My guest on today's podcast is Cary Carbonaro. Cary is the Senior Vice President & Director of Women and Wealth Services for Advisor Capital Management, an independent RIA with offices around the country and headquartered in Ridgewood, New Jersey, that oversees more than $6 billion in assets under management for 1,700 client families.
What's unique about Cary, though, is how she navigated selling her practice to United Capital and after several years of establishing herself in a leadership role, she then had to navigate the sale of United Capital itself to Goldman Sachs, and the complexities and challenges that followed as she found herself in a very different kind of culture that wasn’t aligned to her media-driven approach to advisor marketing.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about how, in 2001, Cary left her Director of Marketing role at Lord Abbett selling mutual funds and in the face of the tech crash realized that mutual fund companies were so cutting their marketing budgets that she may as well just launch her own advisory practice instead, how after years of growing successfully on her own, Cary realized her gift was bringing clients in and that she needed help with scaling her back-office and consequently decided to sell her practice and tuck into United Capital and their support systems, and how Cary dealt with the sudden sale of United Capital to Goldman Sachs that virtually overnight forced her to change the way she’d been marketing herself as an advisor for nearly 20 years because of the new corporate policies of the buyer.
We also talk about how Cary tried to navigate the 2-year non-compete clause in her contract and even offered to buy back her practice and undo the non-compete, how Cary ultimately reached a compromised path with a 6-month non-compete and decided that was good enough to be able to make a transition and not have to totally start over, and how, after the 6-month non-compete period was over, Cary was ultimately able to retain nearly 90% of her and her lead advisor’s clients and decided to move her practice to a new RIA where she could go back to serving her clients as she wished and continue her work in the media that she enjoyed.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Cary shares how she faced a messy divorce while also navigating the 2008 financial crisis and had to move her practice to smaller firm so that she could prevent her husband from seeking retribution and give herself time, how, in the early years of launching her practice, Cary dealt with feelings of inadequacy because she felt she needed to have all the answers to her clients’ questions but over time and by teaching CFP courses herself was able to overcome her confidence issues, and how Cary’s definition of success is evolving as her career grows from ‘just’ increasing the size of the practice to now finding the freedom and time to pursue her passion of speaking, writing, and appearing in the media… with the focus on influencing and changing the financial services industry to create better opportunities for other women to succeed in their careers.
So, whether you’re interested in learning about how, prior to the United Capital sale, Cary’s practice was a diamond tier practice and ranked as one of the best performing practices of the firm, how Cary walked away from 2 $500,000 a year jobs so that she could manage her practice the way she saw fit, or how Cary is working on her second book detailing her challenges with the sale of her firm and her vision for making the industry more female-friendly, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Cary Carbonaro.
Resources Featured In This Episode:
Looking for sample client service calendars, marketing plans, and more? Check out our FAS resource page!
Are you a successful financial advisor, or do you know of one that would be a great fit for the Financial Advisor Success podcast? Fill out this form to be considered!
Michael: Welcome, Cary Carbonaro, to the "Financial Advisors Success" Podcast.
Cary: Thank you so much for having me, Michael. It's taken me a long time to get here.
Michael: I know. Well, as we'll get to talk about, you've had an interesting journey. I've been excited to get to share for a while. And I'm thrilled we're finally at the point where we get to have the conversation, share it because, to me, you've lived an interesting challenge that really has just started cropping up in the industry over, I suppose, the past 10 years, but really cropping up more in just the past 5 years.
There's all this merger and acquisition and sort of various role up in aggregator platforms that are out there with different stories and offerings that they tell. And some advisors just use those as platforms and vehicles to sell, and that's their exit strategy. And the acquiring firm takes over and serves their clients and does their thing, and the selling advisor gets the check and walks away.
Others of us do those deals because I'm not trying to sell and leave. They say, "I want to sell and stay. My firm grew to a certain size where I have to do a whole bunch of things I didn't actually really enjoy doing because I didn't get to see clients and grow the business as much. I had all these people management things I didn't really want to do." So, we sell or merge or acquire into a larger firm and stay because it just lets us go back to the things that we enjoy doing, and you pick a platform that you want to be a part of.
But then there's this reality for a lot of the firms that are engaging in these serial transactions, which is you can really only do that if you have access to capital. You need cash to buy firms from a private equity firm or a focus deal or whatever it is. They've all got their own structures and arrangements. But for many of them, particularly in the context of private equity, they're investors. And at some point, they want out, which means there's this downstream effect of what happens when the firm you sold to gets sold, particularly because you often have more choice in who you sell to than who they sell to.
And I know you've lived that journey at both stages, what it's like to sell your firm into one of those platforms and then what it's like when that platform sells. And so, I'm looking forward to having the discussion of what it's like when you navigate, really, both layers of that path, the dynamic when you decide to sell and then the dynamic when they decide to sell, and you're now along for the next stage of the journey.
Cary: Yes, or not, but that's...
Michael: Or not if you don't want to continue and have that choice, which also becomes part of the challenge into itself.
Cary: Exactly. Part of the story.
How Cary Founded Her Financial Planning Practice [06:09]
Michael: So, I'd say so to get us started, why don't you take us back to just early days of your advisory career and kind of the path that you carved in originally building your own firm before eventually you got to this world where other transactions and things start happening.
Cary: Sure. So, I started, as they say, 1 client at a time. Really, really back in the day, I had just left. I was head of marketing at Lord Abbett Mutual Funds in Manhattan, and I had relocated to Florida, and it was right after 9/11. And the world was kind of very different back then, and the market was down, and it was a terrible time for investments and terrible time to be an advisor.
And that's when I decided to start my own practice. I originally thought I was going to get a job back in marketing of mutual funds or within the financial service space, but because I was relocated to Florida and it was the start of a big recession after 9/11, it was a terrible time to get a job. And first, I cut myself...
Michael: Oh, yeah.
Cary: You remember that?
Michael: Mutual fund world was getting slaughtered at this point.
Cary: Oh, it was awful.
Michael: Everybody's down, the tech bubbles burst, and markets are in a multi-year decline. It's interesting to me, the coronavirus pandemic, the whole darn bear market was done in a couple of months. The financial crises still went pretty fast. We peaked in early 2008, but almost all the pain was basically September '08 to March of '09.
Michael: So, it's interesting for anybody who was around back in the early 2000s. The peak was April 2000, and the trough was the end of 2002. It took 2 and a half years...
Cary: It was a long one.
Michael: ...where the market kept grinding lower.
Cary: It was a long one. It really was. And it's so interesting because I originally went out and I said, "Oh, I'm going to cut my salary in half." And then I said, "I'm going to quarter my salary." And then I said, "I'm not getting out of bed for quartering my salary. I'm going to dust my CFP off the shelf, and I'm going to start taking clients."
And that's what I did. In the middle of nowhere, I was in Central Florida. I'm a born and raised New Yorker. And here I was in Florida.
Michael: So, how did you land in Florida as a born and raised New Yorker?
Cary: So unfortunately, I married Mr. Wrong, and he relocated me to Central Florida. And that's another big, long story. But I was in a terrible, terrible, terrible marriage. And while I was actually starting my practice, so the whole time, I was in a terrible marriage in the middle of nowhere, which actually I love Central Florida now, but back then, it really was the middle of nowhere. Now it's not. But it was back then.
