Alexandria: Thank you so much, Christine, for coming on today.
Christine: Thank you for having me.
Alexandria: Of course. So today we have the smart, and fabulous Christine Damico on the podcast with us. We’re just going to hear your story, and let us get some knowledge of where you are today, and how you’ve gotten there, and being a part of the financial planning profession.
Christine: Sounds like a plan, let’s do it.
Alexandria: So, as we already know, you’re a Certified Financial Planner, and an Enrolled Agent at OLIO Financial Planning in Virginia area. You’ve completed, actually, a financial planning residency program, and you’re now starting one. That’s amazing. Outside of that, you’re also a professor at Virginia Tech teaching the next gen of financial planning profession. I’m wondering when you actually have free time.
Christine: I get asked that a lot. To my standpoint, I don’t really view it as whether I have free time or not, because when you’re doing something that you love, it all seems, just to become a part of who you are, and you’re not thinking about it, it’s 8:00 and I’m still doing this because there’s so much excitement that comes from being able to teach the next generation and make an impact on their lives. And at the end point, also clients lives when they actually graduate to go out and start doing planning themselves.
Alexandria: That’s amazing. I feel like that’s all always what we’re striving for is what is that thing that wakes us up that we’re not dreading, like we really love it so much that it’s just a part of who you are, where you don’t need free time, like you said. It’s just encompass of your world. Let’s start kind of about that, it’s like you’re a financial planner, did you always know you wanted to be a financial planner? Was that your career path from the start? How did you kind of get on that?
Christine: Sure. That’s a great question. It’s also something that I always have my students think about too, because most of the time clients come to someone because of their why. For me, my why was actually not financial planning initially. When I was growing up, I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist, because I liked the idea that you’d be helping people, which is a lot of people’s why within financial planning. But it’s also, I like the idea of something that would be challenging from the standpoint of, well, someone is in an accident, and they need physical therapy to get from point A to point B to be able to have their life back again, right.
Christine: A lot of that is there’s a behavioral, there’s a coaching component, there’s a teaching component to motivate people to actually do those exercises. I took Chemistry multiple years in high school, and I actually ended up hating it. I thought, “Maybe physical therapy is not for me.” Then when I got into college, I was kind of lost for the first two years, because I had no idea what I wanted to do.
Christine: In my exploration of what would I be good at, I thought, “I still want that helping component, and I also want to be able to teach and coach others.” I went to an information session taught by a professor, Derek Klock, and he was talking about financial planning. Once I heard his spiel, I was sold, and that’s how I started on financial planning.
Alexandria: That’s perfect. So basically it’s like, you got to realize early on the things that you don’t, or you weren’t really interested in, which helped to finding out, all right, “At least if I can rule out the things I don’t like, that’s just as good as finding out what it is I do like.” Then, not in that much time further, you run into Derek, and he’s telling you what financial planning is, and you go, it’s like this, probably like light shining from above like, “This is it.”
Christine: Absolutely. Without a doubt. For me, I remember … just by chance, it was the first information session I had gone to within any kind of business major. A couple of things resonated with me then that had followed me throughout my career. One, he talked about it, being a male dominated profession. And I felt strongly about making a change, like from a societal standpoint, that yes there’s numbers, and there’s math, but that doesn’t mean that women can’t or aren’t good at that, right.
Christine: For me, it’s like, you know, there are men that need financial planning, there are also women that need financial planning that may be more comfortable with working with another female. So that was kind of a driving force for me. The other piece too that I really liked about what he said is that financial planning is always changing. I thought that would be a really good way to be mentally stimulated throughout my career as opposed to waking up and feeling like it’s groundhog day every day.
Alexandria: I really admire that you just, you really took it on like I would see, and I could even say for myself like, I hear male dominated, and it’s kind of like, that’s really intimidating like he’s pointed out. For you, you were like, “I’m ready to trail blaze that. I know I can be that one person that actually makes a change there.” Then, now, being a part of next gen in teaching, you’re making sure you help those that maybe know about that and are intimidated to go, “Don’t be intimidated by it. This is how you can navigate through it.” That’s amazing.
Alexandria: Christine, basically once you’ve learned about financial planning, you kind of got introduced there, what was your next steps? Did you do an internship? Were you a part of a program? What did it look like next for you entering into the profession?
Christine: I went to Derek Klock’s message, and then I thought, “Let me dive in to figure out what this is actually like. I don’t want to wait until I graduate to make sure that this is the path that I’m taking.” So I signed up for the Financial Planning Association’s National Conference, and I went with a group of students and my professor to the conference. That’s when I really started to meet other financial planners and learn what it was all about. Then, through that, I got an internship out in San Francisco with a firm called Mosaic Financial Partners, they’ve now been bought out and go by a different name. But that was really where the idea of this is for me really started to solidify. That was in large contribution to the mentor that I had within that firm.
