Welcome back to the 103rd episode of Financial Advisor Success Podcast.
This week’s guest is Kathleen Kenealy. Kathleen is the managing director and senior wealth advisor for Boston Private Wealth, a private bank and trust company in the Boston area that oversees nearly $8 billion of assets under management, of which Kathleen manages more than $300 million for 75 client households.
What’s unique about Kathleen and her role at Boston Private, though, is that she wasn’t responsible for doing the business development to get those 75 client households over the past 3 years, which was handled by the business development officers for the private bank instead, allowing her to spend all of her time simply focused on really doing financial planning for her affluent clients, and also improving the financial planning processes of the entire firm, for which she was recently recognized as an InvestmentNews 40 Under 40 Honoree.
In this episode, we talk in depth about what it’s like to work within a larger advisory firm that has separated out the prospecting and business development from the financial planning work that its wealth managers are responsible for. How the firm does still involve its wealth advisors towards the end of the business development process to ensure that prospective clients are connected with the right advisor, what it’s like to come into existing planning relationships with existing clients who may not actually be happy about being transitioned to a new advisor in the first place, and why it’s never bothered Kathleen nor hindered her career as an advisor to not have her own clients, and instead be focused solely on working with clients of the firm instead.
We also talk about what it’s like to be a financial planner in a large firm whose roots are in the standalone investment management business, the steps that Kathleen has taken to expand adoption of financial planning by all advisors in the firm, why the company decided to switch from eMoney Advisor to MoneyGuidePro for their financial planning work with clients, and how the firm looks at the capacity of a wealth advisor to service a certain number of clients, and why that number must vary between investment-only and financial planning clients.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Kathleen shares her path on building a career of working with advisory firms and their clients rather than going out on her own. The upside career aspiration she sees for herself, even if partnership happens to not be an opportunity at her currently publicly traded firm, how she’s been able to find job opportunities with firms that won’t require her to do business development but will reward her for being a great financial planner to clients, and her interview tips on how to show well as a financial advisor trying to get one of those job opportunities in the first place.
So whether you want to learn how Kathleen has been able to consistently find unique career opportunities as a financial planner, how the bank she works for separates out the responsibility of finding new clients from the actual financial planning process, and ways in which she’s working towards standardizing the financial planning process at her bank, then we hope you enjoy this episode of Financial Advisor Success.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- Her unique role within Boston Private Wealth. [04:53]
- Where the clients she works with come from. [10:39]
- How servicing and support works within the firm. [21:16]
- Why the company decided to switch from eMoney Advisor to MoneyGuidePro. [24:15]
- Steps Kathleen has taken to standardize the financial planning provided by all advisors in the firm. [37:02]
- How Kathleen stumbled into the financial planning industry. [51:57]
- How Kathleen handles working with higher net worth clients whose values and viewpoints on money differ from her own. [58:41]
- What made her think about starting her own firm—and why she ultimately decided against it. [1:29:02]
- What it’s like working for a publicly traded company. [1:32:52]
- How Kathleen has consistently found new and unique career opportunities. [1:36:16]
- Her dream job and vision for her future. [1:42:56]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Kathleen Kenealy
- Boston Private
- Boston Private Career Opportunities
- Investment News 40 Under 40
- fpPathfinder Flowcharts
- Boston University CFP Program
- Financial Planning Association
Welcome, Kathleen Kenealy, to the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Kathleen: Hi, Michael. It’s good to be here.
Michael: I’m really excited to have you on the podcast today and talk about something that I don’t think we’ve covered very well on the podcast. One of our listeners had pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago that I have perhaps somewhat unwittingly taken a pretty strong focus with our guests on the podcast over the past two years or so around advisors that have gone independent, started firms, built firms, created firms, etc., and talked about their success paths and have not really given much due diligence or maybe have allocated short shrift to those of us that decide to build careers within larger firms, you know, I guess what would maybe classically be called the corporate environment, firms of varying sizes. But that we don’t really talk a lot about what success looks like and just how you build a successful career when you’re trying to essentially climb the ladder within a large firm.
And so, I know you sit within a very large firm, Boston Private Wealth, and have navigated through a couple of firms over your career. And so, I’m just really excited for some of your perspective around building career, building success, and how you think about that path, having made a conscious decision of, “I don’t want to go out and start my own firm from scratch and deal with all the stuff that comes with that.” But I know you are very aspirational, have some pretty awesome goals for yourself about where you want to end up with your career in the long run as you follow down this corporate career path.
Kathleen’s Unique Role Within Boston Private Wealth [04:53]
Kathleen: Sure. So Boston Private Wealth, we’re actually a wholly owned subsidiary of Boston Private Financial Holdings. We are a private banking, wealth management, and trust and fiduciary services firm. So Boston Private in the Boston area has mostly been known as private banking. Back in the day, they provided private banking services to clients. They do trust and fiduciary services. So we service corporate trustee. And their investment management department of Boston Private historically had been more of like, “We’re just going to manage U.S. large-cap stocks and fixed-income securities and call it a day.” A few years ago, maybe about four or five years ago at this point, they acquired another firm that was kind of roughly the size that Boston Private had been at that time, at least the RIA version, and basically doubled in size, started adding additional asset classes, started building out its wealth management offering because they purely had been like a solely investment-only firm at that point.
So now we are a…we do provide holistic comprehensive wealth management services. I am a senior wealth advisor there, so I work with primarily individuals and couples, providing both investment management advice as well as financial planning. So I would say the predominant focus of the book of clients that I work with, everyone tends to be retirees or trying to figure out if they can retire. So I’m doing a lot of cash flow planning, figuring out when to claim Social Security, you know, trying to help with medical and healthcare decisions and planning for health care cost if people are retiring before Medicare kicks in. Kind of everything that goes along with serving that segment of the market.
And I work with probably about 75 clients or so. And the average client I work with probably tends to be in like the $3 million AUM range, although I have some that are lower than $1 million, and I have some that skew to the upper end too. So I have a family that I work with that they have like about $150 million of assets with us. So it’s all over the board, but that is kind of what I do on a day-to-day basis.
Michael: So when you talk about Boston Private and kind of these private banking routes and then, you know, trust and corporate trustee roles and then moving into wealth management, so for those of us that have lived only in the RIA or broker-dealer side of the industry, can you just clarify, like, what exactly is private banking as contrasted with corporate trustees and wealth management services and the rest? Like, is this just another name for doing wealth management for affluent folks or is this, like, actually just a separate area of Boston Private that does different things than what we do in advisor world?
Kathleen: Yeah, it’s actually a separate part of Boston Private. So physically speaking, the wealth management arm of Boston Private sits in one office space in Boston, and then across the street is our banking headquarters. So we offer deposit services, residential lending, commercial lending. We can actually do lines of credit against investment portfolios if the case arises. So for a lot of our clients who like to have that personal touch on the banking side versus, you know, walking into a, you know, Bank of America branch where no one knows your name, people have a, you know, dedicated deposit officer that they can call. And, you know, I think one of the differentiators is, you know, if you bounce a check, your deposit officer is calling you up or they’re calling me up to transfer, you know, some cash from your investment account to your checking account to cover the overdraft rather than to see you getting hit by, you know, a $50 overdraw penalty.
Michael: And so does that mean as a advisor at a firm that has a private bank, like, you’re pulled into private bank discussions or just you refer clients over, or you say, “Hey, you can bank wherever you want, but if you happen to bank with us, like, I can work with your banker person when you’ve got questions or issues?”
Kathleen: Yeah, clients can bank wherever they want. It’s not a requirement that you bank with us. We do have a lot of clients that like that they have everything all under one roof. So I collaborate with my colleagues on the banking side, but, you know, they do their arm of the business and I do my arm of the business, and we’ll, you know, collaborate as we need to, but they are very distinct, separate arms despite falling under one Boston Private umbrella.
Michael: And so, in terms of your clients that you work with, you said, you know, about 75 households that you work with, average client is about $3 million of assets. Obviously, we can sort of do the math there. Like, you’ve got a $200-plus million book of clients, which is a pretty sizable chunk of clients and revenue. So where do these clients come from? Like, are you in a world where you’ve got to go out and get $200 million of AUM clients in order to do this work, or how are clients coming to you?
Where The Clients Kathleen Works With Come From [10:39]
Kathleen: Good question. So my book size right now is actually a little over $300 million just because of my one outlier client, that $150 million relationship.
Michael: That always bumps the average up a little. Yes.
Kathleen: That definitely bumps the average a bit. So I think in terms of revenue, my revenue on all my clients is a little over $2 million. So what I like about Boston Private and actually all the firms that I’ve ever worked at is I’ve never had to do any direct business development myself. The clients have always been clients of the firm. And that’s the same here at Boston Private. They’re clients of Boston Private, not my individual clients. So we do have dedicated business development officers at Boston Private who sole job is to bring in new business. Of course, it’s nice when existing clients refer in outside new business, but I, you know, don’t have to physically go out and bring in new business. So I’ve always been kind of lucky that way, but I don’t really fancy the sales side of the business either. So I’ve sort of strategically placed myself at firms where I knew I wasn’t going to be dependent…you know, I wasn’t going to have to go out and bring in new business.
Michael: Well, and I think it’s an interesting distinction that, you know, in a lot of parts of the industry these days, there’s, I find, growing debate about just this phenomenon of, “Who does the client belong to?” I mean, obviously, like, clients are their own independent people and they can go if they’re going to go. But, you know, anytime you get to a potential split, like if, you know, the advisor may be leaving the firm and you have this fundamental question like, is the client the client of the advisor or is the client the client of the firm? And, you know, which has a lot of ramifications when you get down to everything from non-compete, non-solicit agreements or buyouts or just how to equitably split when you split. You know, certainly, I think almost every firm would like to say, “Well, they’re our clients and you have to keep them here if you leave,” because it’s good for the revenue of the business, but a lot of advisors push back and say, “No, no, like, I brought this client. Yeah, yeah, I serviced them on your platform, but, you know, this was my client because I brought them in.”
