Hannah: Thanks for joining us today, Ian.
Ian: Sure. Thanks for having me.
Hannah: So, I am so excited to have you on the podcast. I’ve gotten to know you over the last several years, and so excited for our listeners to hear from you. I’m especially excited for them to hear about your recent career change, or job change, to a different position, but before we get there, tell me about your career path up to this point, and how long have you been in financial planning?
Ian: Sure. So, I graduated from Virginia Tech in 2012, and I was fortunate enough to find a position with a firm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where I worked for three years before making the decision to move to New York City where I worked for the second firm, and I worked there for three years, I was promoted to advisor, but just after I was promoted to advisor, I decided to leave and join FAM, which is where I am now, Financial Asset Management Corp. And so I think that decision was different than the first decision to leave, but both times I’ve left, I’ve left happy with what I had accomplished where I was, I felt I built decent relationships that I still keep with me to this day, and I’m happy for the career progression that I’ve had so far.
Hannah: What prompted that change for you? Why did you end up moving to New York City?
Ian: At the time, I had taken the position with Rockwood Wealth Management out in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I was looking for a fee-only shop who was doing financial planning the way I thought it should be done, through speaking with financial planners while I was in school, and I did. I found a great firm. Rockwood is a phenomenal firm. The decision to move to New York City was more based in where I was in life than anything else.
Ian: If you were to go through Bucks County now, you would see lots of families and very happy place; however, there’s not as many young people or places for people with the lifestyle I was looking for if you compare that to New York City, right? So, when the opportunity came up to move to New York City and the position was available, I took that opportunity to live out the dream of living in New York.
Hannah: With all the people that I’ve interviewed on this podcast, there seems to be a natural … A lot of people change positions at the three year mark. Was there something … I know you had the itch for the New York City life, but did you feel like you learned what you needed to learn at that firm?
Ian: Most definitely. I think something to think about is no matter where you are, when you change jobs or you change locations or things like that happen, you need a new normal, and it takes some time to get used to that new normal. And so I think coming from college, living in Virginia, moving to Bucks County, Pennsylvania … At the time, I was actually living, still, on the shore where my parents are and driving out about 60 miles to work and 60 miles back every day, and so that took some time to get used to, and I’m still trying to figure out what is financial planning. I graduated with this degree, I understand that we help people with their money, and I understand that it’s relational-based, but what does that mean in practice? Who do we call when we have an issue, right?
Ian: I can remember sitting for hours with gracious insurance agents and brokers who are willing to sit on the phone and explain to me how, in practice, disability insurance gets put in play and what they think about so that I can be thinking about that when I sit with a client. I can tell you, the role when I moved to New York was with Sontag, and that information, the ability to understand exactly how to use the different vehicles we use in financial planning for our client’s well-being in a way that works well for that client, which is difficult from time to time. But those lessons I learned at Rockwood transferred directly to my work at Sontag, where I was working on clients almost immediately.
Hannah: Yeah, it sounds like you really like the importance of building a foundation in your career and learning how the products work and learning how, like you said, what the insurance agents think when they’re selling insurance and things like that. That’s very foundational.
Ian: Yeah. We talk often about the landscape of financial planning, and I think we think about that one dimensionally, right? We think about fee-only, fee-based commission, how are you paid, and where do you wanna work, and what style do you wanna work for, right? Fee-only, fee-based, et cetera. But the landscape of financial planning is so much more vast than these bigger, macro problems. If you think about property and casualty insurance or life insurance, are these the type of life insurance salesman who work well with RIAs and understand what our clients need and which types of professionals who work better with different business models than the one that you currently operate in? That doesn’t make them better or worse, but it means that the way you interact with your clients affects the way that other professionals should interact with your clients ’cause it’s what they’ve come to expect.
Hannah: So, you show up at Sontag in New York City. Was there anything that you wish you would’ve known before you took that position?
Ian: When you move to New York City, you move into a much … a different, I should say … a different lifestyle that’s expected of the people who live here and of the people who you work with, and I think if I had a better grasp of New York City in and of itself prior to moving here, it would’ve made the transition a little easier. Things here happen very fast. People aren’t rude because they’re rude, per se, they may come off as rude because they’re always busy and going somewhere. Most folks are waking up quite early in the morning, then they go to work, then they go to the gym, and by the time they get home, it’s 8:30, 9:00 at night, and they’re eating whatever they have to microwave, and get up and do it again, and so time is of the essence, and I think managing my time within the New York City lifestyle would’ve been something I wish I would’ve paid a little more attention to, knowing that coming in.
