What I Learned In My First Year As A Financial Planner

Although I prepared by studying evenings and weekends for two years to meet the coursework and exam requirements of the Certified Financial Planner process, leaving my friends both at the University of Kentucky and in Frankfort wasn’t easy. After doing the same thing professionally for over 20 years, though, I was ready for a new challenge that would engage my brain in a new and different way. So, after 25 years’ experience as a client of Moneywatch Advisors, I joined the firm. After my first year in the financial planning profession, here is what I have learned – about our clients, about the financial services industry and, most important, about myself:

  • Work-Life balance is the way to live: I’ve always known this intellectually, but I have now learned it emotionally as I now have time to take my son to school every day, drive him to soccer and lacrosse practices and travel with my wife to see my daughter dance ballet in college. I still work hard because I really enjoy what I’m doing but I also prioritize spending time with my loved ones. I am living the life I want and my goal is to help my clients do the same. 
  • Our real value is our clients’ peace of mind: Our niche is serving busy professionals who are consumed with their careers and busy with their families and don’t have time to plan and manage their financial futures. From UK faculty and staff to CPA’s to government relations professionals, we help our clients determine what amount of investment assets they will need to achieve their financial freedom, how much to save to reach their goal, how to save taxes while they save and how to invest their hard-earned savings to help them reach their goals as soon as possible. Our clients are smart but don’t have the time and inclination to tackle these issues on their own.
  • Short-term goals are as important as retirement goals: I probably should have learned this earlier in life, but we all must enjoy life now while also saving for our financial freedom. Whether it be a travel experience or a vacation home, include those desires in your financial plan too.
  • Trust between advisor and client is vital: Let’s face it, other than going to the doctor, opening one’s finances to a professional is about the most personal business transaction there is. Trust is key and we have to work every single day to build it and keep it.
  • Numbers are fine but people are what matter: While the planning and investing advice we provide is the core of what we do, how we relate to people is the key. The more we know about our clients’ hopes and dreams, the better we can help them achieve them. Being a good listener is clearly a core competency of a good financial planner.
  • The financial services industry doesn’t have a very good reputation: Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have written about advisors in some of the huge firms being compensated for pushing clients into products that may not be right for them. As independent fiduciaries for our clients, we are required to provide advice that is in the best interest of our clients, not just advice that is suitable. I don’t know why anyone would choose an advisor that isn’t required to meet that highest standard, but we have to work hard to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the crowd.
  • I really like helping people in a personal way: Since Moneywatch helped guide Lisa and me to our own financial freedom that allowed me to tackle a new challenge, it has been really fun helping others do what we’ve already done.

People sometimes ask me if I wish I made this move years ago, and I always answer, “no.” I really enjoyed my time at UK advocating for the students, faculty and staff that  make it such a special place. And I am more well-rounded as a person because of that experience. But, if you have thoughts of a profession change later in your career, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to explore that opportunity.

Moneywatch Advisors is Female-Owned – Does It Matter?

I have a distinct memory of my 7th Grade Social Studies teacher, Reva Hoyt, telling our class that there would never be, nor should there ever be, a female president. Now, this was the mid-1970’s so, clearly, times were different back then. But, I remember being taken aback by her statement even then. She reasoned, in part, that women didn’t have the emotional temperament to lead the country. While I disagree with her reasoning, Ms. Hoyt’s prediction has certainly held true for the last 40 years.

However, our President is Ramsey Bova, who owns the majority of our firm, Moneywatch Advisors. She has 20 years’ experience as a financial planner, learning the business from the ground up from her father, Bob, who started the firm in 1980. She also holds the highest designation in our profession, as a Certified Financial Planner. Unfortunately, only 23% of Certified Financial Planners are female.

While I am confident Ramsey will be very uncomfortable when she reads this post, I believe it is an important story to tell. To be quite candid, however, I am struggling with WHY this is so noteworthy. A 2014 study by the Certified Financial Planner board asked 657 men and 572 women to determine their preference for male or female advisors. Guess what? Very few people gave a hoot either way. Only 11% of both men and women indicated that the gender of their advisor was either “somewhat important” or “critical” in their choice of an advisor.

To back that up, clients who have chosen to work with Moneywatch in the year since I joined the firm want to know that the firm will help them plan for their futures, advise them on how much to save and how to save on taxes while doing it, manage their investments and, in general, provide the advice that is in THEIR best interests, not ours. Now, it isn’t uncommon for people to assume the person with the name Ramsey is male, but no one is surprised or disappointed when they learn she isn’t.

When I began writing this I toyed with a list of virtues or skills commonly attributed to women that might make them better financial planners. But, it didn’t take me very long to conclude a list like that would be as ridiculous as listing why women would NOT be good planners. I will say, however, that a study over the 2004-2008 time-period showed that companies with three or more female corporate directors significantly outperformed companies with no female directors. Just sayin’. More specific to the financial planning industry, the magazine “WealthAdvisor” wrote that only 10% of financial planning firms are women-owned but they make up 38% of the firms in the “Top Performer” category.

So, does it matter that Moneywatch is female-owned?

I don’t know, but here is my experience: Lisa and I were clients of Moneywatch for 25 years before I joined the firm. Ramsey and her dad helped us plan and invest for a day when we could be in the financial position for me to scratch that persistent entrepreneurial itch that I’d had for a long time. To have the financial freedom to take on a new challenge after age 50 was a dream of mine and they helped us make it possible. Now, I didn’t think that new challenge would be to work at Moneywatch but joining the firm has enabled me to work with Ramsey in her role as a leader, not just as a client.

After both experiences, I believe the reason Moneywatch’s ownership is noteworthy is because it is still so unusual. Why aren’t there more female financial planners; why are there so few women-owned firms? There are a variety of reasons, to be sure, but I believe the most telling takeaway from this discussion is it seems very few people care about their planners’ gender. All they care about is results.

I am interested in your thoughts. Please comment at the end of this Post or email me directly at steve@moneywatchadvisors.com.