And I think it’s an interesting framing in a firm like yours, where, yeah, Boston Private is going to say, “These are clients of the firm, not clients of yours that you get to keep,” but that’s because they literally went and got the clients and handed them to you to service. It’s not like they said, “Go get your own clients.” And as you bring them in, they become clients of the firm, and then if you leave, you have to start over again. Like, they match that side of it, I guess, to me. And so they are saying, “Clients are clients of the firm,” but that also means clients are brought in by the firm. And that’s part of the deal.
Kathleen: Right, right. Yeah. And I think, you know, if there was a client that I personally brought in myself and if I did ever leave some day, you know, as you mentioned, there are non-solicits and non-competes, but I think I’ve heard of other circumstances where, as people are leaving, you know, negotiations happen behind the scenes to say they like, “Okay, well, you can take this one client with you, but you can’t touch anyone else for two years.” Something like that.
Michael: Right, right. You know, “This one came to me through my personal connections. Like, they’re going to follow me anyways, so can we work it out for this one client?” Then if they’re going to say, “For the rest of clients, like, firm’s clients, firm got them, firm business development officers brought them in. You serviced them and did awesome, and we paid you well for it. But if you’re leaving, like, these are clients of the firm and we’re going to assign another advisor.”
Kathleen: Right. And I think, you know, that’s not to say other advisors haven’t necessarily tried to take clients as they have left. So, when I did join…so I’ve only been at Boston Private for about three years. I had my three-year anniversary last month. And part of the reason that I work with the size book of clients that I do is, going back to the merger that I mentioned earlier, when that merger happened, you know, there was some restructuring, there was some reassignment of roles, there were some people that weren’t necessarily happy with their new roles that left. And so, a number of advisors left. Some clients got reassigned. And so, when I got hired on, I was probably, like, the third or fourth advisor that they had been assigned to within a matter of, like, two years. So I have a number of clients that they were on what I call the client advisor merry-go-round for a little while. So the first probably 6 months that I was there, I was essentially trying to save probably 50, 55 different clients all sort of within a very short period of time, which is an interesting experience in itself but…
Michael: Yeah. Like, “Welcome to the new firm and this affluent client who is really upset with the firm for things that were entirely out of your control. Go retain them.”
Kathleen: Definitely. That was a…it’s a good learning experience, if nothing else. I got very good at being yelled at while remaining patient and calm and sympathetic. So the good news was that I was able to retain the vast majority of them. So it was kind of the silver lining amongst all that.
Michael: So help me understand a little bit more about just how this works and what it’s like to drop into this role. I mean, I think for a lot of advisors out there that would like to do financial planning, frankly, what you’re describing sounds almost like a pipe dream. You know, not that dealing with some clients who are yelling at you isn’t unpleasant, but, like, you’ve worked there for 3 years and the firm has handed you $300 million worth of clients and you’re responsible for $2 million of revenue, which many advisors literally never get to in a lifetime. So how does this work exactly? Like, you just get hired and they say, “Here’s $300 million worth of clients, we suggest you call them soon because they’ve had some turnover?”
Kathleen: I mean, almost. I did not get to the $300 million, you know, overnight. I would say within the first 6 months, I did have maybe about $125 million handed to me, and then maybe about 6 months after that, I was brought into that large family relationship. And then over the course of the last three years, there have also been new clients coming in. So, you know, even though we do have business development people in the firm that are responsible for bringing in new clients, they’ll traditionally do, like, a first round of vetting with the prospect, and then they’ll figure out, “Okay, given their needs and what they’re looking for, who might they work best with in the office?” And then they’ll pick, you know, an advisor who might have capacity or a skillset that the client is looking for. And I’ll get brought in to, you know, meet with the prospect and help close the business, and then they essentially become my client going forward. So a lot of it was handed to me sort of fortunately I guess, and then some of it has been growth, just, you know, through new business development over the last three years.
Michael: And is that the process about, like, how new business development happens? A business development officer finds a person, gets them interested, and then you get brought in and have, like, a two-person meeting with the prospect to close them and bring on the business? So the business development officer has to I guess “do” the sale but you’re there so the client knows what they’re getting and who they’re going to be working with?
Kathleen: Yeah, exactly. And the prospects come in through different channels, too. So we have some coming in as referrals from the bank side. So if somebody, for example, has a business account with the bank and the banking person knows that this person is just going through some major transaction in their business or selling their business, they might call up one of the business development people on the wealth side and say, “Hey, I’ve got this deposit client who I know is going to have this big inflow of cash because they’re, you know, getting ready to sell their firm. Will you have a conversation with them?”
So we get referrals from the bank side, and I’ll do exactly what you just said. You know, the business development person will do an initial conversation or an initial meeting with the prospect, do a lot of initial data gathering, and then come back and talk to me. And we’ll brainstorm about, “Okay, what types of services is this person looking for? What might we want to do on the investment side? Do they need planning? Do they need, you know, help with estate planning?” And then we’ll brainstorm to figure out, you know, when we sit down with the prospect for another meeting, “What are we talking to them about? What are their pain points? What can we help them with? What do they want to get done in the next year? You know, how do we position ourselves so that…?” You know, we make it sound enticing and that we can help them and get them to a point where, you know, they’re comfortable with me and can trust me because you’re trying to build, you know, a relationship pretty quickly in order to get them to essentially sign on the dotted line.
Michael: And, I was going to say like, I’m struck by this dynamic where I think for so many advisors, the view has always been, “Well, the only person who can do business development is the advisor because the client has to trust them and like them and bond with them or the relationship isn’t going to work.” And your model seems to kind of be a hybrid of that. That the client does or the prospective client ultimately does get to meet and connect with their future advisor if this goes well, but the advisor doesn’t need to go out there and prospect and find the business. There are business development officers, or in BP’s case, you know, some internal referral programs as well that may set those meetings up. So I guess, like, you have to show up for some prospect meetings, but you don’t have to go find those meetings. Someone tells you like, “We have a prospect. It may be a good fit for you. Can you come to this meeting next Thursday at 2 and meet with the prospect to try to get them to come on board?”
How Servicing And Support Works Within The Firm [21:16]
Michael: And so, what does this look like in terms of servicing clients on an ongoing basis? Like, are you your own just world? It’s you and these 75 clients, go do your thing? Do you have your own support staff or team or, like, do you get to use some of the revenue from the client base and build your own team if you want to? Like, what does this look like from a servicing and support perspective with clients?
Kathleen: So, the nice thing about Boston Private is we do have a great team of support people. We have operations people. We’ve got portfolio management people. We’ve got an investment team. So everybody sort of has their roles. So, for servicing my clients directly, I work with one associate who works with me on all of my clients. And so he’s the one putting together, you know, account forms or putting through workflow requests when a client calls needing cash, or he’s putting together performance reports. He’s doing sort of all the behind-the-scenes, nitty-gritty, day-to-day actual administrative things.
Michael: Classic associate administrative support kinds of roles. And he’s assigned directly to you and your client base? Like, he becomes your right-hand person for getting stuff done?
Kathleen: Yeah, he works with me and then one other person. And all the advisors in the office have my dedicated associate supporting them. And then we have some more junior associates that kind of fill in the gaps here and there when, you know, people need extra help with things. And then we also have a team of operations people who are the ones directly dealing with the custodians that we work with. So they’re the ones calling up Fidelity or TD trying to figure out, you know, what’s the status of this wire going out so that, you know, not all the advisors in the office are trying to call the custodian. They like to keep everything very centralized.
And then we also have, on the investment side, we have a whole team that does all the investments. So we’ve got a chief investment officer who kind of sets policy and strategy for the firm. We’ve got a team of portfolio managers that still pick and manage the individual stock portfolios that we run. We’ve got a couple of people doing external manager search and selection. So they’re reviewing mutual funds and exchange-traded funds and some of the asset classes where we’re not managing individual securities. And then we’ve got a team of trading people. So I have one dedicated portfolio advisor that trades all of my client accounts for me. So my job is basically to take the firm’s overall investment recommendations and investment strategy and thoughts about where we’re going in the market or what asset classes we’re favoring or which mutual funds we like, take all that, kind of apply it to each of the individual clients I work with to figure out what is appropriate for each one, and then work with my portfolio advisor, who actually is the one implementing the trades and putting the trades through.
Michael: And then how much time and depth do you get on the financial planning side? Like, are you a firm that also, I don’t know, uses financial planning software like eMoney or MoneyGuidePro or one of those or is the focus more on the investment management side and the relationship management? Like, how does that work for you?
Kathleen: So historically speaking, Boston Private had really just been an investment management only. Not only. That’s probably not fair, but predominantly. And they did have a couple of people that, you know, if somebody wanted a cash flow analysis, you’d call up this group of people. They’d run an eMoney illustration and then send you the report that the advisor would then go over with their client.
Why The Company Decided To Switch From Emoney Advisor To MoneyGuidePro [24:15]
So, when I first joined the firm three years ago, that is kind of how it had been done for a really long time. And they were definitely trying to go, I think, in the direction that the industry is going and has been going in terms of providing more in-depth financial planning services, more holistic wealth management services. And I think that’s one of the reasons they hired me was because I came from that and had 12-plus years of experience doing that in the other firms that I had worked at. So I was able to come in and kind of bring my history and my experience of providing that level of service to clients and kind of jump in feet first and say like, “Okay, well, here are some ideas. Here’s, you know, what we can do.” So I started working with the person who was directing the wealth management division at that point in Boston on fleshing out some of the services that we were providing.
So historically, we had used eMoney, and I have been a MoneyGuidePro user for a very, very long time. So the firm didn’t really want to pay to put eMoney in everybody’s hands because it’s a bit more expensive than MoneyGuidePro, but we also had these younger advisors, people who had just gotten their CFP were really, like, itching to get their hands dirty and jump into financial planning and doing that with their clients, and they didn’t have access to the software to actually be able to do it themselves. So I think one of the best things that we’ve done is we made the switch to eMoney so that all the advisors in the office could have their own login for…sorry, MoneyGuidePro. We made the switch from eMoney to MoneyGuidePro, gave everybody access to MoneyGuidePro, and now everyone has the ability to run their own financial plans for clients and actually use it in an interactive way with clients, right? We have the screen set up in the conference room, and you can go through and model different scenarios, which, I mean…
Michael: That’s always been one of the good strengths of MoneyGuidePro. You know, just they build their software to be used more interactively.
