Welcome back to the 148th episode of Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today’s podcast is Laura LaTourette. Laura is the founder of Family Wealth Management Group, a hybrid advisory firm in Dahlonega, Georgia that oversees $45 million of assets under management for 86 client households.
What’s unique about Laura, though, is the way she’s built her advisory firm to work primarily with the LGBTQ community in her rural Georgia town while navigating her own challenges of figuring out when and how to come out of the closet to her own broker-dealer.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about Laura’s financial planning process. The series of four financial planning meetings she goes through with every client that includes a unique draft plan meeting, where she presents a tentative series of recommendations to clients not for their implementation, but simply for their feedback, how Laura sets her minimum of financial planning fee that’s separate from what she’s subsequently paid to help clients implement, and how in recent years, she’s begun to refine everything from her website to her data gathering form to better speak to her core LGBTQ niche clientele.
We also talk about Laura’s own journey through the financial services industry and building her firm. The way she started out trying to build a multi-advisor agency with centralized support but ultimately found it just wasn’t profitable to do so, the path she took to shift away from the multi-advisor model after 10 years to operate a solo advisory firm that she’s enjoyed far more, how a desire to build a succession plan is leading her once again to start building towards a multi-advisor ensemble practice, and why she recently decided to hire a new CEO to support her solo advisory firm, who specifically does not have client relationship or business development obligations.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Laura shares her perspective on why it’s so important to be authentic to who you are when you’re working with clients to build trust, what she’s done to find support for herself through the challenging ups and downs of being a lesbian advisor in both a town and an industry that are still not very accepting of the LGBTQ community, and why she joined the Women in Financial Services organization and is now launching her own Rainbow Network to support LGBTQ advisors.
So whether you’re interested in hearing about Laura’s challenges (and successes) as a part of the LGBTQ community in a small town in northern Georgia, how she structures her entire financial planning process, or how she’s developing a network for other LGBTQ financial advisors, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podast.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- What It’s Like Coming Out To Your Broker-Dealer And Laura’s Goals For The Rainbow Network [04:23]
- How She Built Her Firm To Work With The LGBTQ Community [16:03]
- How Laura Developed Her Practice And What It Looks Like Today [31:17]
- Why She Recently Hired A CEO For Her Firm [43:41]
- Laura’s Succession Plan [50:28]
- Who Laura Serves, What She Does For Them, And What Her Business Model Looks Like [57:09]
- What Laura’s Planning Process Looks Like [1:11:20]
- What Surprised Laura Most About Building A Business [1:36:39]
- What Advice She’d Give To Young LGBTQ Advisors And What Success Means To Her [1:47:49]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Laura LaTourette
- Family Wealth Management Group
- Laura’s Discovery Form
- Laura’s Fact Finder
- Rainbow Network Contact Person
- Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS)
- National LGBT Chamber Of Commerce
- Laura’s LGBTQ Resources
- Bill Bachrach
- Values-Based Selling by Bill Bachrach
- The Conflicts Of Interest Between RIAs And Their Custodians (and Brokers And Their B/Ds)
- eMoney Advisor
- ROL Advisor Fiscalosophy
- Marci Bair
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Michael: Welcome, Laura LaTourette, to the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Laura: Thank you for having me, Michael.
Michael: I’m looking forward to the podcast discussion today because you kind of, I don’t know, connected me into a concept, an issue, a challenge in the advisor world that I’ll admit, I’d never really thought about. A few months ago launched a network within LPL as a part of their Diversity and Inclusion initiative for LGBTQ advisors, and had made this comment in, I think in one of the media interviews about the dynamics and challenges of coming out to your broker-dealer, which is just something I had really never thought about before.
I understand the challenges of coming out to your family and coming out to friends, but this whole phenomenon of trying to decide as an advisor whether you’re going to be out to the advisor community and out to your broker-dealer was just, I don’t know, an aspect or a challenge of it that I’d never really thought about until you brought it up, and just, at least for me, kind of brought to mind a whole other set of challenges I think our industry has around diversity and inclusion, of just the fear of even trying to decide whether you want to be part of a diversity and inclusion group in the first place. And making the world aware of that was really striking to me as something I never thought about as a whole other layer of our industry challenges.
What It’s Like Coming Out To Your Broker-Dealer And Laura’s Goals For The Rainbow Network [04:23]
Laura: Yeah, it sure is. And I think that’s why it’s been important for me to keep the conversation going. And so when I was asked to be on the Diversity and Inclusion Council at LPL back in 2018, I was given the instruction that, as part of the council, there’s 18 of us, as part of the council, my role was to show up as the lesbian in the group. Yes, I’m a woman, yes, I’ve been in the business 25 years, but my role was to really help them understand my issues in my community as a gay person. And also to help them understand, what are the conscious bias or what are the things that they need to understand more about us as a community to not only serve us as advisors and employees in this industry, but also our clients and prospective clients. And so, we’ve really had a lot of discussion around that in the last couple of years.
So I’m just trying to keep that alive with the Rainbow Network and try to see, what do we need to do to serve our community as advisors, and then also, what do we do to serve the general public. Because there’s over 11 million LGBT people in this country, and so I think people don’t realize there’s a lot of us, we’re everywhere.
Michael: And so, how do you think about this in a broker-dealer context? I know you, because we’ve crossed paths a few times over the years, I know you’re, I’ll say fairly comfortable to be outspoken, perhaps more so than some others, which I would imagine helps a little bit in trying to decide whether you’re coming out and coming out to your broker-dealer. But how should we think about that for the typical advisor who maybe is not out or is trying to decide whether to come out and how you put that issue on the table for working, I guess in a broker-dealer, in an RIA? I think broadly, it’s, what is it like to think about whether or not to come out to your work colleagues and your, I guess essentially, your platform, the advisor platform that you work under?
Laura: Well, that’s obviously such a personal decision because of our experiences and where we’ve come from, our culture. Many people of color have real issue coming out in any situation because they have found that they have even more discrimination. So I think for myself, what I’m trying to always do is be that beacon of light that says if you want to live an authentic life and you want to just be who you are in the world, showing up is important. So when you come out to the broker-dealer, to your supervisor, your OSJ, your peers, sometimes we have to see how we’re going to do it because it makes us nervous.
And so when I’m saying something to appear who’s LGBT and trying to help understand why they haven’t come out, usually what I’m doing is I’m just listening to their story. I just want to know their story and why they’re so afraid. A lot of that fear is because they built their practice on a façade, or at least a part of them, that they felt was comfortable to show the public, but that their personal life is something that they might be less comfortable with. Because when you approach the LGBT discussion, a lot of us think of things in our heads. And what comes to your head first is what your experience is with either someone you’ve met who’s LGBT or how you were raised or different discussions you’ve had. So I think that’s why it’s so hard to know coming out is just, it’s hard to do. We have to do it every day. That’s the other thing I don’t think people understand. LGBT have to come out every day. We have to decide every day, are we going to come out? I’m at the grocery store…
Michael: Because just it’s a big world. Until you walk around with a signboard above your head that just continuously communicates this message. We’re always meeting new people. We’re always talking to people that maybe don’t know or haven’t heard or haven’t gotten the message yet. And so every interaction with even a new or even existing community may still be the first time that person finds out that you are out.
Laura: It is. And what happens too, even if it’s just at the grocery store and I’m shopping with my wife, and she’s gone off to get the vegetables and I’m standing over here, and someone says, “Can I help you?” and I say, “No, I’m waiting for my wife.” I take a quick second and I go, “Do I just say who I am and do what I do or do I say, ‘No, I’m okay. I’m just going to be right here?'”
Michael: Or, “I’m waiting for someone,” or, “I’m waiting for my spouse,” or like, “Do I need to make this an issue by using the word ‘wife?'”