Alexandria: So, once you did that internship, it just resolidified like, “Yeah, no, this is it. And it’s meant for me.” Then you also mentioned Financial Planning Association. Did you also start getting involved with that too?
Christine: As a student, I was not. We didn’t have an FPA chapter. That was not a route to take. But I did continue to, I went to two different FPA conferences while I was a student. Then I kept in contact with Sabrina Lowell, who was my mentor. She actually was the one who encouraged me to apply for the first residency program in the country. That’s ultimately why I even applied, was because she said, “You know, if this is something you’re serious about, this is going to be an amazing program. You’ll be there for three years. You’ll go in with the book knowledge, but not the client experience. And then by the time you leave, you can start your own firm, or join another firm as a financial planner. But you’ll have a really good foundation to move forward.”
Alexandria: I want to real quick just get some clarification, so you were going to all these conferences as a student. Did you find it besides just valuable of being like in the room with other financial planners, did you feel like it was really helping as far as you build skills, and kind of navigate where you wanted to go next steps attending these conferences?
Christine: Absolutely. I think this part is really, really important for students, and this is something I always advocate to them in the classroom, because it’s one thing to be in class, and hear stories, or hear what it’s like, it’s also one thing to read the textbook, but it’s a whole nother thing to be surrounded by potentially thousands of financial planners that are not just from the US, they’re living abroad, they’re international citizens, they’re all kinds of genres. So maybe they’re doing comprehensive planning, maybe they’re focusing solely on retirement, they’re hourly, they’re percent of assets under management, there’s all types of different … types of financial planning and there are also different ways to be compensated for.
Christine: From my standpoint, it was really beneficial to be able to talk to a variety of financial planners to learn that there’s a lot of flexibility within this profession. Even if you get out there, and you have an internship, or you have a job, and you’re like, “You know, this isn’t for me.” I always tell my students, “Take a step back and ask yourself is it just not this firm that’s for me?” Right. Because there are thousands of other firms out there. You can decide that maybe I don’t even want to be a financial planner, meaning I don’t want to be client facing, but maybe I want to manage the business of financial planning. Or maybe I want to start my own podcast about financial planning. Maybe I want to start my own blog. There are all kinds of avenues that you can take within financial planning. That’s one of the reasons I think that this profession is really so rewarding and can fit a lot of different personalities within the profession.
Alexandria: It’s amazing how you can just shape the mount of opportunities, and how it can grow by being exposed to everything else the profession has to offer. The conferences are an amazing way to do it.
Christine: Absolutely. Not like that, but from a networking standpoint. You have no idea when you’re going to run across the people that you’ve met at one conference again. I think that can’t be underestimated from the standpoint of you’re somewhere and it’s not a good fit. Maybe you’ll serve with some of those people on a board, or maybe you’ll end up working alongside them one day. Or maybe together you’ll decide to do blogging. Or together come up with some kind of new financial planning software. And the sky is the limit within this profession.
Alexandria: I have to even say for us meeting each other, we met at a conference.
Christine: Right, exactly.
Alexandria: Look at what we’re doing today. It’s just going to be great that like 25 years from now, we’ll be at another conference and be like, “Remember when we first met?” Build the relationship for forever right now, that’s great.
Christine: That’s a really great point, because I mean, we really met over dinner one night. So we weren’t even in a session, and it was just kind of an impromptu dinner, and I think that goes to be said, it’s like, at the end of the conference, don’t go back to your hotel room, and sit by yourself. A lot of times, the best ideas, or the best conversations happen organically over a meal, or by having a drink with someone that you wouldn’t otherwise potentially run into.
Alexandria: I think that was even so much of a lot of what, at least this last conference we attended NexGen Gathering was go talk to somebody that one, doesn’t look like you, you wouldn’t naturally walk up to and talk to, like start spreading who it is that you surround yourself with within the profession, and really watch how that grows organically of like, “Wow, I didn’t even know that was a thing. I didn’t even know who did that around here in the profession. I didn’t even know I could be a part of that.” It’s just amazing to see how that happens amongst a community.
Christine: I totally agree.
Alexandria: We’ll also, like I said, talk about the residency program, because I feel like that has a lot to do with where you’re now. So what do you do now, you know, day-to-day? I know you’re a financial planner, but what’s your day look like?
Christine: This is a little bit different based on what time of year it is. I teach during the fall and spring semesters. And Mondays and Wednesdays I’m pretty much solely on campus, or working at a coffee shop prepping for class. Whether that’s grading papers, getting power points ready, putting together mock client scenarios for the students to practice. Then, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and then sometimes on the weekends, I am practicing financial planning as a CFP.