Kathleen: Yeah. And I think, I mean, clients really love it. From the clients that were sort of handed to me when I first came on board, some of them had gone through, you know, looking at the eMoney report kind of printed out in front of them and then they’ve gone through the MoneyGuidePro interactive demonstration and process. And hands down, everyone just finds it a lot more intuitive, and they like the interactiveness, and they like running different scenarios on the fly, versus, you know, if there’s one number off on that printed report, like, “Oh, sorry we need to reschedule and get back together in two weeks so I can go fix this,” you know.
Michael: So can you set a little bit of context of just how big is Boston Private Wealth? At least, like, just this wealth division you’re in. Like, because you’ve said, you know, you’re an advisor there, you’ve got your book of almost $300 million of clients. Like, how many clients or assets are there overall and how many other advisors are there in roles like yours?
Kathleen: So, the firm manages about $8 billion of assets. We do have offices scattered around the country. So we have a presence down in Florida. We’ve got a few offices out in California. We actually have an office in Madison, Wisconsin. In the Boston office, yeah, it was, I think from like an acquisition that was done years ago. So, in the Boston office, we have I think about 10 advisors, and then we have a handful of advisors down in Florida, another handful of advisors out in California, a couple of advisors in the Madison office. So we’re sort of scattered around. As far as sheer number of clients, I want to say the Boston office maybe manages about maybe 1,000 clients across all of Boston Private Wealth, I think is one of the…probably somewhere around there is a number I remember seeing fairly recently.
Michael: Okay. So when you’re in a firm like that where they’ve historically had more of an investment focus, you’re coming in, you’re interested in doing more planning, they’re saying, “Hey, yeah, you know, we think we’re interested in doing more planning and taking more of a planning focus.” But you’re in a firm with $8 billion of AUM and 1,000 and 10 advisors in your location and then handfuls of advisors in other locations across the country. Like, I’m just wondering, what does it look like? Like, where do you even start when you come to a firm that size and say, “Hey, let’s try to get more planning-centric,” and I have to try to convince this whole giant firm to do more of this stuff that I used to do at my old firm that I think we should be doing here?
Kathleen: So I think that appetite already existed when I came on board. I think so. I think I walked into it having the benefit of people already being sort of open to it and knowing that that was the direction they wanted to go and that was the direction they sort of need to go. So I had that working in my favor. When we did start kind of trying to put our arms around, “How do we sort of systematize and, you know, standardize a little bit,” which has been an ongoing process, probably about two years ago, I worked with somebody or one of our wealth strategists to try to develop, like, a training program for at least our Boston advisors. So right now, everything has been sort of Boston-focused because we are the biggest hub and things kind of trickle down to the rest of the firm through other means.
Michael: So the Boston office gets to be the beta test or the test case. And if it works there then you’ll try to replicate it to other offices?
Kathleen: Yeah. And we do have the benefit of being sort of the main office for the wealth division. Our COO is there, our CEO is there. So we have the…you know, the higher-ups are there to kind of put the energy behind it.
Kathleen: So one of the things I think we struggle with is all the advisors kind of come from different backgrounds. So we’ve got some who are, you know, trained as…have their CFA and they’ve been stock pickers, and all of a sudden they’re sort of told, “Okay, well, you can’t just pick stocks anymore, you have to be a relationship manager too.” And clients want you to talk to them about Social Security and all this other stuff.
Michael: I’m just imagining this, like, record scratch moment like, “Ugh, I’m supposed to do what now?”
Kathleen: Yeah. You know, it’s kind of a challenge getting…you know, when you’re talking about behavior change, that’s always a little bit of a challenge, right? So people have come from different backgrounds. People have, you know, different levels of experience.
Michael: So how do you think about those who’re trying to figure out like, “We want to get the firm to do more planning, I want to have a role in this, but we have to get all these different people on board at different places and experience levels and backgrounds?”
Kathleen: Yeah. So one of the things that we did sort of first and foremost about two years ago was I worked with our wealth strategist to come up with, like, a basic sort of training curriculum on different broad topics. So for anyone that’s gone through the CFP program, it’s kind of like a CFP light, you know, through one-hour or two-hour, like, lunch and learn kind of thing. So we brought in a CPA from a firm we do a lot of business with, and he came in and did a couple sessions on, you know, basic tax information, how to read a 1040, things that you can look at, different ideas that you can talk to clients to. And then we brought in one of the insurance guys that we refer a lot of business to. And he came in and talked about, you know, long-term care insurance and disability insurance and life insurance, and, you know, did different case studies. And we did a couple of internal sessions on the basics of estate planning and recommendations that you can be making to clients, and how to read documents and what to look for. We did one on, like, retirement planning.
So we try to do, like, you know, sort of a basic core curriculum on some of the different broad topics for the people that, you know, historically have been very investment-focused. Be like, “Here are some easy layups that you can start talking to clients about who do want, you know, a more in-depth dive, and here are things that you can look for that maybe you can go to somebody else in the office or the wealth strategist or, you know, the trust officer to talk about something that’s more specific or complicated that you don’t necessarily have experience with.”
Michael: And is the firm also looking at some direction like, “Hey, we’ve actually got to put all these people through CFP certification and, you know, eventually we’re going to send them off for programs like that,” or is the view like, “No, we want to handle this internally with these kinds of training programs that we’re building ourselves?”
Kathleen: I think some of it is internal. I think some of it is putting people through the CFP program. We’re having a little bit more success with sort of the younger associates in the office that are, you know, antsy and eager and, you know, want to get their feet wet doing more of this stuff. So they’re very happy to go through the coursework of the CFP and take the tests. We’ve had a number of people become CFPs in the last year or so. And then I think that the challenge is sort of more on the side of getting the more established, more experienced people to want to go out and dedicate the time and effort that it takes to go through all the classes and then pass the exam is a little bit more of a challenge if you’re looking also to keep employees happy and employee retention.
Michael: Right. Well, I think that’s the challenge for a lot of firms is when advisors get to a certain level of success, client-based income, you know, kind of personal life standards, like, you’re just not as necessarily as hungry to go back to school and go through a curriculum and change all the things that you’re used to doing that have been working pretty well for you because you’ve already got a good chunk of clients and you’re making some good money. Obviously, there are a few people out there that are just wired to continuously change and reinvent themselves. And that’s not a problem. They’ll go and accumulate the education and the new strategies anyways. But for everybody else, like, at some point, you just don’t really want to change that much if things are already going well, which creates a problem if you’re a sizable firm and you’re like, “Yeah, but we need to point the firm in this direction now.”
Kathleen: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. You hit the nail on the head.
Michael: So are there tactics the firm is using now to try to figure out, “How do we get more people on board with this?”
Kathleen: Yeah. So, you know, some of it is… You know, I hate to say it, but a lot of times the easiest incentives you can use is money when you’re trying to get people to move in the right direction or to do…you know, to make behavior change.
Michael: Human beings respond to incentives.
Steps Kathleen Has Taken To Standardize The Financial Planning Process At The Firm [37:02]
Kathleen: Right. Yeah. So, some of it is trying to come up with, you know, “What are goals that we want all the advisors to accomplish over the course of the year?” And, you know, we sort of started very basic a couple years ago with like, “All right, you need to do, you know, like, 10 financial plans over the course of the year with 10 different clients,” or, “You need to bring in a wealth strategist to have a conversation about estate planning with 5 of your clients.” So kind of, like, low hurdles to set, you know, initially. And as each year goes on, we’re trying to kind of build and progress and deepen that more. So that is still very much a work in progress.
So the chief operating officer and I have kind of been having these conversations for a while. And a few months ago, we established a financial planning working group in the office where we brought in a few other people, a couple of advisors from the Boston office, somebody from our Florida office, brought in somebody from our California office. And we’re sort of going through some of the bigger subject matter items or topics that come up with clients and just trying to come up with standard pieces of advice for clients in these different areas, or just trying to standardize the advice that client advisors are giving to clients.
So in other words, like we have our investment team that comes up with, you know, the investment recommendations for the firms and their best ideas, and it’s the advisors that need to then take that and apply it to the clients. We’re trying to do the same thing on the financial planning side so that people are getting, you know, consistent answers about certain topics, regardless of which advisor they go to, versus, you know, a client asking one person about, you know, “When should I claim Social Security?” “Oh, wait until 70,” versus another person saying like, “What? Social Security is going to run out of money. Take it as soon as possible.” So we’re trying to work towards standardizing… You know, the specific advice is going to be different based on the client scenario and what makes sense, but we want the reasoning process to be consistent from advisor to advisor.
Michael: So that ideally, if you’re using a consistent reasoning process then at least if the same client presents the same fact pattern to two advisors, they will get the same recommendation.
Kathleen: Yes, that is the goal.
Michael: Not that every client gets the same recommendation, but the same client can get the same recommendation from every advisor.
Kathleen: Right, right.
Michael: And so from your perspective, like, is that a teaching/training issue? Is that a like, you just have to start making a whole bunch of flowcharts that kind of guide people to the right thing? Are you looking at, I don’t know, creating some, like, plan review, peer review process, like, you know, “We’re going to supervise your advice. You can’t give the recommendation until someone reviews your plan and make sure that it was accurate and appropriate?” What are you thinking about in terms of, “How do we start creating this consistent reasoning process and more standardized advice?”