Laura: Right. And so, it’s just so odd and awkward, and it happens all day long. So it’s not even just those people that are closest to you that you’re trying to understand what their biases are or what they’re afraid of, but it’s also the grocery attendant or the person in the restaurant or someone else. And so, I think for some of us, we just get tired of worrying about it. And I guess that’s where I am in my life at 59, I’m just like, “You know what? I’m going to take up space right here in the room. And if you don’t like it, it’s okay with me. Because I’m not going to leave the room, and I’m not going to leave the conversation even if it makes you fearful.”
And so earlier in my career, I was much better about, I think being a little bit quiet. And so I would tell peers in the industry, and I would be a little more quiet about it, but now that I’m 59 and I’m a grandma, I’m not apologizing for anything anymore. I’ve got a good, strong business with good, strong people, not all of them are LGBT, but the people that I work with know that I am a lesbian, know I use that word out loud and will continue to do that for all of us so that when they have a person in their family that is gay, they come to me and they say, “Laura help me understand, how do I talk about this?” Or they have a daughter that is trans and wanting to have an operation, and they come to me and say, “I want to support this but my husband doesn’t, and we’re fighting, help us.” So those are the kind of conversations I’m really interested in having and have had the honor to have.
So I think it’s important for us to come out if in fact we can do that in our own lives, and it’s not…we have to get over the fear of being vulnerable to do that. But I think sometimes it does take, as you get older, to develop that thick skin. Although I see a lot of the millennials coming out now and I love them. I love that generation because they’re just standing up strong and being who they are. And I think that’s one of the things that when I see at the conferences and places I attend, I attract a lot of younger people. Because they’re like, “You’re so strong in who you are and say who you are. I want to be like that.” I’m like, “You’re already like that. Just continue. Just continue because we need you here.”
Michael: But I am struck that even as you noted, you were more quiet about it in the earlier days of your career. And I know you’ve been in this profession for quite a while now. And so, I don’t know, can you talk to us about that evolution? What shifted? What changed for you in doing this over the years that now this is a, I don’t know, I was going to say a more comfortable conversation, but if not, at least a conversation you’re more comfortable to have, that it sounds like you weren’t as much in the past?
Laura: Well, and I think some of that is part of my generation. In the LGBT community, we have three generations, basically. And so silence generation are people in their 80s right now. They had to be very quiet. And then the pride generation are kind of like the baby boomers. We were part of the Stonewall riots. And I was born in the ’60s. So initially, even though there are a lot of people in my generation, the pride generation, speaking about LGBT and speaking about issues, it wasn’t until 1973 that it was actually removed as a mental illness or disorder. So when you think about that kind of rejection…
Michael: So you actually…you remember a world growing up where thinking about being gay or lesbian was literally classified as a mental disorder.
Laura: Yes, yes. And I had a very good friend of mine, one of my best friends, her mom came out lesbian. Watching her plight, losing her family, being kicked out of her church, just severing ties with everyone that was her lifelines to have to rebuild a new family. When you see that kind of rejection, you go, “Boy, that’s not me. I’m not doing that. I’m going to learn how to be a good girl. I’m going to learn how to be normal,” or, “I’m going to learn how to do this thing. And I’m going to walk it for a while so that I don’t get rejected so much.” And I think that’s part of the issue for a lot of folks.
And so early in my career, I wanted to be a financial planner. I wanted to help people. And I wanted to have conversation about money, and what’s important about it. And I’ve always been interested in the behavior of it, but not necessarily what it can buy. And so to have those conversations, I had to be real in who I was, but I had to be careful, because I didn’t want clients to come in and have those trusted conversations with me and then find out I’m lesbian. So I just tiptoed around it until I found a way to say, “Well, this is kind of who I am.” And either that was okay, or we ended the conversation, had a good financial plan, and then they moved on to someone else maybe to manage their money.
But now what happens when someone comes in, I usually have my website up on the conference screen and say, “So how’d you find me? Was it through social media? Was it a friend?” And just by…
Michael: Was it through my work in the Rainbow Network? Okay.
Laura: Have you seen it? And so now, you see a lot of people Google me before they come in. And because I’m making sure that “LGBT” and “lesbian” and those words are all over, I want them to know that. And if they don’t, I say, “Well, do you know my wife? She’s a massage therapist in town. We’re both small business owners. She’s been here 30 years. Most people know her.” And they’re like, “Oh, no, I didn’t know you had a wife,” or, “Yes, I do know her.” So I try to get it now in that first conversation rather than down the road.
How She Built Her Firm To Work With The LGBTQ Community [16:03]
Michael: And so that becomes part of the…so there’s kind of two things that strike me about that. One just that, in essence, I guess, both that first conversation, but even your website effectively becomes a filter for this. Not that you necessarily have to put on your homepage like “lesbian financial planner, FYI” and like a banner or anything, but the words and the language are there enough that if a prospective client is going to have a problem with that, it’s out there enough that they’re probably going to just move right along on their way and not contact you and spare everybody a conversation that wasn’t going to work out anyways. And that your website effectively just becomes a partial filter for clients who may not be a good fit?
Laura: Here’s the funny thing. Well, yeah, but here’s the funny thing. So I did have it kind of embedded in there first, and then by the end of 2016, I said, “Okay, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m going to put it out there.” So when you talk about the banner on the homepage, if you go to my website, which is familywealthmanagementgroup.com or familywmg.com, you’ll see on the homepage at the bottom, I have become a certified lesbian business. So I did put it on the front page. Because I said, “You know what? I really want to make sure, going forward the next 10 years, I want to make sure that people know it. And I want to make sure when they have a question about it, they either come to me or they don’t come in the door. Because I don’t have a lot of time now to spend, and I only want to spend it with quality people who are going to be a part of who I am as a person and not have a lot of questions or judgment.” So yeah, I did actually put it on there.
And I did become certified because I thought, “That is such an interesting concept.” So I am lesbian, so how do I make that even more credible? Well, I go to the Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and we have a national Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which I am a member, I’m also a member of the one here in Georgia, and you’re able to be certified. I said, “Well, what do we do to get certified?” And the information I had to give them was tremendous. I had to give them all sorts of financial data, copy of my marriage license, all these different things. And I was like, “This is wonderful.” Because they used the criteria the same as what they did for Women on Business. And so, it’s extensive.
And I also had to have an interview. Someone came to my office. They had to make sure that I had at least 51% ownership of this business. I’m 100% owner, so that’s easy to track. But it was really quite an invigorating process because I thought, “You know what? This really does help to legitimize us.” And so it puts me now on a list for major corporations who are interested in diversity inclusion. And a lot of them now have that department. And I can be put on a suppliers list to help employees and to help employees who are leaving the company or whatever to talk to them and have an open conversation about who they are because they know I’m a lesbian right up front, and they want to choose me because of that. So yeah, it really, again, opened some doors.
So then I also took my website and said, “Well, how else can I make this happen?” I put a picture of Susan and I on it. Then I used to just say, “LGBT.” And then I said, “No, we need to have the words. I want the words out there, too.” So we did that. We added the Q, because at first, I didn’t understand how important that was, because again, I’m in the pride generation.
One of my nieces has come up through the ranks, and she came home from college and said, “Aunt Laura, I’m queer.” And I’m like, “What does that mean? Are you gay?” I said, “Are you bisexual or are you lesbian?” She said, “I’m queer.” I said, “You’re confusing the hell out of me. What are you talking about?” And she said, “Laura, I am not going to say who I am and how I am. It’s not a binary situation. I just am queer fluid. I just know I’m queer, and I don’t care if that defines something that you’re used to hearing. But I think it’s condescending of you to even say that I have to choose.” And I was like, “Oh, my God, this is your generation. I love this.” So we have to think about terms of…our gender doesn’t have to necessarily be qualified in a binary situation. There’s multiple layers of expression. So she really helped me understand. So we added the Q.