Alexandria: Wow. I know listeners and even myself were going to ask this, how did you get to a point in your firm where they were going, “You can be out the office Mondays and Wednesdays to teach financial planning.” When you said that, I literally was like lucky.
Christine: That’s right, so you can do it too. That’s why I think, I really do believe that this profession is so flexible for a variety of situations, and for people that have goals across multiple avenues of financial planning. I actually started teaching before I joined this firm. So right now I’m at OLIO Financial Planning, but I started teaching at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, before I was working for this firm. I think that somewhat help pave the way for the conversation, because I initially thought that I would just do teaching. The part that I realized while I love teaching, I also really like helping people, and being able to impact the firm culture, and help with training people who have just graduated or who are career changers.
Christine: Kind of like a puzzle, those pieces fit really well together. So I went into the conversation saying, “I’m really interested in joining your firm again. At the same time, I don’t want to give up teaching because I think it’s so valuable in terms of helping shape where this profession goes.”
Alexandria: That’s double whammy there where it’s like it’s going to 100% come back tenfold to your clients. You’re engaged all the time.
Christine: From my standpoint, I think of it, it’s possible for two reasons. One, if there are others that want to be doing something like this, or they want to be blogging, or doing podcasts, or something outside of just working with clients, I think it’s a great way for it to be a win-win situation. Right. I may describe something to students in class, and then realize, “Oh my gosh, they got that.” Because you can see on students’ faces when they’re grasping something.
Christine: Then, if I take that back to clients, or I share it with other financial planners in the office, then that helps not only the firm, but it also helps our clients. So I think there’s a lot of synergies that can happen back and forth. Then, the other thing too that I think if you’re interested in doing kind of two things within financial planning, the other piece is you’ve got to find a firm that values what you’re doing, and understands the benefits, and has the flexibility.
Christine: For me, everyone is fine if I’m gone, assuming that I get my work done. There’s not a situation where I’m not communicating where I am, so that if something comes up, I could step out of the coffee shop, or I could step away from grading and handle something that came up with a client.
Alexandria: In addition to your teaching, you’re very involved as far as volunteerism. I know you kind of touched on it briefly that you have your enrolled agent, and I’m always curious for people who have other designations of like how did you build skill and perfecting that skill, or developing that, or maybe that came a lot from your volunteerism with other organizations.
Christine: The EA was kind of a long path. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would love tax planning, I would have said absolutely not. When I was a student, that was actually one of my least favorite classes. I thought it was boring. There was just all kinds of rules and regulations. I was not interested whatsoever. Then, when I started my residency program at Cornerstone Wealth Advisors in Minneapolis, one of the things that they are really, really good at is tax planning.
Christine: Through that, I learned that one, being a young person and sometimes being a young female, you have to push harder, know more information, know the facts in order to get someone who is 60, 70, 80 years old to pay attention. Right. It was through their training and mentoring that I realized I actually really enjoy taxes, because it’s a way for me to crack the door open, to get older clients to pay attention that, “Hey, I actually might be able to help.” Right. Because a tax return tells a story.
Christine: A client might be saying that they have a full-time job, and they’ve got two kids, you know, the high level information. But a tax return also shows, hey, they have a side business that they haven’t told us about. Or they have assets somewhere else that we didn’t know about that would be really important to make sure that we’re placing the correct trade, so we don’t cause a negative tax impact. So that was one way that I realized I could quickly connect with clients.
Christine: Because then you’re like, “Hey, I found this missed deduction for your side business that you could’ve been taking advantage of, and through that you’ve got $2,000 or $3,000 back in a refund.” It was through that that I realized I have a really good grasp of individual taxes. I don’t necessarily have as much as experience with business tax returns, and that’s ultimately what led me to take the EA exams, because I wanted to learn about the business side of taxes as well.
Alexandria: Wow. So really the Enrolled Agent really helped you to just specialize yourself early on in your career.
Christine: That’s exactly right. So I spent four years as a resident with Cornerstone, doing a ton of tax planning. But I didn’t have the EA at that point in time. Then, when my residency ended, I moved to Washington, DC, and I worked at Glassman Wealth Services, and I realized they did not have as much of a focus on tax planning, and I thought, “This is a way that I can help add value to the firm, and also to clients.” And I wanted a designation that one, I could learn more about taxes with, but to also give me some credibility working with the new set of clients.
Alexandria: Do you currently prepare taxes? Or do you really just focus on this tax planning in your current role?
Christine: No, we do not prepare taxes, and I’m not sure that we ever will. However, we work side-by-side with CPAs that our clients have, and oftentimes we are doing tax projections, we’re helping with estimated tax payments in terms of how much should they be paying in. If someone has a requirement on distribution, we’re helping to decide how much should be withheld for taxes, and then we’re working side-by-side with the CPA to make sure that they’re in the loop about what we’re doing and vice versa.