Kathleen: So, it’s a little bit of everything I would say. So the financial planning working group that we’ve got right now is the group sort of tasked with identifying big conversation pieces or frequently asked questions and coming up with, you know, “What should the standard firm response be?” or, “How do we reason through this or process the question?” And then sort of taking that to the client advisors and having, like, an educational training seminar, or at our monthly staff meeting, talking about different topics and kind of applying it that way. Well, we haven’t quite gotten to the flowchart yet, but I would say there are some awesome flowcharts out there on different big financial planning questions if people have not checked out the fpPathfinder’s flowcharts yet. So part of it is just a combination of different things.
We’re also doing…because MoneyGuidePro is still sort of a new tool for some of the advisors and we do have a lot of associates in the office that want to do more planning and they want to be able to help the advisors more, so we’ve been doing bi-weekly little MoneyGuidePro internal training seminars where we take turns presenting a client case and talking about it as a group to kind of talk through, you know, best practices or, you know, “How do you talk about this particular page in the software to a client?” or, you know, “What was this client scenario, and how did you handle the fact that their probability of success came up as 35%?” You know, kind of talking through different things so that we are learning from each other as we can.
Michael: So I’ve got to ask, are those mandatory meetings? Like, do you have to come and go through the MoneyGuidePro training session, “Here’s how you talk to your clients about these things?”
Kathleen: No, they’re not mandatory. They are optional. I don’t have the power yet to make them mandatory.
Michael: Total power yet. So your vision and goal is to eventually collect more power and make these meetings more mandatory?
Kathleen: Yeah. We have had some decent success. We haven’t been doing them for too, too long. You know, some of the same people do come every time and then some people show up every once in a while or as they have time. It does tend to be the younger, more hungry associates that are really itching to, like, be able to do more of that and help out more. And they really want to learn and grow.
Michael: Interesting. And it works in part because the firm at the top I guess is set as so many firms are, like, “Okay, our roots are more investment-centric where we’ve got to get better at this planning stuff, so we’re going to give Kathleen some latitude to try to get this going within our firm?”
Kathleen: Yeah, a little bit. And some of it I just kind of do because I know there’s a need for it. So I didn’t really go to anybody and say, “Hey, can I run these MoneyGuidePro tutorial or case study sessions?” I just threw it on the calendar, invited a bunch of people and said, “Hey, let’s, you know, come talk about case studies if you want to,” and people started showing up.
Michael: I love it. I was going to say, it’s almost a like, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. But I guess, I mean, it’s not like you’re doing anything, I don’t know, like, questionable for which you would need to ask forgiveness per se. To me, it’s more of just, “I’m just going to take the initiative and start doing this thing. And if I’m right that the firm has a need, people are going to show up.” And sure enough, it would seem you’ve identified a need because people are showing up and you’re starting to drive change in the firm.
Kathleen: Yep. Yeah, definitely sometimes the asking for forgiveness route is a little easier. But I haven’t had to ask for forgiveness yet.
Michael: Okay. So you haven’t actually gotten in trouble yet.
Kathleen: No, no, no.
Michael: And so, how do you…like, what does your time look like in a firm like this? I mean, are you still ultimately trying to go to a lot more clients than 75 or you feel like you’ve got a lot of capacity so you’re doing some of this planning standardization leadership within the firm because you’ve got some capacity, or is 75 clients about as far as you’re planning to go when you’re just trying to balance out client work and internal firm activities?
Kathleen: It’s a little of everything. So, I think from a firm standardization standpoint, I think they would like to see the advisors all have between, like, 80 to 100 clients. We’re still trying to work that out because my pushback is, you know, I do a lot of planning work for people and not all the other advisors in the office do that type of work or go into that depth.
Michael: Which is a debate I’ve seen in a lot of firms. They’re like, “You should be able to get to 100 clients like the other advisor.” I’m like, “The other advisor does no planning and just shows up to their meetings and talks about portfolios and goes home. If you do the planning work, it takes more time. I can’t have the same number of clients if I’m doing all this planning stuff. It’s not the same as just showing up to have the same investment portfolio review conversation you’ve had with 50 other clients in the past couple of months.”
Kathleen: Exactly. Yeah, it takes a lot of time to both prepare for…you know, prepare for the meeting, have the meeting. You know, I’ve had some three-hour meetings that, you know, definitely would not have been three hours had we not been talking about the money that they want to leave to their kids and the charities that are important to them and how to reallocate because they have more money than they’re ever going to spend, and they don’t need to take on as much risk. You know, there’s just a lot more time that goes into it. And I think that people that don’t necessarily service clients in that way or are in upper management and have never serviced clients don’t necessarily understand all the work that goes in behind the scenes.
You know, I would prefer to not have more clients. I much prefer to have fewer number of clients and be able to service them really well and have really great relationships with them. And it would be even more ideal to work with, you know, my favorite clients but also get to do all the financial planning, you know, development work on the side and help the firm develop its competencies in that area, and, you know, serve as a mentor to the younger associates and help standardize process. Because I love process and I love systems and systematizing and all that good stuff.
Michael: Yeah, it’s…I don’t know, it’s an interesting challenge to me that, you know, all this discussion now about the virtues of technology and technology supporting us as advisors and making us more efficient. And there’s this view out there, at least that I’ve heard from a few large firms that have, you know, started saying something to the effect of, “My gosh, if we can get enough of this automation technology in advisors’ hands and strip all these tasks out, like, you could get up to 300, 400, 500 clients per advisor, thanks to all these technology efficiencies.”
And I just keep looking at it and saying, yeah, you know, there’s a level of administrative like paperwork, account opening, trading, cashiering tasks that I would love to not have to spend any time on as an advisor and that eventually technology should automate, but when you talk about, like, the client meeting that takes three hours because you’re talking through a whole bunch of estate planning implications and what do they want to have happen to their money when they die, like, you can’t expedite that with technology. Like, that’s just a hard real-world human-being conversation that takes a certain amount of time for the client to process, no matter how awesome your technology tools are, than, you know, “Okay, great, you’ve decided what you want your estate plan to be, click these three buttons and it’s all done.” It still can take hours of a conversation to help someone figure that stuff out and make their decisions in the first place. And just, if you’re going to open up for those types of planning conversations, you just will never get to a world where you can do 300, 400, 500 clients per advisor and have those kinds of planning conversations.
Kathleen: Right. Yeah, not at all. You know, and why for me, like, I have no desire to ever have that many clients. And I would still like to be able to answer my phone if a client calls. And when they, you know, say, “Oh, hey, it’s Joe,” you know, I can still remember who Joe is and what his wife’s name is and what his kids’ names are instead of having to say like, “Oh, can you hold on? Let me go check my CRM for any information whatsoever that I can remember about you because you’re 1 of 300 people,” versus one of 50.
Michael: Yeah. I don’t know, like, I don’t want to knock anybody who’s got a very large client base and just figuring out how to make it work for them, but I have to admit, just when I hear about some of those roles and some of those visions for the future at some firms, I’m like, “I don’t want to be an advisor in a firm where I can’t even remember who this client human being is until I pull them up in the CRM and try to remember in, like, the seven seconds that the conversation is starting on the phone, and I’ve got to read client notes to remember who the heck they are before I say the first thing but we’re already on the phone line.” Like, I don’t know, to me, it sort of becomes the epitome of turning clients into numbers and bits of data on the screen instead of making sure we actually still have real client relationships. And just relationships take time. And there’s only so much time.
And I think it’s…I don’t know, I think the industry is going to get surprised that even with all this awesome technology automation, the number of clients we can serve as financial planners, having real planning conversations, is not going to go nearly as high as everybody thinks it is. We’ll get more efficient. Maybe need less back office staff, but you can just only get through client conversations so quickly.
Kathleen: Yeah, and I’m all for efficiency if it makes things a little bit easier. You know, part of why I love what I do is because it’s sort of a nice balance of, like, the nerdy, technical spreadsheet, tax law, estate planning side, and it’s combining it with the relationship touchy-feely side. And if I have to give up, you know, the touchy-feely relationships and clients that I really enjoy spending time with or talking to, like, that’s a huge part of my satisfaction with being in this industry. So if that goes away, like, you know, there’s not a lot of incentive for me to stay in an industry that all of a sudden half of the reason I enjoy my job is gone.
Michael: Yeah, I think it’s a good point that, like, it’s not just about the firm looking at metrics and saying, you know, “We’d be a lot more profitable if our advisor productivity went up because we could get all of our advisors to handle another, you know, 10 clients per advisor,” or 20 or 50 or 100 or whatever the increased number is from the technology efficiency, but there’s an advisor satisfaction as well that most of us do this job and go this route because we want to help people and work with people and have relationships with them. And if they try to layer us up with too many people and you can’t have that relationship, it’s just literally a less fulfilling job.
How Kathleen Stumbled Into The Financial Planning Industry [51:57]
Michael: So, like, did you always know this was the route you did want to go? I mean, were you a, like, financial planning student in college that knew you were coming into the industry from the start and have just been navigating that path?
Kathleen: Huh, no. Not at all. Like, honestly, I had no idea financial planning was even a thing. Like, I didn’t know it was a career path. I mean, I knew that the stock market existed and, you know, there are stockbrokers out there, but I had no idea financial planning was a career that one could pursue. So I just happened to stumble into the industry frankly. I graduated from college and somehow I… So, I’ve always really liked math, but I knew I didn’t want to, like, teach math and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it. So I got through college, took my first accounting class and was like, “Oh, this is really cool. I could get into this.” And then ended up getting a degree in finance.
And after I graduated from Babson, I was just looking for a job, any job, and applied to a whole slew of places. Applied to a job I saw posted in the actual newspaper. And they were looking for, you know, a college graduate who could use Excel and had just graduated. And I was like, “Great, I fit that description.” So I applied, and it turned out to be a small boutique wealth management company outside of the Boston area. And I interviewed with them, and I think it helped that a couple of the people that I interviewed with in the first round were also Babson graduates. So I think that got me a second round interview. And then this second round interview also went pretty well, and they offered me the job. So I started and had absolutely no idea what a mutual fund was. Didn’t know what asset allocation was. Had no idea what cost basis meant. Like, nothing. So, yeah, I fell into it just sort of accidentally.