Hannah: Yeah, that’s a really interesting perspective, and interesting how the culture of the city of the firm affected you and your role there.
Ian: When I moved to New York City, time became much more important, and not because time isn’t always important, but because where you spend your time and the amount of time you’re spending doing the things you used to do, take longer. Just getting to work and back only takes a half hour, except you have to wait for the subway to show up and hope that there’s no issues, and then the subway will be late, and then you will be late, and then you’re scrambling, and so being prepared is of the upmost importance, and being able to deal with delays from time to time is just part of living here.
Ian: At the same time, everything is moving fast. New York’s open till 4:00 in the morning, 5:00 in the morning, city that never sleeps. And so the people who live here sometimes fall into that same trap, and honestly, I did, right? You do all the things that New York has to offer, and at the same time, you’re trying to continue your career, you’re three or four years into your job, and you’re still trying to grow into the leader you hope to become 40, 50 years from now. All of that takes time, and then time with your family and time with your friends and time with your significant other, whoever that may be, all adds to that time crunch.
Ian: Back to where we started this. Managing my time and managing where I spend my time and who I spend that time with, even now, can be quite a struggle.
Hannah: When you’re in school, time just seems to be … You have a lot of it.
Ian: Yeah, and not only that. You finish your homework or you’re up late and you’re studying and you’re cramming and then you have two or three days without. When you get to work, you don’t not have homework, you have homework every day instead, and you think about things differently, right? So, maybe you don’t take your work at home, but 7:00 PM, 8:00 PM, you’re watching television and, all of a sudden, something hits you and you have to go take a note because it’s 6:00 AM, you have to wake up, and make sure you call someone.
Ian: Those kinds of things are homework. They’re not sitting, doing math problems that someone asked you to do, they’re, “Oh, that’s right. I have to make sure I call this person in the morning,” and making that note to then get up and make that phone call. No one is gonna make you do it. There’s no coming back to the teacher and saying, “Hey, I slept in. I’m sorry. I almost missed my final,” and them giving you a separate room to make it happen. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people are inherently difficult that way, and there’re obviously, always in life, there are ways to get out of things, I guess, but my point is that in the real world, things are much more real. Deadlines are real. People are real. And especially in financial planning, from time to time, there are emergencies. Not often, but from time to time.
Hannah: So, when you started at Sontag, what was your role? What was your title? What did you step into?
Ian: I came in as an associate. So, I was an associate at Rockwood and I came in as an associate at Sontag.
Hannah: We talk about job titles and how we don’t have good uniform … There’s not … An associate at one firm does not necessarily mean an associate at another firm. Did you find that there was consistency with the titles for where you were working and what was expected of you?
Ian: It’s an interesting question. When I was at Rockwood, I was fortunate enough to have experience working directly with clients, and so the folks who worked there allowed me to sit into meetings, take meeting notes, prepare what we called Mind Maps for clients, and be able to actually do some financial planning work. And so I was able to, like I said before, speak with many different agents and those types of folks in order to understand more about the things we were selling … Not selling … things that we were having our clients purchase in order to affect their financial plan, and so that, it goes beyond insurance into estate planning and tax planning.
Ian: And so those conversations and skills and abilities that I learned while working at Rockwood translated to Sontag. When I went to Sontag, the work was very similar, the amount of work was a bit more, which takes back into time and the way that Sontag operates. I think Sontag’s a phenomenal firm, but the average client amount when I went to work there was different than what I was used to, so my client base went up. And so what I realized is that the time I take to do a financial plan needs to not be thought about for hours on end. Decisions need to be made, plans need to be done, and clients need responses, and a bit of New York feel into that also, right? The expectation that responses come quick was known, and that’s a lot of New York is the expectation is, “I asked a question and I’m paying you, so I need an answer.” I think clients deserve that and they need an answer quickly. That’s not to say that at Rockwood the answers could come slower, but the demands in terms of how many clients there were less.
Hannah: And so as you stepped into your role at Sontag as an associate, what was the team structure there? Was it team-based? What was the organizational structure?
