Putting Your Own Stamp on an Existing Practice: A Conversation with Irfan Bhabhrawala

  

ACP Insights is a webinar series that features ACP member advisors. The series provides a platform for members to share their ACP experiences with prospective members and other interested parties. We hope that hearing from our members will help you decide if the ACP methodology of fee-only comprehensive planning is right for you.


In a recent episode, we spoke with Irfan Bhabhrawala, CFP®, Owner of Arbor Financial in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He described his experience taking over an existing ACP-affiliated firm. He discovered Arbor Financial when seeking a firm to advise his parents, and in time, he joined that same firm as an employee and then bought it from his family's advisor.

Taking Over an Established Practice

ACP planners have taken many different paths to their financial planning practices. Many ACP members have founded their own businesses or joined existing practices as second-generation advisors. But these aren’t the only routes to this distinctive way to add value to clients.


Rather than starting his own practice, Irfan took a different path. Irfan joined Arbor Financial in 2014, a fee-only firm with offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan, founded by another ACP member. He bought the practice less than two years later. Beyond providing a holistic approach with due attention to tax planning, Arbor Financial also serves the unique needs of the University of Michigan employees.

From Real Estate to Financial Planning

Irfan first became interested in financial planning when he landed a tech job while in his 20s and started saving for retirement. While he discussed his new interest in investing and planning with family and friends, it wasn’t related to his career at the time.


A few years later, Irfan was working in real estate when his parents were looking to retire. According to Irfan, his mom was “pretty stressed; she was just not sure that they had enough [money to retire on].”


Irfan suggested that they hire a financial planner and get some help. They agreed, but when he started looking for an advisor, he found it to be depressing and disappointing. It seemed like “everyone had something to sell.” Irfan recalled, “It was a little bit of a struggle, and I just kind of assumed that that’s all that was out there.”


But then Irfan and his family found Arbor Financial, the company that he now owns and runs. Then owned and operated by an ACP member, the practice had an approach to financial planning that Irfan found refreshing, emphasizing fee-only, holistic planning.


A few years later, when Irfan was looking to begin a career in financial planning, working with Arbor Financial was a natural fit.

A Unique Form of Financial Planning

According to Irfan, “I always had in my head that something like the ACP method was out there and available,” but “when I first started looking for my parents, I was pretty surprised at how the industry worked.”


Frustrated with other financial planning company’s emphasis on sales and commissions, Arbor Financial’s holistic approach was a breath of fresh air for Irfan. He notes that many ACP methods have become more prevalent in the past few years, and more people are operating more comprehensively and holistically. But over a decade ago, when he first discovered Arbor Financial, its approach to fee-only financial planning really set it apart.

Serving the Unique Needs of University Employees

Irfan already had deep ties to Ann Arbor when he bought Arbor Financial, working at the University of Michigan. This made it easy for him to relate to employees and retirees because he was familiar with the university’s culture.


Working with multiple clients from the university, he could better understand what benefits they were offered and could relate to them on a personal level. As Irfan notes,

“When we have things in common and can relate to each other’s experience, it’s easier and quicker to build a trusting relationship.”


That said, there’s also a lot of diversity when it comes to employees of the university. Different individuals have unique challenges, opportunities, and goals, so no two clients are truly alike, even if they work for the same employer. It’s a welcome challenge to understand each client’s needs and values and come up with a plan that works best for them.

Putting Your Own Stamp on an Existing Business

Taking over an existing business comes with its own set of challenges. It’s important to find a balance between making changes and preserving the core elements of a successful business. As Irfan notes, “I think that’s really kind of the fun part of it all; just being able to, as a small business owner, put your own stamp on your business.”


While Irfan may have made some superficial changes in technology and business processes, not a lot has changed in other ways. Irfan and the former owner already shared a similar philosophy and approach firmly cemented in ACP’s core values.


Sharing common ground helps to make the transition easier from one owner to another. According to Irfan, “Things may look and feel differently, but in a lot of ways, they’re the same.” Irfan still works with many clients that the practice has served for decades.

Buying a Practice from an ACP Member

Because the previous owner was already an ACP member, ACP values were embedded in Arbor Financial’s DNA. In fact, those same values were part of what drew Irfan to Arbor Financial in the first place. When Irfan took over the practice, he decided to become an ACP member as well.


Discussing the benefits of ACP membership, Irfan reflects that, “For me, the reason I’m still with ACP is the people and the friendships and the relationships.” When Irfan first joined ACP, he was a new advisor and felt that he was less experienced than other members, but he relates that “people were willing to help me from the get-go.”


ACP cultivates a caring and unselfish atmosphere and is a reserve of deep practical knowledge for new advisors.

A Shared Set of Values Anchors ACP Membership

ACP members practice a variety of different ways; their practices all look different. With so many ways to approach financial planning, the thing members all have in common is a set of shared values of what they believe will add value for clients. This set of shared values cuts across all of these different approaches.


When you have some core philosophical things in common, it’s a lot easier to relate to each other and learn from different perspectives. Irfan reflects that “I definitely had some negative preconceived notions about the financial planning industry, and this was a huge surprise for me to find the ACP community, full of high-quality people who want to do the right thing and help each other.”


If you’re interested in joining ACP, schedule a call with us today to learn more!

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