Michael: Interesting. Interesting. And so, what…I mean, now that you have more knowledge and wisdom and familiarity of the firm, looking back, like, what kind of firm did you land in? I mean, was this a broker-dealer? An RIA? Was this an investment-oriented firm? Was this a planning-oriented firm? Like, what did you end out landing in?
Kathleen: It was a small RIA, and we had about 12 people in the firm. There were 2 principals that had started the company about 20, 25 years before I joined. So they’d been around for a while. They managed, at that time, about $750 million of assets, and they only worked with about 100 clients.
Michael: Okay. So they had a pretty affluent clientele. Like, that’s a $7.5 million average. And I know this is 10-plus years ago when that was a…it was an even bigger average than it is today.
Kathleen: Yeah, yeah. So we had a $5 million minimum to work with people. So we did investment management, you know, ask allocation portfolios. We did in-house. We did not pick individual stocks or individual bonds but we used mutual funds and exchange-traded funds for a while. We did our own internal investment research until probably five or six years in we started working with a investment research consulting firm in St. Louis. But we did sort of, you know, kind of what people think of when you talk about broad wealth management and comprehensive financial planning.
So the two principals in the firm, one was a tax attorney by trade and one was a CPA turned financial advisor. So she was a CPA PFS. So we had a very sort of tax-heavy focus. We did not prepare tax returns, but we always looked at tax returns. We always thought about the tax consequences of everything. I got really good at reading a 1040 and doing tax projections in BNA Income Tax Planner. We didn’t sell insurance, but we, you know, looked at insurance and referred out and worked with outside professionals. Did a lot of cash flow planning. A lot of, you know, guidance about estate planning and retitling assets and all that good stuff.
Michael: And so, what was your role at the firm? And did it change over time?
Kathleen: So I started as just a…financial planning associate was my title. And when I first started, it was a little mix of everything. So I was updating asset allocation spreadsheets. I was doing data entry into our financial planning program. I think back then we were using…SunGard had a program that we were using a long time ago. I was doing quarterly report reviewing. We used, like, Morningstar Principia, so I was doing a lot of, like, Morningstar research. Advent Axys was our portfolio management software system. And probably maybe four or five months after I started, the operations person left, and then I sort of became the go-to person in the office for all things Axys-related. Like, I got very good at performance and figuring out performance issues. And, I don’t know, I must have had some extra time on my hands because I remember, like, creating a macro in Axys to, like, help us better review our quarterly reports.
So I did that for a while. And eventually, somebody I worked with asked me like, “Have you ever thought about doing the CFP?” And I was like, “Oh, no, I haven’t but maybe I will.” So I enrolled in BU’s program and did the in-person classes and took the exam in March of ’08. And then passed and just got more and more involved in working directly with clients. So by the time I left that firm, I was…I had been there for about seven years before I left, and by the time I did leave, I had worked my way up to financial planning consultant. Still worked with the senior advisors on client relationships, but I did have, like, some of my own clients where I was, like, the direct primary point of contact. And they would come to me first. And I was, you know, doing a little bit of my own thing with them but also working hand in hand with the senior advisors on other larger, more complicated relationships.
How Kathleen Handles Working With Higher Net Worth Clients Whose Values And Viewpoints On Money Differ From Her Own [58:41]
Michael: So, out of curiosity, like, what was that like as a younger advisor? You know, if you were there six or seven years straight out of college, so, like, you were 28 or something working with clients that have a $5 million minimum. What’s that like?
Kathleen: It was really interesting. So, it was interesting being sort of a, you know, mid-20-year-old person working with very affluent clients in that sense, but it was also very interesting, and still is, like, because I grew up really not having a lot of money in our family. My parents divorced really young. My mom worked a couple different jobs. So going from that to working with people that, you know, are spending $150,000 on their kids’ Bar Mitzvah, it’s a very different mindset, I suppose.
Kathleen: So it was a little weird. And there are still times when I sort of struggle a little bit working with higher-net-worth clients that have a different viewpoint about things they should spend money on that I did not grow up with.
Michael: So how do you handle that?
Kathleen: Tactfully. You know, I always try to keep in mind that it’s, you know, not my place to judge what somebody finds important, it’s just my job to help them figure out what their goals are and how best to achieve them. So I try to just leave it at that. And if their goals are, you know, too extravagant or their spending is too out of control, I try to just make sure I just focus on, you know, their particular situation without necessarily applying my own personal value system on top of that.
Michael: Have you ever had conflicts where that kind of slipped out?
Kathleen: No, I haven’t. I haven’t. You know, I think the only thing that, you know, might come up, you know, actually in conversation, probably more around like planning for college and how I see people wanting to pay for their kids’ college regardless of the strain it puts on their personal finances or the fact that they’re not saving for retirement but they’re plowing all this money into college with no expectation that their kid contribute anything. You know, I try to reframe it in the sense of like, you know, you can borrow for college, but you can’t borrow for retirement. And, you know, personally, I think it’s nice for kids to have a little skin in the game sometimes. And I, you know, try to keep it very professional and, you know, very tactful and just try to remind them of, you know, choices that they may be making and how it might have a trickle-down effect on how their kid actually thinks about money and makes decisions about college and that sort of thing. So I think I am usually pretty good about not crossing any professional lines.
Michael: So what was it like just, I don’t know, trying to come across as credible when you’re a 20-something-year-old trying to work with very affluent clients? Like, was that a challenge or you just sort of naturally had, I don’t know, the poise or the commanding presence that affluent clients were on board with it?
Kathleen: I did not have a commanding presence at all. I’ve always been very much an introvert. And so it took me a really long time to be comfortable in my own skin talking to clients. So that was definitely something I had to work at. But I was also really fortunate in the mentors that I had at the company I was working for. They were really, really great about, you know, taking the time to be thorough and thoughtful and teaching and mentoring and not just, like, delegating, “Here, go update that spreadsheet.” You know, they would take the time to, like, sit down and go through things and talk about things. And I give them a whole lot of credit, you know, for why I think I’ve been pretty successful in my career is I just had a really great start, and I was really fortunate to work with who I worked with but the principals of the firm.
You know, we had meetings I think once every other week where we would, you know, sit down and go through a list of 20 clients. And, “Client A, okay, what did we talk about at the last meeting? What’s in process? What do we need to be following up on them with? You know, what do we want to bring up at the next meeting?” And just having, like, little brainstorming sessions and talking about clients, you know, outside of a client meeting with a person who’s much more experienced, like, I got so much out of that.
And I remember having lunch with my boss kind of around the time I first started, and she said, you know, one of the things that really helped her when she was getting started is she remembers being, you know, in her early 20s in a room with her boss in front of a client, and the boss made a comment to the client of, “Oh, well, I think blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and then he turned to her and said, you know, “Beth, would you agree?” And he gave her the opportunity to have, you know, an opinion in front of the client and do it in a way where the client could see that the boss trusted her opinion or was asking for her feedback. And that really stuck with her, and then she did it with us. And that has always really stuck with me.
So she was always really great about, you know, in client meetings, even though I was young and inexperienced and 20-something and super awkward, you know, we would do a lot of prep beforehand. And she was…we were always very clear about, “Okay, here are the things that you’re going to talk about in the meeting, and here are things that I’m going to talk about in the meeting.” And gradually, over time, instead of me just talking about one bullet point on the agenda, we would, you know, after a year or two, I was talking about everything on the agenda. So it was definitely a lot of coaching, a lot of mentoring, a lot of being thoughtful about it, and a lot of me just really working hard behind the scenes of, “Okay, well, I know I’m going to have to talk about this mutual fund at the meeting tomorrow, I better study up and make sure I know everything about this mutual fund so I can talk about it.”
Michael: Yeah, that’s funny. I actually had a fairly similar path when I was, you know, early 20-something in my career as well. You know, I was at a firm at the time, this was back early 2000s when all of the variable annuities with the living benefit riders were coming out, back when they were pretty good. And now as we know actually underpriced, which is why none of the companies offer them anymore in that form and at that price. And when all the companies were coming out with them, there was this just ridiculously broad spread because every company was trying to differentiate, so they make theirs work different than everybody else’s. And we were having trouble keeping track of all of them. And so I just took it by myself to start getting all these prospectuses, reading them and just making what basically was a ginormous spreadsheet of just all of the different products and the features and how they worked, and the limitations and kind of the trade-offs between them.
And when the partners of the firm realized that that’s what I was doing or that that’s what I had done, suddenly, when they were talking about some of these potential products with clients and trying to figure out like who did they fit for and which was the best one for the particular client circumstance, they just called me in. Were like, “Well, you know, Michael is our resident expert on all this stuff. He’s read every prospectus and knows how all these things work. He’ll walk you through the choices.” And then it was up to me to walk them through. But it wasn’t really that scary because I knew that stuff cold. I don’t even think I had my CFP certification yet. It’s like, I didn’t know much about anything else, but, like, I knew how those products worked. I knew it inside out.
And it became this huge confidence builder in the same way that, you know, like, the partners would bring me in and say, “Here’s the guy who’s the expert on this. Yeah, he looks young, but he really knows this stuff well.” And then they would invite me to talk about it. And I knew my stuff well, at least for that, so I could talk competently and confidently about it. And it was just a huge boost to getting comfortable talking to clients as an introvert, as you are. And then just over time as I, I don’t know, took more courses, got more designations, learned more stuff, I got comfortable about talking about more different things. And then eventually I could talk to clients about comprehensive advice. But it all started in the same way with a partner kind of setting the conversation up for success by letting me have a domain where I could be an expert, prepping for it because you don’t want to screw it up in front of a client, and then passing that conversation over to the younger advisor and saying like, “What do you think?” and giving me the opportunity to talk in that meeting.
