Hannah: So I love your story, and I love how much you’ve been able to do in such a short amount of time. So for our listeners, you’ve had two internships and two shops over the course of about two years before jumping out on your own to really do paraplanning and operations consulting. What really was a motivator for you wanting to jump out on your own?
Charesse: Well, this was not something planned for me. When I first decided to jump out on my own, it was really like just trying to find clients. So basically, I was working at a wealth management firm. They had about two billion in assets, and I was there for like a year and a half. At that point, the mentor I had at the company, she parted ways, so it was just really hard for me. I was traveling between two offices and trying to find like a good fit with another advisor with the company.
Basically, their team structure was kind of siloed, so you only worked directly with one advisor rather than being paired with two and helping service their clients. So I was working at the main office, and they had about 40 employees. I ended up moving to a smaller office, but in a better location, and there were only five to six employees. The office fit wasn’t good for me.
Then I moved on to another firm. They had about four billion in assets, 20 associates, and a lot of responsibilities I had at my first job were taken away from me. I couldn’t attend client meetings anymore, and the firm I was at, they were using something called Lotus, which Lotus is like Excel before Excel came out. When I was at my previous job, we used Money Guide Pro, so my job became very manual, like a lot of input, data entry, way more than you would have to do with a financial planning software, so I was just spending 40 hours a week just sitting there typing in information to Lotus, and they took away the attending client meetings too.
Then I reached out to maybe 25 to 50 advisors, just looking for another opportunity. One woman I reached out to, she’s an XYPN, and I told her I was interested in a job, and then she told me she doesn’t have the capacity to hire anyone full time, but she would hire me as a part-time contractor.
So then I tried to work with her and my full-time job, but due to the conflict of interest, I wasn’t allow to. Although she didn’t have AUM, they still didn’t allow me, so I was so miserable there, I just decided to leave.
Then I ended up working with her, and another advisor hired me, so I started off with two advisors when I first started.
Hannah: So did you know coming out of college that you were more wired for that entrepreneur route, or was that something that you kind of just discovered in being unhappy at your jobs?
Charesse: I knew eventually that it was something I wanted to do. I just didn’t know it was going to happen this early.
Hannah: You had basically like two to two-and-a-half years of experience at this point. Did you feel like you had enough experience to make that jump?
Charesse: Yes because the experience, the two-and-a-half years of experience I had is focused on paraplanning, so that’s why I think this is a good transition for people that want to be self employed. When I was at the job I was at with my initial firm for maybe a year and a half, my job was to build out financial plans in Money Guide Pro, attend client meetings, take meeting notes, prepare the meeting followup, and there were very good processes in place to help me streamline that process and perfect it.
They gave me a lot of training since they were a big firm. They sent me to Money Guide Pro training. I got to attend a TDA conference, so I had the skill set in place to be able to do what I do now, and honestly, I’m doing the same thing, but just remotely. I work with five firms. I also do operations consulting, and that’s just due to working with big firms, and I’ve worked with 20 firms the past two years, so basically some people don’t need paraplanning, but they need help structuring their business. I really focus on learning the best practices of the industry.
Hannah: You’ve been on your own for what? A year and a half at this point?
Charesse: Yeah, so I started contracted February 2016. I officially quit my job May 2016.
Hannah: How did you build up the network to, first of all, be able to contact 20 to 50 advisors, and then second of all, to get 20 advisors as client. That’s really impressive.
Charesse: Honestly, word of mouth. I’m just … I tried my best to give my clients the best experience ever. I try to go above and beyond. We all do. Word of mouth mainly.
When I first started, it was really hard because no one knew me, but a lot of my past clients and current clients have highly recommended me.
I feel like with this, it’s all about word of mouth, so I feel like people, if they’re looking in to it, to really focus on structuring their business, how they can serve their clients to the best of their ability.
Hannah: One of the things that I think is a detriment to our profession is this assumption that every … If you want to have a career path, you have to be going towards the lead planner role, and you’re really kind of going more towards that operations and paraplanner role. Did you run into any issues or tension with that? Maybe the general assumptions of our profession versus what you’re doing?