And I figured I'm just going to start taking clients one at a time, and it was so difficult in the beginning. And I used to say to people, "If I knew how difficult it was in the beginning, I would not have done it." And people are like, "How can you say that now?" And I said, "I still say that now. If I knew how difficult it was to start from scratch with no help by myself as a fee-only advisor, I would not have done it."
And I think the 1st year I made $2,400. The 2nd year, I made $14,400. The 3rd year, I made like $36,000, the 4th year I made like $78,000, and it took me to the fifth year before I broke 6 figures. Crazy, right?
Michael: Yeah, it's painful. That's painful. And so...
Cary: Incredibly painful. I actually had a lot of money, though, put aside because I had made so much money in my early years, and so I had all that money bankrolling myself during that time frame.
Michael: Interesting. Because you were making good dollars in marketing mutual funds in the late 1990s.
Cary: Yeah, so...
Michael: Early on, that was the positive heyday. It was ugly in the tech crash, but it was really nice in the late 1990s.
Cary: Oh, yes.
Michael: Everything was super booming.
Cary: So, at age 30, I was making half a million dollars a year.
Cary: And I said, obviously, I have...
Michael: And this was 25 years ago.
Cary: Right, long time ago, and I said, "Oh, well, I have to just obviously get back to that." So, that's always been my goal, get back to what I made. And obviously, it took me 5 years just to break a hundred on doing the only financial planning advisor. And also, I was by myself. I had one employee, and then I had my horrible ex-husband helping me with some stuff, but yet I still started to grow, and I was growing and growing and growing.
I wound up deciding to go get divorced. And finally, it was 2007 when the divorce started. And then as you know, what happened in 2008 and 2009, which was a total nightmare. So here I am going through a divorce, and I'm going through the financial crisis at the same time. So, the divorce started in '07 and didn't finish until the end of 2011. That's how many years it took. And we had no kids.
Cary: And I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it was a total nightmare. And he was doing everything he could to break me during this timeframe, which is another reason why I went through a lot of difficult things.
For example, he hired an SEC attorney to contact all of my clients in 2008, early 2009 and said, "We're doing a class action lawsuit against Cary. Did you lose any money during the financial crisis?"
Michael: Wow. That's pretty out there direct, literally trying to destroy you in the business.
Cary: Yes. Well, that was just a little simple, tiny thing of what happened. That was like a Tuesday. So, it was pretty much every single day was something like that, but that 1 was pretty extreme. And then of course, we called them out on it, got the attorneys involved, all the usual stuff.
But anyway, finally, I knew that I needed to...my head firm had gotten large enough that I didn't want to do a lot of the things that I didn't want to do. And I got big enough that I needed SEC registration, size-wise. And I said...
Michael: What was the size of the firm at this point? What did it grow to?
Cary: I think it was maybe a hundred million.
Cary: And so, whatever it was, it was the SEC rule breakdown. And I said, "Okay, so let's go. I got to find a firm to go to." And in the meantime, while I was going through my divorce, I went to this other small firm because the attorneys advised me, "Don't keep the old firm that your ex-husband has access to." So, I went to a small firm in the interim. And then I knew I was going to leave as soon as I got through the divorce.
So, I was then looking for firms during that timeframe for, I guess it was at least 2 years, looking at firms to merge with and to take over the back-office stuff for me. It's interesting because a lot of advisors need help with getting clients and front office stuff. And I need help with everything else. I don't need any help getting clients. I don't need any help with putting myself out there or marketing or sales or speaking, writing, consulting, TV, media, none of that. That's my specialty. I need help with every single thing else.
And I was down the road with a firm out of California, very, very, very far down the road. And I got a call from a recruiter who wanted to talk to me about United Capital. And I was like, "Well, I'm so far down the road with this other firm, I don't think so, but sure, I'll keep my options open." And Matt Brinker, who came to me in New York, and somebody else who has long been gone from United, and they were like, "You're perfect for us. You're doing everything that we want our advisors to do," because I always sold advice first and did financial planning first and got paid for everything that I did because I never wanted to work for free. And then I would also get AUM money.
But I've done it that way my whole entire career, so I didn't think there was anything unique about it. But people said that I guess that was unique. Back then, people were not charging for financial plans. They were giving the financial plans away for free, trying to get the AUM. And I was like, "I'm not working for free." So, I always did it that way. And I always did behavioral finance because as a female financial planner, I think we're very good at listening and empathizing and really sitting on the same side of the table as our clients. Not that guys can't do it either. It's just women are natural at it. It's easier for us.
And so, anyway, I had great, great relationships. I'm an excellent relationship builder with my clients because I truly love them and care about them. And I always tell them, "No one's going to care for you more than I am," because it's the truth because I care for their money as if it's my money. And I care for them as if they're my family members. That's just how I work.
So, then United Capital came in, and they really were fantastic. And back then, they would fly you out to the Newport Beach offices, and you'd meet the executive team. And Joe was fantastic, and everybody was so great. And I was like, "Wow, this is really great." And all the other advisors, I liked. I really liked the other advisors. I felt a lot of camaraderie with the other managing directors. And I felt like, "Okay, for me, it's going to be 1 plus 1 equals 11 because I'm going to be able to leverage myself and my time and do what I like to do best." And I decided to go with United Capital, and it was a really, really good, really, really, really good deal for me and a good experience. And I really loved almost every single thing about the process and the experience.
Why Cary Sold Her Practice To United Capital [17:11]
Michael: So, help me understand, just what was it that made it so appealing to choose them over the others? And I know the landscape's a little different now, and they're literally not in the business of doing these acquisitions anymore. But I'm always fascinated to hear. Firms that do these platforms have so many different things that they offer. Sort of the point, like, "We can do whatever it is you need to support your back office." So, what was it that made them the choice and not others that you were talking to? What was actually the differentiating factors for you?
Cary: For me, Joe was a big deal. His vision and him as a leader was a really compelling. I loved the executive team. They had an entire dedicated marketing team, which was also really important to me because I need a lot of marketing support, and they were going to be there for me for that. Also, I really liked their tools and technology because a lot of their stuff was homegrown, as you know, and also because, well, this is before we're licensing it out to other advisors, but it was good enough to license to other advisors.
Michael: Okay. And so, it sounds like it really is sort of this combination, like, yes, they had the technology, yes, they had the staff, and you just flat out liked the leadership and their messaging.
Cary: I really felt like I was going to be able to leverage myself there, and I believed in the mission of changing the world through financial planning and that we were going to really offer a better and superior product to the market and the clients with an average client size of between one and five million. And that was their sweet spot, and that was my sweet spot. So, I was very aligned.
Michael: Yeah. So, how did the deal work? I'm sure none of the deals now get cut the way that they did then. It was a different, different world 10-plus years ago, but how did the deal actually work?
Cary: So, what they were doing during my timeframe was you were selling 50% of your cash flow, and for 50% of your cash flow, you were getting either...most people took a third, a third, and a third, a third of equity, a third of stock, and a third of cash. But you could do any combination of whatever you wanted to do from that.
Michael: If they're trading equity in kind, what's the difference between a third of equity and a third of stock? Isn't the stock equity?
Cary: Oh, sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. No, no. It was a third of equity, a third of notes, and a third of cash.
Michael: Oh, notes. Okay, okay.
Cary: Note was the middle one.
Michael: Okay. So, you'd sell 50% of your cash flow and then keep the other 50%? So, you get revenue-based compensation for the other 50% of your practice, basically?
