Welcome back to the 290th episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today's podcast is Andrew Komarow. Andrew is the founder of Tenpath Financial Group and Planning Across the Spectrum, a hybrid firm based in Farmington, Connecticut that oversees $100 million in assets under management for 100 client households.
What's unique about Andrew, though, is how he, as a financial advisor with autism, has built a firm with a specialized niche of autistic and other neurodivergent clients, helping them navigate their unique and complex financial planning challenges.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about how being diagnosed with autism as an adult helped Andrew understand himself better and realize he had an opportunity to niche-focus his firm to serve clients who are also neurodivergent adults, how the combination of creating a separate website for Planning Across the Spectrum and leveraging a Facebook group for the special needs community has helped Andrew develop a steady path for growth in his specialization, and how Andrew created an impact investing index that he labeled as a “Neurodiversity Index,” with 79 companies that embrace neurodiversity and inclusion (because on the periodic table, gold is represented by the letters AU, and its atomic number is 79).
We also talk about how, despite never graduating high school (but gaining a GED later), Andrew credits his autism and the hyperfocus that comes along with it for helping him to ultimately earn more than 16 professional financial planning designations, how working at an insurance company early in his career and getting frustrated with adhering to large-firm corporate rules helped Andrew realize he liked giving financial advice to clients but was going to need to be more independent to have the control to serve his unique clients the way they need to be served, and how an unexpected separation from that insurance company ended up being a blessing in disguise as it forced Andrew to find a new growth path that led him to focus into his ideal client type and ultimately fueled the launch his own firm.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Andrew shares how he was surprised by how much he actually enjoyed building his own firm and having the flexibility to decide for himself what procedures and roles are put in place, why Andrew believes we are too hard on ourselves and how important it is to be kinder to ourselves about the challenges we face, and why Andrew feels the best business decision he ever made was hiring his first team member to assist him even before he really had the revenue to afford it… because it was the only way he’d be able to grow and scale further.
So, whether you’re interested in learning about how Andrew took advantage of the separation from his former firm as an opportunity to serve the types of clients he preferred and in the way he wanted, how receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult not only gave Andrew a better understanding of himself, but also how he could help other neurodivergent adults navigate their financial challenges, or how Andrew leverages educational tools on his website, along with Facebook groups, to maintain a steady path of growth, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Andrew Komarow.
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Andrew Komarow
- Planning Across the Spectrum
- Tenpath Financial Group
- Neurodiversity Index
- What Makes Financial Advisors Happy And The Second Kitces Research Study On Advisor Wellbeing”
- “6 Types Of Niches For Financial Advisors To Differentiate Themselves”
- LPL Financial
Looking for sample client service calendars, marketing plans, and more? Check out our FAS resource page!
Michael: Welcome, Andrew Komarow, to the "Financial Advisor Success" podcast.
Andrew: Thank you so much for having me.
Michael: I'm really looking forward to today's discussion. One of the themes that we often cover here on the podcast is talking about advisors that have interesting specializations, interesting niches. And I know you have built out very deep expertise in specialization around working with neurodivergent individuals, which is becoming this broader label for those that have ADD or ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and a few other things under that collective umbrella. And so, you've been building this practice and specialization in the area, which I know, for many of us, often we form specializations in areas where we have some kind of personal connection. I know a lot of advisors who have a niche with teachers because their families were teachers, or they have a niche with police officers because their families were police officers. Or we recently had someone on whose specialization is people from the nuclear power industry because he spent a career in the nuclear power industry before career changing into financial advisors.
And I find for a lot of advisors that have specializations around children and families with special needs it's often because they had a child who is a special needs child and have lived some of that journey. And I'm excited and interested for the conversation today because I know your path is a little bit different, in that you work with neurodivergent clients as a neurodivergent advisor, as an advisor who got diagnosed as an adult with autism. And I will admit, I don't know very many advisors with autism or at least who have been public about it, saying and acknowledging that they have autism. I think, right or wrong, both the industry and the public has certain stereotypical views around autism, which I'll say, broadly are not consistent with what we usually think of as financial advisors. So, I'm excited for today's conversation around, just what that journey looks like of being a financial advisor with autism, and how does that work. And how does autism show up in your life as a financial advisor?
How Andrew Defines Autism And How The Diagnosis Affects His Financial Advisor Career [04:59]
Andrew: So, how does it work? I'd like to say, broadly, right, people ask me questions about what I love to talk about the most. And also, really common with autism, or dyslexia, or ADHD, there's terms "special interest", "hyperfocus", and "hyper-interest". And for me, my work never feels like work. And it's truly what I'd rather be doing and enjoy. So, I get to really dive in and learn, it's what I'd rather be doing. Sometimes there's people with very, very special focuses that maybe can't be translated into commercial value, right? I think I got a little lucky, in some ways in that. Mine has a commercial value. At least what I'm interested in, so.
Michael: It's an interesting way to frame it, right? One of the things that typifies those with autism is often having a deep interest in something, passion, interest in something, sometimes framed as obsessive interest in something. And as you know, sometimes you can end out with a really deep interest in something that is neat and passionate to you but not necessarily as commercially viable. You seem to have taken on a super deep interest in the financial services industry and advice about money, which happens to be extremely commercial as something you can do with that knowledge based on that interest. And so, was that just a quirk of fate, that it turned out that financial services or money issues happen to be a thing that you get really excited and interested in?
Andrew: Well, I am Jewish. But no, it always has. For my bar mitzvah, I remember I wanted to buy... So, 20 years ago, I wanted to buy Palm Pilot, right, or Palm, right, the stock.
Michael: The stock. So, you didn't want a Palm Pilot, you wanted Palm stock?
Andrew: Correct. Yes, exactly. And actually, I think it was sold a few years later. I learned what capital gains tax was. That was separate. But no, it was always an interest, I guess, going back. I always wanted to run the lemonade stand or the store, right? Or at the tag sale, I wanted to handle the money. Actually, one of my earliest memories of this is my mother trying to teach me about supply and demand. And I think I'm five or six. And at the bottom of the hill, in our suburban town, there was just an empty lot of land that seemed like it had been for sale my whole life, right? And my mom was a real estate agent. And I asked her, "Well, can I buy it? I want to play there, basically." Right? "Well, it's only worth what somebody will pay for it," I said. And logically, to me, especially at five, I saw no reason they shouldn't accept $50. It's been for sale for forever, 50 is better than zero. Nobody else is offering anything. Simplistically and not simplistically, that kind of worked.
I also think too, that when it comes to autism or not, or really any types of thinkers, it seems to be pretty generally, there's three different ways people think, right? And I think that's almost as much, if not more important than what you like. It's like what you like and why? So, people who are really good at memorization, word fact would be the term I'd use. And then there's people who very much think, like, in pictures. Like, TV show, "Good Doctor," or just other things, which is not me, actually. And then there's people who, I'd say, are more problem solvers, or pattern see-ers, right? And I think most of the population falls into one of those three categories. And as a financial planner, I like solving problems. So, what could be better than solving problems about what I love to talk about the most? That's what our job is.
Michael: And so, help us... Because, again, I'm cognizant, there's a lot of stereotypes out there broadly around neurodivergence, in general, and autism, in particular, depending on your age bracket of movies. For a lot of people, probably the first introduction to autism was the movie "Rain Man," which had a particular version expression of autism. So, perhaps just you can help educate us and bring us up to speed a little bit on what really is autism? What does it mean to have autism? Just help us understand what that diagnosis is.