Ian: At Sontag, we worked in teams. And so I had two managing directors on my team, two lead advisors, and then two or three associates, depending on which time frame we’re looking at. And so between us, I couldn’t tell you exactly how many clients we had. It was over 120 for all three of us at one point, so it’s a decent-sized client base. Those clients are receiving financial planning with the managing directors or lead advisor running the meetings and with the associates doing prep work, follow through on post-meeting activities, and liaising with the client between meetings, and so that was the role of the associate. And so I would have clients call often with questions, and if I couldn’t answer them, we would bring them to the advisor or the managing director. But either way, when a client called, we would take a note or let the advisor or managing director know that client called and this was the response, and if there’s any follow up after that, that was also your responsibility.
Ian: I will say, as a caveat, that Sontag has an admin department and an operations department, so if folks are associates and they’re fiddling with [BIAL 00:12:18] accounts or trying to get their paperwork ready for their next meeting, that was associate work that was more similar to my role at Rockwood, and at Sontag, those roles specifically were removed and put onto those specific teams. So, admin would do the paperwork, you would put a task in, admin would get you the paperwork and then you work with the assistant to deliver it out. Similarly with operations, right? Performance isn’t working properly, too many transactions are coming through, the fees look off, the deposits and withdrawals aren’t right, we have an operations team to fix those issues within the system.
Ian: And so the associate role at Sontag was much more client-facing and client-focused in that your day-to-day interactions were more concerned with calling the accountant, calling the estate planning attorney, and coordinating those emails with the lead advisor, managing director, and client.
Hannah: And hearing you describe all this, I’m just like, “That sounds like such a cool job.” That’s my first response is like, “That’s what I do with my clients.” But yeah, going off of that, that sounds like such a cool spot, and I know so many planners who’d be really envious of being able to interact with clients and with different centers of influence that way. And you ended up leaving that role and stepping into a different role. Can you talk about that transition and what prompted that?
Ian: You’re exactly right. Sontag’s a phenomenal firm and they have a great program for associates to move to advisors and then hopefully … I’m not exactly sure what the career track looks like now, but there’s a role above advisors that you can make, and you can earn a great, steady income working for Sontag and being an advisor there, learning from the great talent they have on staff and the great folks they work with their clients.
Ian: There was more that I was hoping to get involved in with regard to exactly how the firm functions when working with clients and having more strategic conversations about the firm, about how the firm operates when they’re sitting down with, say, an accountant, and what is our process and procedure with a client during that relationship when we’re dealing with their taxes, and how do we formalize that? I wanted to do more business development and thinking about how we work with younger clients, and charge them appropriately. Sometimes when you work in a firm as well-established as Sontag is, those decisions are appropriately made by the people in the correct roles.
Hannah: There’s this phrase that I always heard, especially when I was a new planner, and it was “You have to know yourself,” and I always thought that was ridiculous, but what I’m hearing, just a theme in our conversation so far, was working out in Pennsylvania versus moving to New York City, the different culture that was there, and then also just the culture of your firm, it was a great place to be, but that wasn’t necessarily what you needed or what was a good fit for you, and you were really realizing, like, you wanted a seat at the table, of course, and you wanted a … A smaller firm sounds like it was a better firm whereas it might not be a better fit for other people. To me, it sounds a lot of figuring out who you are and what you need and what you want for your career.
Ian: When the decision came to join FAM or to continue being a part of Sontag, there were many different factors, obviously, that run into it. I think Sontag, for me, was a place where I could continue to grow as a young advisor, … I had been promoted just before I decided to leave … I could bring clients on, and I could live a steady financial planning career. I wanted more ownership opportunity. I wanted to be a part of the firm from a strategic perspective. I wanted to discuss how we’re going to get clients and where we’re looking to get clients, and when I say get clients, I mean which clients are we sitting in front of, which potential clients are we sitting in front of, and who are those clients, and why are we sitting in front of those clients? What is our values and our role?
Ian: While Sontag is a phenomenal firm and there’s folks there now who I’m great friends with, it wasn’t the right fit for me in the long run. In the long run, I wanna be a partner of a firm, I wanna be working directly with clients, and I also want the ability to have a conversation about our investment structure and why we’re deciding to do things the way we’re doing them. Are we active versus passive, and why? Are we providing folks with financial plans for every single client, and should we be? Is our value proposition based around investments or financial planning, and what does that mean, and let’s have that conversation and define it for ourselves, and then go tell the world about it.