Michael: Because you'd sell the whole entity, right? It's not like you kept your business entity where you owned half, and they owned half?
Cary: It's really funny because that was always super murky, super murky because most of the advisors thought, "We still own 50% of our business." And obviously, when the next transaction happened, we all found out we own 0% of our business.
Michael: Right. You own a financial promise to continue to receive 50% of your cash flow unless a future buyer changes those terms. So, nominally, you'd sell half your cash flow, you'd continue to get revenue-based compensation for the other half of your book, and then of the portion that got monetized, a third of it was upfront cash, a third of it was a note that was financed over time, and then a third of it, you would roll into United Capital Equity. So, you're doing an equity for equity swap?
Cary: Right. Correct. And that was pretty much the general, what most people did. Again, some people took less stock, some people took more stock. It totally depended on what you wanted.
Michael: And were you one of the people that did a version of this split?
Cary: Yep, yep.
Michael: So, you had some of your cash flow, you had a bit of capital stock, and then you got some partial liquidity events at the time?
Cary: Right. And the note was over 5 years.
Michael: Okay. And so, as you did this transaction, so again, I'm trying to keep it in context, the whole point here was you're only selling half your cash flow because you didn't want to leave. This wasn't an exit for you. This was a, "My firm is growing successfully. And now I have to hire people I don't want to hire so that I can manage people I don't want to manage."
Cary: Right. Right.
Michael: This United Capital thing...
Cary: I was young.
Michael: ...where they have staff and infrastructure sounds great.
Cary: Right. No, I was young, and also, they wanted people like me because I was not going to sell and sit there. I was going to sell and grow. And that's what I did, which means they get more... They actually benefit more on that than I did, but that's okay. I was growing anyway.
Michael: Yep. Pie's expanding. Everybody's doing well.
Cary: Right. Exactly.
Michael: So, that was the deal going in. And I guess help us... So, what was the vision that Joe Duran was explaining at the time? You went in, in part for this vision. Joe was compelling, his vision was compelling. So, I know this is a little ways back. What was the vision then? What was the story that you were buying into?
Cary: It was we are going to be better than anybody else on the street, that nobody else can deliver financial planning services to the market of 1 million to 10 million better than we can. Nobody's going to have the sticky relationships with the clients that we are going to have. We're going to have the tools and technology to support it. We're going to have the highest Net Promoter Scores. We're going to really do everything counter the industry, the existing industry like the Goldmans of the world.
So, we're going to be better than everybody else because we're going to understand our customers. We understand consumers. We understand the marketplace. We understand what drives people, what's the psychology, the behavioral psychology behind why somebody's going to do business with you, and we're going to do it the best way possible. So, make it a win, win, win, really.
And that's where we were going. We were doing it. I think we were changing...I thought we were changing the industry. Everything we came out with was fantastic, and clients loved it. And we were really moving the needle. I really thought we were. And plus, for me being head of Women in Wealth or head of women's leadership, which by the way, I actually had to petition to Joe to be able to do that and come up with a business case of why it's so important to not ignore this segment and the fact that by the year 2030, women are going to control two-thirds of the nation's wealth. And somebody better get this right, and whoever does is going to make a ton of money. That's how I got to be able to run women's leadership for United Capital, and I was really, really moving the needle there.
How Cary Successfully Grew Her Practice At United Capital [25:12]
Michael: So, what did that look like in practice? Just when you say running women's leadership and building the business case for it, what were you doing in practice?
Cary: So, we were having our annual meetings of women, all the women from the firm that got invited to it, and additional men who wanted to come. And it was completely supported. And we did a whole thing of how can we make the industry more female friendly? How can we make our collateral and messaging more female friendly? What products can we bring in that are more female friendly? How can we break down barriers in the industry that are created by men, for men, so that people don't even realize that it's alienating to women?
And I don't know if you know this, you might or you might not, but there was a study done, a Harvard Business Review study and also a McKinsey study, showing that financial service is literally the worst to women. It's listed as the number 1 worst industry to women because they don't understand, they're not getting them, they're not listening to them. And it has the most opportunity if they get it right, if they actually pivot and make it female friendly.
Michael: So, the worst, not in terms of the worst for women to work in, but literally the worst in delivering services and solutions to women?
Michael: So, were there particular things that you changed that you guys actually implemented and altered based on the conversations? How did this show up in practice for UC?
Cary: Yeah. Well, first of all, a lot of our process was more female friendly than any other firm because we went into the behavioral finance, and we went into the psychology of why people do what they do, their unconscious response to money of how they react to money, how they make their decisions related to money. And so, we tried to get into the quiz and the psychology of why people do what they do.
So, that was number 1, which is incredibly female friendly and really put people at ease. And then we went into what we called the honest conversations, which was kind of like a little goals clarification game. And I actually always did it anyway with my clients. I just didn't necessarily have the cards, but for most advisors, and I would say most male advisors, it's not something that they normally are very comfortable asking these types of questions. And we were doing it as part of our daily meetings. And not only that, we would never, ever exclude one of the partners.
It had to be joint because what happens in a lot of settings is if the woman is disengaged, the advisor just keeps talking to the male. And I had a woman once, which is ironic, because here I am talking about always keeping the women engaged, I had a woman stop in the middle of the meeting, pull out a magazine, and start reading the magazine in the middle of the meeting. And you can't...
Michael: So, I guess that's not going well.
Cary: No, no, no, no, because she didn't care. And the husband was asking questions, and I literally stopped the meeting, took the magazine away from her and said, "I'm sorry, I know that you're not interested in this, but I really, really want you to be paying attention. And I want to make eye contact with you, and I want you to be understanding what your husband's asking."
Michael: So, how did that go in the moment?
Cary: It went fine. It went fine. I think she appreciated it, but she was like, "I'm not interested in this stuff." And I said, "Okay, but what if something happens to your husband? I want you to be interested. I want you to at least know, I want you to have a basic understanding, and I want you to be part of the conversation. I don't want you to be not here and not engaged and just sitting here reading a magazine."
It's funny because a lot of women do zone out, but you don't really know. But in this case, I really knew because saw her pick up the magazine. That had never happened to me before, so that was pretty wild because I'm usually very engaging with the female, so that was surprising.
But anyway, what else did we do? We were trying to do female-friendly segments like webinars and put out content. And we were wanting to add a Women in Wealth section of the website and putting tons of resources around that. We were doing women events all the time, women-only events, which were really great because women, when there's male and female in the audience, you're not going to get the same experience as when it's all female, and we're talking about money.
They're going to ask totally different questions. When the guys are in the office, in the room, they're not going to ask the same questions. It's a totally different dynamic. And we were doing events like Women in Wine and Women in Wealth and Women in Spa days and just everything that women like, Women in Fashion, Women in Jewelry and Wealth, so pairing it with stuff that they like, kind of like a carrot, like, "Okay, we're going to talk about what you like, and then we're going to talk about money."
Michael: So, what's going on with your practice at this point, just as you're chugging along with United Capital?
Cary: Yeah. So, at that point, I was very, very happy and successful at United. Actually, at this point, I think I probably had 4 roles, actually, at United before it ended. And 25% of my time, I was running women's leadership, 25% of my time, I was the voice of the woman, whereas I was doing speaking, writing, social media, TV, and also speaking at all the female events around the country, getting female clients for other offices.