Andrew: I don't know if I can even say one thing that would be that applicable to everyone. I think the hyperfocus is definitely there. There's social, right? Social and key communication, which when I'm talking about something that I love to talk about, my communication's very, very different.
So, if I'm not talking about what we're talking about today, right? Or one of my other two, it's a special interest. I'm very different when I'm talking about that; it's like I'm “on” when I'm talking about something I'm interested in. That's very common. As far as stereotypes, I really think it's... The biggest one I see is that there are a lot of people who aren't that good at math, a lot of very creative, lots of really visual... Over half our staff is autistic. We have dyslexic, ADHD employees. We actually have only one employee who isn't, and we like to make fun of her for that, which is fantastic. And so, I'd really say that I really don't know if there's a good answer to that question. It's, don't have any assumptions, right? There's also a lot of either co-occurring or if somebody has an intellectual disability, and if they can, you know, what it's called? Non-speaking, how can they communicate? Can sometimes really be considered a level of intelligence, right? Or, like, Michael, I think we would both be screwed if they did intelligence based upon handwriting legibility.
Michael: Yes, yes. Mine is completely indecipherable. Yes. So for you, as you'd said, communication is very different when it's in your topical interests, right, which is much of our discussion, say, around the financial services industry and what we do here. And then it's different when it's some other domain. So, what is communication like for you when it's not in the financial services domain of comfort? Like, how does that change it for you?
Andrew: Well, I'd say, well, to not answer the question, I mean, there is a lot of overlap. I'm very direct, I can definitely still misread social cues. I remember one time, six, seven years ago, there was a prospect I had. And I remember, and I actually ran into them at the movie theater with my wife. Okay. This is maybe seven, or eight years ago, and I didn't have a diagnosis at the time either. And she recognized me, she said, "Hi." And she said, she'd call me. I thought she was actually going to call me by the way, right? My wife was, like, "She's not calling you." "She's just... No, no, no, no. She wanted to go watch the movie." But at the same time, trying to find where direct clear communication is good for everyone, it's a term...universal design. So, try to focus on what's good for everyone, regardless of whether they're autistic neurodiverse or not, right? Who on the planet likes fluorescent lights, as an example? Literally nobody.
Michael: So that would be an un-universal design, universally bad design.
Andrew: Exactly. Yes. But a lot more quiet, a lot more introverted. People who might only know me in a professional sense, might not understand how like, oh, no. But I can't call the doctor to check on a prescription or to order food, you know, the social anxiety to do that, or make conversation about literally anything else. It is really hard, if not close to impossible, you know, most social stuff, right? If I can't find one of the couple areas that I'm interested in, I'll just be in the corner the whole time.
Michael: So, what was it that, I guess, led to or triggered an autism diagnosis for you? Because as I understand it, you were not diagnosed as a child, this was only sort of a diagnosis discovery realization that came much later in life.
Andrew: Correct. Correct. And I was the stereotype as a child. I probably should have been, but I wasn't. I was in therapy and I was talking to my therapist, and I think it was the show "Atypical" on Netflix several years ago, I think the first season. And I worked...my first job was at CompUSA, if anyone remembers that store. I like computers a lot too. So, been closed for a while, he had a job there. He liked penguins. When I was a child, I liked penguins. And I can't remember, there was something else or some of the stuff he said, and I was joking. My therapist was like, "You probably shouldn't be joking" you know, was pretty much how it started.
Michael: And so just this realization of, "Oh, I'm showing up the way the person in 'Atypical' shows up with autism, wait, that might actually literally be me?"
Andrew: Yes. Or like a lot of similarities too, right? I'm very direct, you know, say stupid things or blunt. But at the same time, talk about a stereotype, I'm also extremely sarcastic. I grew up in a sarcastic household, where sarcasm is my fluent language too.
Michael: Blunt and sarcastic, I'm sure that goes well in some situations.
Andrew: Some, yes. Some, it doesn't.
Andrew’s Journey Toward Becoming A Financial Advisor [15:00]
Michael: So, what was the path into the financial services industry? How did you land in the world of being a financial advisor?
Andrew: So, I had my own business fixing computers, and I really liked that. And I was paying my way through community college, fixing computers. I thought I wanted to be a UNIX system administrator. And I really liked, again, fixing them and solving the problem, but I was tired of being called at 8:00 on a Saturday night, you know, it's an emergency, needs to be fixed. And talk about value, right? There used to be people who repair TVs and VCRs. They don't exist. When it comes to solving computer problems, that I liked, you know, kind of saw, hey, if I can recommend a cheaper one to somebody else, you know, "Buy a new one instead of fixing it." So, my uncle worked for Prudential, they'll hire anyone who will fog a mirror, and he was joking when he said, "Would you like the job interview?" And I said, "Sure." And I was interested, again, in personal finance, in investing. And I just really think a lot of its luck that I really took to wanting to learn everything I could.
Michael: So, I guess along those lines, as you said, this gets a lot easier for you when it's in the topics and domains of interest for you. And you had the learning about supply and demand when the local landowner wouldn't sell you the plot of playground land for $50 and buying Palm stock with bar mitzvah money. But was personal finance and investing always a theme for you early on? Or was that really just kind of a random discovery later, and then it turned out it stuck because that was the thing that you really got interested and passionate about?
Andrew: I think the personal finance was, again, or especially helping others, was definitely later, I'll say. The economics or the entrepreneurial part of what I do... In high school, I would burn CDs and sell them for a dollar. I'd get the latest hip-hop album. I didn’t need to listen to it, from somebody who had it, and then I'd sell them for a dollar so I could buy soda. So, people seem like...who knew me then don't seem surprised now. But the personal finance really came later. I don't think we've mentioned, I didn't graduate high school. I started kindergarten late because of a speech delay, and I have a GED. But I also have quite a few designations, and people would never know or guess.
Michael: I get the jokes for more letters after my name than in my name, and all that, for 8-odd degrees and designations. But for people who are listening for context, Andrew literally has more than twice as many designations after his name than I do. And I think you have literally done everything the American College has ever offered, plus a number of others.
Andrew: Correct. Yes. No, that is absolutely correct. Yes. And I don't think I knew how much a lot of it would interest me. I started getting them because at Prudential, there was somebody studying and I'm just like, "Well, why are you doing this?" He's like, "Well, they pay for it. And when you get your first one, you pass, they give you a $1,000 and a trip to Vegas." Sold!
Michael: So, you know what's better than a $1,000 trip to Vegas? $16,000 and 16 trips to Vegas.
Andrew: Yes. No, I only got it once. I did only... Yes, they didn't...
Michael: Oh, they didn't do it again every time you got another one?
Andrew: No, it was just the first designation.
Michael: Oh, man. That's kind of a letdown, I have to admit, that they wouldn't keep sending you back.
Andrew: And then, at the time, I didn't have a degree either. I had college credits, but no degree. So, after you got the CLU or the ChFC, then they'd pay for a degree too, of higher education. So, I had it all mapped out. Here was the path to the designations, the degree.
Michael: Very cool. And so that was all employee benefits, advisor benefits of Prudential, that they had a lot of budget for reinvesting in your education. And so, you were able to leverage that really heavily as you were building?