Ian: Those conversations I wanted to have as a 28 year old, which at a well-established firm like Sontag is, I guess, possibly. It’s definitely possible, but I don’t know that I was seeing enough of that in my future as soon as I wanted it. And again, that doesn’t make Sontag wrong, it makes it just a poor fit for me. What I realized, and maybe what we’re leading to here, is that I needed more space and time to think through financial planning in the grander scale for me and my future, and it was hard at Sontag. The demands are hard, the clients size, the amount of clients you have is difficult, and that style, that speed, that continuation of work every day was difficult for me to sit through honestly.
Hannah: Well, I think this is a really interesting idea of, “We need space to think.” I feel like so many firms … I’m seeing this with a handful of different places that I’m involved. People just need time to be able to step back and reflect.
Ian: Yeah, and when you do … It’s interesting. When I left Rockwood and when I left Sontag, there’s a period about two or three months later whenever you leave a firm that you think to yourself, “I probably would’ve worked out fine,-“
Ian: … and that thought is terrifying on some level. The reason it is because this was a big decision for me. You may be about to ask me about this, but this was a pretty big jump for me in terms of pay. It was quite a … 50% pay cut is quite a cut, and that was a decision that had to be made, and someone once said to me, “Look, can you eat and can you pay your rent?” Someone said that to me in 2013, and I asked myself that question again, and I said … The answer to that question happened to be, “Yes,” barely, but the answer’s, “Yes,” and so what’s most important after that? And for me, earning more dollars today wasn’t the answer to that question. The potential of earning more and more dollars later on was more enticing. Taking the time now …
Ian: I can remember talking to Emily, and Emily looked me straight in the face and said, “If you’re gonna be broke, let’s be broke now.” I think that resonated with me. I think sitting back and recognizing where I am … I’m a single guy living in New York, I make enough money to pay my bills, and if I’m gonna take a shot and do more of the strategic thinking/business development side of things, this was a way for me to do that and work more directly on the firm and in the firm while not taking the full leap into entrepreneurship and do it all by myself. I’m not exactly sure that’s the right path for me.
Ian: And so the way it works at FAM is I have a base salary, and as clients come in and as I source clients, we have a agreement on how that income is distributed now and going forward, and so the cut, the pay cut that is, to me, did not represent giving up on some opportunity in the next three years. It meant accepting an opportunity 10 to 20 years from now.
Hannah: So, a 50% pay cut, that’s such a gut-wrenching decision. How long ago was that?
Ian: So, I actually resigned in April, the end of April, beginning of May, and so my last day at Sontag was June 1st.
Hannah: So, we’re about six months out from that. Do you have any regrets or any second guessing of that decision?
Ian: No. I think it’s important when you make a decision to resign from a company and decide to work elsewhere that the decision is made. There are always times where you’ll hear stories of folks who leave a company and then they go back a couple years later, and that happens, that happens in the financial planning world all the time, but likely that happens when both parties have reached a place where coming back together makes a lot of sense.
Ian: When I decided to leave Sontag, I decided then that this was going to be a long-term decision, and assuming that I’m not running out of cash and I can still pay rent and put food on the table, then I assume we’re still operating that we’re gonna be building out this firm together as a group, as a team, everyone in the firm. I don’t have regrets about that, though you do feel it, right? I’m signing for an apartment here this week, and that’s gonna cost us one month’s rent for security, first month’s rent down, all the cost that come with moving in New York. I live in a fourth floor walk-up. We have to get all this furniture out of here somehow. You feel it when these kinds of things happen.
Ian: With that said, knowing these expenses are coming, it’s a big analysis before you decide to leave and take a pay cut. What can you afford? Certainly it’s gut-wrenching to look at your checking account and watch those paychecks change from one number to 50% of that number overnight, and at the same time, you have to learn, relearn how to live on lower income. That’s a good problem to have, I think, is to have earned more at one point and then made a conscious decision to earn less and then have to figure out how to live less again. I think it happens to everyone, maybe I’m wrong and there’s people out there who are better with lifestyle [inaudible 00:22:40] than I was, but it’s a change, right? Hopping in a cab because it’s too late and you don’t feel like getting on the subway is a poor decision when you’re not making as much as you were, but that becomes a knee jerk reaction if you do it often enough.