And on my website, when you see that part of the page, you’ll see there’s links to several different organizations. There’s white papers, there’s fact sheets. I really started saying, “How can I really make sure that in this industry I become known as that lesbian financial planner?” I really want people to know that and say, “She’s really the same as us, but she’s that lesbian financial planner, isn’t she?” I really want that conversation because I think through the years, it’s going to help normalize the overall conversation.
Michael: And I’m struck as well by the point that you’d made earlier of this concern of, if I don’t come out to my clients while we’re doing all this deep financial planning and trust-building and then I come out later or they find out later, that is there a risk that the trust is now undermined because they’ve suddenly learned this new different thing about me that I hadn’t expressed to them upfront if I wasn’t out with them from the start.
Laura: Right, right. And a lot of people have judgment about LGBT, or they’re fearful. And so I think if we’re building trust and I don’t trust you enough to tell you who I am 100% as a person, then how do you trust me with your money and how do you trust me with who you are? I have 86 families that I work with and about $45 million under management, and I’m in a comfortable place. And so I say, “Well, I want to work with people who they might even have some bias about it. I would rather have them have a bias about it and try to understand who we are rather than be so judgmental and not want me to handle their money because it’s a problem.” Or the other thing, of course, is if they’re in their peer group and they say, “Well, you know that Laura LaTourette, she’s a lesbian.” I want them to say, “Well, yeah, I know that. I’ve been a client of hers 10 years.” So that they help normalize that conversation even if they don’t realize that. Because I’m here in the south, I’m in Georgia. I’m in a small rural town. There’s a good community here of LGBT, but they’re not as loud as I am about it. So I really need for people to know who I am so that it doesn’t become a problem for either of us in the future.
In our business, we have to watch what we say. And we have a lot of rules and regulations about privacy, which I agree, I think we should, but my clients don’t, or people who are prospective clients. They can say anything they want about me. So I would rather have my door open with some of those things that might be uncomfortable for people so they know right upfront. You don’t like me because I’m a lesbian, I get it. I don’t even care. If you want to get to know me first and then not like me, I think that’s better for you. But again, that’s up to you as a person. And I’ve been dealing with that since I’ve been in the community. I raised two kids here. And we went through a lot of discussion. And we had a town hall meeting one time because, of course, they were trying to make it illegal, and they did, for same-sex couples to marry. And I went to that town hall meeting and I was not going to speak. Susan’s like, “Yeah, you’re not going to speak, right?”
Michael: You went to the meeting. We know it’s going to…
Laura: Yeah. Well, and really, I went there too to hear what was being said. And I had friends from Rotary there. It was a tough thing for them to look me in the eye because they were on the opposing side. And three of them had their speak and then they were going to leave the room, and I got up to speak, and I said, Wait a minute, I need you to wait.” And I kind of called them out at the door. I said, “I listened to you, you need to listen to me. And having raised two children here, one of them being valedictorian, the other one being on the football team, who was the only one of that year of athletes to go to college on a merit scholarship, I have raised children in this community and have been a taxpayer and a business owner and many things that all of you are. So I’m not any different than you are.”
And so I think if you want to have conversations about how do we do this, we do the same way everyone else does. We have the struggles, we have the expectations, we have problems with our teenagers, we all try to balance going to all the activities and also working. We really don’t have a lot of differences. And so we want to be loved, and we want to have shelter and food. There’s not a lot of difference. So if you want to look at a real person and look at who I am, let’s have a conversation about it before you just hate me because I love this woman. It just doesn’t make sense. And that was very helpful for my business, actually, because I got clients who wanted to come in because of that. It wasn’t an expectation, but it certainly did happen.
And then I had other clients, even in the last few years, say, “Why do you have to wear it on your sleeve?” We’re at a community event sitting at the same table having a couple of drinks. And he’s like, “Why do you always have to wear it on your sleeve?” I said, “Well where would you like me to wear it? You walk up to someone, you say, ‘This is my wife, and we dah, dah, dah, dah, these are our kids, that’s what we do.’ I’m doing the same thing.” And he said, “Oh, I didn’t think about it that way. Okay.” Because at first, he said, “Well, you would get more clients if you would just be quiet about it.” I said, “Why do I want more clients? No, I’m not doing that.”
Michael: And I’m not even sure that’s necessarily true that you’d have more clients if you were quiet about it. It strikes me, there is a piece of this that, like, just from the broader advisor marketing context, most of us advisors tend to do well when we’re differentiated in some way about what we do and who we serve. And so, granted for some advisors, like I go pick a particular specialization I’m going to focus in, your context is a little bit different than, “Hey, I’m going to choose to specialize in LGBT issues” or being an IRA expert or a tax expert or whatever else it is. But there’s still a similar context, that at the end of the day, saying that “I am a lesbian advisor” does put a distinction out there that will not resonate with some people and will resonate with other people. But it’s pretty much how any business actually ends out working. They just may hinge on some different differentiators.
Laura: Yeah, I think so, too. And I think it also has to be with where you are in your life and what you’re doing. I’ve always felt I should build my business around people that are similar to me: business owners, entrepreneurs, I’m a scrappy entrepreneur, women, strong women, professional women, widows, educators, professors. So I’ve built my practice on my terms, to begin with, with the types of people I want to spend the day with
Early on in my career, I went and did a Bill Bachrach weekend. And I’ll never forget it because on a plane coming home, I didn’t have enough money to go there, to begin with, put it on a credit card, financed my…
Michael: What were you going for? Was this the values-based selling days?
Laura: Yes, the values-based selling years ago. It’s like back in 2003 or something. And this weekend was so expensive, I couldn’t afford it. And I built my practice on credit card, because that’s all I had. There was no personal…no one behind me with purse strings that said, “Here, you can do this now.” So I said, “But I’m going to do this, because I’m going to learn how to do this.” And he was saying, “Do it your way.”
So I took copious notes, came back on the plane and sat down and started writing out my process. And one of the biggest takeaways was, how do you want to spend your day? If you spend 6 hours a day, 8, 10, how do you want to spend your day and with who? And that’s what I said I was going to do. I was to spend it with people I liked, with people I could connect with, with people who were vulnerable and wanted to talk deeper than just about investments. Because I was not an investment jockey, and I was going to really get to the heart of the matter, to begin with, or I wasn’t going to have those type of clients. Because to me, if I just took a client because of how much money they had, that was prostitution. And so I had some real strong rules to begin with.
Michael: Well, that’s a pretty strong statement right there.
Laura: It’s a damn strong idea. It’s terrible. But I think of myself that way. I’m like, “I’m only going to be able to work with people I truly trust and understand and can be a part of their lives, because anything other than that is against who I am as a person. I can’t.” And so there have been situations where people, prospective clients came in and I was like, “Oh, I don’t like who they are in the community. I don’t like what they stand for. I’m going to have them come in just to see who we are.” And I’d say, “No, just I don’t think it’s a good fit. But I can give you other references of other people in the industry in our area that might fit for you.” And I just have never regretted doing that. Because I think that was important to me to be able to be who I was fully. I’ve just been a very independent person all my life. So to bow down just because of money, I’ve never done that, and I won’t do that.
How Laura Developed Her Practice And What It Looks Like Today [31:17]
Michael: So talk to us a little bit about the advisory firm itself. You had mentioned earlier 86 clients and $45 million of assets under management. So tell us a little bit more about the firm, what it looks like, who you serve, what you do for them.