Andrew: Yes. In addition to finding a school that would take my computer credits. And it actually... It sounds obvious now, but my specialization is in financial planning and technology, that didn't exist. I needed to convince the school why those two things were important, which is not that hard, right? They're intertwined. And I took a lot of tests in the CLEP, so I was able to finish my bachelor's very quickly. Which I think is, you know, without that can't have the CFP, right? And I looked at it from, "No, I don't want to learn about that, if I can take a test for analyzing and interpreting literature." And if I had passed, "anybody can get the six credits for passing". But that was the quickest way. Almost like what was a negative? If you're my father and you're saying, "He's taking a shortcut," I'll definitely say I took a shortcut to my bachelor's degree with the general ed I had no interest in.
Michael: So, how do you get this swing from challenges in high school, wasn't able to graduate, had to go back later for a GED, and then, oh, by the way, plowing through 16-odd professional designations, which is just a phenomenally large amount of information to learn, and absorb, and test on. How do you go from high school as a challenge to crushing on advanced education and professional designations? It seems to be going so well for you.
Andrew: Again, I think that would really sum it up to autism neurodiversity, special interest, right? Something where, if you could give me something fun to do and read my, what was it, HS3 24 life insurance law was really fun... For some reason, that one interested me a lot...
Michael: Oh, I liked that one too. Back when the American College still did the old style, like, blue bound Huebner books.
Andrew: Yes. And the way I learned, a big one was being able to learn in the way that I liked to learn. I would listen to the books in the car. Or nobody listened to the American College books or the audio recording. But I can't sit all day in a classroom, in a lecture. I remember one of my first months at Prudential, there was one of those, I'm just going to call it a stupid all-day, you know, rah-rah meetings. There was somebody who wasn't there, and I'm just like, "Well, why don't they have to be there? Oh, they're out selling, they're making money." And I'm like, "Okay, my goal is to make money so I don't have to be at this one next year." And I wasn't.
Prospecting Clients And Navigating Social Cues As An Advisor With Autism [22:04]
Michael: So, talk about that side of the business, that going out and marketing and prospecting and getting clients, which, for most people, the ultimate in social activities, right, we're supposed to go out and network and connect with others to find our way to prospects we can be introduced to and do business with. So, talk to us about the social dynamics of prospecting and going out to get clients, and what that's like for you.
Andrew: What it's like now is very different than when I started my career, which makes sense. That's common for everyone in theory...
Michael: Yes. Yes. It's especially awkward and painful for basically everyone in the beginning, but, yep.
Andrew: I think what was really good for me about a place like Prudential is they had, and maybe Mike, you had them too, was, you know, "orphans" as we call them, you know, the outlying clients. And nobody wanted those and talk about people to practice on. There's literally thousands of people, where you have a reason to speak to them, and then you could move on. And I assume some of this still exists, like "see 10 people a week". I saw 10 people a week for years. I took that way too seriously. I had to see 10 people a week. I would be there 16 hours until I had my 10 people next week, right? And I think that's the largest part of the success, right? And that's a numbers game. Another common thing can be a script. I remember actually the first one I called the individual had passed away. So, my first ever - or on a live call - is, “he's dead."
Michael: Well, then I have great news for you because he was insured, and you have a claim because I'm calling from the life insurance company.
Andrew: But even just of... And it took a while, but there were just thousands of them, like, just so many. And I saw it as the goal was to get a meeting with them, and that's all I wanted. And once I developed a script, it was...that's a big thing with, again, autism is routine. And I never thought I had a lot of routines in a strict schedule, but I do. I think I'd have to shower, waking up in the morning, if our house was burning down, right, like, first thing I do. There's worse routines to have than showering first thing in the morning.
Michael: That's true. That's true.
Andrew: But I'd call, and I'd have a script, and I'd... I also think I just looked at some things a little bit differently too, you know, with like, "Oh, well, you know, here's the opportunity. Here's the reason to call them." And just looked at it from a, you know, did I like the calling them? No, but almost like a video game, almost like checking it off my list, right? Got to have 10, got to call this many...
Michael: Yeah. It's great. There's structure, a routine, a script, and a scoring system.
Andrew: Yeah. I haven't put it that way before, but definitely.
Michael: Yeah. Well, that is interesting to me, though. So, the dynamic for you was... I mean, in essence, there's a level of, I was going to say, cold calling, orphan policies aren't quite cold calls. They're sort of semi-cold, semi-warm calls. And I guess for those who are listening, who aren't as familiar with the insurance side of the industry, when an insurance agent sells a policy, they become the agent of record on the policy. So, if you need help with it in the future, you call the agent who sold it to you. At some point, that agent may retire. And at the point that they retire, sometimes policies get reassigned to another agent, and sometimes they either just stay with the branch or they get reverted back to the home office. And they're known as orphaned policies because you're the parent, the original agent, is no longer there in the picture.
And so, for some insurance companies, over the years, if they've got a big pile of orphaned policies, you know, if the person has a servicing need, they just call the home office and it gets served. But no one's calling out to them at that point, because the agent is gone, but they do have a relationship with the insurance company.
So, if you call and say, "I'm Andrew, I'm calling from Prudential about your insurance policy," they'll usually take the call because they literally do have a policy with the insurance company. And then once they take the call, you can say, you know, "Can we come out and review the policy," or "Is there anything else going on in your financial life that we might be able to help you with?" And so, it becomes a way where you can get some conversations with people who can be prospects. And it's warmer than a cold call because they'll usually take the call since they've got a policy with the company. But they may not have been called on for 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, which means it's not the warmest of calls. But it also means there's a decent chance of other things you can do with them because their lives may have changed a lot since they got that original policy that's now orphaned.
Andrew: And then there's some of the people, for whatever reason, who came up in the system so they get a call a week, for whatever reason. But I would start it with, "I'm calling and I'm calling to update my records," which is a fact finder. And I would say, "I'm calling, I just want to update my records." "Well, it's been a while since we've spoken to anybody from Prudential." "Well, that's exactly why I'm calling." And, you know, doing 10-plus a week, you know, got really good at asking some of those fact-finding questions or noticing one or two things with their policies. Or sometimes what excited me the most and a reason to call one is, you know, where there was actually something I could see that they should do with their policy. Because then that's a great conversation to have. Because a lot of them were 30-plus-year-old policies. Prudential had tens of thousands of agents down to 2,500, right? I think one in 10 people in the United States has a Prudential life insurance policy, even if... No, it's insane how many people have these old, old policies.
Michael: You rarely want to ever replace a longstanding permanent insurance policy once it's built up. I mean, there can be situations, but they often are performing quite well, relative to the current environment, if only because you're getting a dividend scale or an interest crediting rate off of the insurance company's general account, which is a lot better than going interest rates today.
So, you were cutting your teeth in calls to orphan policies and then I guess, like, trying to fact find your way to other opportunities and other ways that you could do business with them once you've got them on the call, "Can I help you with the retirement account rollover? Do you need more insurance?" And so on and so forth?
Andrew: Yeah. No, and it really started with the fact finder. And again, I'm updating my records and then they give me information, and I'd see if there was any other... something else I could talk to them about. And, you know, I talked to many different people across different industries. I talked to everyone.