Ian: People in New York, we use Seamless, other folks might use Grubhub or whatever app that brings food to your doorstep costs extra money, right? For me to walk out and get a $5 footlong costs about $7 or $8 now, but for me to get it brought to my door costs $18, and so the decision to do that is all those decisions throughout the day are what you have to consciously think about, and honestly, it took me a couple months to really get situated and understand that my old habits were costing too much given my new situation, which I know feels maybe intuitive and maybe you’re listening to this and thinking, “Well, of course. You’re making less money,” but when you’re day-to-day changes that drastically, little things like doing your laundry rather than having it sent it, which sounds like a crazy problem to have, but in New York, it’s not all that uncommon for folks to get their laundry sent out, and I don’t do that anymore. So, all of those things went back to basics, which was a lifestyle change.
Ian: God, this sounds like such first world problems.
Hannah: But they’re real. That’s the thing.
Ian: You mentioned this was a gut-wrenching decision, and I think it’s gut-wrenching if you consider your value from a monetary perspective, and I think what I had to get through and get to when I was making this decision, ’cause it took months to actually be able to decide to do this, is where do I place value, and I place my value on my time and where I’m spending my time doing what I’m doing with that time, and I wanted a little more control over my time. I’ve found a firm culture that allows me to have that time, space to figure out exactly what it is I wanna do from a day-to-day perspective in order to do those things that I need to do to take care of myself and do the things I need to do to make sure I’m doing right by my firm, by my clients, and those with whom I volunteer.
Hannah: And that’s such the quintessential financial planning, isn’t it?
Hannah: What is the value of financial planning? Can our clients step back and take a roll that might not be a continuation on the upward trajectory that they are on? That’s really the power of financial planning.
Ian: Yeah, and I think the whole financial planning profession, so to speak, is coming around to this idea of value and how do we value our time with our clients and how do our clients value us? What is our value proposition? And so when you’re thinking about your career in that same light, what is your value proposition to yourself? What can you do to better your life? And in so doing what it is you wanna do for the rest of your life? When you’re thinking about your career, this is the thing you do every day, these are the people you see every day, this is the culture you walk into every morning and leave every night. You spend more time with people at work than you do with people at home, and that’s true for many folks. It was definitely true for me.
Ian: I think trying to figure out the value I can provide to a firm and figuring out the value I can provide to myself, I needed to be at a firm where I could thrive in that way and find a better fit, and I think what’s interesting is that people thrive at Rockwood and people thrive at Sontag and people thrive at FAM, but I don’t think that those people who are thriving in their respective firms would necessarily thrive in all three.
Hannah: Well, one of the questions that I had for you, and I think you may have just answered it, was did you ever consider starting your own firm? I know there’s a huge … There’s a lot of people doing that right now.
Ian: Yeah, I think everyone who’s considering taking a fairly large pay cut to then go on the business development side of things thinks to themselves, “I could just do this myself and own it 100% from the beginning,” but that comes with a certain level of stress and anxiety that you have to do your own cost-benefit analysis for in your life and where you are and what you wanna accomplish. To me, working by myself meant setting up my own firm, figuring out all the compliance, figuring out all the everything, and taking the time to do that, and then funding that and still paying my student loans.
Ian: And so there was a certain sense of fear on my part of going completely paycheck-less. Furthermore, waking up every day and not going to an office or waking up every day and not having folks to interact with within financial planning is difficult for me personally. Anyone who’s worked with me knows I talk a lot at work. I make my way around the office and try and make sure everyone is doing okay, how is everyone’s day and weekend, and I wanna know what you’re working on, and I want you to know what I’m working on, and I wanna talk about it, and I want our clients to get the best advice they can because they’re kicking it around and realizing, “Hey, there’s something I actually didn’t know here nor did I even know to ask,” right? I didn’t know that I needed to go to FBA Activate and ask this question in order to get the nuance that comes with this client.
Ian: And so those nuances and the ability to talk about financial planning cases as well as the profession of financial planning with the people with whom I work was really important to me. And so making that jump was a little … a bride too far maybe is the best analogy or the best phrasing here. The idea that I would be totally paycheck-less, I couldn’t find a way that I would get to a reasonable number soon enough so I could pay rent. Secondarily, but maybe on the same plane is this idea that having folks within financial planning to talk to every day and bounce ideas off of and ask for clarification and understand nuances or even just research things together meant a lot to me and I wanted that and I don’t know that if I went out on my own, I would have that right away.
