When people hear the phrase “financial planning” a few things probably come into mind: managing assets, investments, portfolios, etc. So much public perception of our industry, and sometimes the reality, is that financial planners and investment managers are one in the same.
We at ACP know a different story.
Our organization was built to show a new way to approach financial planning, an approach to embolden advisors and bolster clients, with the purpose of putting the interest of the client first.
This story vastly differs from media depictions of Wall Street hotshots and investment managers. We seek to cultivate a community of advisors whose goal is to improve the lives of their clients by taking a holistic, comprehensive approach to financial planning.
We know that many advisors don’t begin their careers in the fee-only, holistic financial planning space. It is our goal to provide those advisors with the tools, resources, education, and community they need to thrive in our fee-only fiduciary world. Making the transition from a sales or commission-based financial planning career isn’t always easy, but we have so many advisors who have done it and found incredible success both personally and professionally.
We are excited today to bring you one of those stories. Featured on our podcast, Steve Swicegoood, CFP® and owner of Conscious Money Solutions, shared his journey from selling insurance to owning a successful insurance business to making his transition into fee-only, comprehensive financial planning.
Entering the world of finance
Steve didn’t start his career as a financial planner. He began at a large insurance agency. Selling insurance was an important role he found exciting and challenging. A fun fact he shared with us is that he helped write the first hot air balloon insurance policy in the US.
Working in these unique situations taught him a lot about risk tolerance and management as well as understanding the right questions to ask someone, and more importantly, how to ask them. He became fluent in the language of risk management which proved essential as he began his transition from sales into financial planning.
Steve was always interested in investing and taxes, but it wasn’t his area of focus and he wasn’t able to dedicate a lot of time to it. After many meetings with his clients, he realized they needed more than he was able to do legally for them in his current role. His job in insurance restricted his scope to selling certain products and discouraged him from offering other advice or services that went beyond what those products could offer. He felt confined to the role of a salesperson even though he wanted to help his clients in a much deeper way.
Before long, his clients were asking so many questions about their investments, portfolios, and the impact on their taxes, Steve decided to take his career in a new direction and began practicing under the assets under management (AUM) model.
Where AUM fell short
AUM is a respectable, widespread, and often comfortable way to make a living as a financial advisor. But it didn’t prove to be the ultimate solution for Steve to help his clients in the way he wanted.
He found that compliance set up a lot of roadblocks for conversations and advice that wasn’t cut and dry asset management. There seemed to be no way to integrate financial planning into the AUM model and he felt that restricted the type of advice he could give his clients.
With AUM, an advisor’s fees are tied to the total number of assets they are managing, so the larger the investable assets, the more the advisor is able to make. While some thrive under this model, Steve felt that tying his value to the unpredictability of the market didn’t make much financial sense. He recalled 2008 being a really tough year for his firm as his client’s assets were losing money and he was working harder than ever to help.
The system felt disproportionate to him and he wanted a way to be fairly compensated for his time and talents without placing his financial wellbeing on the unpredictability of the market.
Another important dilemma for Steve was the internal conflicts he felt about the type of advice he could give clients. AUM provides a landscape for more inherent bias as the client’s assets are tied to the advisor’s income. For example, if a client asked whether they should withdraw funds from an account he was managing in order to pay off their house, he felt a strong conflict about how to advise the client.
Even though he always acted in his clients’ best interest, he wanted a model that didn’t put him in a position to choose between his financial wellbeing and the right decision for the client.
Switching from AUM to fee-only
Before officially making the decision to leave the AUM model behind, Steve faced many fears and doubts, namely that he wouldn’t be able to make a sustainable living and that his current clients wouldn’t be interested in the type of holistic, comprehensive planning he really wanted to do.
Steve wanted to know where his clients were spending their money, the role money played in their lives, how their taxes worked, and ways to make them more efficient to understand their unique insurance needs and to help them use their money to live the life they always wanted. He didn’t want to sell the insurance, per se, but he wanted to be able to help them figure out which policies they needed and which ones to leave behind. He wanted to help them structure their financial lives in a way that was complementary to their personal lives and would help them reach their larger goals, dreams, and aspirations.
He wanted to do more and help his clients see that he could.
Steve started by speaking with his clients about why he was moving away from his current model and the reasons this new structure would benefit them even more. To his great surprise, nearly every single client trusted him and his vision. This is what he felt most humbled and inspired by—that his clients were willing to trust him in this transition to provide richer, deeper advice.
This transition taught Steve what a privilege it is to be a fiduciary. Here at ACP, we stress the value and responsibility that title carries, but most importantly the privilege it is to be able to serve our clients in the best way we know how.
The journey to comprehensive financial planning taught Steve to value his job even more and the incredible importance that it has in the lives of his clients. So many advisors struggle to articulate their value and at ACP we want to help empower advisors to not only see the immense value of their work but to best express it to clients as well.
What Steve is doing now
After a whirlwind of a career, Steve practices comprehensive financial planning with a focus on coaching and counseling. He works with clients about every issue in their lives which touches money and seeks to draw out his clients’ goals and dreams to help devise a plan to achieve them.
How ACP can help your journey
Everyone has their own career path. For Steve, the community, training, and support of ACP allowed him to successfully transition from a commission-based practice to fee-only. If you are looking for a way to better serve your clients while also making a healthy living, check out what our ACP advisors are doing.
Our organization offers countless resources and opportunities to support and encourage advisors in their transition to fee-only comprehensive financial planning. Get in touch with us today to learn more about membership benefits and how we can support you in your transition to a fee-only financial advisor.