Michael: And so, was that turning into business for you? Were you getting cases written or dollars moved and business flowing?
Andrew: I started when I was 21, I was the top producer in my agency for the years in those years. So, the answer was yes. You know, almost like a bad addiction too. Because it almost... When I left, six years ago, it was a blessing and a curse because it was easy but not good at the same time. Eventually, it got to the point where, I think if I hadn't been forced to not have those, you know, it'd be very different. Because I knew if I met with 10 of them, that one of them would need my help with something, right? But that's not very enjoyable in the long run, meeting with nine people who aren't interested in working with you.
Michael: So, you were good at playing the numbers game because it was a routine that you could do very consistently and it would consistently produce results, but it's a really grindy routine when you get rejected by 90% of the people that you talk to.
Andrew: Definitely. Yeah. But I noticed a common theme from a lot of the people that I liked working with which was, you know, I really liked the people for most financial planners seemed to hate, where we have a lot of aerospace engineering around here, United Technologies, Pratt & Whitney, etc. So, I really liked the engineers. I really liked the analytical people. And I remember, you know... And it's funny looking back, so before I niched, I'm like, "Oh, I want to work with people who are like me." Well, at first, it was okay, maybe I want to specialize in engineers. You know, I really like the analytical people. Now, it's not saying they're all neurodiverse, but it makes sense come to think about it, why those were the people that I was really drawn to working with.
Why Andrew Transitioned From Insurance To Financial Planning [30:45]
Michael: So, what led to the change? Because, as you noted, you ultimately left Prudential a number of years ago, so what led you to depart the company?
Andrew: I'll say a fair amount of it was probably not being diagnosed. I very much... Insurance companies have a lot of stupid rules, bluntly, like, compliance. When I left even six years ago, we were using Lotus Notes for email still. And just, when I knew there was a better way, it was very hard on me to not want to do something that made sense to me. And in a big corporate environment, they're not going to always tell you the reasons why you can't do something, they may not even know, right? And that was and still is a very big struggle for me. So, I was a headache to management in the way that I think some of the other people were like, "Who is this kid? What is he doing that he's...?" You know, do you talk about like the iceberg effect, right, which is the reason I have a podcast. They just see some weird social, awkward, young kid making more...
Michael: But you had good numbers, so.
Andrew: Yeah. But also, I didn't want to just do what the company put in front of me. You could sell Prudential, you could sell other companies. And there was always that, you know, list of approved other things that you could sell. And I was always pushing, but why, I know this is out there, I know that it's best for my client, why can't I do it? They just want you to be like everyone else. And if there's something I'm not, it's like everyone else.
Michael: So, what came next? When you decided Prudential is not my long-term future, what did you look to do next?
Andrew: So, I was looking for something, but the decision was made for me more suddenly than I would've liked. But I'm glad it happened. So, I had to leave pretty quickly. And I already had my own office, my own everything set up. At that point, I had built up enough clients. And again, they contacted me. They had my number. Prudential did me a nice favor of sending everyone I was assigned to a letter stating that I was leaving. So, of course, then they pick up the phone and they call you, and that you’re not soliciting. So, I thank them for that. So, then I just had, you know, with a hybrid RIA that also does a lot of LPL, join them... And a lot of it was for the flexibility too. You know, being able to custody where it made sense, being able to work with what made sense and kind of do things my own way. I didn't really have a plan other than...you know, I didn't have a plan, at that point. It wasn't for a little while later.
Michael: So, Prudential unexpectedly said it's time to end and wind down and so you had to find a new home in short order.
Andrew: Yes. Correct.
Michael: And how did you pick who to join or who to work with? Did it just come down to whoever I can find that I can get up to speed quickly? Or was there more of a process or a vetting system of where am I going to go next?
Andrew: So, there were really just two. It was, I didn't want to be restricted with what I could and couldn't do. I wanted to be able, again, to focus on true financial planning but I wanted the flexibility. I didn't want a situation where if something made the most sense for a client... where the answer was "no", for no reason other than the answer's been "no". I don't know if you ever talked about the five monkey example, and I don't think I could do it justice if I was to repeat it now.
Michael: No, I don't know the five monkey example.
Andrew: Where there's five monkeys, and if they go to eat a banana, they get electrocuted or like an electrical shock. But they replace one monkey with another monkey, and then the one new monkey will go to touch the banana and all the others forewarn to not touch the banana. And eventually, all the monkeys are replaced to the point where none of the monkeys have ever been electrocuted by the banana or touching the banana, but they all know that you can't touch the banana. I feel like that's what I didn't want. I felt like that was working for a big company. Nobody knew the reason you couldn't do this anymore, it's just the way that it was, right? And that was what I...
Michael: That whole phenomenon where, at some point, a long time ago, someone did a bad thing and everyone was told you're not allowed to do the thing. And everybody who was around when that happened has since left and so nobody knows why you can't do the thing. They just all know you're not allowed to do the thing.
Andrew: Yeah. So, working for a company that I have full discretion on all my accounts, I could work with multiple custodians. And a lot of it was, I did only have a couple of options because of the relatively short order that I had. But again, great decision, nonetheless. I was semi-ready for it.
Michael: And so, what was the structure when you transitioned? Did you become a rep and open a branch yourself? Did you become an employee in some other firm? Were you affiliated under someone else's umbrella? What was the actual structure of how you tied into LPL?
Andrew: So, at Prudential, I already had my own private office and my own location, my own phone number. And I was actually even using my own DBA already at Prudential. So, I made that switch to where I kind of then just kept the same DBA, and I would switch.
Michael: So, you already had an office, a phone number, and a DBA?
Andrew: Yeah, exactly.
Michael: And Prudential terminated you and sent all your clients a letter to let you know that you weren't there anymore so that they could call the same firm, with the same name, at the same number, and find you exactly where you were with a new company?
Andrew: And nobody else was at that location, but me. Yes. So, I think they might have left a different number on the letter, but I don't think people called that one, so...
Michael: Well, because if they already had the number, they'd been calling you at already in there... I was going to say Rolodex, we don't use Rolodex anymore. But in your phone or in your contact list, like, you just call the number you always have, or you pull up any email from Andrew, from the past several years and just grab the phone number off the bottom, which is still the same.
Andrew: Correct. Yup. Well, "I'll have more options and lower fees but in the meantime, all your investments are staying the same." "Oh, okay." That's a pretty, you know, as far as conversations go, that's a pretty easy one.
Michael: So, did the nature of the focus of just the offering and what you were doing for clients change when you went from Prudential and LPL? I'm cognizant you had a...sounds like a relatively flexible product shelf at Prudential, but you are working for an insurance company so there does tend to be a bit of a bend towards accountability for insurance production, in particular. So, did that dynamic of what you were using in implementing change once you transitioned to LPL?
Andrew: Yes. So, one of the things too is, and this is very common is the insurance company, if you sell annuities or insurance, they won't appoint you to sell their insurance for a year or two. Whatever reason they give is not true, it's to prevent people from leaving if you can't service your clients by being their agent for a little while. But no, a lot of it was the investment flexibility too. The insurance and the stuff was there, but being able to... You know, individual stocks, ETFs, different types of investment options, it was still traditionally just a mutual fund program. You know, being able to... It was so open, it was exciting. I got to learn all of these things and solutions that I could help implement with my clients that I could never have done before, which was exciting. I mean, I'd say it's probably overwhelming. At first, it's like, "Oh, my God, there's so much I can do." And then you're like, "Whoa, okay. Maybe I should..." You know what I'm saying? It's kind of, like, somebody tried to implement everything they heard on every one of your podcasts, Michael, right?