Charesse: Yes. I just spoke at the TD Ameritrade conference, and our panel was focused on developing non-advisor careers in the industry, so this is something that’s really big. I spoke about a mindset shift in the industry. A lot of people are no longer on the advisor path, and that was my personal experience. I wanted to become an advisor, but I realize, when I was trying to do the associate planner route, I wasn’t being fulfilled, and I feel like the advisors could notice that, but when I started doing the operations and actually just perfecting the paraplanning service, I realized my clients are more happy with the work I’m doing, and I feel more fulfilled.
Hannah: From your perspective, what are the other non-advisor career paths that are out there for somebody to pursue?
Charesse: Client service manager. A lot of people are interested in investment management, working in that part of the business, like developing portfolios and keeping up with the research, and then some people are happy in their current roles, and they just want to become more efficient and provide better quality work.
Like me, personally, I really didn’t think I would add on the operations consulting, but now that’s the bulk of my business right now. I was just focused on services my clients for paraplanning more efficiently versus like creating a streamline timeline for where I want to be.
I also think if you’re not working in an office and you want to do the entrepreneur route, you can grow your business. You can add paraplanners to your team or you can move up. For me, I do operations consulting, but I know a lot of advisors are starting to ask about practice management, so that may be a direction I go.
Hannah: What’s so exciting to me, and I know I’ve experienced this personally and so many of my friends have as well, is once you start doing something and just really getting out there, doors just open. You don’t necessarily have to have a full path laid out. They just start opening.
Charesse: Yes. And back to your question I was thinking about, about the mindset shift and how not everyone wants to be an advisor. For me, a lot of my clients ask me what my angle is because they need an advisor on their team, so at first it was hard for me to say I’m happy with what I’m doing because a lot of people are like, “Well, what’s your angle, or what do you want to do?” And I’m doing what I want to do. I really enjoy what I do.
At first, I was really confused, and then I was talking to a friend, and she was like, Chareese, you know what you want to do, but you just have to tell me people.” And I’m like, it’s okay. I now know it’s okay that I don’t want to be an advisor anymore.
Hannah: Accepting that can sometimes … Yeah.
Charesse: Yeah. And it’s the prestigious position that everyone wants. That’s what we’re trained to do.
Hannah: Like it’s what good advisors do with our clients, right? We say, “What’s your ideal life?” And sometimes that is taking … It’s not a step back, but just kind of going in a different direction against what the norms are.
Charesse: Yeah. I agree.
Hannah: So, one of the phrases that I’ve seen around is the digital nomad. Do you classify yourself as a digital nomad?
Charesse: Well, not really. When I first started, I would travel a lot. I think when you’re a digital nomad, you really don’t have a location. You are a remote worker that travels around the world, and I, honestly, spend most of my time working from home at this point. Eventually, my pursuit is to become a digital nomad though.
Hannah: And so for the people listening, can you describe what a digital nomad is?
Charesse: A digital nomad is basically someone who works off of their laptop, and they’re usually self-employed, and they travel the world while working remotely.
There’s a lot of programs now that help people work remotely and travel the world whether you’re self-employed or work for a company. They have like remote year. They have something called WeRoam, and there’s a lot of places like in different cities that have like coworking spaces and apartments that people can rent on a month-to-month basis, which is really cool.
Hannah: It’s very much a lifestyle decision.
Charesse: It is. It is. I was so focused on lifestyle when I started this. I was like, “Oh I just want to travel the world and work remotely with advisors.” And another reason why I started this was because I worked in wealth management, and all the clients were high net-worth, and I really wanted to work with advisors that served millennials, so when I started, a lot of the advisors I worked with were really young. I enjoyed it, but now I have a mix of clients.
Hannah: If somebody wants to go in this paraplanner role, or they’re just starting out in a paraplanner role, how can they be successful in that role?