Laura: So sure. I started in the business in ’94, opened my practice here in Dahlonega in ’98. And at that time, I was The LaTourette Agency. Decided I wanted to have kind of an agency with employees and other reps and doing insurance as well as investments, and then decided that really wasn’t a good fit for me. So in 2007, I just went to North Georgia Wealth Management Group as a name for the company and really doing primarily financial planning and investments only, and I spun off the insurance piece. And so when I did that, it really…as you know, in 2007, we got into a recession very soon after that.
So I had myself and I had an assistant who I was raising in the business. And he’s a CFP today. Has his own practice. He was with me 10 years. So he and I buckled down and said, “Okay, I may not bring in any new clients through the recession, but I’m going to make sure that we hold on to everybody. And I’m going to make sure that what we’re doing for planning is first and foremost. We’ve been using software for planning since 2003, and we’re going to just make sure that we’re focusing on that.” And that’s really what I did and didn’t lose any clients through the recession.
So what we really do as a firm today, I’m a solo. Today I’m going to be working to create more of an ensemble in the next 10 years, but it’s taken me from 2007 to today to decide I didn’t want to be a solo anymore. So I kind of came into the industry as a solo, wanted to have more of an ensemble. It didn’t work for me. And through the recession, I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. So I went back to solo, and now I’m going back to look at an ensemble practice in the future so that in 10 years, I can retire, sell the practice. That’s my long-term.
Michael: So talk to us a little bit more about these shifts back and forth. Because I’m always fascinated by these decisions of who decides to build a multi-advisor business and why, and particularly those that then shift tracks, as you did. You spent 10 years building this multi-advisor, multi-agent firm and then decided to shift and go solo. So what was your vision for what you were building in ’98 when you launched this and what changed over the 10 years of doing it?
Laura: Well, I think several things changed. Number one, I felt back then that I had to support everything financially. So I felt like if someone came into the business or someone moved over to my firm, that I would have to support financially. And if I gave them everything, then they would just go out and bring in clients and bring in the money we needed, and it would all come together. That didn’t happen for me. They didn’t have any skin in the game, so financially it was really heavy for me to carry. And that just kind of is who I am. In my sibling lineup, I’m second born and was taught to be the guard dog. So I was just used to taking care of people, and used to making sure they had everything that they needed first, and then see if there’s anything for me left at the end. And so that didn’t work. It was very stressful. It was very heavy. I had a lot of persistent stress trying to make sure I’m helping each one of these people grow as a person or in their business or practice, but then not really asking them to help with the expenses. So I think my view of it was just not in a good place.
Michael: So was this still kind of the, I’ll call the traditional agency model, like, “We’re going to provide centralized home office support and give you a small base and then you can go out and get clients and do business” or was the dynamic like, they weren’t actually on that kind of variable comp structure. You were trying to give them salary and then they weren’t hunting for business?
Laura: No, it was that general agency model that we had in the ’90s. And the other thing, now, I did have some people who came in wanting to work and I said, “Well, then you’ll have to just be on your own commission base. I’ll take an override.” But again, I didn’t charge them for expenses. So they didn’t have any skin in the game. So if they made money, great, if they didn’t, they didn’t. What I learned through it, some of us are entrepreneurs, and some of us just expect to catch what we eat. I don’t expect anyone to feed me. I just am a person that if I want to do it, I’m going to just go do it and figure it out. And I realized that some people need a lot more coaching than that. They need support financially. They just don’t know how to do it. And it was better for me as a person in my own family to just pull back as a solo so that I could focus on my family and the stability of my finances and not necessarily have that type of firm, because I didn’t know how to run it financially. So what I did was I said, “Well, let me then go mentor people instead.” And so I’ve always tried to…
Michael: Like, “I’ll be a solo and then I’ll do the mentoring I want to do to help and develop people, but I don’t have to do it on my payroll expense structure.”
Laura: But I don’t have to bring them in on paycheck. Yeah. Yeah. Because that’s what my wife would say, “Well, then why do you have to always pay them?” And I said, “Well, how are they going to eat?” She said, “Well, we could eat better.” So you kind of go back and forth. And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” So yeah. So then I did a lot. And I still do mentoring now. I’ve got a couple of mentees who are going through CFP now. I’ve always tried to take in a CFP mentor, or even from the college I’ve taken a couple of mentors. And then I also have tried through the years, I’ve had three interns in the summer from the Georgia program of financial planning to come in and help them understand the business of a solo practitioner as a model, this business model, so that then if they go into Atlanta and they see a bigger firm with those different business models then they have some comparison. So I’ve done it that way rather than to finance it.
Michael: It strikes me as well that there’s…I think there’s a broader parallel to the struggle you had in this model, and frankly, kind of the whole independent broker-dealer model that I feel like is struggling from the same woes. You provide this centralized resource, this centralized cost structure for supporting advisors. You get an override on whatever business they do, whatever production they have, but the advisor just decides, “Well, how hard do I want to work or not? At what income level do I want to be at or not?” And their decisions are completely dissociated from the centralized home office, which are like, “We kind of have fixed overhead expenses that aren’t so helpful if you decide to dial back your practice a bit.” And at least the BDs have largely tried to work through this by getting large enough with enough economies of scale to say, “Hey, all right, if we have enough reps, a few may decide not to grow, but others will, and this will average out.”
But it’s, to me, just an interesting parallel on the challenge that BDs I find often have the same issue. “We want to grow, which means we need to get those advisors downstream to grow, because we’ve got this fixed overhead and our staff want raises, so all you go get more clients.” And there’s this downstream pressure. The broker-dealers do it on their end and I think the RIA custodians do it on their end as well for the same reason. Like, “Y’all got to go grow because we need our growth to manage our overhead expenses. And we don’t get our growth unless you go grow,” so advisors go grow. And we don’t always want to because we may be fine with where our own practices are.
Laura: Well, exactly. And then for me, in 2014, well, I had my first grandchild. And so I said to self, “Well.” And they lived in Hawaii, because my son is in the Navy. He’s a chief petty officer in the Navy. So I’m like, “Okay, so I have my first grandchild, she lives in Hawaii. I need to get there, and I need to stop raising these other CFPs right now or trying to create this firm so that Atlanta big firms don’t come up and take all my business, and just let it go, and just become this solo for a few years. I don’t even have to grow if I don’t want to. And just service my clients, be good to them, and be a grandma.” And so for me, that has been just the most enjoyable time is spending time with my grandchildren. They’ve now since moved to Charleston. And I have another set of twins now in Atlanta. So I’ve got a total of four. And so as part of my practice, my clients know I take off time a couple of weeks in the summer and I take off time all through the year just to go spend time being grandma. We live in such a wonderful remote industry. I do everything remote now. I do have an office so that I can meet clients here in my town, but I don’t necessarily have to.
And so we’re building this next 10 years around the idea that Family Wealth Management Group not only means LGBT, because “family” is an important word in my culture, but it also means bringing in the new generation and other people of color. My daughter in law is Latina, and she wants to be in my business. And I want her to be in my business in the next few years. So we’re going to build out this structure now to not have to include the walls of the office space that I use today in the way that we used to use it, and open up to the idea of, “What is the financial services industry going to look like in 10 years?” Most of my clients will be passed by then, I’ll keep my clients always, but what about the new clients? What are their expectations? And how do we build this now for us in the future and not with me just supporting it 100% with my own credit card debt? How do I build it out in the future? And that’s what I’m really exploring right now, which I’m really excited about.
Michael: I was going to ask, how are you looking at this model or doing it differently in the future, given that you were in a multi-advisor environment, not happy with those results, went solo for 10 years, have had success in the solo model for 10 years but now moving back into a multi-advisor environment? What are you looking at in how to do a multi-advisor firm in the future that is lessons learned from the way you did in the past?