Michael: Yes. Don't really recommend that. Like, find your one thing every now and then, you go like, "Oh, I'm going to try that." And like try that for a while, see how it goes. And then a couple of months, you can try another thing. Don't spend too much change up at once, it doesn't tend to go well.
Andrew: But I will say, and I have noticed this is really common with neurodivergent, planners, and just individuals as well is getting lost in the details. You talked about what's a commonality, usually that's one of them, and not seeing the big picture. So, a lot of financial planners I've spoken to can get too involved in the product or too involved in the weeds. I don't know if Einstein actually said it, but I'm pretty sure he actually said it, which is, if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. So, I always try to...you know, I keep that in the back of my mind every day because I could talk really nerdy. But if you want to stop talking to somebody on an airplane, Michael, tell them you sell life insurance, and they will not talk to you the rest of the flight, at all, like ever.
Michael: Ironically, as much as I fly on airplanes and occasionally get people I'm sitting next to that I would rather not talk to, I have not actually tried that, and I don't know why not. I may have to try that next time.
Andrew: Even my wife's tried it on a flight without me, and she's like, "It works." So...
Michael: What do you do? "I sell life insurance."
Andrew: They will not talk to you. You're done.
Michael: Awesome. So, if so much of your growth at Prudential, though, was driven by all the opportunities that come from orphan policies, so what happens when you're out of Prudential and at LPL, and orphan policies aren't a thing anymore?
Andrew: I melt down... I figure my life's coming to...over. What am I going to do now? But I guess I was lucky in that I had a bulk of enough clients, that had been with...you know, that contacted me, that I liked working with, where it did provide me the opportunity to, I think, not need to do that anymore, to focus. And I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I had a partner under, you know, another young CFP, since don’t. He did college planning. I thought...like I said, I wanted to work with engineers. I kept trying to do the 10 appointments a week. I'm a really anxious person, I never thought I was. Because if you've never not been anxious, how do you know that you're anxious? It's a kind of interesting way to look at it. So, I think what is it, Mark Cuban said, you know, work like somebody's working twice as hard to steal everything away from you, is pretty much how I live my... I don't know if that's a positive but...
Michael: Keeps you focused. Keeps you focused.
Andrew: It does! But what I knew I liked is I knew I really liked the complex cases, the really complex issues. What I also knew I didn't like was working with really, really ultra-high-net-worth because that's traditionally what we think of as complex. But at the same time, they also need our help the least. And I found them the least... And I think you've published some things recently on the satisfaction advisors get working up that scale, right? I think I saw some...
Michael: Yes, yes, yes. It was one of the things that we found in our well-being research that, like, just advisor happiness and well-being, like how good we feel about ourselves and the work that we do tends to fall off quite materially once you start working with ultra-high-net-worth clients.
Andrew: I already knew that. When I saw that, I'm like, "Yeah, yep." But I like the complex, again, I like solving problems. I like coming up to, you know, nobody else had looked at it that way before, which is a common advantage of neurodiversity. So, it was... Again, several years later, it actually came pretty quickly after I was diagnosed. I'm like, "This is it." I literally had no idea how I was going to do it or what it entailed, but I knew it was what I wanted.
Michael: So, this was kind of the timing, this like the 2016, 2017 timeframe. You're out of Prudential, you're at LPL, you've got a stable base of clients that came with you from Prudential but the lead generation system of tying to orphan policies isn't there anymore. You like working on complex issues, but not necessarily ultra-high-net-worth folks. And then an autism diagnosis comes. And it's like, "Well, folks with neurodiversity issues have a lot of complexity and are not necessarily really high-net-worth, maybe this can be my thing?"
Andrew: And additionally, too, I wanted to work with people who were like me, or who thought like me. My grandfather was an engineer. My father should have been, but was discouraged. Like, those types of...the analytical thinkers that a lot of planners hate.
Michael: Such a pain. Oh, engineers.
Andrew: I love them. But you also have some material that I've seen on, like, the different types of niches a financial advisor could have. I think I literally check all of the boxes in one. I think I've looked at it, was like, "Wait, which one is mine? It seems like all of them." But no, it took a little while. I had the rough idea, but I didn't know where to start.
Why Andrew Chose Neurodivergent Clients As A Niche [44:49]
Michael: So, where ultimately did you start? How did you begin down this path of, I think I want to make working with neurodivergent clients my focus, my specialization?
Andrew: You know, at first, I actually had the ChSNC already. I tried special needs consultant, which doesn't prepare you at all for working with this population. And I have no problem saying that. You know at first, it was...most of this area seemed to be really parents and working with children, right? And I struggled a lot in school, but I was never in special education. I didn't have a child in special education. I wanted to work with adults. And even if those are parents in their 70s, or 80s with adult children, right? Even if they have what would be a higher support need, you know, more support needs, right? You know, commonly people say, "Low high functioning."
How much support does somebody need? Just for people who don't know and might know those terms. So, at first, it was I didn't know. I had a lot of imposter syndrome, I didn't know a lot about myself. I didn't know if my niche would work. I was extremely afraid about scaring off my existing clients. There's a stigma that's associated with mental illness, autism, preconceived notions. There was a lot of nervousness of how do I not scare them off? Because if I did and I'm wrong, what next?
Michael: Okay. So, the whole idea of... Well, and I know a lot of advisors worry about picking a particular niche or specialization to pursue. What if I pursue the specialization and my clients are like, "Oh, well, if you're going after...you know, if that's going to be your specialization now, I don't know that I still want to work with you." It's a whole other level when you're...you know, that's just one thing when, like, I know you have a bunch of retired clients and you say, "I just want to work with widows and divorcees." And clients say, "Well, I'm not a widow. Can I still work with you?" I guess it's at a whole other level of concern, if you say, "Well, I'm an advisor with autism. I want to work with adults with autism. And what are my existing clients going to think if I come out to them about my autism."
Andrew: It scared the crap out of me. And I maybe met a few advisors who've come to me...a lot more with ADHD, right? I actually think it's... You know, if you go, 20% of the population is neurodiverse, which would include ADHD. I actually think the financial advisor, probably even a little higher percentage. But a few come to me, autism, a lot of them weren't able to... I mean, that prospecting's hard. The starting of the insurance company has a high failure rate for anyone. So, 90% or something. But I was really afraid of...it really started with, I think, a bit more traditional. I didn't think, even when I started this, I thought I had to start working with special needs. I didn't think I'd be able to work with the people I really wanted to when I started, but it was closer.
Michael: Why not?
Andrew: I didn't know any other people like me. And in the financial planning world, we're really taught, and the lawyer and legal, you know, special needs trust, people are going to need support for the rest of their lives. You know, people with disabilities just need government benefits and a trust seems to be...not that there's one out of five people who have a disability. And so that's one out of five of your clients, one out of five of your friends. If you’re ADHD then, you know, chances are you have more friends who are than average. They all seem to congregate together like a pack of wolves or something. But I didn't think that there would be enough... I didn't know if that would work.