Alexandria: This was something else I wanted to kind of touch on as far as volunteerism is being involved in the Financial Planning Association. One thing that I just did this year was be a part of their national advocacy day. When we were talking, you had mentioned you had done it four times already, you’ve gone four years. I was just like, “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.” So I wanted to know what interested you about advocacy to be a part of that.
Christine: So for me, it all comes back to, in my own opinion, in order to be a good financial planner, it’s not just about being a good financial planner for your clients, but it’s also about being a good financial planner within the profession. If there’s something that you want to change, not just talking about it, but actually doing something about it. So I think it’s extremely important that if you are giving financial advice, you are held to the fiduciary standard. No matter what you are doing, whether it’s financial planning, whether it’s financial advice, if you are helping clients, then you are held to the fiduciary standard from the standpoint of you have to do what is in the best interest of your clients, period.
Christine: For me, Advocacy Day is a chance to help educate legislators about the financial planning profession, and hopefully impact the direction of this profession as a whole of what direction they move into.
Alexandria: So kind of talking about that directional part, why do you think it’s important for next gen or your students to be a part of the Advocacy Day like early on in their career?
Christine: Because I think that you don’t have to look a certain way. You don’t have to be a certain age before you make change. The earlier you start, the more you have an understanding of what’s going on. Like one of the speakers at the NextGen Conference talked about, regardless of age, everyone has value, and even if you come in as an intern, or you come in as an associate, you have value, and I also believe that. Even as it pertains to volunteerism, and specifically Advocacy Day. Just because you’ve just gotten started, doesn’t meant that you don’t have value.
Christine: You might be able to share a story, or explain something differently, than someone who has 30, 40 years of experience. If you make that one difference, or you have that story that someone remembers, that’s a way that you can impact change.
Alexandria: I feel like when I went to Advocacy Day this year, the one thing that I felt, because it was my first year, the one thing I felt was really unique is there were staffers, and there were other people that work in the office of the senators and representatives, and they had no idea what financial planning was.
Alexandria: Think of the student who got to explain what financial planning was. You don’t need to be someone who’s been there for, you know been in the profession for 30 years, to explain what it is. I was like, “Whoa, look at that. We all are on the same level here. And we all can explain what the profession has to offer to people who have no idea what it is.”
Christine: Absolutely. I totally agree with that. Because it’s a story, right, so it’s like what is financial planning? But then, what are the different facets of financial planning. Then, not only that, but why is it so important that when we are doing financial planning, we do what is in the client’s best interest? I think when you’re able to connect with someone, and explain what financial planning is, that’s a really good way to get the point across about wanting to make sure that it is done in the client’s best interest.
Alexandria: So kind of to transition us a bit, and we’ve really kind of touched on your background, and what you do, and being a teacher, and what you’re providing for students, and your clients, and how that’s all shaping you into the profession. And one of the bigger things I really want to kind of learn a little bit about, because there’s a few of them around the country, but there’s not a whole lot of them, are the residency programs. And you were a part of Cornerstone Wealth Advisors program. And I wanted to know about your experience, what was it like to be a part of that program?
Christine: I feel very strongly about residency programs, and I think that we need to have a lot more programs, because from my standpoint, and obviously I’m biased, but this is the best way to learn what it’s like to be a financial planner. So from day one, I was in client meetings. I was in five to eight client meetings a week with Cornerstone. What I did each day changed as I gained more confidence, as I gained skillset, and experience. The first week, I’m in client meetings. But I’m not necessarily interacting with clients, I’m taking notes.
Christine: Then, I slowly start to move to helping to prepare for meetings. Then I would start with small talk with clients. Then, as I got more comfortable with that, I would then pick one topic that I would be presenting. So, it might be the cash flow section. So, for every client that came in, I would present the cash flow section. The thing that I think is so important about the residency programs is having the ability to start where you’re just observing, and you get to hear, and at the time, there were three other planners there, so I got to hear three different people present and interact with clients. Then, that helped me frame how I wanted to work with clients and what fit my personality and my own strengths.
Christine: Then, by the time my four years was up, I was able to meet with prospects, and walk them through the entire financial planning process alongside other planners. So if there was something I didn’t know, they would chime in. If there was something that was wrong, they would chime in. So, in some way, it is like a sink or swim environment in that you are going to be uncomfortable, because they’re always going to push you just beyond the edge of what you think you can do, or what you want to do.
Christine: But then, just when you think, “Oh, I can’t do this.” They’re going to throw you the life raft. I think that’s a really good way to teach people. I’ve had a whole different appreciation since being in the classroom that this really is the best way to teach people by allowing them to do and to observe from day one.