My 3rd role was my day job, which was taking care of my clients, of which I was a diamond practice, which is the highest level you can get based on KPIs and profitability and all those other things. And so, I had a very successful practice. And then 4th thing, I was also a FinLife coach where when we were licensing our tools and technology to outside advisors, they wanted somebody who was inside, who was well known in the firm to be at these events talking to the advisors and helping them on the coaching side. So, I was doing that as well. So, I had 4 different roles, and I loved every minute of it. And it was really great until it wasn't.
Michael: So, I want to come to the until it wasn't part soon but want to understand a little bit more just the different roles, you said, both, you had a practice.
Cary: I did.
Michael: But then you're also doing speaking, writing, TV events around the country to help those advisors get clients, get connected with women into their practices. So, I guess you had both clients you would bring in for you, and then clients that you were bringing in for the firm that would go to others, that was part of the structure?
Cary: Yes. And so, for me, I had been at max capacity for a while. So, for me, it was bring on more clients, and then you have to bring on more staff, or just stay status quo and only take on clients that you want and then maybe give some clients away because I feel like for me, I've always felt 150 is a max number that somebody should be able to take care of. Really, I always used to say it was 100, but then I upped it to 125, and then I upped it to 150. And I'm like, that's the max. If you're really taking care of your clients, I don't think you can do more than that.
And so, I was constantly giving my clients away to my number 2. And then I was just like, we really have to be very selective of who we're taking on at this point. And it was much easier for me to get clients for other people.
Michael: And so, did you have some kind of business developer compensation arrangement, or was that not a big deal, you're just happy to make it bigger overall?
Cary: Well, it's funny. Originally, I didn't because I'm such a team player. And then other people were like, especially my husband was like, "You need some sort of compensation." And I'm like, "Okay, I'll ask." And then they were paying me per speech. And then we were eventually going to get to a business development where I was going to get overrides on clients, but we actually never got there, but I did get paid for doing the speeches. But I never did get an override.
Michael: Okay. And so, I'm sorry. So, where was your client capacity max where you just weren't taking on any more yourself?
Cary: You mean what's the number?
Michael: Yeah, how many clients was the no mas, can't take any more?
Cary: Well, so it's me and my number 2. And we were at 150, and that was enough.
Michael: For the 2 of you?
Michael: And your number 2, like an associate advisor, can actually do client-facing stuff?
Cary: He can. And he's a CFP as well.
Michael: Okay. Okay. So, 75 per person, 150 between the 2 of you, although I'm... So, did you actually have your clients and his clients or...?
Cary: We did.
Michael: Okay. And so, how do you carve up between the 2 of you?
Cary: Well, usually I would just take the higher-end clients. And then sometimes we would both be on the calls depending on who the client was, and then I would do the hand-off. And all my clients know that I'm still there, and we're sort of a team, so because he's been with me a very long time. He's been with me like 15 years.
Michael: Okay. Okay. So, team-based nominally, with one person as the lead, but even between the 2 of you, it gets crowded, and you didn't want to make a 3rd person?
Cary: No, you know why the reason I couldn't do a 3rd person? It's kind of interesting. It's back to related to the sale, I guess. But so United had a whole thing with revenue per employee, and I had the best metrics, actually, in the firm because of my revenue per employee. And they were not big on adding staff because they were going to go out and look for a recapitalization. And so there was a lot of you can't hire.
Michael: Oh, okay. Because they want to show, "Our technology is driving all of this productivity. Look how good our revenue per employee metrics are," which is sort of a good benchmark measure of productivity, except if you then go bulk up hires, if you're going to hire and then grow enough to make the numbers still good, that's fine. But please don't hire right before we do a recap, or you're just going to mess with our numbers.
Cary: Right. And for a long time, I kept saying, "We're at max capacity." I can't even tell you how long, how many times I said that for how many years. And they were like, "Okay." So, then I was getting clients for other people.
Michael: Interesting. And so, that's part of what it meant to be a diamond level practice internally that was a practice that had top-tier revenue per employee metrics?
Cary: That was one of the 7 KPIs. Yeah. And the other ones were Net Promoter Scores and sales growth and revenue growth and retention. And I'm probably leaving 1 or 2 out. I can't remember.
Michael: Okay. That's interesting. So, every advisor would basically have a scorecard of...
Michael: ...here's the 7 KPIs that matter for your practice as we score them around here. And then you get ranked, you get tiers based on whether you hit certain thresholds across the KPIs?
Cary: Well, I guess it was sort of tiers, but yeah. And they had just came out with this in 2018, and 2019 was the 1st year that they came out with it. And it was 2019 was when we got the diamond level awards. And you know what else happened in 2019.
Michael: Yeah. So, did this impact your compensation or your bonuses, or was this simply a recognition program?
Cary: It did, it did. No, no, no, no, no, this was the only... It's funny because I had received a bunch of awards over the years. I got most valuable player MVP, managing director, and I've got a bunch of other awards. None of them impacted my bottom line. The diamond award was the only one that affected my bottom line. You got a 20% pay bump. It's real money.
Michael: But 20% of whatever your salary, your comp is if you're at a diamond tier?
Michael: And I'm assuming there were other tiers that were not as cool as...
Cary: No, nope, there was...
Michael: Gold, silver?
Cary: No, there was no other tier.
Michael: Oh, diamond or bust.
Cary: That's it.
Michael: Okay. Interesting. Interesting structure. All obviously just trying to set the bar for here's what actually drives the firm forward and getting everybody aligned around what a quote, unquote, good, healthy advisor team means in the context of their business.
Cary: Exactly. So, I had felt very, very, very good entering 2019. I was firing on all cylinders. The fact that I won diamond, I was ecstatic. And then I was doing all these other great things that I loved doing. So, it was really fantastic. My life was perfect perfection in 2019.
How Cary Dealt With The Sale Of Her Practice When United Capital Was Sold [40:46]
Cary: Oh, also that's the year that I got number 4 on the Investopedia list.
Michael: Yes. So, then what happened? So, what happens next? I know in the unofficial or the external timeline, mid-2019, the news breaks, United Capital is being sold. And not just it had some private equity investors, and it's going to other private equity investors. United Capital is getting sold in full to Goldman Sachs.
Cary: Yes. So, we knew about it maybe 3 weeks before it came out. And I remember I was actually at an Invest in Women Conference, and I was speaking at it. And then they were like, "Oh, we're having an emergency phone call." And I got on the emergency phone call. I was there with another advisor, a friend of mine. And we both got on the emergency phone call. And they told us that Goldman Sachs is potentially buying us. And it was like a five-minute conversation. And they said, 'We're going to send out a survey, and you get to pick between who our offers are." But meanwhile, the deal was already done at that point. They had already decided that it was Goldman.
And for 5 seconds, I was like, "Wow, that's amazing. And that is super prestigious. And I can't believe I'm going to be working for Goldman Sachs." And it's for literally 5 minutes, I was like, "Wow, this is amazing." And then 5 minutes later, I was like, "Wait a minute. I don't really know what this means. And if I wanted to work for Goldman Sachs, I would have worked for Goldman Sachs." And then it just went sort of a downhill spiral from there, at least for me.
And so, the deal got done super fast. We had no idea when it was going to be announced. We were not allowed to say anything to our clients. We were not allowed to say anything to anyone. So, I am on vacation in Japan when the deal gets announced. And I have my phone ringing off the hook at 4 in the morning, at 3 in the morning, at 2 in the morning. It was an absolute disaster. It was so bad...