Michael: So, what came next? I mean, how did you at least start down that road?
Andrew: So, started with, let's call it a traditional special needs planning because that's also what there was material on. That's what I didn't have to, as much, let's call it, teach myself. You know, "Special Needs planning."
Michael: Right. Which essentially means working with parents and families who have special needs children around special needs trusts and family for visions about how to make sure that special needs children will be taken care of?
Andrew: And, by the way, we do a lot of that. And our director of financial planning, she solely wants to work with those, you know, but in the adult children and the parents of the higher support needs. So, we still do a lot of that, which is important to me. And I'd like to think we do it a bit, again, differently. And we ask a lot more about the person. But, you know, really want to focus a lot more on the individuals. I think it was a lot more of going into a community that was very different. I got on some boards, some government committees, and it was through a lot of, I'll say, advocacy work that I started to just meet a lot of people and really just expanded my viewpoint if that makes sense.
Michael: How so, like, expanded your viewpoint of...business opportunities you saw or people you knew that you could network with for business?
Andrew: Neither. I mean, what autism is, right? Because if you think about...and I think a lot of advisors...you know, the people with the disabilities, maybe, they're on the government benefits, they can never be clients. Like, did I have to help families, or could I work with people who were like me too? And almost...were there actually people like me? And I think just being around, even, not from a business opportunity, but more of a community of advocacy. And I'm on the Autism Council for Connecticut, and just being involved with larger nonprofits. There were a lot more people like me than I thought there were.
Michael: And so that begins to open your eyes to, oh, oh, wait, maybe I can, actually... I don't want to say, just, just is the wrong word, but just find other adults who have autism, who have found ways to be financially successful. God bless, they too have interests that manage to align to something that is commercially viable. And so, finding folks to work with, who have autism or are neurodivergent and have had some level of financial success, and want a financial advisor who understands that because they live it as well.
Andrew: Exactly. Right. And feeling comfortable in myself enough to speak about myself and what I might do differently. Or how we might either communicate, or what to understand, or...you know, because everyone's different.
Michael: So, how did this ultimately expand in the business? Because I know, at this point, I think you actually have, like, I don't know if it's a separate firm or a separate offering, with a separate website that's specifically for working with neurodivergent clients. So, how did this evolve and expand over time to the point that now you've actually got a whole separate website for neurodivergent clients?
Andrew: So, a lot of it was just completely by accident. And some of it worked out well by accident and some of it didn't.
Michael: Oh, that happens.
Andrew: I'd say the best accident ever, especially for a niche in existing, two completely separate websites.
Michael: So, you have a website for the advisory firm and a website for the niche of neurodivergent clients?
Andrew: Yes. And actually, a third for my investment index because I needed to make life more complicated. Because, at first, it started actually, not in a good place. It started out of fear of scaring them away.
Michael: Okay. So, initially, you made a separate website for neurodivergent clients, essentially, so that you wouldn't have to show existing clients who came to the firm's website that there's this prominent featuring of neurodivergent clients. It's some other website that they would have no particular reason to go and see and check out. So, you could keep those separate.
Andrew: Yeah. And honestly, I still do. I have some good clients who, why would they Google me at this point? They've known me for 10 years. I was having a meeting and they were talking about “Love on the Spectrum.” I've never told them, it's never been relevant to our conversations. But I also have some who I have and we know. And I enjoy working with them still. So, it's more... And we're not taking anyone new like that, but it was just kind of, yes, six years later talking to me about “Love on the Spectrum” and the tea, like, have I seen it and... She has no idea.
Michael: I'm totally not familiar with that. Tell me more about it!
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. I'm only, you know, interviewing the producer from it next week on my other autism podcast. But it started out in not a good place. It was fear, it was, you know, I wanted to be able to share and be very vulnerable. And I didn't want to scare everyone away. So, I created a separate website to essentially hide it. It was the best thing I ever did for the wrong reasons.
Michael: So, what made it the best thing that you ever did? I mean, it's like, why was it so good that you stood it up as a separate website that makes it the best thing you ever did, to have gone down that road?
Andrew: Because I get to focus on what matters to people. I don't need to have any of the generic investment BS every financial advisor website has, like my boring one has. Like, the boring blogs, the boring... Google's stupid with SEO, they want to know what you do. And being able to be very specific... There's a million financial advisors but if you write a specific blog post, a specific population... It also allowed the content to be really tailored.
Something I learned was newsletters, our goal is for every client to be a client of both, we call it Tenpath and PATS is for Planning Across The Spectrum. And the investments are under "Tenpath." Our one newsletter was on risk management and special needs trusts are like, you know, insurance this month. And then we have our boring, generic investment newsletter. Sometimes even the same household, right? Just the content and the marketing and the messaging, you know. There's people who want to work for me, who don't give a crap about the investment newsletter. And being able to talk about like, who we serve, what makes us different, without that fear of scaring somebody away. I could be all in and really focus and really brand.
How Andrew Stimulates Firm Growth Serving Neurodivergent Clients [55:32]
Michael: And so, where does the growth come from primarily, at this point? Is it still coming through Tenpath in "generic" advisory business side? Or is it primarily coming from Planning Across the Spectrum? Or still, even split between the two?
Andrew: There's basically nobody coming through the Tenpath side, it's all Planning Across the Spectrum. So that's all of it.
Michael: So, in practice, you're still running the two websites and you made the niche website mostly out of fear of not exposing it to your current clients. And as it turns out, all the growth's coming from the niche?
Andrew: I mean, we get 10,000 hits a month on our current website, which, for an advisor, I think is quite a bit. And the growth has been high. Yep, the other one is, well, almost nothing.
Michael: 10,000 hits on the Planning Across the Spectrum site?
Andrew: A month, yes, easily.
Michael: That's people, like, prospects surfing through or that's because you have a lot of blog and educational content that's pulling them in?
Andrew: I'd like to argue they're one and the same. But, yes, lots of blog and educational content.
Michael: Okay. And so how does that turn into business, at this point? At least I know the "traditional" model around special needs planning, where you're working with families who have children, you're setting up special needs trusts and supplemental needs trust. And you're maybe doing life insurance to fund them, you may be managing dollars if they've already been partially funded. What does the business look like for Planning Across the Spectrum, though, if the whole focus was we want to do more work with adults who are neurodivergent? Just what do you do? What's the offering, at this point? Do you do the same normal financial planning everyone else does, you're simply doing it for a unique audience? Or is there actually, like, no, the financial planning's different and the fee model's different, and what we do for our neurodivergent clients is different.
Andrew: I'd like to say it's all different. I joined these local Facebook groups of special needs... And by the way, anyone looking to get into special needs in the niche or any form, join the Facebook group that's local to your community and see the questions parents ask and people ask. And they're not what the textbooks, or the investment companies, or whoever the lawyers say is important to clients.
So, I really tried to just look and listen. And then I started by just presenting good information. So, a lot of it was being asked to speak and being a resource. I think a lot of people who come to us don't even know what questions to ask, or where to start. And I wanted my website or my brand to be a place where this is where they could start, where they didn't even know where.
Michael: But just help me understand, what do you do for them in practice? You know, I'm a successful engineer, I make $300,000, and I'm autistic, and I heard about your firm, what do you do, Andrew?