Charesse: I think you have to be very open-minded when you are a paraplanner, and you’re not going to know everything, and it’s going to be okay.
Another thing, I feel like you have to be very organized as a paraplanner. A lot of advisors count on me to be fully prepared when managing their clients. Also, I think, having a background in finance whether you went to college or having prior experience is very helpful.
I would think like … A lot of people I tell, like having a checklist. Like don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to, but having a process in place for how you’re going to approach every case to make sure you’re not missing anything.
I feel like these things can be built out with an advisor. If you collaborate with your advisor and streamline that process, it’ll make things easier for you and the advisor. The advisor will have a clear understanding of how you are going through financial documents and building out the plan, and also you know the expectation of the advisor.
Hannah: With working with advisors and building out these processes, is that back and forth with the advisor? Do you bring that to the table? Is every client different? How does that usually work with multiple clients?
Charesse: Okay. When I first started, I usually just jumped in to the processes the advisor had in place for paraplanning, but now, after I’ve been working with so many advisors, a lot of them ask me what’s the best process. So usually, I think it’s always going to be a collaboration because at the end of the day, it’s their business, but I feel like they come to me for guidance more now.
It’s … I think, like just … It comes with building out workflows so one thing I built out for my longest standing client. She kind of lets me just handle my own processes, and she usually comes to me for a lot of things, but with her, I just built out a data entry workflow, and I presented the same workflow to another advisor I work with, and they like it as well.
It’s just … I usually work with advisors that use E-Money. I haven’t done one for Money Guide Pro, but it’s nice to just go into Wealth Box or Red Tail and see what you have to do and pick up where you left off too.
Hannah: And so, with working with advisors, do you get your own logins for everything? What does that look like?
Charesse: I have two services I offer. For the operations consulting, sometimes they give me my own login for the CRM, but usually we’ll just share, but that’s because it’s a short-term engagement. It may be like three to six months. But with the paraplanning clients, they usually give me my own logins for everything.
I really think it would be beneficial for me to probably get my own E-money login and just add a technology fee because with four E-Money logins, at that point, you know. They’re paying all that money, and it would be like a great service for me to add that to my services, but I don’t know any paraplanners that pay for their own financial planning software.
Hannah: If somebody has you as a paraplanner, what are you doing? What is your … What are the tasks that you do on a regular basis for advisors?
Charesse: So normally, I would check to see if we have all the documents on file to build out the upcoming plans for a client. I will build out the plan, obviously, and then if there’s any meeting followup, I will prepare that as well. Then there’s like research on different topics as well.
I think there’s a big difference between a paraplanner and an associate planner, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had this conversation with anyone, but just seeing what people are looking for when they list an associate planner versus a paraplanner, you can tell the difference, but some people think a paraplanner and association planner … Like they overlap at some extent, but they’re really not the same role.
I would consider myself like an associate planner with one of my advisors, so basically I have client contact, and she’s the only person I have client contact with. I will reach out to the client myself if we need to request more information, like making sure the risk tolerance questionnaire is up to date, and then for the meeting followup, if I need to reach out to the client, I will as well.
Hannah: Is the distinction between the associate planner and the paraplanner basically just client interaction or how else would you make that distinction?
Charesse: I would say it’s more client interaction. I am not an expert on this, but so basically I’m just basing it off of how I see other paraplanners work.
Attending client meetings. Like some paraplanners don’t want the client facing aspect, but some are willing to do it. I have in the past, and I don’t mind doing it, but now that I’m working with five firms right now, I usually have my own meetings, like 10 meetings a week, myself, so I really couldn’t attend client meetings for all my advisors, or my schedule would be crazy.
Hannah: And so those 10 meetings, are they with the advisors?
Charesse: Yeah, so some are … Usually they’re with the advisors or just situations like how I attended … How I spoke at a conference. If I need to book a meeting for that. Mostly are with the advisors, so that can range from five to six meetings.