Cary: For me.
Michael: Who's calling? Your clients are calling or other advisors?
Cary: Clients, clients. No, clients, clients. Not happy, not happy clients.
Michael: So, why are clients not happy?
Cary: Because clients are like, "If I wanted to go to a big bank brokerage firm like them, I would have already done that. I am with you because you're not that."
Michael: Okay. So, the whole that you're marketing United Capital is we're an R&A, we're independent.
Michael: We're an anti-Wall Street thing.
Michael: And that's what clients had often bought into from a messaging perspective.
Cary: Right. Well, I think clients buy into you when clients buy into me.
Michael: Right, right.
Cary: And I remember what my biggest client said to me, "I'm bearish on Goldman, but I'm bullish on Cary." And I said, "Okay." And I said, "Well, I don't..." And everyone's asking us all these questions that we can't answer, like, "Are you going to sell our investments? Are we going to have access to Goldman investments? Are you going to force us to be on Goldman's platform?"
I have no answers. We literally knew nothing at this time. And we were just trying to get through to the other side. Again, not even knowing what's on the other side. And so, I'm trying to be positive. Obviously, it's happening. It's happening to me, and it's happening to them no matter what. There's nothing we can do. We can't quit. We can't get out. We can't move. This is happening.
And so, the deal happened so fast. From the time it was announced to the time it closed wasn't even 2 weeks. We couldn't even get our fingerprints done in that timeframe. That's how fast it happened. It was just crazy. Nobody could believe what was happening so fast. I actually cut my trip short from Japan. I left Tokyo, I never got to Kyoto, and we came home so I could deal with this disaster before me. And so, literally, day 1 of the announcement, we have a little banner on social media that says, "Goldman Sachs acquires United Capital." And everybody's posting it. I go to post it on social media like everybody else. I get an immediate phone call within 5 minutes from Compliance at Goldman Sachs to take it down, that I'm not allowed to post that. Everybody else can post it, but I can't. And I was like, what is happening here?
And then I got all these messages from my old team saying, "Unfortunately, Cary, you're not going to be allowed to speak. You're not going to be allowed to write. You're not going to be allowed to go on TV. You're not going to be able to go on social media. You're not going to be..."
Michael: Because now you're part of Goldman Sachs, and Goldman speaks as Goldman wishes to speak. You are not a official media spokesperson for Goldman.
Cary: That is correct. That is correct. So, I already had TV lined up. And I remember the day of the announcement. I was flying to go on TV, and I said, "Oh my God, I could get fired for going on this show. "And I wound up going on the show, and they said United Capital, not Goldman, but whatever. But I literally thought I could get fired. I could literally get fired. And so then...
Michael: And this is a hard turn from you spent the past 7 or 8 years, fully embracing media as your marketing strategy because that's your thing?
Michael: And now, all of a sudden, that is substantively changed.
Cary: I had a TV segment on WPIX. I was the Financial Fix segment. That was a regular. I was on about 15 regular shows where I was on all the time. I had columns. I had my book. I was in the middle of a second book. I use social media pretty much every single day, multiple times a day because I enjoy the platform, and I enjoy the whole point of social media being social and having my opinion and sharing it and being with my colleagues. And it's how I got clients. It's how I got speaking engagements. It's how I win awards. It's what I'm good at. It's what I believe in. It's getting my voice out. It's being heard. It's having an opinion.
I have very strong beliefs, and I say it all the time, I always say what I feel. And to literally have my voice taken away from me and having my arms and legs cut off and a gag put around my mouth, I could not breathe. I literally could not even get out of bed in the morning because I did not know what to do.
Michael: And I guess even relative to other advisors that deal with just transitions when merge acquisitions happen, feels like this sort of is uniquely challenging for you in your role because you were the very media-centric external advisor. You were the one that was doing this the most in the domain that Goldman is the most buckled down.
Cary: Right. And it's so interesting because I had a bunch of people within United Capital say to me, "You're getting hurt the most." And I said, "I'm well aware of that." But at least everybody acknowledged it. And a lot of people said, "I'm really sorry what they're doing to you, Cary. And I'm really sorry that this is happening, and I'm really sorry. You should not be here."
And I actually believed for 1 second, I really said to myself, "You know what? I am a female advocate. I'm a voice in the industry. I'm a voice for women. They have a terrible reputation with women. Why wouldn't they use me? We could make this a win, win, win," except that I never even got the chance. They shut me down so fast that I didn't even know what was happening. My head was spinning so fast. And they literally told me, "Sit down, shut up, and babysit your clients." And I was like, "What is happening? I do not know what is happening right now."
And I think also because they're so used to incredibly small boxes and incredibly tight reins, yet they purchased United Capital. United Capital was not tight reins, was not small, was not in a box. Somebody like myself, who they never said no to, and then I got to Goldman, and they said no to me 150 times. So, it's not like I didn't... I actually kept asking. And it was really funny because at one point I said to one of my friends who used to be on the United Capital side, who's now long gone from Goldman, I said to her, "Should I keep asking?" And she said, "No. The answer is always going to be no. You're never getting a yes."
Michael: The firm is just too big. You're never going to get up the priority list enough to get the sign-off from the people 2, 3, 4 levels above you that you would need to get to make a different policy.
Cary: Well, so I'll give you one example of something because I don't know if...I think you know I'm a CFP board ambassador, which I've been for, I think, about eight years and super honored to be appointed by the CFP board and to represent the press, to represent the profession in the media, obviously, because that's what I'm good at.
And so, they came to me and said, "You haven't done anything in 2 years," because I'm at Goldman. And I said, "Okay," I said, "You know what, do me a favor. Give me 6 months," I said, "and I'll get you something." And so, they said, "Okay, write a blog on the 5 mistakes that women make about money." And I said, "Okay, great." Wrote it up, sent it out, gave myself 6 months to get this approved. It was the most humiliating experience of my life because there was probably a hundred people involved, and almost every single person said, "Who is Cary Carbonaro, and why am I looking at this?"
And then I got a million reasons why I shouldn't be doing this. And then I got, "This is a waste of my time." And then, my final is my favorite. I got back from one of the people in marketing. "The executive office is uncomfortable with this blog post. It is filled with sexist tropes and has no value." You literally cannot make that up. It is so unbelievable. And I cried my eyes out, and I'm not a crier. I never cry. And I cried.
And I said, "You know what, I think they think I'm a man. I think they think I'm a male because my name is Cary, C-A-R-Y. It's like a male version of...because how could anything that came from my mouth be sexist when I'm a female advocate, and I'm a woman? But maybe they think I'm a man." And that's how I rationalized it in my head that they killed it because they thought I was a man.
Michael: So, help me understand, did you even get a choice of going along with the deal? Was there ever a chance to say, "I don't want to go along with the United Capital deal to Goldman" or...?
Cary: No. No, remember, so it was announced, and then we had less than 2 weeks where we had to get fingerprinted, do the paperwork to become an employee. And we didn't even have time to get the contracts reviewed. We were waiting for these contracts, waiting for these contracts. We got the contracts the night before or...it was either the night before or the 2 nights before we were becoming employees. And so, I didn't even have time to get it reviewed by an attorney.
Talk about being under duress. It was, "Sign it, or else." Or else you didn't... And I was like, "What's the or else?" And they're like, "Well, either you don't have a job, or you're not getting paid. We don't know." There was no in between. And so, then I had to deal, of course, on the other side with the aftermath of the contract, which is another long story.