Andrew: So, if it's somebody like that and not a family where there's benefit considerations, because a lot of time, if the parent's autistic, they might have a child with higher support needs as well. But if it's just that, so a few parts. One of it is just knowing and understanding them, the communication is a little bit different. So, for example, virtual reviews are good, but at the same time, we'll say, like, camera off, camera on, like, how do you prefer to be communicated with? A lot of people with autism prefer not to have phone calls, prefer not to have Zoom with videos, prefer laying out the communication in a good way.
I will say, in a lot of ways, for an engineer like that, there isn't too much in the planning that's actually different, because they're still an engineer. It's a bit more about...if they don't need that much support, it's just a bit more about how the planning is communicated or what's involved. And also, very specifically, we created our own impact investing index for people who care about investing in an inclusive way with neurodiversity. So, that would be probably a big one with the engineers.
Michael: And so tell us more about that. What is the, you know... I think you framed it as an impact investing index for neurodiverse clients or for neurodiversity, so what is that?
Andrew: So, one of the other things that I decided I really enjoyed doing was working with companies that wanted to be more inclusive and hire workers who are autistic, neurodiverse. And there's...at least, it seemed like to me, everyone kept talking about it was SAP, Microsoft, J.P. Morgan have these programs. And I'm like, "Man, I know there have to be more." And so, we created an index of 79 companies because 79 is gold on the periodic table, and gold is AU for autistic, of companies that were really inclusive with hiring and making products.
And think of it like diversity and inclusion, right? And companies that really embraced diversity/neurodiversity. So, we get a lot of people now where people want to invest in what they believe in. And a lot of the people like that... If somebody's coming to us specifically, because I'm a neurodiverse advisor and they really care about neurodiversity and they're an engineer, then the index is usually something that will interest them. And right now, we made the decision to pay to have it tracked daily. It's on a Bloomberg Terminal. We buy all the stocks currently. It's a separate account. It's not an ETF yet.
So, I would say, for the "lower support need," I think that would be the planning. Is it that different? Really, just a lot more about how it's communicated, and I'd really just say, how I communicate and how... I don't even know if unspoken language is a thing, or just understanding where they are. And also, being able to explain things in a way that's helpful for them.
Michael: So, help us understand a little more, just what does it mean at the end of the day to say you made an index? Basically, you've picked a series of 79 stocks that you think are representative of neurodiversity of...I guess, you'd said hiring with a neurodiversity lens or being supportive of neurodiversity in the organization or making products that support neurodiversity. So, I get, like, there's a list of 79 companies that you've curated. What does it mean that you've "made an index" though?" I mean, what did you do?
Andrew: So, there's providers like S&P. I went with a very small niche provider who had a very...and it's called a IPOX. He had a very unique index/ETF that I used. I had no idea what I was doing. So, I'm just like, "Oh, you have your own index and you turned it into an ETF, and it's unique. It's strange. So, my index is a little different too. What did you do?" So, I spoke to a couple of... And if I was using their ETFs, well, the portfolio manager was happy to talk to me. Because, well, I'm using their product. So, I talked to like S&P. There's a few... I think Solactive is one. And it costs, let's say, $10,000 to $15,000 a year because they have to keep track of the rebalancing, the constituting, you know, if there's a merger or a split for it all to be public and transparent, right? Also, we had to decide, I'm sure you've spoken about it, if back testing we couldn't do, not just because back testing is a joke, to begin with and almost shouldn't be allowed. But...
Michael: Little problem with cherrypicking, but yes.
Andrew: Yes. So, we didn't do that because also, you know, the formula, there was no math or science to it where I could do that. So, we just kind of had to get it started. And it was like, what's your methodology? How are you going to weight your index? That was very important to me. It's equally weighted. Part of it is investment philosophy. Part of it is the whole diversity and treating everyone equally. If I'm being honest, it's a bit more on the investment philosophy side of market cap weighting that influenced that. And methodology, how often are you rebalancing? What is your benchmark?
Michael: So, you set all these rules and parameters of, like, here's the companies we want to own based on our criterion, and here's how we're going to rebalance the index. Here's how we're going to adjust it on an ongoing basis whenever you decide companies will come in and out of your index based on your criterion for what constitutes a neurodiversity company. And then IPOX's job is to, essentially run a model that actually tracks the performance of this index in real-time, from the point that it was constituted. So, you get to build a track record, over time, and then eventually, you can either invest that in a separate account structure yourself, you can try to find an ETF provider that will license it and turn it into a standalone ETF product. You get to decide how to build and scale it from there.
Andrew: Exactly. Yep. And also, one interesting thing that seems commonplace is, if you are looking to create an index, and I thought this was interesting, if it is an ETF, I can choose to share the index revenue with IPOX. And then I'm not paying for the ETF fee or the index fee. So, yes, that's probably, if anything, more goal... Not that my end goal is to sell an ETF, but it's on the Bloomberg... I don't even have a Bloomberg Terminal. It's motivation to get one, but they're expensive. And it's AULXXIX because Bloomberg won't let you mix letters and numbers. We use the Roman numeral... But now we have...
Michael: So, LLXXIX is 79.
Andrew: Yes. Took me a while, though.
Michael: Fifty, 10, 10, 9.
Andrew: And I think it also, again, yes, how do you want it weighted, rebalanced... If you can't tell, we went far with this theme. We have eight criteria. They're all point scale-based upon eight different elements on the periodic table that all add up to 79 with a top score. So, we look at leadership. So, Elon Musk would be an example, right, of being autistic. But there's also, you know, Richard Branson or Schwab. Beyond having some inclusivity and other...he was dyslexic, right? So, there's leadership in a company to the point that we can get it. But it also helped... We were already kind of being in the business of working with a lot of these companies and their programs. So, a lot of it was us hearing about these things or working with clients who were part of this company's ERG on neurodiversity. That's how we knew it existed.
Michael: So, what does this add up to in terms of the advisory firm today? Not just the neurodiversity index but just the general advice offering through Tenpath, the specialization offering through Planning Across the Spectrum. So, I don't know if you size in terms of number of clients or assets and/or management, or just overall revenue for the firm. But what has this grown to for you, at this point?
Andrew: So, I mean, it's grown to be a lot...I guess, a little bit accidental. We consider everyone a client at both. Again, if we're managing assets in Tenpath, if it's 100 households...$100 million AUM, at this point. But we've also...we get one to two people a day, at least, contacting us, reaching out organically through finding us. And the hard part is I wanted it to be for people who didn't know where to start or what questions to ask. It's pretty much impossible to pre-qualify that. And so, I hired a director of financial planning, another CFP, you know, brought on, again, a fully licensed paraplanner. A lot of it is because we're... You know, if I said I wanted to fire...depending on the day, sometimes I feel this. If I want to fire everyone tomorrow, right, being an admin or so, I'd have the ability to have an extremely comfortable lifestyle practice. Revenue’s grown a lot.
Michael: Because 100 clients, $100 million, you can support that with a one or two-person team and make a great income.
Andrew: Correct. But I can't support them plus grow, plus all the advocacy and the other things that I wanted to do. But we've really focused on hiring people who are ultra-specialized, which when you think about it if... You know, let's call it, my special interest is a little bit more broad. But we brought on an autistic credit counselor, just wants to discuss budgeting in your credit score. And financial wellness, for some of the employers that we're doing. We brought on somebody who's just licensed for insurance.