Kathleen: Yeah. I think it’s really important and probably something that not everyone is fortunate enough to have in their experience. And I think the other thing that was really nice about the principals that I worked with as well is, you know, they really did try to push a lot down too. So if a client emailed, you know, the principal, they might turn it around to us and say, you know, “Kathleen will get back to you about that.” And then behind the scenes, we would talk about the recommendation. I draft an email. She’d proofread it, make comments. And then when the, you know, summary advice came back, it would be coming from me. So you do that enough, and then the clients stop emailing the principal and they start emailing you.
Michael: Because they figure out eventually that you’re the one that gets them the answers that they want. So just go to where they get the stuff that they need. But now, all of a sudden, the relationship and the communications actually get transitioned.
Kathleen: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I remember having a phone call. As I was leaving that firm, I had a phone call with a client with one of the principals to just let them know that I was leaving. And I remember the client saying to my boss, he was like, “Oh, man, I feel so bad for you. You know, I’ve had this feeling that Kathleen has been running the show behind the scenes for a while now.” And he’s like, “That’s totally fine.” And the client was, like, realizing it too. So that was a really nice, like, boost of confidence for me as well even on the way out, that the clients kind of, you know, knew what was happening but also trusted it to happen.
Michael: So if you were growing and developing and had, you know, partners that were mentoring you and got your CFP certification and were starting to get some of your own clients, why did you leave and where did you go?
Kathleen: So, I left to go to San Diego.
Michael: Because you were in Boston at the time.
Kathleen: Yes. Yeah. And living in San Diego had sort of always been this dream of mine. And even when I gave my notice at the company, like, no one was surprised because I talked about it all the time.
Michael: You just couldn’t take Boston winters anymore and needed to get to sunny San Diego?
Kathleen: Exactly. Yeah. Like, I hate the snow. I hate the cold. I hate scraping ice off my car in the morning. Let’s see. So I had always wanted to move to San Diego, and my husband, or he was my boyfriend at the time, he found out he was getting laid off from his job due to company restructuring, but they gave him 12 months’ worth of notice. So we were like, “Okay, well, you know, you’re leaving your job, you’re being forced out of your job, you know, what do we want to do? Where do we want to be?” You know, we were both young, no kids, no mortgage, and we were like, “Well, we could try…” I think I jokingly said, “We could try San Diego,” and he was like, “Okay.” So we decided to move to…
Michael: “No kids, no mortgage, this is easy enough. I don’t even have a job in 12 months.”
Kathleen: Yep, exactly. So that was about a year before we actually moved out. So he worked his last year at his job, got through that. We took a trip out to San Diego to kind of do some reconnaissance work. I had emails…I think I just went on to the NAPFA, like, Find an Advisor website and plugged in the zip code and then emailed everybody that popped up and said like, “Hey, will you have coffee with me or can I talk to you?” And talked to a couple firms out there. So that was, like, in April.
Michael: I love the initiative, though. Not like…it wasn’t just you were like, “I went to, you know, the NAPFA and the CFP Board websites and just started monitoring for new job opportunities in San Diego.” Like, you just went and looked up every advisor in NAPFA in San Diego and just cold-emailed them and said, “Hey, can I take you out for coffee?”
Kathleen: Yeah, I mean, essentially. And I didn’t get a lot of responses, but I got a couple. So I went and met with one firm that was a little north of San Diego. I met and talked to this other woman in this other firm during our trip out there. And so when we came back, I, you know, talked to a couple people. And then I probably was monitoring the career boards at that time as well. And I think…when we did our reconnaissance trip, I had not given notice at my firm yet, so it was all sort of done on the sly.
And then when I did give notice, as I said, no one was really surprised, but we basically, like, packed up the car and drove cross-country for a week and a half because, at that point, my husband had lined up a job, and then I had the summer to figure out, you know, what I was doing. One of the firms that I talked to during our initial trip out there, they were like, “Hey, you know, we’re looking at making some changes to our investment lineup, will you come in and do some, like, investment research for us? So on like a project basis. We’ll pay you by the hour.” And I was like, “Sure.” So I just went in and screened Morningstar data for a couple months. And by the time that was wrapping up, I had found a permanent position at another firm.
Michael: Very cool. And so, like, where did you land and what were you doing then?
Kathleen: So I landed with Moss Adams actually in their San Diego wealth management office. So I was hired as another advisor. So Moss Adams is a big accounting firm, mostly based on the West Coast. They had an accounting division in San Diego but they had just added a wealth management office in San Diego basically by acquiring a local small RIA about maybe two years before I joined them, maybe less than that. So when I got hired as an advisor, it was basically to do the same exact work I had done for seven years at my…the company that I just left. So meeting with clients, running financial plans, talking about investments, looking at estate planning, really doing in-depth, deep dives, comprehensive financial planning for clients. So that was great.
And that was probably, let’s see, I think I started in September or October, and then by maybe December, early January, the partner in that office decided that the merger wasn’t working out. She didn’t really like being a part of the big firm, and she was going to go back to having her own small independent RIA. So I, at that point, was basically faced with the decision to stay with Moss Adams or to go and…basically leave to go with the partner to help her, like, restart her own firm again. You know, I struggled with the decision for a little while because I really liked Moss Adams and I really didn’t know what to do. And then basically, somebody laid it out for me like, “Well, if you stay, you’re going to be the only person working in the San Diego wealth management office and your role is going to turn from being a financial advisor to doing business development.” And I was like, “Okay, that makes the decision a lot easier.” And so I ended up leaving to go with the partner to help her restart her firm.
Michael: Okay. And so, what did that transition look? So, like, you broke out of Moss Adams, like, just the whole firm broke out of Moss Adams and you just stayed reporting to the person you were reporting to, doing the things you were doing, like, the name just changed at the top of your business card?
Kathleen: Yeah, I mean, pretty much. Not a lot else changed other than, you know, physical office space. All of the clients, maybe with a couple of exceptions, you know, went with the partner back to her old firm because they had been her clients originally and went through the merger, and then they went back out through the merger. So it was all the same clients, all the same software, all the same investments, all the same process. It was just kind of…yeah, new business cards, new branding.
Yeah, I think the only unusual part about it is by the time we were unwinding everything, I mean, it was essentially like starting a new RIA from scratch. So even though a lot of things stayed the same, it meant, you know, new limited power of attorney forms for every single client account, you know, to get them linked over to our custodian platform. It meant, you know, new contracts for everybody. It meant that, you know, during the sort of quick blackout period where we were moving from their custodian master account number to ours and getting our system set up, we had to make sure, like, clients weren’t going to miss, you know, their monthly cash distributions.
God, I remember we had a handful of accounts on one custodian, we decided, like, not to maintain two custodians anymore, and we were going to move the handful of accounts we had on one to the other one where we had most of our clients. And that took a while because it required new account applications, transfer account forms. And we were trying to do it while moving everything to our new systems. And we used PortfolioCenter at the time, and the new data feed, I remember we had to go back and, like, manually recreate, like, a month and a half worth of, like, dividend interest payments and dividend reinvestments in our portfolio accounting system so that our performance was correct because there was this gap of transaction history between, you know, the accounts leaving the old custodian and arriving at the new custodian. All while during the middle of tax season. And we also did tax returns for our clients. So that was fun.
Michael: So now I’ve got to ask, like, you…so you went out to San Diego to join Moss Adams or joined Moss Adams when you got there. You made the transition when the firm broke out. You’re now at Boston Private Wealth, back in the Boston area that as far as I know still has the snow and the ice you scrape off the car in the morning.
Kathleen: It does. I know.
Michael: So how did you get from this firm in San Diego back to the Boston area?
Kathleen: So after…we were in San Diego for about three years, and as amazingly beautiful as the weather is, I could not convince any of my family to move out there with us. So it was a distance thing primarily. It’s really far to fly back and forth across the country. And we just found that we kept coming home for, like, funerals and weddings, and it was all very, like, big life event-driven visits. And I have two sisters that I’m very close with. You know, my husband is very close with my family too. And it was more of a, like, family-driven quality of life. You know, missing them. And San Diego is very different from Boston. You know, weather is one thing, but the vibe is very different, the, like, pace of life is very different. You know, I remember…I mean, at the firm that I was working for after leaving Moss Adams, like, the owner of the company would come to work in jeans and flip-flops and I was…like, I couldn’t get over. I could never make that adjustment after having kind of grown up in, you know…
Michael: In the firm serving clients with a $5 million minimum in, you know, proper Boston attire.
Kathleen: Exactly. Yeah, when everything was, you know, come to the client meeting in your suit or don’t come at all. So it was nothing… the weather was beautiful and I loved it, but it just never felt like home, and we didn’t really think it was ever going to feel like home. So after three years, we ended up moving back to Boston. And the best part about that probably was we took a month to drive across the country. And if you’ve never done that, I highly recommend it.
Michael: So what did it look like then as you’re coming back? You’re now, like, 10 years of experience in the industry across a couple of different firms. You know, I guess, like, good news, know a lot more about the kinds of firms or environments you like working in or not, bad news, like, now you’re an experienced advisor that has some higher income expectations. You have to, like, find the right job for you. What does that look like when you’re 10 years of experience essentially coming saying, “I’ve got no clients, but I’m a good advisor, do you want to hire me?”
Kathleen: Yeah. So the not having any clients, it’s always been sort of an interesting thing, but it’s never really held me back, for some reason. And I, like, thank God for that. But I’ve just really been lucky, I suppose. So when I did come back, I mean, I talked to a lot of different firms. I still maintain connections at the old company I had left. So I talked to them. I talked to…
Michael: Did you have thoughts about going back there since you, it sounds like left more for the desire to see San Diego than specifically like, “Oh my God, I hate this firm. I’ve got to get out of here” sort of thing.
Kathleen: Yeah, I thought about it. And I talked to the old principals about it, too. And the one big difference was, during the time that I had left, they had actually merged with another firm. So they went from being, like, a small, you know, 12-person company servicing 100 clients, with, you know, $700 million, $800 million of assets, to a firm, like, twice that size with a whole new management team, because it was basically, like, the exit strategy for one of the principals that I really liked working with. And so, just, it wasn’t really the same firm that I would have gone back to. It would have been a much different…you know, it was a whole new firm essentially.