How Cary Navigated Her Exit From Goldman Sachs [55:02]
Michael: Yeah. Because then that was going to be my next question. If you couldn't step off the train as the deal was closing, are there options to get off afterwards? Just when all this terribly frustrating stuff is happening, is there a point where you can just say, "Okay, I don't want to be here anymore. This is not fun anymore, to put it mildly. I think I want out, and I'm just going to go do my own thing"?
Cary: Right. So, unfortunately, they gave us stock options. And in the stock options, they wrapped a two-year non-compete in there, which was what I had at United, but I never even looked at my contract at United because I wasn't leaving, and it probably had expired at that point anyway because I was there so long. So, I don't even know if I had a contract anymore at United.
So, they wrapped the stock options into the contract with a lot of other incredibly strict, legalese language, as you can imagine, since they have all the money in the world and all the attorneys in the world. And so, their whole thing was, "We are going to lock the advisors up so they can't leave.
Michael: Unless you take a full-on two-year non-compete sit-in.
Cary: Correct. And 2 years is a long time. I don't know how many people can do a two-year non-compete. It's onerous. I didn't think I could do it.
Michael: And I guess even in the context of enforceability of non-competes, which gets tough in some places, just I'm envisioning the legal arguments. When they actually have stock options tied to it, they can say, "We're not just imposing this as a unilateral condition of employment," like, "Look, look, we gave stock options. This was in exchange for compensation."
Cary: Right. Well…because technically I was an owner at the old firm.
Cary: So, that makes it even worse.
Michael: Right. So, it's one thing to have non-competes in employment contracts, but there really is more legal precedent of if you own a business and you sell the business, it is not uncommon for buyers to put non-competes, right? Just they don't want to acquire the business from you and then have you open up shop across the street and take back the business they just paid you for.
Michael: So, there's some, I think, actual reasonable principles in allowing non-competes in acquisition scenarios. I guess it's a good point since the original United Capital deal had 50% cash flow, 50% sold, and of that it was a third, a third, a third of cash note and equity. 1/6th of your practice had turned into United Capital equity, so you had a material stake of United Capital equity that was part of this deal wrap-up.
Cary: Right. Well, and that's another sort of story, but yeah because we thought we were going to get Goldman stock, and we didn't. They just cashed us out, and we had a major capital gain that none of us planned for, and we're all planners. How do you like that?
Michael: So, well, what happens at this point? You're in,
Cary: I'm in, right. So now what?
Michael: You've got a two-year non-compete. So, 2 years from the original deals, like the deal gets done in mid-2019?
Cary: Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Everybody kept saying that to me. They're like, "You can make it 2 years." No, it's 2 years from when you quit.
Michael: So, it never gets better.
Cary: No, because everybody kept saying that to me, "You can make it 2 years." Meanwhile, we know what's coming around the corner in 2020, the pandemic. So, I actually could have made it 2 years because of the pandemic, but it wasn't 2 years. It was 2 years from when you quit. So, every time I told everybody that, they were like, "Oh, oh, oh."
But yeah, so I think I went through 3 attorneys, and I just kept trying to find any attorney that would tell me anything that I wanted to hear. And most of them told me all these terrible reasons why I'm stuck, and I'm a slave, and I can't go anywhere, and I can't do anything. And I'm like, "I don't understand this. Other people are quitting. Other people are getting fired." I'm like, "Can I get fired?" "No, you can't get fired. They're going to ruin your reputation. They're going to put something on your U4."
Meanwhile, by the way, everybody, they fired, they didn't put anything on their U4. So, that was all just threats. But anyway, so I hired an attorney, and the one attorney said, "The only thing you can do is buy your business back, is to negotiate to buy your business back. It's a negotiated leave out of this contract." And I was like, "I cannot believe I have to write them a check to leave."
Michael: Because there was a provision in here that said negotiated leave?
Cary: No, there was no provision in there. No, there was nothing in there that said that. But because it happened and we didn't... That was the only way. The only way is to give the money back, give money back, give money back and leave and start over and take your ball and go home.
Michael: Yeah. So, in essence, the extent that they can say, "Well, this non-compete is reasonable because you sold your practice to us," you say, "Great, how about I take my practice back and give you the money back, which essentially means I'm buying my practice back, and then we're square. And then we can part ways because you're not losing clients. You got your money back. I'm not losing money. I got my clients back," and it's basically a version of an undo, I guess, at that point.
Cary: Exactly. Exactly. It's like a Roth re-characterization when we used to be able to do those, right?
Cary: So, anyway, and for a while, I was like, "I don't want to give them a penny." And I went through a whole 6 months of "I don't want to give them any money. They're ruining my life. They're ruining my career. I can't get out of bed in the morning. I'm so depressed. I have to go see a therapist." That's why I was like, "I cannot believe..." It's like giving an abuser money, so I'm like, "I can't believe I have to do this." But I finally came to the conclusion, "If this is the only way out, I'll take it."
And so, I had an attorney who had negotiated about a dozen guys out before me and one guy after me. And in the middle of this, I got them to agree to my terms and my buyback number. And I already started telling my clients, "I'm buying my business back, so the good news is we're going to be leaving. And I'm not going to be losing the performance and the financial planning, and I'm going to take everything with me." And that's where I was. And I was willing to write the check for it.
So, I think it was agreed upon end of October of 2021. And I'm waiting for the contract, waiting for the contract, waiting for the contract. By February of 2022, they renege on me. And...
Michael: They said, "We've decided we don't want to allow you to buy this back after all"?
Cary: They said, "Goldman has lost the taste for these deals."
Cary: And I'm like, "What is happening right now?" And I'm totally in shock. And then they're like, "Are you staying?" And I'm like, "Maybe," because I don't want them to know what I'm doing with my life. I'm certainly not going to stay, but whatever. And so, that's the point where I said, you're going to find this funny. I actually said to, I call him my handler, I said, "So, what does it take to be successful at Goldman? Because I'm just incredibly unsuccessful. How did I go from being the number 4 advisor in the country to being an ant on the bottom of my shoe? How did that happen?"
And actually, Mike Brinker said to me at one point, he said, "Cary, it's the environment. It's like you can't breathe on Mars. You can't breathe there. It's the same thing. It's the environment." But anyway, I thought that was funny.
Michael: It's a culture thing. If you're good at being a company person, Goldman is very rewarding for people who are good at being company people. That's part of the Goldman thing, but...
Cary: Or being in a box. Being in a box. But anyway, so you want to hear what he said?
Cary: This is my favorite part. So, I said, "So, what does it take to be successful at Goldman?" And he said, "Don't be a hero to your clients." And I said, "Oh, no..." And I thought to myself, "No wonder. I am already a hero to my clients. No wonder I don't fit in at Goldman. Too late. I already am." As a matter of fact, when I resigned, I wanted to put that in the resignation letter, but my attorney advised against it. So, I didn't. But I really wanted to say that.
Michael: And so, it fascinates me because, look, at the end of the day, Goldman is a ludicrously financially successful business. There's obviously something they're doing right and some people who are very successful in that environment, but obviously totally horrific for you. It's just this extreme mismatch in culture and environment. The only thing that sort of throws me is Goldman knows what Goldman is. They bought United Capital. This was a firm that was bred in independence. It's just a little bit like, did no one really see this coming?