Alexandria: Being able to sit in the client meetings, even if you don’t have to say anything, but to just observe how the clients are responding to the planner, how the planners are presenting something, just being able to notice those things, I mean, you could be a very active engaged person and not say a thing in the meeting. I mean, you’re practicing your listening skills, honestly, right?
Christine: Bingo. Not only that, one thing that I encourage my students to do when they’re heading off for internships or for full-time positions, I’m saying, “If you are going to work for a firm, and you’re allowed to sit in meetings, not only should you be taking good notes, but also start thinking about when a question is asked, how would you answer that?” Because at the beginning, a lot of times is going to be I don’t know how I would answer that, right. But if you start to practice in your head, that gives you a chance to rehearse, to get more comfortable.
Christine: If you don’t know something, you can also, after the meeting, go back and research it, or you can sit down with a planner and learn more about it. But that way you’re playing an active role in the meeting even if you’re not physically saying anything.
Alexandria: So, outside of the client meetings, what was your experience? What did you do when you weren’t sitting in a client meeting, like how did you day-to-day look like being a part of a residency program? Was it still the same as maybe a paraplanner, or was it much different?
Christine: No, I would say it was very different. I would place trades, work on analysis to put together something for recommendations across all of the financial planning topics. Another thing that I do think sets it aside from being a paraplanner, or an associate, is that the goal of the residency is not just to have you ready to be a financial planner, but it’s also to prepare you for the possibility that you are going to be a business owner if you choose to leave and start your own company.
Christine: Jon Guyton, who is the principal of the firm, did a great job of sitting down with me and showing me various aspects of the business that I would never have even thought about, or known about had he not brought it up. An example I can give is errors and omissions insurance. You learn about it in school, but what is it? How does it work? How expensive is it? How you decide which company to go with? And he would literally show me the bill, walk me through all the various pieces of the insurance. That way, if I ever had to go out and buy it myself, I would know what to look for. That’s why I think the residency is so helpful, because it’s not just about the one-on-one with clients, but it’s exposure to a variety of different areas within financial planning to help me decide what’s the path that I want to take when this residency program ends.
Alexandria: And for you, I mean, you knew you wanted to at least go the financial planner route. How would you say for people who maybe don’t go the financial planner route that the residency programs, or even that particular one, helps guide you into other career paths? Because it sounds, like a lot of what you would be doing, it sounds like it leads up to the fact that you would be a financial planner. I was curious about those programs, how do they cultivate that inside leadership, and inside feeling of wanting to do other things within the profession that may not necessarily be being a planner?
Christine: One of the great things about Cornerstone’s residency program is that while there were some structure, it was also very open ended. Meaning, if you’re exposed to all of these facets of planning, and then you decide halfway through, maybe this certain part is not for me, like the client facing part, or maybe I really love this particular category, or I love writing blog posts. It is designed to give you flexibility to start to pursue that route. They are extremely supportive in that.
Christine: What I mean by that is not only are they paying for your CFP review program, the exam itself, but they also send you to FPA’s residency program, in addition to at least one conference a year. Additionally, they were pretty adamant that you would attend the local FPA meetings that happen once a month, that way you’ve got the networking piece, you are learning what other financial planners are doing across the country, and that way you can really start to decide, “What is my path?” Even if it doesn’t mean being client facing.
Alexandria: What would you say was the difference in being a part of Cornerstone’s residency program, and going to that one week Financial Planning Association’s residency program?
Christine: Sure. The FPA’s residency program, because it is a week long, it is very focused on the soft side of planning, not so much getting into the weeds of the technical aspects of planning. I think this is really helpful, because even if you decide not to be client facing, those skillsets are helpful across any aspect of your life, whether that’s in a personal relationship, whether it’s with coworkers. You know, they teach you how to ask questions, when to ask questions, to be comfortable with silence, which I know a lot of people struggle with, they want to fill that gap. Whereas, if you can be comfortable with silence, you oftentimes learn that people will say and share more if you can just be comfortable sitting and listening.
Christine: All of those themes were also taught during Cornerstone’s residency program, it just wasn’t as concentrated. The other part that I liked about FPA’s residency program is that I got to learn from some of the most experienced financial planners across the country. It was done so in a really safe environment, where you got feedback not only from your peers, but also from these really experienced planners.
Alexandria: Even to your point, with your residency program, all of the things that you get out of being a part of a firm that’s really there to help you grow in the profession is amazing. One thing that I am curious about, you mentioned that this program was four years long. I’ve heard other programs, you know, different time lengths, did you feel like that four years was enough, too little? Did you feel prepared, or over-prepared? What was your feedback on that?
Christine: I felt that the three years was not enough. The way things worked out with my firm, there was another planner that was taking on a leadership role within the Financial Planning Association, and so he wasn’t going to be around as much, so I was able to come in and fill part of his role while he was away volunteering. I felt like that fourth year really solidified what I knew, how to present things to clients, how to communicate, and I left feeling very comfortable about moving into a financial planner role.