Why She Recently Hired A CEO For Her Firm [43:41]
Laura: Well, I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is, I need someone to help manage the business part. I’m really good with clients. I really enjoy the client relationship. I’ve been really good and successful with the portfolios, but I really don’t want to manage the business part. So lucky for me, my daughter was in the business in the last couple of years as a trader, and she lives here in Atlanta and now is closer to 40. She may not appreciate me saying that, but she is. And so I’m hiring her to be my CEO.
And I’ve heard people say, “Hire your mini-me,” this and that. She’s totally not my mini-me. She has so many skills that I don’t and can really organize and manage, I think, this practice so that if we can take me out of the management, the day-to-day, and just get me on to helping to build the client relationship and build some other reps that come in in the next 10 years, that that mentoring that I’ve always liked to do and I’m good at it will be the part that I do, and she’ll be the one running the business. We’ve also hired one of the business solutions team, a woman to come in and be the virtual CFO of my business. Because I’m the personal CFO for so many of my clients who are small business owners, and I help them make decisions, and we help build the budgets and the cash flow, and I help them do everything. And at the end of the day, then I come back to do mine, and it’s on a Saturday, Sunday. It’s a lot to running a business.
So what if…if that wasn’t what I did as well 10 years ago and it caused me a lot of stress, well, what if I hire my daughter, who I fully trust and is now a competent adult and can really take things from here and go forward, and I hire someone else to help teach her what to do. I can tell her what I’ve done to get us here, but I don’t know if I know what to do to get me to retirement and get me out of here. But I think they do. And I think between the two of them, they all help build this practice on the inside and then just tell me what to do on my end of it.
Michael: So I know for a lot of advisors, this is one of those things like, feels neat in theory, but then you have to actually give control to someone else and have them make decisions that may or may not be the same decision you were going to make yourself, and then it screeches to a halt or gets way more challenging. So how are you thinking about that and looking at that dynamic of actually trying to give up some control of your own business?
Laura: Well, and I think that’s personality. I’ve always been a good delegator. What I know to be true is I got me here, and to get me here, I feel very successful. I’ve done it. I’ve gotten myself to a point. But I really think that going forward, it’s going to take someone younger, who’s not been in the business, who can see things more objectively to work with me and say, “I think this is how we need to run this part of it,” so that I can then focus on what my skills are. When you look at legacy or you look at succession planning, there are people who built businesses that I think you only have one way to do it and you can’t do it any different. That’s not who I am. I’m more of a collaborator.
So when I started looking at, “Well, who am I? Am I able to do this?” in the last couple of years, I thought, “Sure I am.” I expect and can support that she’s going to do things differently because that’s who she is. And I’ve seen her do things differently and have a successful outcome. So just because she doesn’t do it my way, I don’t see that that story’s going to change. I think it’s going to be even stronger. I think our family legacy in 10 years will…hopefully, she and my son will buy the practice. That’s the intention today. So we’ll see how it all works out, because you never know. Because I said to her, “You may not like running this business. You may work here a couple of years and say, ‘You know what? This is not working for me.'” And then I’ll hire another CEO.
But I know I’ve talked to a few women at LPL who are peers of mine, Julia Carlson is one of them, recently at Focus, and that’s exactly what she did. She said, “You know what? Get yourself out of the middle. If you’re a visionary and you’re an entrepreneur and you like to create and build and do, do that, but get yourself out of the structural part of the business itself and all the operations.”
I just had another assistant leave. For 25 years, you tend to have people that stay varying periods of time. I’ve had people stay 9 years, 7 years, and then in the last 10 years, I’ve had them stay only 3. And you’re training an assistant, and you’re trying to make sure they understand how to support you, and you’ve done everything you can through the hiring process to make sure this is the candidate, and you’re giving them the salary they desire and all the things, after they’ve been with you at least two years, they’re finally really trained. They’re finally really able to stand on their own. And then sometimes they leave for reasons that have nothing to do with you. And that has happened to me now two times.
And so I say, “Well, I’m tired of training my admins. What if I hire the CEO,” and I’ve got a really good remote admin right now who’s our operations manager, “What if I get those two to hire and train?” That’s their job. And I get totally taken out of that. I can help mentor. I can give them the checklist that I use. We can refine. We use checklists for everything. So I have a training checklist, and I can make sure that they know what I’ve done, but then there may be some things that come up that they need to learn that I haven’t taught them. So I think as a collaborator, it’s easier for me to see that I have a future. And if I want to retire at some point and really have value in this business then I’ve got to get out of the middle. It’s not as valuable with me in the middle.
Laura’s Succession Plan [50:28]
Michael: When you look at this from this kind of path of 10 years to retire, I am still curious, like, why driving it this way with trying to bring in other advisors and other team and growing it that way to sell down the road? There’s no shortage of folks these days that seem pretty interested in buying pretty much any practice at any size up and down the line and spectrum. So is there something that drives you towards this, “I want to bring these additional folks in and sell that in 10 years,” as opposed to just saying, “I’m just going to keep going until I don’t feel like it anymore, and then when I do, I’ll hang the ‘for sale’ sign and let the buyers come and offer whatever they’re going to offer?”
Laura: I used to have that idea, that I would just do it till I didn’t want to and either sell it or just stop bringing in clients. And as they passed away, I would just take that income as retirement income, and as we all would just kind of naturally pass away. And then two years ago at Christmas, when the family was gathered together, my adult children started talking to me about, “Mom, what are you doing? And being a financial planner all these years, we’ve seen things come and go. And what do you think is going to happen in the future? When are you retiring?” And we had a wonderful conversation. I must say that I’m very close to my two children, and I’m very close to their spouses. And the four of them have different and unique skill sets. We all talk about everything at the table. So I know some families can’t talk about religion, politics, sex, rock and roll, we do. It’s all up there for discussion. And we can disagree with each other, too.
So we had some good conversation about it. My son’s going to stay in the service for his 20 years and retire. Brianne, my daughter, was trying to decide what to do. She was in the industry, just getting into the industry at that point and trying to decide, “Well, what should we do and what does it look like.” She liked the financial services industry. She was surprised, because she was in the healthcare industry prior to that working in academia. But she liked it. And so, her husband is an IT programmer, masters in security IT, and my daughter-in-law is a very vivacious sales-type person. She’s right now able to stay at home as a stay-at-home mom. But we know that a lot of those skills that she was using when she was working, she’s definitely using today to help keep the family supported.
So when we all started talking, the six of us, including Susan, my wife, we were like, “Well, some people have this legacy planning.” My kids jumped up and down about it and started saying well, then, maybe their kids would want to be financial planners. Maybe we should do some family business.” Well, had I ever thought about it? And I said, “Well, no, actually, I hadn’t.” And so through the last year, for sure, I’ve given them my financials. I’ve talked to them about struggles that I’ve had, especially the recession. The recession was hard. It was tough to be self-employed, let alone at financial services industry when you’re fee-based. My income went down. I lost it, half of it overnight. So we talked about a lot of those things. And so they were just so enthusiastic, and still are, that they think that maybe the four of them could continue this business, not necessarily all of them being a financial planner, but maybe the four of them could continue this business and really look at some legacy planning with it. So that’s what gave me the idea. It certainly wasn’t mine.
But I’ve raised some really gifted, skilled adults, and they are looking at this for something that they think is really going to be a wonderful way in the future. And so I said, “Well, start educating yourself. What do you think their future is going to look like in financial services?” And the good thing is they’ve got me to understand some of the past, but it’s not holding them to the past at all. So when we start building out…everything we do now has to do with technology. I lost the internet for almost two weeks and we were still up and running. I’ve got a remote admin, who’s my operations manager in Chicago, who keeps everything going. My daughter is in Atlanta, continue with the portfolios rebalancing, trading, whatever needed to happen. And I was talking to clients on the phone, either here at the office or at my house, where I did have internet.
Michael: So the distributed nature of having a virtual team meant even when local internet went out, most of the team was still functioning just fine.