Because what I found is, there's Medicare for people who have disabilities under 65. Nobody was talking about that. And they didn't have supplements or things. And I thought, "Well, if we're getting a few prospects a day who maybe can't become financial planning clients, I don't want to just turn them away. Maybe there's a way where we can still help them, and not just feel like charity, if that makes sense." Or it can be like a revenue-sustaining model to be able to help people where they're not getting help. That was the thought behind that. We continue to niche even more specifically. So, as my current planner has been able to work more with parents, I've been able to really work more with the individuals and employers. And eventually, I'm going to niche so much that there's, you know, I don't know 10 clients I want, right, but I'm not there yet.
The Surprises And Low Points Andrew Encountered On His Journey [1:09:53]
Michael: So, what surprised you the most about building an advisory business?
Andrew: The fact that I did it. I think the fact that how much I love building it, honestly. I think I really enjoy putting these systems in place. And I've found that I've also really enjoyed, not that I don't enjoy working with clients, I do. But building itself, having the procedures in place, getting to make the rules, setting up... Every IT guy I've had has fired me. So....
Michael: So, you're doing your own IT.
Andrew: Yes. So, know enough to be dangerous, right? But setting that up, you know, they get the laptop and it's all...you know, and it's all done for them. I think building it has been probably the...yeah, I would say the most surprising is how much I actually enjoy the building out of all of it.
Michael: So, what was the low point for you on this journey?
Andrew: So, I had a partner, and it was three...so it was three years ago we actually purchased a practice from an advisor. It started before, it was when my specialty side was kind of just beginning. It was a lot... I live in the insurance capital of the world, so his clientele was a lot of actuaries. So, you want to talk about... Yes, exactly. Like, if you could target autism without targeting autism, right? The fear didn't come through with clients. He was older. And it wasn't hidden, but it wasn't advertised. And I think when he learned, he didn't want his clients working with someone like me. And that was a breakup with the former partner after acquiring a practice. And the fallout of that was...
Michael: So, you had acquired the practice, he didn't know about your autism. When he found out about your autism, he didn't want his clients going to you even after the deal was done, and blew up the deal or blew up the close and the client transfer?
Andrew: Clients had started to transfer. But, yes, he didn't want me working with them, only wanted my former partner working with them. And you can't blame my former partner because then...you know, then he'd have to have all the clients that I couldn't work with, or you try the dangerous game of, well, the advisor... The transition was so new. I think there was fear on the other side of him saying elsewhere... There was a lot there. So that was... I had spent forever building the practice and I think it's so many advisors' dreams, right? Like, buying that book. What is like the statistics? And I'd found the good one. He was an old insurance advisor too. Like, I understood the insurance side, but he did a lot of planning and, like I said, actuaries, right? Okay, my partner could take the ones I didn't want. Again, whether they're diagnosed neurodivergent or not, they're still... I wanted people who thought like me, who liked the analytics. But that was really, really hard on just a million levels. So, I would say that was definitely the low point.
The Advice Andrew Would Give His Former Self [1:13:18]
Michael: So, what do you know now you wish you could go back and tell you from 10-plus years ago when you were starting a financial advisor career?
Andrew: I think it's going to sound like... Buy Apple stock, I think. I think that would be it. I think I don't know if I would've changed any of it. I think if I had known some of the ways some of the things were going to work out, it wouldn't have...
Michael: Anything you wish you'd known back then that just might have accelerated the path, or made it easier, or made it go smoother?
Andrew: I think if I knew I was autistic, I'd be a lot kinder to myself with a lot of things I either struggled with that... Like I don't like bright lights. That's easy to explain. People have had a migraine. I can be in an office with darkness but...maybe just thinking. But forcing myself to be in bright lights because... Well, maybe everyone else is just in pain too, and they're getting over it. Or maybe understanding that I don't understand some situations that well and therefore... No, that woman I met at the movie theater with my wife was definitely not interested.
Maybe I'd still be at Prudential. Maybe I wouldn't have gotten in as many arguments with management, right? Because maybe they'd be more understanding. But then maybe I wouldn't have the flexibility to do what I'm doing now. So, I think, yes, being a lot kinder to myself and being able to share a bit more, so.
The Advice Andrew Would Give Neurodivergent People Considering A Career in Financial Advice [1:14:41]
Michael: So, any advice you would give to neurodivergent folks that are thinking about becoming a financial advisor and may be concerned because of autism, ADHD, dyslexia? What advice would you give to neurodivergent folks thinking about the financial advisor career?
Andrew: So, I've made it a double whammy, right? Like I am, but that's also my clientele. A lot of people who are, you know, maybe ADHD or neurodiverse, that's not their niche, right? I would say, you know, think about what you like to do and why. And I would say, I find a lot more neurodivergent people are not cut out for the, let's call it the front-facing sales. And that's okay. And it's so much better... If you can spend the time doing what you're good at, especially when you're neurodiverse and you love to do, you'll do it 10 times faster than anyone else.
If it's something that you're not good at and you don't like to do, you may not even be able to do it. So, I think figuring that out and not feeling bad that certain things are hard for you. And it's totally okay to outsource those things. Like, I think starting out, feeling like you have to do everything. The best decision I ever made was hiring an assistant before I had enough revenue to do so, who just was able to help me with the things that I was not good at.
What Success Means To Andrew [1:16:00]
Michael: So, this is a podcast about success. And one of the themes that always comes up is just the word success means different things to different people. And so, you're on this wonderful path of building a successful business and crossing a $100 million of AUM. And so, the business is going well and successfully, how do you define success for yourself, at this point?
Andrew: I don't. I just keep looking at... It's a short-term focus and a long-term one at the same time. I think just, "Am I doing more of what I like to do?" And I just...like, am I helping more people? And that might sound like a little cliche too, but at the same time... Yes, it's AUM, but as soon as I hit that next number, it's going to be the next number. Like, I'm never going to be satisfied. You know, it's true. I thought I'd be satisfied by now. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing, I don't know if that makes sense, have a bigger impact.
I think helping with other neurodivergent advisors feel comfortable about coming out. And a lot of positive change just in our perceptions of clients in the industry. So, I actually think a lot of my success comes from my non-main business, where I can provide good education for more advisors to be able to help their clients or the clients I work with to be able to help them in a way or understand them that nobody else has. And even some of our clients, they inherited some money and they were told they needed a special needs trust. And, oh, well, nobody bothered to check they weren't on any government benefits that required trust.
So, yes, they had an intellectual disability and a lower IQ, but they didn't need a special needs trust. That's some of the most satisfying work. Or the person who called me, I mean, too scared to buy food, right? To ask her trustee for food. Because if you have a special needs trust, you don't own anything. You can't spend money, you can't do anything. And we were able to work with her current trustee and get another lawyer or trustee involved to where she was in a house that was being... Because there was a fire in her condo, but she couldn't call the insurance company. It's not her condo. Like, the trustee wouldn't call. So, she has no heat, electricity, water, and she's too afraid to ask because she feels like she's bothering them. And be able to help her and work with her... I think that's some of the most satisfying... But also helping other advisors see the same thing, right? It may be a question of what they see in front of them.
Michael: Very cool. Very cool. Well, thank you so much, Andrew, for joining us on the "Financial Advisor Success" podcast.
Andrew: Thank you for having me.