Cary: Exactly. Exactly. And honestly, I think that they thought that they were going to take us and put us in their little box. And you know what? For some people, honestly, Michael, between me and you, for an average or below average advisor, it's fantastic. Now they're getting clients. They have the Goldman name. It's the greatest thing that ever happened to them. People are picking up their phone calls if they're soliciting people.
Michael: Affluent folks respond on the Goldman name. They've got the, I guess it was the Ayco branch now merged in, but they've got all the planning into large companies and executives and upper managers that just, they generate business. They generate a ton of business that you get to serve and get paid very well to serve.
Cary: Exactly. So, for some people, it is Nirvana, and they don't care that they're being told what to do or how to do it or when to do it or what to say.
Michael: Well, they'll be told things that work in the Goldman environment, you get rewarded for it. It's nice if they give you the script to be successful and then you do the script and it's successful. But again, that only works if you actually like that environment in the first place.
Cary: And I think what's interesting, if you think about somebody who is an entrepreneur, entrepreneurs don't really fit in boxes and don't really like being told what to do and how to do it. It's a definite, definite cultural mismatch. So, here they said I can't buy my business back. I'm the only 1 that can't. Like I said, a dozen guys before me, 1 guy after me. And I'm the only 1 they said no to. And I called them out on the fact that there was 1 guy after me. And then they went into this whole thing about how he started negotiating before me. And I know for a fact he didn't. And I called them out on it, and I said, "Look, I know I'm the only 1 you said no to. And I'm the only woman." So, I know that they know that they know that I know that whatever happened happened. And so, I knew that they weren't going to come after me.
But at that point, they then switched the contract to lower everybody's payout, and they put a 6-month non-compete clause in there. And I was like, "I can do 6 months. I think I can do this. I can live with this." And so, instead of paying them to leave, I quit, ran out my non-compete, had my number 2 quit with me, and he could work after a month, and then take the clients and watch them while I was not working for 6 months.
Michael: Oh, because since he was in a lower tier in the team hierarchy, his non-compete provisions were shorter?
Michael: Okay. Interesting. And so, the change in contracts was them unilaterally on their own. They were doing a comp change. They were re-upping their non-competes associated with their comp change, except that actually proved to be a very helpful override in your context?
Cary: I think it was. And it was funny because everyone's like, "Oh, well, you so lucky you got a new contract." I'm like, "Everybody got a new contract." It was not that specific to me. It was because they were they were lowering the comp, and they had to come more in line with everybody else had a 6-month non-compete, and we had a two-year.
Michael: Yeah. And so, after all that where they wouldn't let you buy it back, it turns out that you get a 6-month window, and so you took it?
Cary: Took it. I took it as soon as I possibly could. Now, unfortunately, on the other side, it was a little bit more complicated because I had had a lot of offers on the table, and my offers were based on not being sued by Goldman and a very, very clean transaction with 0 risk. And now I'm on the other side, and now I have 100% risk, and I have an attorney telling everybody that I'm going to get a TRO, and Goldman's 100% making an example out of me because I'm the only one they said no to that they couldn't buy their business back, so they're going to go after me. And so, it was a disaster on the other side.
Michael: So ironically, for anybody that wanted to take you in, at least having a clean break with a buyback puts a tidy bow on it?
Michael: If you're, air quotes, just quitting, running a non-compete, and then going back to talk to your clients, nobody really knows whether or how much the firm is going to challenge you or not, which just makes you 'risky' for anybody who might think about hiring you.
Cary: Incredibly risky, incredibly risky. Almost all my deals fell apart at the end when this happened because I am now a major risk with a Goldman target on my back, with an attorney saying that I'm getting a TRO. And I was saying, which guess what, I was right, I was saying Goldman's not going to touch me with a 10-foot pole because they know that I know that they discriminated against me. And if they want me talking, I'm happy to talk and tell my story.
And this is my experience, so nobody could take away my experience from me because I'm not telling any tales out of school. This is what happened to me. So, it's my story, and I own it, and I'm allowed to talk about it. And so, I never even got a cease-and-desist letter when we moved the first client. So, I was right. They did not touch me with a 10-foot pole. They let me walk away.
Michael: Because at the end of the day, litigation back and forth for them on the risk of discrimination issues is easier for them to just let you get whatever clients you're going to get.
Cary: Yes. And I was part of the class action lawsuit for women that they had. I was part of that. And unfortunately, I found out, which by the way was settled, and each woman got $50,000, and I found out recently that United Capital employees was specifically excluded from the case. And so, I'm getting 0, which I was going to donate the money anyway.
Michael: But the principle of it doesn't feel good.
Cary: Yes. No, it was the principle.
Michael: Yeah. So...
Cary: I wanted it to be part of my story that I was part of the discrimination lawsuit, which I was, I just didn't get a payment.
Where Cary Rebuilt Her Practice And What’s Next For Her [1:11:53]
Michael: Yeah. So, where ultimately did you land? Where did you go? Where are you now?
Cary: So, now I'm at Advisor Capital Management, which is a firm based out of New Jersey. It has a wealth side, which serves about 1,700 families. And then it also has a wholesale side, which manages money for other advisors. And yeah, that's where I am. They're pretty much the only one left standing who would take me.
Michael: I was going to say how much of this was you sought them out because you liked their offering versus they had a reasonable offering and just they were willing to work with you through this challenging period?
Cary: Well, the whole thing was very interesting because their attorney was my old attorney, which made it a little bit complicated. And yeah, it was complicated, but they wanted me, and they did come after me. And they recruited me hard for at least 2 years. And in the end, they were left standing. And it was just, the whole experience was horrible.
I think I at one point had 15 offers on the table. And then in the end, I had Advisor Capital Management, which I'm happy to be at. I'm happy that I'm there. And they also wanted to support me being head of Women in Wealth. And they truly believe in my vision of changing the industry to make it more female friendly. And they're letting me do all the great things that I used to do before. And I've got a lot of freedom and a lot of autonomy. And I really, really love that. I really, really do. It's really fantastic. And I'm getting to build from scratch there.
Michael: So, did clients ultimately follow you through this whole journey?
Cary: Yes. Yes.
Michael: How much of the practice ultimately came after you got to wait out 6 months, and then I'm envisioning you got to re-initiate contact with people because you...
Cary: Yes. Yes.
Michael: ...can't take client's information you're not supposed to take.
Cary: Yes. Yes. Yes. So we did really fantastic. So, I took 99% of my clients, and my number 2 took about 40. So, we wound up averaging 90%.
Cary: I think that's pretty good, considering what they were doing on the other side. They were not playing fair on the other side.
Michael: So, I'm struck for all of this because you said getting clients has not been the challenge for you, historically. So, I'm presuming to the extent that some didn't come along, you're fine to go get more.
Cary: Exactly. Totally, totally fine. I think we'll probably be at max capacity again within 2 months.
Michael: And so, I guess that was really part of the driver for you around the time window of the non-competes. It wasn't necessarily about the ability to take clients per se, although obviously it's nice when you can bring them with you. The challenge for you is you couldn't bring them, and you couldn't even go get new ones, even though you're good at it, because it was going to require you to sit on the sidelines for 2 years.
Cary: Right. I mean, I don't know how many people could actually do that. That's a business killer.
Michael: I was going to ask what you did for 6 months.