So I talked to a bunch of people. I’ve been an active member of the FPA, the Massachusetts chapter, so I had coffee with a lot of people, followed, like, the career boards. Interviewed at a couple places. Got very close to joining a firm that did…you know, also worked with actually ultra-high-net-worth individuals, but then ended up joining a smaller company also in the same town as my first firm. But again, like, you know, 10 people in the firm. They had a smaller client…like, larger number of clients but smaller AUM. So they managed probably, you know, $1 million to $2 million clients as opposed to $5 million up.
And so, that presented an interesting opportunity because they had also just had a longtime employee leave. They’d just hired a couple other employees, both very brand new to the firm, another advisor, and an investment person. And I interviewed there and just, like, immediately hit it off with, like, the two people that had just gotten hired. The three of us were like the three musketeers, like, right away. And for the first, like, few months of working there, we were doing a lot of damage control with clients because everyone was sort of upset about this, like, advisor who had been there for 20-something years. She started as, you know, an associate and then was a senior advisor by the time she left. Like, they kind of grew up with her. And so trying to do damage control and sort of reassure everybody. But it was an interesting few months doing that and working with that team.
Michael: So the driver that made you choose the firm was just the people? Just, you hit it off with the people who would be your colleagues and said, “I think this is the place that I want to be?”
Kathleen: Yeah, it kind of came down to that firm. And the other firm that I was considering, which was, like, the more ultra-high-net-worth firm, that firm took a lot longer to make a decision, so that was kind of one thing that was influencing my decision. And part of it was, even though I was used to working with high-net-worth individuals, you know, the firm that did ultra-high-net-worth individuals, they were like, “Yeah, we’re hiring and firing people’s nannies.” And I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do that.”
Michael: That’s a different kind of work. It’s valuable for the clients who need it, and I’m sure they pay well for it, but that’s different than the financial planning. Like, there’s not a nanny hiring module in eMoney Advisor.
Kathleen: No. And they don’t teach it in the CFP curriculum. So, yeah, I just wasn’t really interested in going that route ultimately. So yeah, it was partly process of elimination and partly just, like, instant immediate connection I felt with, you know, the couple of the people that were there. But ultimately, just, it wasn’t the best fit.
Michael: I was going to say, but, like, unfortunately, you’re not still there.
Kathleen: Yes, unfortunately, I’m not still there. And it was…as much as I hated leaving, you know, those couple of colleagues that I really, really enjoyed working with, it just wasn’t the place for me. So I started looking around and saw the open position at Boston Private. Had an initial call, went in and met with a couple of people. And actually, from my first round of interviews, although they went well, it was not what I was expecting at all. And I almost did not go back for a second round.
Michael: How so?
Kathleen: So, they brought me in to talk to a couple different people. One of them was, like, the director of the wealth management department. Another one was another one of the advisors to kind of hear about, you know, what she does. And then another one was this other advisor who it turned out was really just looking for kind of, like, an associate-level person. You know, he’s like, “I want somebody to be like, you know, the CFO for my clients.” And the more I talked about it with him, it just turned out he wanted somebody to, like, move money around and do this and do that. And I was just like, “That is not at all what I thought I was coming in here for.” So, yeah, I was like, “Well, that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m looking to actually grow in my career, not take three steps back.” So I almost didn’t go back.
And one of my colleagues at the time was like, “No, they’re a really great firm. They’ve got a great reputation. Like, don’t write it off just yet. You know, have another conversation with that other person you talked to. And, you know, don’t give up on it.” So I did. And when I had another conversation with the director of wealth management, he was like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, like, we definitely would not have you do that. You’re way too qualified, way too experienced. You know, we would actually, you know, think about maybe pairing you up with one of the other relationship managers who doesn’t have the planning background, planning experience that you have, and, like, maybe have you guys work as like a team, where she brings the investment experience, you bring the planning experience, and together, you know, you guys can take over the world.” So once I heard that, I was like, “Okay, phew.” And then I had, you know, a couple more interviews. And the more I learned about kind of where they were and where they were trying to go, I was like, “Okay, this sounds like a better fit.” And here we are.
What Made Kathleen Think About Starting Her Own Firm – And Why She Ultimately Decided Against It [1:29:02]
Michael: And here we are. So I’m curious I guess particularly around, like, the last shift to Boston Private. That by the time you are doing that, you’re 10-plus years of experience in the industry, you’ve worked with lots of different clients, you’ve gotten, you know, comfortable in front of the clients, as we introverts often struggle in the early years. You’re hitting a good stride in the career and have had some challenges in just finding the right firms and the right fits. Did you give thought at some point to just saying, “Screw it, I’m tired of trying to find jobs in firms that are run the way that I want to be in, like, I’m just going to start my own thing?”
Kathleen: I did give it some thought. Yeah, partly because, you know, as much as I enjoy doing what I do on the advisor side, like, I’ve always been really drawn to best practices. And as I mentioned before, like, process and always trying to do things better or improve things or learn and grow and improve what we do for clients. So I’ve always sort of been drawn to the business management side a little bit. And being in small firms, it was nice because it gave me the opportunity to have a say in some of that. But when I was leaving that last firm before Boston Private, I did give some serious consideration to going off, doing my own thing. And, you know, I looked into the XY Planning Network. I had dinner with Eric Roberge, who is another Babson grad and is in this area and has done it very successfully. And I just did a lot of soul-searching about whether or not I really wanted to go that route.
And I think at the time, after sort of being out of Boston for a while and then coming back to Boston for a little while and my husband and I had just bought a house and, you know, it was financially speaking not necessarily the time I wanted to, like, give up a steady stream of income for possibly three years, which is what I…you know, from everything I have learned, that’s kind of what you need to plan for.
Michael: Yeah, it usually takes three years to get back to where you were when you’re starting from scratch. Just even if you’re good at business development and the rest, like, it just takes a while for prospecting and for potential clients to be like, “Wait, so you’re on your own now?” Like, “Is this going to stick? Like, am I going to, you know, join her and find out that she’s going back somewhere else in a year?” Like, people just tend to wait it out a little bit on you. It’s kind of aggravating when you’re starting a new firm. But they tend to wait it out on you a little bit.
Kathleen: Yeah, yeah. And I would totally expect that. So thinking about, you know, “Do I want to not have any income stream for possibly three years?” And the fact that I’d probably be working, like, out of a home office or, like, in my basement in a corner somewhere, you know, the more I thought about it, the more it just didn’t really seem like the right fit for me. And, you know, I like being around people most of the time and I like having, you know, people I can walk down the hall and ask questions to or bounce ideas off of. And giving all that up just wasn’t…yeah, it didn’t sound super appealing the more I thought about it. But that’s not to say…you know, who knows? Maybe someday the tides will turn.
And I have colleagues, you know, that I’ve worked with over the years, and we always kind of joke about, you know, “You’d be my number one person if I ever go out on my own.” And, you know, you always have those handful of people that someday you’re going to go start a firm with.
What It’s Like Working For A Publicly Traded Company [1:32:52]
Michael: Yep. And so, what leads you to a large firm like Boston Private versus some of the others that you were in that were small and more boutique? Like, did you decide you didn’t want the boutique environment anymore and you wanted a large-firm environment? Do you look and think about things like a small firm that has a path to partnership versus a large firm that might not because think, like, Boston Private Financial Holdings is a publicly traded company. I don’t think you get to work to partnership on that. Like, is that a factor for you? Is that something you think about or worry about as part of a career progression?
Kathleen: I don’t really worry about it honestly because I…you know, some of the smaller firms I have worked for, the opportunity for partnership has…you know, it’s come up. And, you know, in one circumstance, I moved from San Diego out of Boston and left that firm. And then the other firm that I joined when I came back to Boston, that I was at for only a year, the potential for ownership had been on the table. And even though it was on the table during interviews, it very quickly became clear, like, it just was never going to happen.
You know, all the stories I hear and the experiences that I’ve personally had or seen other people go through, you know, partnership and business succession is incredibly challenging, even in the best of circumstances. And, you know, going from giving that up to go to a place that happens to be publicly traded, you know, I’m giving up partnership potential but, you know, it’s still pretty rewarding and lucrative financially. You know, there’s pros and cons on each side, I suppose. It is weird working for a publicly traded company for the first time in my life because certain things you, you know, don’t necessarily think about and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, like, we are publicly traded. We do have stockholders to be responsible to.”
Michael: Oh, just like the discussion of, “Hey, we want to do a thing, but we have to say, ‘Does it increase shareholder value?'”
Kathleen: Yeah, a little bit. Or, you know, coming in in the morning and people being like, “Hey, did you listen to the earnings call yesterday, like, for your own company?” Or, you know, as interest rates, you know, go up and our deposit sales, you know, don’t necessarily keep up and dings our stock price and then everyone’s talking about it in the hallway. And I’m just kind of doing my thing and doing my job, and I don’t really get bogged down in, like, what our stock price is doing. But there are other people in the company that are like, “Oh, did you see what the stock price did today?” Like, “Yeah.” So it’s kind of funny.
Michael: And is stock at least part of the comp structure there that kind of makes people focus on it more?
Kathleen: It is. I mean, we do have a stock purchase plan that we can contribute to. And they do also give out, like, restricted stock and reward options and stuff every once in a while as…you know, there’s a vesting schedule to kind of keep you around for a couple years. But it is there. It’s a possibility. It is on the table.
How Kathleen Has Consistently Found New And Unique Career Opportunities [1:36:16]
Michael: I am still struck, though, by just this, at the end of the day, like, you came in and got a job where they gave you $125 million of clients out of the gate, and then 150 millionaire person, and then more clients that are growing from there and you don’t have a business development role for it. Like, your job is literally just, “Be awesome financial planner, wealth manager for these clients and make sure they stick around.” You know, still, there’s a piece of me that just feels like this…like, what you’re describing is the dream for a whole lot of advisors. Like, you just get to show up and be paid very well to serve a whole bunch of clients that the firm gives you. And, like, I don’t want to make light of how hard it is to keep some affluent clients on board who tend to have very high demands. Like, I’m not trying to belittle the nature or the ease of the job at all, but just for so many, the pain point is, “I could literally spend a lifetime and never get to $125 million of clients that they handed off to you in the first few months.” Where are all these jobs?