Christine: I think it can be done in less time, but I think it also depends on what else your firm has going on. Because training someone else in a very fast paced environment takes a lot of time. So from that standpoint, I felt like it’s definitely doable in three years, for me personally I liked the four-year time period, and it left me feeling confident about my next steps.
Alexandria: How does that help you now that you are a completed resident from one residency program starting a new residency program with your firm, how did you being to build out the residency program and what would be the make-up of it?
Christine: I think in some ways it’s helpful to tie this into how I teach in the classroom. One thing, when I decided I was going to go teach, before I did it, I started talking to other business owners that I had developed relationships with, and one thing I kept hearing about was that students across the board that are coming from financial planning programs are really well-prepared from a book standpoint. They are not well-prepared from a fitting into a firm’s culture, from a communications standpoint.
Christine: Through my class, I said, “I’m going to try to change that.” Because they’re learning the textbook knowledge, but why not start having them apply it in the classroom? Through that, the three things that I changed about the course I teach. One, I added in a phone call recommendation. Meaning, they would be given a mock scenario, and they would have to give me a call, and they would have 10 to 15 minutes to give me advice on the situation. That includes time for small talk.
Christine: That scenario that I use for the phone call recommendation is someone who’s just been diagnosed with cancer. And they have a tax question about their medical expenses. So there’s the technical component, but there’s also the relationship component in terms of how do you address this. You should not ignore it, you need to address it. Then, at the same time, being mindful of how you’re communicating it, because this client may have brain fog from chemo, or from radiation.
Christine: Then, you take it a step further, and by the end of the semester, they’re doing an in person recommendation. Where they have to come to my office, they’re dressed in a suit and tie, or a dress, a pantsuit, whatever, and they have to practice eye contact. They do handshake. They will have a mock scenario, and they know some of the things I’m going to be asking about. But I always throw a wrench in that they have to be able to think on their feet.
Christine: From that standpoint, I then said, “Okay, this is what we’re doing in the classroom, how can we take this and add even more of that into the residency program?” I took, and the residency program that’s now at OLIO Financial Planning, it is being run by myself and then Amanda Ansell. She actually came through Cornerstone’s residency program too. So the two of us have built this out. And we really like the structure of clients and residents interacting from day one. We also like the support that our firm gave us from the CFP education standpoint, from going to conferences, encouraging us to network.
Christine: But there’s also something that we wanted to change about it. From that standpoint, it’s how can we incorporate role play into the residency program. So I’ll give you an example. I met with the residents, we have two residents and we hired them at the beginning of June. So it’s been about a month. We sat down and said, “Okay, what has gone well over the past month and then what has not?” In addition to that we say, “Over this next month, here’s what you’re focusing on.” For them, it’s going to be building relationships with clients before they give advice.
Christine: A client comes in, they’ll be served something to drink, and then the residents are responsible for going up and introducing themselves, and working on speaking to them for about five minutes or so before we take them back to the meeting. So it’s not only like what’s their elevator pitch of like who they are, why are they there, but it’s also making sure that the client is speaking 80% of the time, and the resident is speaking 20% of the time. So it’s about learning who the clients are, that way when they’re actually giving recommendations, the clients will listen, because they know that the resident cares about them.
Christine: Then, I would say the other piece of how this residency program is different than potentially other residency programs, we feel that it is really important, again, not just to be a financial planner for your firm, but also to be a financial planner for the profession. We have two requirements of them, that by the time they have finished their residency, they have held some sort of leadership position within the profession, whether that’s on a local, state or national basis, and they also have to have 50 hours of community service, and they get to pick how, and when, and what they want to do.
Christine: But that way they really are well-rounded financial planners that are caring about the profession and their communities, and not just about the firm, because we think that’s really, really important for residents to have by the time they leave.
Alexandria: Right now I’m like really taken back right now, just everything that you’ve been sharing about this program. One, I’m thinking to myself like, “Geez, in your role, as a listener, have I done any of this stuff?” Or, “Could I call Christine up or my firm owner and role play out a scenario of talking to a client in such a depth way of that technical and soft skills at the same time?” Then you also think, “Geez,” when people come into your office every day, yeah, you’re maybe in a support role, but do you get up out of your seat to greet each client that [inaudible]? Or do you think like, oh, that’s admin role? Because they’re sitting at the front desk. That’s their role.
Alexandria: But it’s really like the things you’re learning from it, like you said that 80-20, where you’re just really listening and building rapport. So down the line, if you do become a financial, you know, when you become a financial planner, are you able to still … you’ve had a relationship since you started, or are you building a relationship when you just become a financial planner? I mean, there was just so much that you went back and right there just in your program alone. And I’m just like, “Wow, just those few things, people could work on right now within their office.” But also like your touch-up, the things that are missing in the programs at schools. It’s so book-driven that a lot of this stuff may get missed, and they’re important.