Laura: We didn’t skip a beat, except for my issues that I had. But I could still have a client meeting, just didn’t have the internet. So my team would email me the reports, I would print them at home and bring them into the office. I think that’s how it’s going to be in the future. I think we’re going to be doing telecommuting. We’re going to have a lot more Skype appointments. I will still have my clients who are primarily here in the little town of Dahlonega that I live in, but I don’t really want to build my practice just around my little town in Dahlonega, where I live in, because in 10 years, I may move also. I don’t have to live here. I don’t mind change. I’m kind of a gypsy that way. I like change. So I’m really vibrant, again, thinking, “Well, what is the next 10 years going to look like?”
The other thing is I want to hire an LGBT rep. I really want to have a person who is in the younger generation, very comfortable in their person. And I want that person to be really comfortable in my firm, because I want that person to build out an LGBT model if that’s what they want to do. That’s one of the things I’m really interested in pursuing.
Michael: Well, if there’s a advisor listening who’s inspired by this, this is episode 148. So if you go to kitces.com/148, we’ll have a link out to Laura’s website if you want to get in touch and find a job opportunity.
Who Laura Serves, What She Does For Them, And What Her Business Model Looks Like [57:09]
So talk to us a little bit about the clients themselves. Who do you serve and what do you do for them?
Laura: Oh, my clients. So a lot of them are LGBT elders, and so I am their advocate. We have to build our families, chosen families, because oftentimes there’s some rejection in our own natural-born families. So the community gets strong. But what happens is, as everybody ages, they lose their chosen family and oftentimes are left by themselves. So I have my LGBT clients that will come to me either just before, maybe a couple of years before they lose one of their spouses, maybe they have dementia, and they say, “They already always handled all the finances and I don’t know anything, so you have to do this for us.” Or they come to me afterwards because maybe they were not the one that did the finances, or they were, but they don’t trust doing it by themselves and have no trusted person to talk to.
So I’m their advocate. I’ve gone to the hospital and helped with some of the toughest decisions they’ve had. I help them find an estate planning attorney to make sure that those documents are tight and that they are able to speak who they are in their full story. So I work with attorneys who are either in my community or very conscious about being an ally and how to respectfully talk to one of my clients or to the couple. And so I find that that gives me a lot of passion around it, but it also gives me…it fills my heart. It just makes me feel important. And so I love that. That’s a lot of my clients.
The other clients I have are couples that come in and I’ll have the gentleman tell me, “I’m getting ready to retire in a couple of years and I’ve always taken care of this. And we’ve had three advisors, but I really wanted to find a woman advisor because when something happens to me, you have to take care of my wife.” So I’ve had several of those types of clients that have been with me for years and years now. And then when we lose the husband, we’ve had so many conversations about what/how/why, how we’re going to do things, that the transition, although it’s painful and emotional, we stay together as a relationship. And I think for them, they’ve told me that that has been so important to them, because they didn’t have to find someone else that treated them well and talked to them and educated them, that we did that before they lost their husband.
And I call those clients traditional clients. They are those clients that ask me about LGBT, talk to me about Susan and I, say things like, “Well, you guys are different. You don’t do things like all those other people.” And I say, “Oh, yes we do. Let’s talk about it.” But they’re another really important part of my life because I, again, have been their advocate. So I’m the one who’s called for the long-term care claim and made sure I was there when the nurse came. Because sometimes they don’t want to say what’s really wrong or that they do need help, and I’ll be the person in the room who’s saying, “Oh, yeah, no, they can’t do that either.” Kind of get in the middle of things. I had one of them tell me that I was the ex-wife they never had. And I said, “Yes, I am. I’m the one who’s going to just keep saying things that need to be said.” And then both of the couples then can or both of the people can talk about it.
And then I’ve got professors who’re right here at the college. There’s a university here in town. And so I have several professors. My parents were teachers, my siblings are teachers, spouses, they’re…my in-laws were teachers. So I have a lot of educators in my family. So it seems that I track educators as well. And so those are a lot of my clients.
And then the fourth set would be the entrepreneurs, the scrappy entrepreneurs who do it their way and then come 10 years outside of retirement and say, “You know what? I need more liquid assets. Because I’ve built this, I have these things, but I’m going to have to liquidate those to have assets to live on. So we really need to focus on this retirement and income thing.” And so I think that’s what prompted me, too. I’m 59, I’m going, “Okay, Laura, you need more liquid assets.” I need more in my physical retirement account. I need to make sure that there’s money there, there’s cash there. And it’s not just that I know we could sell this or we could do this or those kinds of things. But I need to practice what I preach there with my entrepreneurs and say…we’ve always said, “Pay yourself first,” but that’s always hard when you’re the type of person I am. I think about serving others and taking care of all of them. And then at the end of the day, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got to pay my taxes. So I’m going to pay my taxes. Oh, yeah, I’ve got to do retirement. I will do that next month.”
So those are my clients. They’re all…I feel close to them. Some of them I’ve got their adult children as well. Love them dearly. Some of them, as they pass away, I don’t want the adult children, and we distribute. And I’m happy with that, too. I’m fine with that. It’s a nice day. I have a nice practice.
Michael: And what does the business model look like for what you do? Because when you talk about like, “I’m helping file long-term care claims, and I’m there when the nurses come, and I’m in the meetings with the estate planning attorneys,” not all of these things tie to our traditional models for how we get paid. So what does the business model look like for you?
Laura: So 90% of my clients come in and do a plan first. Because that’s what I really try to say to them initially is, “I need to get to know you, and you need to get to know you and understand…you probably haven’t had a lot of these conversations with your spouse or if you’re by yourself in one setting. So if we sit down and we do a financial plan first, I think that’s the most effective way to then take assets under management.” And I do advisory, 90% of my clients are advisory. So it’s fees that I’m charging. And then if I have to implement insurance, I will do that as well. So if I implement long-term care or life insurance annuities, I’ll do that as well. But that’s only on an as-needed basis.
So to get in the door, we do a plan first. I charge hourly for the plan, $250 an hour. There’s comprehensive planning that I do for 10 hours as a minimum is kind of what I say to them. So a lot of them, we do at least $2,500. We use eMoney software. We are actually using WealthVision today, but we’re going to be switching back to the street version so my OSJ can help support me on my financial planning. Because that was another area that I know I can outsource some of it. But I want the nuts and bolts of it too with my clients. So we’ll be switching that here in the next month.
But I’ve been using eMoney, and I build them a website. And that right there takes us at least four meetings. Because I want to meet with them initially as an introductory meeting and just see who are you, what do we do, how do we fit, these are my services, and then I want to know from that meeting, do you think you want to do planning? And if you want to do planning, it’s going to take us good three to four meetings. And those meetings are an hour and a half to two hours a piece.
And I usually just say, “That 10 hours is a good, broad number, but if it takes us 15 hours, then you have to pay me the rest.” So I kind of say that upfront, “I’m going to do the services for you on an hourly basis to do these plans.” And I’m going to say that, “I think I can get this done in this period of time, but if it takes more than that then we’re really going to have to adjust it.”
Michael: So in a true sense, it is an estimate with a fee minimum, but it is not a fixed fee. It will be whatever hours it takes.
Laura: Right. And so it may be that the person sitting with me just need some debt strategy, or they just need to really get clear about some things with their retirement, or they want an asset allocation checkup, that kind of thing, well, then that might only be hourly consulting. And I can say, “Well, let’s just sit down for a couple of hours. Bring everything to me and I’ll give you my best advice without going through the full process.” I’ve had that happen. And then they come back two, three years later and say, “Okay, let’s do a full plan. I’m getting ready to retire, and I want my spouse in this time.” Because I try to get the spouses in, but sometimes it happens that there’s one that talks more about what the financial world is, and the other one doesn’t want to even be in the conversations. If it’s an hourly consultation, I’ll do that.