Cary: Well, the funny thing is it went really fast, and I think I went to Europe 3 times. But honestly, I did speak with clients. I was allowed to talk to clients as a friend. So, I talked to a lot. I definitely talked to all of my clients multiple times during that timeframe. I just wasn't allowed to talk about their investments of their stuff because I didn't have access to any of that.
But the market was down. I was talking them off the ledge. That's the whole where we were down the whole entire year, and people started to get frustrated with all the down, every single month down.
Michael: So, what comes next for you at this point?
Cary: So, I'm in the middle, I just finished my second book. And I'm very excited about it. I don't know when it's coming out, which publishing route it's going to go through, so I'm very excited about that right now.
Michael: What's the focus of the book?
Cary: So, I think the name is going to be "Purses to Portfolios: A Guide to Female Wealth," so similar to my first book but different, a lot more deeper stuff. And I talk about making the industry female-friendly, why women leave their advisors, I talk about my experience with Goldman Sachs, I talk about understanding why women's relationship with money is unique, and challenging financial fear, and gender inequality and the wealth gap, and talk about financial planning for women and mentorship and understanding the emotional side of money and all that stuff.
Michael: So, is this for advisors about how to work with female wealth or ultimately to end consumers, or just your personal manifesto on all of it?
Cary: I think it's both. It's funny. I think it's both. I really do. That's what people keep saying, "Is this for advisors, or is this for clients?" And I'm like, "I think it's for both. I really do." My first book was really for both too, although ThinkAdvisor had said on my first book that every male advisor should read it so you can get inside a woman's head. But it was really for women to understand money.
The Surprises Cary Experienced On Her Journey [1:17:49]
Michael: So, what surprised you the most about this path of building an advisory business?
Cary: Oh, I would say, again, I think I'm repeating myself, but I think how hard it was in the beginning to carve a niche, get clients, and figure out everything that you need to know because you need to know so much information, as you know, because you are the creator of all the knowledge. So, you know all the knowledge that we have to know. So, it's such a massive amount.
And I remember also in the beginning in my early stages, I was like, "I'm not worthy. I'm not good enough. I'm not smart enough. I don't know everything How can I charge somebody when I don't have all the answers?" So back, I think, in the early stages, I think that was really, really hard because I felt like I had to have all the knowledge before I could charge for the knowledge, and I had to know everything.
And now, here I am much later in my career, and I know what I need to know at this point in my life. And I'm going to continue on the path that I'm on, and I don't get into the details. The devil's in the details, but that's not me. Somebody who works for me is in the details. I'm totally high-level, high-picture, just wanting to educate the world on the importance of financial planning and financial literacy and all the great stuff that we know.
Michael: I was going to ask what changed, that just you have such a confidence around business development now, but as you articulated, a really tough time for many years early on. What changed so much from how comfortable you are to get clients now to how rough it was for you for that first 4 or 5 years?
Cary: I don't know if it was me or my knowledge level or my confidence or...honestly, I don't even know what the pivot was. But I feel like as soon as I hit my stride, it was like I'm off to the races. But it took me a long time to get to that point. And also, I feel like in the beginning when I first started, I was not even sure that I wanted to be an advisor, so I feel like I was maybe 50% committed. And I was 1 foot in, 1 foot out.
So, I wasn't really...I was like, "I'm just waiting to get a job, waiting for the recession to be over, and then I'll get a big fat job again." And then I was like, "Wait a minute. I don't think I'm supposed to be getting a job. I think I'm supposed to be doing this." And then once I realized I was good at it, and that was it. And I remember also back early in my early years, I started to teach the CFP. And I taught the CFP from 2004 to 2008 until the financial crisis, and then I stopped teaching it. But that also helped me know that I know everything. I know enough to teach it to everybody else, so I feel like I'm good enough.
Michael: Interesting. If I can teach it to other advisors, then I've got the confidence be able to say it to clients.
The Advice That Cary Would Give Her Former Self And Younger, Newer Advisors [1:21:13]
Michael: So, what do you know now that you wish you could go back and tell you about just these dynamics of what to do when the firm you sell to gets sold? Are there things you would have done differently or wish you'd known?
Cary: It's so funny because I go through this a lot, and a lot of people ask me this question. And first of all, I never thought that United Capital would be sold. It was never on the table for us to be sold to a big Wall Street firm because we were anti-Wall Street. So, when we came into the firm, we were told and sold that we're either going to go public, or we're going to stay private and pay dividends, and we're going to grow this firm and change the world.
And I think most of us really, really bought that, and I certainly did. And I really believed that nothing was going to change, and I never in my wildest dreams imagined being sold to Goldman Sachs, never, ever, ever. And...
Michael: Yeah, just the whole, right, I remember back to industry in the early United Capital days. It was a fairly direct anti-Wall Street kind of brand, so to be sold to Goldman at the end of that is a particularly jarring version of how that story plays out.
Cary: Yes, yes, it is never what anybody imagined, I would think. And there's no way. People keep saying, "Would you have done it differently if you knew what you knew now?" And I'm like, "I don't know because I loved United Capital. I just didn't love what happened when it was sold." So, would I have done anything different? I don't know.
I feel like being on your own is fantastic. Fantastic like fantastic, fantastic, fantastic because you can make all the decisions, but then you don't have leverage because then you have to do everything yourself. So, I don't know if there is anything perfect, and believe me, I've been looking, and I've looked my entire career. And I feel like you have to create your perfect.
Michael: And sometimes your perfect turns out to be a little less perfect, so then you have to just rebuild. Sometimes if you build your perfect, you have to rebuild your perfect.
Cary: Right, right. And I always feel like you should do what you're great at and do what makes you happy, and I'm doing that now. And I'm getting my mojo back. Everyone's like, "You're back. You're back. You're back." I'm like, "No, no, no. I'm not not back yet, but I'm slowly coming back." I really feel like I'm coming back to where I was before, but it's taking me a while because I'm dealing a little bit with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Michael: So, what advice would you give younger, newer advisors, I guess particularly young women trying to come in the business today to be successful?
Cary: So, I want them to believe in themselves and that they can do this and that they can absolutely do this, and I'm going to work on making it more female friendly and shifting it so that it's less uncomfortable for them. And I'm also creating a mentorship program for them as well so that they have women like myself and my colleagues, my group of my fantastic women who are doing this with me. And we're going to get together and try to support all these women who are coming in because we want to be there for them.
What Success Means To Cary [1:25:07]
Michael: So, as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success, and just one of the themes that always comes up is the word success itself means very different things different people. So, I feel like you've had sort of multiple success journeys, like built the firm, sold to United Capital, hiccup, building again after a brief four-year hiatus. So, you seem to find these paths to success for the business and career. How do you define success for yourself at this point?
Cary: For me, success is freedom and freedom to do what I want to do and what makes me happy and what I'm good at. And that is the most important thing to me is that I can go on TV and I can speak and I can write and I can influence and I can make a difference in this world and I can help women and I can help the industry and I can change the industry, and I'm doing all these great things that get me out of bed in the morning because that's my 1 thing. My 1 thing is to help women. And so, if I can do that in every shape, way, and form, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing in this world.
Michael: Very cool. Well, hopefully, we helped give a little bit more of a platform here to bring that message from you to more of the advisor community.
Cary: I hope so.
Michael: Thank you, Cary, for joining us on the Financial Advisor Success Podcast.
Cary: Thank you for having me.