With my operations consulting clients, I will schedule calls with them to demo a new technology if they’re interested. Normally that would push me over like my weekly meetings that I usually have with all of my clients.
Hannah: For the advisors who are listening to this who are really … Well, I guess it goes both ways, the advisors or somebody kind of in your path, what do you charge in the range or what’s the going rate, if you would, for working with a paraplanner or an operations consultant?
Charesse: For paraplanning, I would say at a minimum maybe $30 to $35 an hour. For the paraplanners that already have the CFP designation, I see them charging between $50 to $60 an hour normally. There are cases where I know someone personally that’s charging $85 an hour.
Then if you think … But you also have to think about the experience, so I’m sure a lot of people have heard of Delgated Planning. Her services are over $100 an hour, but I know she’s offering a lot more than what the normal paraplanner does.
For the operations consultant, I really don’t know anyone else that’s an operations consultant with like my experience. I know there’s larger companies and more experienced people who may have 10 plus years that are doing it, and I honestly don’t know what they’re charging.
Hannah: So if somebody is hearing your career path and is like, “Oh my gosh. This is what I want to do.” Where do they start?
Charesse: I think it’s very beneficial to pursue the registered paraplanner designation or the CFP designation and just start taking the classes just to become more familiar with the financial planning process. I definitely think people should do the research. That’s something I did not do when I started. I was charging very little compared to what I could’ve.
Also, creating a website so people can find you, and Simply Paraplanner was a really good resource for me when I started. I think I got about two to three jobs off of that website, so that’s a good resource as well.
Just thinking through your services and what you actually want to do, and write a business plan.
I waited a year in to write a business plan, and once I did, it provided a lot of clarity for me, and that’s when I realized that I want to continue growing this business.
Hannah: I like it so much that your clients are advisors, so it’s … Yeah.
Charesse: It’s awesome. It’s very profitable, and there’s a big need. I’m actually hiring someone at the end of this month to start helping me with the operations consulting mainly, and then probably data entry, so I like reached out to universities that have the CFP program to see if anyone’s interested, and then just people I’ve mentored along the way to see if they want more experience.
Hannah: So you get to see a lot of technology working with all these different advisors. You get to basically test drive all these various technologies. What are features of products that you just love working with? Especially with advisors?
Charesse: Features or softwares?
Hannah: Either-or, or both.
Charesse: Okay. I really like CRMs. I think they’re very resourceful, and I’m pretty sure all advisors have one, but honestly, there are some people I started working with, and usually the solo advisors, they’re not using it. They have it, but they aren’t maximizing the automation integration with it. I love technology integration just to help eliminate steps and save people time.
I really love helping advisors find the value in their technology because if you’re a virtual firm, or even if you have an office, technology is expensive, so it’s like good to maximize on it.
I really like what the CRMs are doing. I mainly work with Red Tail and Wealth Box, and they have an email feature that I think is very useful. You can build out email templates within the CRM.
Before Wealth Box started that feature, I would have advisors add their email templates into canned responses. The problem with that is if your team starts to grow or you hire anyone, they’re going to have to do the same step over again. But now that the CRMs have this built in, I think it’s great.
E-Money has been doing amazing. That’s just one financial planning software I work with mainly. I’m not sure about the other ones. The client onboarding process has been great. The tasks, like automatic email reminders, that’s amazing. I feel like the main thing for advisors is meeting followup, and My Plan Map is really great with that. You can add tasks in the system and then set up weekly reminders to be automatically sent to your client, and that’s just something you put it in once, and the system takes care of it.
Some people don’t want to add on an additional software for tasks like that, so E-money has the task reminders as well, but the client’s only reminded one time.
Hannah: So, that’s really interesting. So those task reminders, is that a separate program, or is that through existing software?
Charesse: I know Right Capital and E-Money, they have a spot where you can add client tasks into the software, and the clients can go in and complete the tasks, and you can also set a due date reminder, so when that due date comes, the clients get an email notification to complete it. That’s something if you already have Right Capital or E-Money, that’s a feature you can use today. But for My Plan Map, it is a separate software, and it’s purely for task management.