Hannah: One of the other things you had said earlier was one of the reasons why you wanted to leave was helping craft those service offerings and helping … who are the clients that you guys are gonna serve, and you talked about younger clients. So, tell me about where you’re at in that space right now.
Ian: There’s the side of us that has to run a business and be profitable, so we have to find the right clients who are in that demographic to fit in our business model in a way that’s profitable. We are not a charity. That said, folks who are financial planners have the ability to do pro bono work, have the ability to work with folks and help them get on their feet in different ways. And so one avenue might be financial literacy versus financial illiteracy, and the idea that folks when they graduate college don’t understand things that they should understand about taxes, budgets, estate planning, et cetera. It is not taught in a way, at least across the board, that’s palatable.
Ian: Something that I’m reminded of is Curtis Carroll, I believe that’s his name, Curtis Carroll, who was actually a … who was incarcerated in San Quentin, and he did a TED Talk about financial literacy, and he uses this analogy that someone could come in incarcerated, get a job, get paid, and then leave with no money. That was telling to me, that even in those circumstances, financial illiteracy hurts us. When thinking about, “Okay, I wanna help millennials,” that’s great. When you’re working in financial planning and you’re working, you have to find ways to do it profitably. Outside of that, you can do things pro bono, right? You can spend your Saturdays sitting at a local school and tell people that you’re three and they can come see you and set up hours and do that.
Ian: You can work with a foundation for financial planning who works directly with organizations to provide financial planning help to those organizations who need it. There are many ways throughout national FPA, national organizations to do pro bono. You can also go to your local chapter if you’re an FPA member and ask them about pro bono efforts in the area. I know in New York, we go to library and we set up half hour sessions and people can sign up and meet with a planner for a half hour, bring whatever they can, and get that done. I’m not sure what the total answer is when it comes to millennials, but I know it’s gonna have to be a combination of pro bono work, financial literacy, and profitable work for businesses.
Ian: And it’s definitely profitable. Don’t let anyone tell you millennials are not profitable. The right millennials are profitable, just like the right 20, 30, 40 somethings were profitable in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, right? They’re just different, and the way they access dollars are different. How they can pay is different. What matters to them is not building a big, giant pile of money so that they can go on vacation when they’re 65 or 70 years old. They wanna figure out ways that they can use the dollars today, pay a reasonable fee to get correct advice.
Hannah: You mentioned that you are really exploring what does this look like for FAM, and I know you don’t have the answers yet on what that looks like, but where are you at in that process? What are you finding is the dollar amounts? Or how are you structuring things right now?
Ian: So, when thinking about FAM, FAM wants to work with millennial clients, so what does that look like? You have to consider the costs. Every client has a cost. Even if you’re not doing much for them, being on your books is a cost, right? You’re running technology for them, you’re answering the phone call when they call, you’re sending them emails, all of that is time and all of that is dollars. Someone’s sending that email and someone’s getting paid to send that email, and so all of that, those are costs. Folks may understand this already, but basically, what a product or a service costs to a client at the end of the day, a lot of times is made up by what it costs.
Ian: And so for me, working with millennial clients is trying to figure out what are those costs and where can we minimize those costs so that we can charge a rate that folks will pay. The fee that we charge now is really great, actually, for white glove, hands-on financial planning services, but those fees are north of $2,000 a year, which for many millennials is a lot of money. And so when you start to think about, “How do we work with those clients, we need to think about how much can they reasonably pay to where we’re not being a detriment to their financial plan and they’re getting the services that they’re paying for?” And so those clients for us right now are high-earners who are looking to earn more or folks who now already have an estate that they’ve gotten from one means or another or they intend to get one in the future and they wanna start thinking about where those dollars are going to go.
Ian: Millennial clients for FAM does not mean anyone who’s within the age bracket of millennials, and so secondarily, I’m working with, or I intend to work with, FPA’s pro bono efforts, the foundation for financial planning, and working through how do we provide financial planning for folks who just have less. I don’t think thinking about millennial clients in the sense of, “Oh, we’re gonna make financial planning available for everyone because if it’s available for millennials 30 years from now, it’ll be available for everyone.” That’s only true if firms can be profitable in doing that or if a pro bono effort is well-funded and strong enough to actually serve every millennial.