So the planning is really what I’m focused on, because I really like to get to know them, and I really want to sit down and ask them those questions about, “Why is this important? And what are you thinking about this? And what does it look like? And if you did it today, this is what would happen.” That current versus projected.
Then a lot of times if there is assets under management available, they will bring their assets to me. I’m kind of funny about that these days, in the last 10 years, for sure. After the recession, I said, “Absolutely, everyone has to bring in all liquid assets that are available for investments.” I want them to keep an emergency fund and those things, and savings. I don’t want any savings money. But they can’t have two advisors. You can’t have Joe over here at the bank and me doing this, it’s not fair to me. It’s not fair to you. And I can’t work on partial basis. So if that’s an issue, that’s fine. Go to Joe, go to the other people, I get it. But when they bring in the assets under management, it’s all to me, and we do it with a fee, 1% to 2%. Some people, because there’s a higher amount, we’ve really moved back to more of a retainer. So there’s just a couple of those clients too that say that 1%, if you’ve got 1% of $5 million, that’s a little too much. So we’re working more on a retainer, which I agree. I think that that’s fine as far as how I’m setting things.
Michael: So essentially, it’s a sliding scale AUM fee. So starts at 2% on the low end, comes down to 1% as their assets rise. But by the time you get up to multimillion-dollar, you may just do it for a negotiated retainer fee as opposed to continuing to calculate the AUM fee?
Laura: Correct. Correct. And especially, I’ve got clients who’ve been with me over 10 years, so it’s a relationship.
Michael: And so out of curiosity, there’s still kind of the proverbial 1% number that bounces around out there, which when you look at the actual research in the industry, advisors do charge well over 1% on average in smaller accounts and less on larger accounts because it’s a graduated fee schedule. But if your fee schedule starts up close to 2% and breaks down from there as it rises, do you get fee pushback on this? Do you feel concerns about a fee schedule that starts at that level or is it much ado about nothing in the industry?
Laura: Yeah, I really don’t. Most of my clients are closer to the 1%. Because my reputation has said, “If you don’t have half a million dollars, Laura won’t take you.” I have not said that, but I hear that. So, most of my clients are more towards the 1%. But I say to them, “I think…” We talk about fees all the time. And if you don’t feel like you’re getting the value, you shouldn’t be here. I don’t have a problem with that. If we come to a crossroads and you think, “You know what? I can get it cheaper over there,” then do it. I don’t have a problem with that.
Michael: Wish you the best over there. Have a good time.
Laura: I do. I do. And sometimes people see my confidence as cocky. I don’t see it as cocky, I just say, “This is who I am. This is how I do it.” If I’m running an ice cream stand and all I’ve got is vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry and you want almond butter, well I don’t have it. And that’s okay. But there’s someone else who does. So we have those conversations. Every once in a while I have someone pinch me on fees and say, “Well, look what you made.” I said, “Yeah. And what do you think?” “I don’t know. Look what we’ve done this year.” Yeah. So it’s never been an issue for me.
I’ve not had anyone leave because of fees. I can tell you that. I have not had anyone say, “You’re too expensive, I’m leaving.” I’ve had someone say, “You’re too expensive, I’m not coming in. Will you bring down your fee?” And I’ve said no. I said, “How can I bring down my fee, I don’t even know you. I don’t even know what I’m going to do to service your account. I don’t even know five years from now how I’m going to need to advocate for you, how many hours I’m going to spend with your family, what I’m going to need to do to make sure behind the scenes you’re protected.” So I know for sure if I have my fees at a set rate and this is what I know I can do to make sure I stay in business and that I can offer you the services that I want to provide, I know that is the right number. And if you don’t think it is, then we shouldn’t have a relationship.
What Laura’s Planning Process Looks Like [1:11:20]
Michael: So walk us through the rest of this meeting process. You’d said this series of four meetings. So number one is the introductory. Is this like even they haven’t become a client yet? This is essentially the prospect, like, “Here’s what we do. Tell me about you. Figure out if we fit. Here’s what we do for clients.” And figure out if they want to engage with you or not. So is that typically a one-meeting sales process for you? Either they will or will not sign up at the end of the meeting?
Laura: Well, no, I really want them to go home and think about it. I don’t like them to sign up at that meeting. When somebody contacts the office, usually through an email or a phone call, we send out an introductory kit. And that kit sometimes is mailed, a lot of times now is emailed, and in that kit, it talks about what my fees are and how I work, and to make sure to go to my website. And it’s got some links in there. There’s also a form that we use called Discovery. And it’s on my website. And people can take it. I’ve told other advisors, “Go ahead and use it as a template. Maybe add your own pictures, your own logo.” It’s a good way to discuss things. And that Discovery form that they do first, I want to know actually, do they actually do the form? Do they bring it with them? And it talks about things…
Michael: Because those are good ways to measure and understand how invested they actually are in the process?
Laura: Yeah, and how vulnerable they’re going to be. There’s a lot of vulnerability questions in there, not as much about investments. I don’t care how much money they have. That’s not the questions in there. So the questions in there, what keeps you up at night? What do you want your kids to know? What’s your legacy? What were you taught about money? How do you relate to money? What’s the worst thing you’ve done? What are the mistakes you’ve made? Have you been in litigation? Those are the kinds of questions that are on that Discovery form.
So then prior to coming in, my assistant confirms the appointment and says, “Make sure you bring in the Discovery form.” When they come into the office then I’m going to sit there on that introductory appointment and really evaluate not only who they are, but who I am in my relationship to them. Because sometimes I’ve known them in the community in other ways, on other boards or through the kids in school or something. And so I say to them, “I want to make sure that we can really develop a business relationship.” Because if you’re going to come work with me, it’s got to be for a long period of time. I’m just not one that likes to just come in and work together for a little while and then move on. I really like long-term relationships.
I tell them how many households I have, I tell them how much assets I have under management, and I tell them that this is something I need for them to really think about, because if they’re going to do a plan, I’m going to disrupt their life for the next six weeks. They’re going to have to get organized. They’re going to have to grab things together. It’s going to be like a therapy appointment every Tuesday at 2:00. I’m going to really get you into a structure, because if I don’t get you in a structure that starts momentum, then it falls off the shelf and you’ll never finish. And then I’ll get distracted because I’ve got ADHD. So you’ve got to sit here with me on my structure and say, “Okay, do I have time in my schedule to do this?” And are you committed to doing it? Because if you’re not, then let’s not do it. Let’s wait a year, six months, whatever. So I really try to set up those expectations because that’s really what I expect. If you’re going to work with me on a plan, we’re going to sit down and we’re going to hammer through it.
The other thing I say to them is, “I need both of you in on the conversation,” if it’s spouses, because you can’t plan with one person. I understand someone might not have these conversations. In our planning process, we have a meeting where we sit down and look at all the numbers and the paper and the financials. We understand the cash flow and the balance of how you run your monies.
And then after that first meeting, we’ve got goals and dreams. And I don’t want to look at paper, I just want to understand who you are, what your relationship is with money. And I need both spouses at that meeting, for sure. And then after that, we’ll either do some estate planning if there’s some bigger things to talk about or business planning, or we’ll sit down and look at the draft. I’ll bring something back to you and say, “Okay, in our third meeting, this is what I’m thinking. This is what I’ve seen on paper and what you’ve said to me, and this is what I’m thinking might be some recommendations. What are your priorities? Where are you on this?” And then we will deliver that plan in the fourth meeting.