Hannah: One of the concepts that I’m really, really interested in right now is this idea of managing up because I know how many of these financial planning firms are run, and that financial planners aren’t necessarily the best business owners. You just call it what it is.
Hannah: So, what are your thoughts on managing up. How do you manage your advisors if that makes sense?
Charesse: Yeah, I think you have to manage up. When I manage up, my clients are more satisfied, but I would say early on, I didn’t do this, and people … Well, advisors that I used to work with would tell me like that’s your next step. You need to manage up.
My advisors like that I manage up. I’m usually ahead of them on things, and they like it. For example, with my operations consulting, I manage that whole relationship. I build out the timeline for how long it’s going to take to work on projects. I prepare the meeting agendas. This is what’s next, and in the past, I would also say, “These are the tasks I’m going to work on the next two week.” But I would never tell the advisor, “This is what you’re going to work on.” I do that now.
Also, just recommending technology to advisors and telling them, “Hey, this process isn’t working, and this is why.” I think if you want to be a virtual paraplanner, if you want to be a great … If you want to be like a great paraplanner or a great employee at your company, I think that this is just a skillset that everyone should have, and you become more valuable.
Hannah: How do you handle when you say, okay, advisor or boss, or whoever, depending on what your role is, you didn’t do what you said you would do. How is that handled, because I know that comes up?
Charesse: Yeah, for sure. So, this is really funny. When I started the operations consulting, I envisioned meeting with the advisor every other week, as like a strategy meeting, but now I meet with all operations consulting and paraplanning clients weekly, and I would say this happens with paraplanning clients as well. Advisors really don’t look over anything you email them. I mean, that’s a very general statement, but normally, if I send a long email, like here’s all the projects I worked on this week. Here are the notes from the meeting … Here’s the notes from the plan I just worked on last week. They usually won’t read it, and then during our call, they’ll ask me about the plan or the project I previously worked on.
For me, I think it’s good for a paraplanner to have a great line of communication, and also consider doing a briefing meeting or a debriefing meeting. If I’m mainly working with an advisor for paraplanning only, I’ll have a briefing meeting for a plan I completed.
That briefing meeting, I’m reviewing the plan with them and asking them any questions I have, and we’re looking at the what if scenarios to see if anything should be changed. Then the advisor would go to their client meeting, and then after that client meeting, and then after that client meeting, we would have a debriefing meeting.
So they’ll tell me, “I had the client meeting. This is the followup that needs prepared.” If there’s any updates on the plan, they’ll let me know, and then we’re done with that plan until the next quarter, month, whatever their process is.
Hannah: I really like how you kind of built in just that regular, almost like cycle of communication where there’s always a feedback loop with the advisor and coming in front of them.
Okay, the word that’s coming to mind is maddening of how you like put all this time into writing this long email or writing these summaries, and the advisor’s not reading it. Is that just something that you have to accept when you’re in that managing up role? Or, I just-
Charesse: Well, I tell advisors … Recently, I’ve noticed this problem because I normally don’t work with this many advisors at once. Like, one time, I worked with six, and it was hectic, but now I manage better, but I’m getting a lot of feedback from my clients, which is very helpful, and one advisor told me, she said, “I really haven’t sat down and looked at all the work you’ve done.” And I’ve sure a lot of advisors haven’t, but they just haven’t told me. I told her, I said, “If you don’t want to review this work alone, then we can schedule more meetings.” And if they’re willing to pay for the meetings with me to go through everything I did, I’m okay with that, but I tell them, if you’re not looking over the work, and we’re not having more meetings, then that’s just going to push back the projects that we’re working on.
Hannah: Well and so much of it, we talk a lot about client change and how to get our clients to change and really realizing that we can’t, and what our job is to say, “Here’s the options.” And advisors, if you’re not going to read this email or respond to it, then this gets pushed back.