Ian: Now, there are firms popping up who are doing it and doing a good job, and so I think in large part, what you’re going to see is millennials going to financial planning firms who might, on the face of it, look like they’re doing less, but have maybe automated more on the backend and they’re able to lower their costs so much that they can service clients for $500 to $1,000 a year or something like that on a regular basis and in a profitable, repeatable way.
Hannah: I’m hearing you talk, and it’s so cool ’cause I’m seeing these two parallel paths going on. There’s a what you need in your firm to profitably and successfully serve clients, but you’re also looking at it, like, the greater problem that our profession has is helping … how do we get the financial planning to the masses? And I love that. I love that. The tension and just the questions and, like you said, we don’t necessarily have the answers yet.
Ian: No, and I think what it’s going to take is a massive effort over a period of years in order to make that happen, and whether it happens on a national scale or if it’s a bunch of local efforts that lead to the success of financial planning across the board … People ask all the time, at least in FPA meetings and at industry-wide, profession-wide conferences, “Is financial planning a profession?” And I think, in large part, it is. Folks would argue it isn’t. But before we can call ourselves, I think, a true profession, we have to create access, right? We have to create an ability for someone to be in trouble and have someone to call.
Ian: I’m not exactly sure … I’m not exactly sure how it works in the medical field, but I think insurance has a lot to do with that, right? If doctors were able to charge what they’re charging and we didn’t have insurance, many of us couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, and many of us don’t have insurance and don’t go to the doctor. But at the end of the day, there’s an emergency room that will take you. It comes with its own downsides definitely, and folks who have dealt with that understand that going to the emergency room is not free, but the service is there if it’s needed.
Ian: And so, to me, when financial planning is considered in the realm of profession, we need to work on that part. We need to work on what is the answer when folks are going without and they don’t have anywhere to turn. Now, there’s aid programs and things like that, but if you’re above the aid program and below a financial planning firm’s minimum, you could be sitting alone, and I don’t think that a noble profession would allow something like that to persist. Someone who makes $100,000 a year, which is good money, can find a financial planner. It’s gonna be more difficult, it’s getting easier, don’t worry, but if you’re earning 50 to $60,000 your options for financial planning are much lower. Not lower in terms of what they’re providing, but lower in terms of numbers, sheer numbers. The amount of financial planners who would take clients who are earning those dollars without having, at least, $500,000 in the bank is slim to none.
Ian: There are some services out there, which are great. There’s the Garrett Planning Network where you can go … Hannah, you might have more information on the Garrett Planning Network-
Hannah: It’ll all be in the show notes.
Ian: … and then there’s Hellogrove, which I believe is another place where folks can go to get financial planning help for lower costs than you would pay at, say, some of these firms here in New York. There are options, and folks are finding a way to do it and earn dollars and earn profit and are happy with their employment situation. Either they’ve started on their own or they work at a firm who takes these kinds of clients. But we have to promote them as a profession. We have to get them out there. We will get into this either on this podcast or another about the fiduciary standard, and when you think about the masses, someone might quickly say, “Well, why don’t you just go to this firm down the street? They provide financial planning services,” and then the question is what kind of financial planning services are they getting and what protections are in place for that client when they go in there and sign up to work with that financial planner.
Hannah: Well, and we’ll have more podcasts to explore with you because you are coming on as a host, so if you are listening to this and, like, “I wanna hear more of this guy, Ian,” don’t worry. Stay tuned. So, Ian, this has been so great. We’ve talked about where you’ve been in your career, this transition that you’re just coming out of, and you’re still kind of in it trying to figure out serving clients and all of this. I’m curious. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ian: It’s a hard question to answer. I stopped making five year plans a few years back ’cause every time I make one, they don’t work out. I see myself working within the profession of financial planning, I see myself as an owner in a firm, and helping foster the profession move forward in whatever way that is necessary at the time. I think it would be nice to be able to say, “Oh, I think I’ll definitely be president of a firm and we have a billion dollars under management for whatever that means.” I don’t think that those kinds of plans are helpful. I think in the long run, I’d like to still be working in financial planning. I’d like to have a family. I’d like to be enjoying life and working with institutions that have the ability to provide financial planning to anyone who needs it. Look, financial planners have the ability to ruin someone’s life if it’s done incorrectly, and I think for as long as I’m able, I’d like to work towards a profession that minimizes that happening across the board.