Christine: Right. Even within the programs. All of the programs are doing an incredible job of conveying the textbook knowledge. But they only have so many hours in the day. How can we just tweak the program slightly so that students are getting an opportunity to practice what they’re already learning? It doesn’t take all that much more time to do so, it’s just you have to be creative in how you do it.
Christine: There’s one other thing that you also mentioned in terms of what is the feel when the client walks in the door. This is one part that I think is really important to remember, you know, if there’s anyone else that’s going to be structuring a residency program. When you have someone that has just graduated, they have a lens that no one else in the firm has. That’s that they’ve never seen your process before. They’re going to pick up on things that one else is going to pick up on, because they’ve got a fresh perspective. That’s where it’s like really incorporate the residents in building, and tweaking your program.
Christine: One thing that when we were having the conversation about what does it mean to build rapport with clients when you’re speaking to them for five minutes? So I start the question by asking them, “What do you think should happen?” Because then you’re meeting them from their lens, and then you can build on top of that. One of the residents said, “I think adding humor can be a really great way to build rapport.” I’m like, “That’s an excellent point.” Right, because we don’t know when clients come what their bringing with them from the outside.
Christine: Maybe it’s a prospect couple, and they’re coming in, and their marriage is on the rocks because of finances. But you don’t know that, and the only way you’re going to find that out to be able to help them is if they feel comfortable enough in your office to share. So the resident’s idea of having some kind of humor is a wonderful idea that I had not thought of. So we literally sat down and said, “Okay. What are ways that we can add humor to lighten the feeling that clients have when they walk in?” You know, just like sometimes I know I personally hate going to the dentist.
Christine: So I have a lot of anxiety around having go to the dentist. Likely, our clients also have anxiety around coming to see us. Because they’re afraid they’re going to be judged, or you know, that they’ve done something that’s irreparable. But that’s not true. Being able to make them feel welcomed, to ease some of the anxiety, and develop a friendship can really help with helping clients create change within their lives.
Alexandria: One question that I wanted to ask, because I know people are going to be listening to this and going like, “Wow, I want to be able to offer something like that in our firm.” I want to kind of get your feedback on how firms could begin the process to starting a program. I mean, you started the one at your firm, how did that look to begin that?
Christine: Where a lot of firms have issues are where they say, “I don’t think I can do this.” Is all of these things take time, and they take resources. One thing that I would be amiss if I didn’t comment on is that the way the original residency program at Cornerstone was created was that halfway through that first person’s residency, you hire another resident or two. It is the responsibility of that senior resident to train and share everything that they have learned for that junior resident.
Christine: That takes a lot of the burden off of having to train over and over, and over again for someone that is potentially leaving. Because that’s usually where the rub comes. And I have found that a lot of people who are interested in residency program love this concept because it’s a win-win. The senior resident gets a chance to manage other people, which again maybe you don’t want to be a financial planner, but maybe you want to manage the business of giving advice. And that is a way, you know, 18 months to two years out where you actually get to start doing it. So I think that is something that’s really helpful.
Christine: In terms of other resources, because there are several other residency programs out there, start talking to other people in terms of how do they get started? What have they run into from an issue standpoint? What has been a snag? There are articles and investment news about it, Journal of Financial Planning, there are podcasts about it. Just start educating yourself, and then no residency is going to be perfect, so just be nimble enough and flexible enough to adapt as you get feedback from the residents and from other coworkers about what’s working or what’s not working.
Alexandria: So, Christine, you got to be careful with what you say, because basically you just opened it up for everyone to contact you about your residency program.
Christine: There are other residency programs too that are phenomenal out there. There are … I’d be happy to.
Alexandria: That’s so funny. I really liked how you touched on that part where people, it’s that initial like, oh gosh, kind of daunting like, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to have to train each individual person that comes through this program.” But how you touched on that, that resident that’s been there for two years is actually training the next resident. I mean, essentially that resident is now learning managerial and training skills as well. I mean, this residency program has so much to offer. But I’m also curious, that sounds like a lot of bodies in the office as far as residents. I know this is your first year, but how did you guys kind of plan for that where it sounds like every year you’re bringing on one to two more residents, how that can also be a lot to bring on for a firm?
Christine: Yeah, absolutely. Initially, the game plan for us was to hire one. Then, we’ve had far more growth than we anticipated, and we thought, “In order to do this residency program just as we really need to, from the standpoint of two residents that are helping with paperwork, that are doing analysis, because without that, there’s just not going to be enough time for everyone else in the office to train them. We need two of them to help us get where we need to go.” Then, it is not set in stone that we are going to hire one, or two, or three, or whatever the number is next year. Everyone knows that.