Charesse: Yeah, I would say the underlying trend for me though is that advisors would probably prefer to sit down and review the work, and I mean, just thinking about a normal client in the financial planning industry, you’re sitting down with them and presenting the plan, so if I’m working on three workflows, and I want to present to you the technology integration that’s involved in it, the email templates that are involved with it, I definitely think that it would probably be best for us just to sit down, talk it through, and then I can make the changes and the process is implemented rather than me doing the work, the advisor looking it over, emailing it me, and then it comes up on the next meeting anyways.
So thinking out loud right now, but I definitely think I probably just need more meetings in my service model.
Hannah: And it goes back to this idea of we talk a lot about with clients, and again that’s where I know, it’s the future is human. It’s that hand-holding. As advisors, we need hand-holding.
Charesse: Yeah, I really think I collaborate well with advisors. I don’t think I’m doing all the work because again, it’s your business, and you just need help. You are servicing your clients. You want to grow the business, so to have someone come in and help streamline everything, to just make that process a lot easier, why not … What I normally tell advisors, like you provide the vision, then I execute it.
Hannah: I’ve seen that you’ve spoken on how employers can attract millennial talent. Let’s kind of flip this because most of the people listening to this podcast are newer planners who are hoping to get into good jobs. What are signs that a firm is doing it right in order to attract talent, and that somebody’s walking into a good job situation?
Charesse: I think if the firm is thinking about longterm where you’re going to end up in five years, even within the first year, just creating that timeline. I think that’s really essential.
I actually met a student when I was at the conference last week, and he told me they gave him a year timeline, like quarterly goals that they want him to hit, and I think XYPN just started the 90-day training timeline. If they really thought through what they’re going to do with the new hire, I think that’s great because it’s a thorough thought process, and they’re thinking through every aspect.
Also, I think it’s important for the interviewee to interview the interviewer because that’s something I haven’t done in the past, and I’m happy where I ended up, but I think if I would’ve spent more time asking questions to the employer, that would’ve helped me along the way. I ended up in a job that basically demoted me. I wasn’t able to be client-basing, and I had the opportunity beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have left the company.
I think it’s good to ask questions on what you’re going to be doing on a day-to-day basis. Then also flexibility. When I was working full time, I didn’t have the same flexibility as like my friends that were in marketing or IT. They were able to work from home once a week or once a month, and just like the flexibility. Like if you have to go a doctor’s appointment, and you can go and work later, like things like that. I feel like I’ve always worked at firms that were really strict along those lines.
Also, you want someone who is going to offer you the resources to be successful in your role and in the industry making sure they will continue your education whether that’s paying for the CFP exam or attending conferences or becoming a FPA member. I think those are really important so you can have outside communication from with … Like if you only talk with people in your current company, then how is your company going to grow? How are you going to bring best practices into the operations procedures or the paraplanning workflow if you’re not able to speak with anyone outside of your company?
Hannah: What have you learned in almost three and a half or four years that you’ve been in our profession, what have you learned about our profession?
Charesse: I learned that the profession is growing. I think there are a lot of advocates that want to help millennials, women, and minorities grow in the industry. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for young professionals to enter this industry, and there’s so many career paths, and I think the industry’s okay with you creating that career path on your own.
If you don’t fit the mold, then I think there’s an opportunity to move at your own pace.
Hannah: If you don’t if that mold, then that means that you stand out which is a really good thing.
Charesse: Yes. Yes, but I definitely think the industry is changing. They’re becoming more innovative just like with companies like XYPN. THey’re amazing. They’re setting the standard that younger advisors can launch their own business. And Simply Paraplanner, they have a job board specifically for virtual help, so I think these businesses are starting to pop up, and I meet people who have virtual businesses they’ve been running for 15 years, so it’s been around, but I think now it’s becoming the norm.
Hannah: Well, as we wrap up, are there any final pieces of advice that you would have to people who are entering the profession?
Charesse: If you’re prepared, you will normally be successful, so I think everyone should do their research and create that timeline on how they can achieve their goals.