved to Maine and became a financial planner. As a sole practitioner, Joe then gravitated toward research and journalism, his passions.  Ultimately, he enjoys synthesizing the research and writing about best practices for financial advisors.  His work can be found on AdvisorPerspectives.com. During my conversation with Joe, we discussed five themes: stock market valuations, Social Security planning and strategies for the middle class, variable annuities, the overall investing environment, and savings rates. Five Insights to Up Your Game 1.     Valuations and Success with CAPE Joe has written extensively on predicting returns.  Ultimately, he has come to use Robert Shiller’s work for valuations that compares the average earnings over 10 years to the current stock price.  This differs from conventional method of comparing current price to the earnings expected in the next 12 months.  By comparing earnings in the last 10 years, the ups and downs resulting from the economy and business cycle are minimized.  The process is commonly referred to as the cyclically adjusted price earnings ratio, or CAPE.  Joe indicated that “While the Shiller P/E may be a good predictor of long-term stock market performance, it has never been touted as a predictor of market turns.” Joe looked back through time, using his knowledge as an actuary, and determined that CAPE is an excellent predictor of subsequent 10-year stock market performance. A high CAPE (over 20) has invariably predicted poor stock market performance. Currently, the CAPE is at 22 times earnings. While CAPE accounts for less than 10% of the return in the first year, by the 10th year, it accounts for over 50% and continues to grow thereafter. Consequently, Joe believes, “Financial planners are well advised to follow the cyclically adjusted price earnings ratio in making long-term asset allocation recommendations.”  However, he...

Read More