Kathleen: Well, you know, technically, we’re hiring for a senior wealth advisor. So if you would like to apply or anyone else out there would like to apply, that is an option.
Michael: All right, so we’ll put the Boston Private Wealth contact page on the website. So this is episode 103. So go to kitces.com/103 and I guess we’ll find a link to the Boston Private hiring page if you want to be that one person. But, I mean, like, you found these roles repeatedly over your career. So, like, how do you find these roles? How do you figure out what are the right ones or where you’re going for them?
Kathleen: I mean, so some of it honestly has just been luck and some of it has been timing and some of it has just spent old-fashioned networking. So I found my job in San Diego because I talked to somebody I know through the FPA Massachusetts here who introduced me to somebody he knew that was in an FPA chapter in California. Oh, so Evelyn Zohlen. He introduced me to Evelyn Zohlen, and then she introduced me to somebody else who I had a conversation with. And then that person eventually introduced me to Sheryl Rowling, who I ended up working for. So a lot of it has just been, like, luck and networking and talking to people and knowing people and being in the right place at the right time. Or maybe it’s also saying the right things. I don’t know. I wish I had a better, more creative, more enlightening answer.
Michael: It sounds like…so have most of the jobs actually then come from networking more so than just, like, scanning the job ads and waiting for something to show up on a job page?
Kathleen: So, I would say the San Diego one is probably the best networking example. And then the one that I joined right after I left San Diego, I think I also found through the FPA, maybe their career page, I’m trying to remember. But I remember I knew somebody that worked at that firm, and then my old boss in that area knew the principal of that firm. I mean, Boston is a…it’s a huge financial industry hub here, but, like, once you’re around for a few years, you realize that, like, it’s very incestuous. Like, everybody knows everybody.
Michael: Yes. The whole actual, like, real financial planning world is sort of disturbingly small at the end of the day. Like, it’s kind of eerie how much everybody knows everybody.
Kathleen: Yeah, yeah. And I think part of it too is like, I have worked very hard to build up my technical expertise and, you know, my skills with clients, and my….you know, as much of an introvert as I am and how awkward I used to be, like, it’s taken me a long time to become more confident and articulate. And I think all that helps, you know, when you are trying to find a new position or you’re interviewing.
And I think some of those skills that do help you interview well also I think translate to working well with clients, right? Because you want to be…you know, it’s partly about that first impression and the four seconds that you have for somebody to make that snap decision about you. And it’s about, you know, mostly I think about, like, listening to the other person, right? And not actually making it about yourself and making it about them. You know, all those things that they kind of teach you about good client relationship management skills I think kind of translate into, you know, the brands that you build for yourself and, you know, how you network with other people or how your name gets out there, and how you actually interview for something. You know, some of it is like the little easy things that you just say or, you know, the words you pull off their website to drop in conversation. But I think a lot more of it is that sort of intangible stuff that, I don’t know, makes you a likable, relatable person, I suppose.
Michael: Interesting. I mean, that’s…I don’t think you give yourself enough credit for sort of the diligence of interviewing of things like spending a bunch of time on the website and actually trying to find some of their keywords that they use and slipping them into the conversation. Like, I really like that. I’m sort of thinking that from the other end. Having hired a whole bunch of people, I’m like, “Yeah, that would actually totally work on me.”
Michael: Yeah. Just like, “Oh, she totally gets it. Like, she uses our words and language. She’s so connected to what we’re doing.” It’s like, “Because she read it on your website, but it works.”
Kathleen: Yeah, it totally does. I’m surprised not more people do that. You know, I do it with clients too. So I take a lot of notes in client meetings, and a lot of times it’s just, like, writing down, like, verbatim if possible, like, little key phrases that they say so that when I put them in my CRM, like, I can go back later, and then the next time we meet, you know, drawing upon the actual phrases that they use. They might not remember that they said them, but they’re like, “Oh, this person gets it.” And I don’t know, that’s a little…another little trick, I suppose.
Her Dream Job And Vision For Her Future [1:42:56]
Michael: So where does it go for you from here? Like, what are you looking towards next for your career in this progression?
Kathleen: So right now, like, at least at Boston Private, I’m…so, working on a little bit of a role shift with the COO, where he’s got way too many people reporting to him at the moment. So another one of the senior advisors and I are trying to step into, like, a co-team lead role where we’ll kind of function as the liaison between the other advisors in the office and the COO. And partly, that’d be, like, sharing of information but also to try to, you know, move the needle in terms of best practices and sharing of ideas and kind of getting everybody on the same page so that, you know, we’re all giving the same advice and performing the same services, that sort of thing.
Michael: In theory, that kind of evolves into a, would you want to go so far as to then move away from client relationships and just be in this role of managing all the advisors in the office and being responsible for their planning, advice, and best practices and so forth?”
Kathleen: So, yes and no. Like, I…there are some clients I would just, like, love to work with forever and then there are some clients I wouldn’t mind handing off to somebody else.
Michael: So maybe like a split role with, you know, half management and half client load. And then you get to cherry-pick the ones you actually want to hold on to?
Kathleen: Oh, wouldn’t that be great? So, I mean, I think long-term, I would love to be, like, you know, the chief planning officer of the firm or, like, director of financial planning because that’s, like, really where my heart lies. But then there’s also part of me that really wants more of an opportunity to, like, take the, you know, younger, inexperienced people in our office that are sort of craving the opportunity to be advisors and mentor them and mold them and try to develop, like, more of a career path for them and try to educate them and grow them the same way like the principals of my first firm did for me. So, you know, I’m trying to work on the…you know, go from co-team lead to maybe, you know, more of a director of financial planning, chief planning officer role eventually. But if I could create my dream job, it would be some client work, director of financial planning, and also be able to create, like, a great, like, mentorship program for new advisors wanting to learn how to, you know, grow and be really good advisors. I feel a little combination of the three would be my dream job.
Michael: Part chief planning officer, part clients, part, you know, mentoring and career path development.
Kathleen: Yeah, that sounds perfect.
Michael: Interesting. And this whole nature of, like, coming into clients, moving away from them, coming to them, changing firms, going to new firm, having more clients then, like, talking about this or maybe you would let go of some clients again, I don’t know, just, does it get tiring to keep going to a new firm and having to start over again on building all these client relationships because you’re working in firms where they’re clients of the firm and so, you know, “your” clients don’t come with you when you make changes?
Kathleen: Yes. Yeah, 100%, it’s exhausting. And as much as I love my job now and being with Boston Private, I’m not going to lie, like, I don’t want to start over again, especially given the fact that so many of my clients, when they were handed to me, they were very unhappy, and it took a lot of time and effort and energy to build relationships and get them to trust me and, you know, have them be happy clients again. And I don’t want to just throw that all down the drain because, you know, that was a lot of work. And, you know, I went from two and a half, three years ago, you know, kind of being yelled at by one client to, like, now when I get together with her, she gives me a hug every time.
So, you know, it’s kind of…it’s been an interesting couple of years, but it’s very hard starting over with new clients when, you know, you are in a relationship-based business and you care about these people. And then, you know, I’ve had clients over the years that I’ve really, really, really liked working with. And to just say goodbye and, like, not really ever see them again is…you know, it’s hard, and it’s a lot of work, and it’s very exhausting. But it’s not something I want to do again.
Michael: Was that a piece of the decision-making process to go with a firm like Boston Private? You know, “This is a big publicly traded firm. These guys aren’t going anywhere. My odds are good. I’ll be able to stay here?”
Kathleen: Yeah, I mean, I think I’ve never left a company because they’ve asked me to leave. But, you know, on the contrary, I’ve had very good luck with my companies. For example, I know like if I called up Sheryl tomorrow and said, “I’m moving back to San Diego,” she said I would always have a job, you know, there if I wanted one. But it is nice knowing that at Boston Private, you know, there’s ample opportunity. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve never let anybody go, but I know that if I, you know, do my job and add value to my clients and add value to the firm, I’m going to be pretty okay. And I have always sort of taken that stance with whatever job I’ve been at really.
Michael: So, as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success, and one of the things we always talk about is that just even the word success means different things to different people. And so, you’ve had this, you know, incredible career track and progression. Again, just stepping into a role where after three years you’re responsible for $300 million and $2 million of revenue is something that many advisors literally never get to in a lifetime. And so, no great surprise, I know InvestmentNews recognized you as 40 Under 40. But just at the personal level for yourself as you look forward, like, how do you define success for yourself?
Kathleen: So, on the personal level…so I tend to think even in a couple of different ways, but the one I think that drives me the most is thinking about how I want to be remembered when I’m gone. And I want people to remember me as having been somebody that has made their life better in some way. And I don’t mean it in, like, an egotistical way at all. But, you know, if I have…I would like for people to say like I’ve either helped them in some way or helped them grow in some way or had some sort of positive impact on their life, whether it’s, you know, a family member or a friend or a colleague or a client or just some random person that I, you know, picked up something off the street that they dropped, whatever it is.
You know, I always kind of joke to my clients, you know, when they’re trying to figure out estate planning stuff that you can’t take your money with you, but the one thing you can leave behind is how people remember you when you’re gone. And that to me would be the ultimate measure of success is, you know, after I’m gone, that, you know, people miss me because I did something that helps them in some way or had a positive impact on them.
Michael: Well, I love it. I love that framing, you know, you can’t take your money with you but you can leave behind how people remember you. It’s really powerful.
Michael: Well, thank you for joining us and kind of sharing this story and journey with us on the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Kathleen: Yeah, you’re welcome. It’s been really fun. Thanks for asking me to be on here.
Michael: Absolutely. Thank you.
Disclosure: Michael Kitces is a co-founder of fpPathfinder, which was mentioned in this episode.