Christine: So it’s as the firm changes and evolves, we will then decide are we hiring them a year from now? 18 months, 24 months, what does that look like? It’s flexible to allow for changes within like firm growth. Maybe you have a really good year, and then you have a really bad year. That allows for that flexibility. The other thing too that I would say with the residency programs, I’ve already talked about the piece where why would you do this from a training standpoint? The other part when I’ve spoken to people who are interested in creating the program themselves, they say, “But, why would I do this if they’re just going to leave?”
Christine: Something has been happening, and if you look at studies that are being put out, what we’re seeing is that millennials, gen Z, they’re only staying at firms for two to three years. It’s not just within financial planning, that is like a workplace trained. From a client standpoint, it is far easier from the very beginning to explain that you want to get back to the profession, you’re trying to educate the next generation of financial planners, and do it well.
Christine: But then you explain from day one that they are here for a three year training program. So that is a whole lot easier than saying, “Well, we just had another person leave. Well, we just had another person leave.” You’re basically adapting your business model to fit what the current trends are.
Alexandria: I like that. Because that is a true point, people are not staying very long at firms, for whatever the reason. I mean, there’s a lot more-
Christine: It’s a lot of reasons.
Alexandria: … yeah, a lot of reasons have been brought up by these studies that have been put out. But the residency program just shows that you’re being nimble, like you said, but also aware that the trends have changed. And that people aren’t staying as long as you think, or it just may not be a fit for people as long of a term as it is. Like you pointed out, with the residency program, that at least yours is three years. But how you felt being a part of Cornerstone, you were glad it was four years. There’s that sweet spot somewhere in that three year marker, three and a half year marker for a resident program, for someone to come in. I really feel like that first year, you’re kind of just like getting used to the fact of knowing everybody’s name in the office, and knowing all the clients name.
Alexandria: But after the first year, you actually feel like you have at least a grasp on what it is that you do within the office. And it’s like, then year two and three is really like year two is more of a growth year, and then year three is like, now it’s time to be a boss. I’m actually good at this, and let me show what I’m good at.
Christine: I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Alexandria: I added the boss part. [crosstalk]. But yeah. I think this was really great again, thank you so much, Christine. I just want to give you the chance if there’s anything else you want to add, because I know people are listening like, “More, tell us more.” But the residency programs are, I am a huge fan of them, and I wish there were more of out there, because there’s only maybe four or five, and it’s like each person is doing two a year. So only 10 lucky next gen people a year get to be a part of a residency program. That’s unfortunate. You’ve kind of talked on it why firms should begin it, but how do you think we get that off the ground more of like having way more residency programs throughout the country for next gen to take advantage of?
Christine: That’s a wonderful question. I think a lot of it revolves around education. And I think the more that people hear about it either in the media, or hearing about it at conferences, and not just talking about it, but having conversations about what is the true structure. What does it look like? And almost kind of having like a boiler plate structured to it that could be shared. Then, a lot of the legwork is taken out of it. Including like what would compensation ranges be. Because ultimately, it’s like the next generation not only are they leaving after two to three years, they also are very, very interested in having a career path.
Christine: If we’re able to come together as a community, and as a profession, to say, “Okay, here’s a career path for a resident.” It’s already built out, it’s done, along with compensation, along with bonuses, along with by this point in time they should be able to do X, Y, and Z. I think that can help other firms implement it without feeling like, “I just don’t have the time or the resources to do so.”
Alexandria: So it sounds like I’ll be seeing you at a future conference, and it sounds like you already have a session kind of built out with this record.
Christine: I would love to do it.
Alexandria: Because, I mean, that’s how…, we’re going to get educated, and we’re going to help firms really start building these out, so next gen can start taking advantage of it. I mean, that sounds like that’s the main thing that needs to happen next.
Christine: Absolutely. Really, just because you’ve never had a residency program, or you don’t have a residency graduate at your firm, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Even if you’re just starting your own firm, you could bring on a resident. Because the thing is like the residencies can adapt. They’re all going to be different. But there’s a lot of value in having different experiences based off of where your firm is, or how old your firm is. So hopefully you’ll have one at your firm too.
Alexandria: Now, you’re gonna put it back on me, Christine. Thank you so much, again, Christine. This was really great. I mean over here taking frantic notes. But I know the listeners are really like, “I needed to hear this today. This really shared a light on just everything that’s going on.” And just how you are and the amazing work that you’re doing, and how a lot of people might be really considering teaching now. I’m really shocked at how many young professionals are getting into the teaching space for the profession, and I think that’s amazing.
Christine: It’s a wonderful thing, and it will be what changes and propels the profession forward for sure. Thank you so much for having me, and I’m glad that we sat next to each other at dinner.