Some clients are not even wanting a written plan anymore, they just want it in the vault of WealthVision or eMoney. And so we’ve got it in there as a place holder. And we’ve got my observations and recommendations in writing. So we know where we’re starting. But a lot of people like that written plan because they can then put it on their shelf and show it to the adult kids. And we’ve got the inventory of everything they have. And they have a place that they can go to. They bring it in on an annual basis and they say, “Can you update my net worth?” And we put a different document in there. So it really takes a lot of time. So I only do a couple of those a month. I can’t physically do more. I can’t get involved with people in their lives and try to understand and organize and clarify more than just a couple people a month. So we’ll schedule them out to come in and then be able to go through that process.
My process is all written down. I did that for training. And I did it initially when I went to that Bill Bachrach. I said, “Okay, here’s my process. I’m going to have a prospective client, get an introductory kit,” back then we mailed everything. “Here’s the pieces in that kit. And then they’re going to come in a week or two later and we’re going to have a introductory meeting. Then we’re going to have a documents meeting. Then we’re going to have a vision or goals and dreams. Then we’re going to have a draft, and then we’re going to have delivery.” I’m still using that same process today, and have all the steps written out with all the things that are in the kits at the different points so that when I’ve had to train in operations, I take that out and just go through it step by step with everyone so that they know, “This is the expectation, and this is how you make those appointments.”
Because the other thing is if I have someone make appointments and they’re like, “Okay, let’s make three right now,” that really gets it in their calendar than if they, “Well, let’s do it and then we’ll call and see when we can do it, and then we’ll do this, and we’ll do that.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, no, I can’t do that. You’ve got to get in my calendar for six weeks.”
After they’ve done the plan and we’ve gone through that, a lot of times they’ll want me to do assets under management. And we’ll, of course, identify the places that we can. And then we’ll have that conversation, too. And I do that conversation at delivery, usually. That conversation then goes to the next step, which would be, “If we implement this plan, I’m going to charge you X percentage to handle your fee, to handle your portfolio. And I think you need this life insurance, and I’m going to get a commission on that, too. I’ll run some scenarios and we’ll know what that is. But these are the things that we can do, or you can take this plan and implement it yourself or with other advisors. That’s fine, too.” Usually, that’s where we get that commitment about, “Yes, I want to,” or, “Give me some time. Wait till I retire,” those kinds of things.
Michael: I’m struck by that, I guess Bill Bachrach framework of intro meeting, documents meeting, vision goals meeting, draft meeting, delivery meeting. That’s a five-meeting piece, you’re running four. So did you essentially merge together documents and vision and goals or are you trying to get documents in advance of meeting number two because you’re giving them your Discovery form, and then you do mostly vision and goals in number two? How do you mix that part together?
Laura: Well, the first meeting is the introduction. And so the introduction meeting, I don’t count as part of the planning. I count that as just an introduction. And they tell me a lot at that meeting. And oftentimes they actually do bring documents. I don’t ask them to, but they do.
Michael: Clearly, they’ve met with another advisor then he’s asked them to bring all their documents the first meeting.
Laura: Yeah. They’re even like, “Well, where’s the fact finder?” I said, “I don’t do a fact finder at the beginning. Why do I want to know all these things about you? I don’t know if I…”
Michael: I don’t even know if I like you yet.
Laura: I did say that. I was just, I’m like, “Oh, I do.” I’m like, “Laura.” But I’m not even sure if I like you, I don’t know if you like me. How are we going to then just come to this table and throw everything out there and say, “Here?” In fact, when people do that, I step back a bit too, and I’m like, “Well, let’s talk about this one more time.” Because I don’t want someone who’s that impulsive either. It can be a nightmare. So then that’s the very first meeting.
The second meeting, which is actually my first financial planning meeting, is the documents.
Michael: So they’ve agreed to come on, and now you’re saying, “Okay, bring in all your stuff, bring in the…” I guess they’ve already done the Discovery form. And we’ll link…
Laura: And then we’ll do the Fact Finder. In my planning kit, I’ve got the risk tolerance profile, the planning Fact Finders, and I’ve got another, Fiscalosophy, which is a Mitch Anthony form from years ago that LPL got into a contract with him at one time and he let us have some of his docs. I still use that one, too.
Michael: Well, and I’m struck on your Fact Finder form again, speaking to your target market and who you’re serving, your Fact Finder labels and categories are rainbow-colored.
Laura: Those are for LGBT. Yeah. So if you go to the one on the women’s page, those are not, those are different. I’ve changed them for everybody.
Michael: And for folks who are curious about this, again, this is episode 148. So if you go to kitces.com/148, we’ll have links out for Laura’s Discovery form and Fact Finder if you want to see a little bit more of this for context. The Fact Finder is truly a beautiful testament to rainbow. So I feel like we can’t do a justice on a podcast, you need to take a look.
But again, thinking of this in context of, okay, if this is a form specifically for my LGBTQ clients, what a subtle yet not subtle way to connect, that we are part of this shared community experience, like, here’s the rainbow literally in the Fact Finder. Like, the client name is red, and then their birth date is orange, and then their Social Security number is yellow, and then their home address is green. Literally, each line is a different color of the rainbow. And if you have connected with that rainbow symbol as part of the LGBT community, that’s a powerful thing. That’s a really powerful thing.
Laura: Well, right, I’m speaking their language, because their language is my language. And it’s important to me. Because if you walk into the room and you are able to feel like you belong there, then you can let go of the shield, and you can be vulnerable. And that is so important when you’re planning for financial futures. It’s just so important. And I looked at who I am and who do I serve, and I was like, “Well, then, how do we make all of this look like this? This traditional stuff we’ve been using, it’s nice, at least it looks friendly, but it has traditional pictures. And so what if we have on all our LGBT pictures that resonate with us?” And so some of those are friends of mine. That’s the other thing. And same thing with women, I have strong women. I have strong women clients. So how do we show up for them as well?
So one of the things that my assistant does, or my operations manager, whoever takes the call, has to help decide, “How do I send this person down our road? Is this person just a divorced woman or widowed? I’m going to send her the women stuff. Is this person traditional marriage or is this person LGBT? And if they’re LGBTQ, how do I identify that?” So I’ve had to really work with her about, “Well, what are the questions you ask?” How do you get us to understand who you are? You say, “Have you been to the website? Susan and her wife. Yeah, Laura and her wife, Susan.”
Michael: Because they’ll see it there. Yep.
Laura: And that reaction, if it comes back, is, “Yeah, I’ve seen that. My wife and I want to come in,” you’ve got it. But you’ve got to open up and get that conversation going. You’ve got to be in there.
So yeah, so the prospective client process is one whole process all in of itself. And what we do is identify who the person is. They’re going to come in. And then at my meeting, I see, what road are you going to take? Are you going to take that hourly consulting, you just have a few things, are you going to do a financial plan and do full comprehensive financial plan, or are you just wanting assets under management and at some point, you want to do a plan? Or you’ve already done a plan and you just want to do assets under management.
So from my prospective client meeting, I then have three ways that we go. And those three checklists are different, similar but different. Because what happens in that second meeting for the client but first meeting for me, for planning, is documents. I need to understand all the documents. It’s the same thing for hourly consulting, I need to do all the documents, but I’m not going to have a lot of meetings after that. See what I’m saying? So each process after that then, we go into the next meeting. And on my checklist, the planning meeting then has four more meetings. The meeting that we’re doing for hourly consulting, of course, it depends on what we’re doing. And a lot of times, there’s not a written report.
And then the third one, assets under management, if that’s all we’re doing, then that next meeting is a documents meeting, and making sure we have all the information, that we understand what type of account we’re going to open, how many accounts, those kinds of issues. A lot of clients are now doing a signature. So sometimes what’ll happen is I gather all that information, gather that understanding, and then my operations manager takes it over from there and gets the transfer forms, opens up the accounts, get the transfer forms, those kinds of things.
And then with that meeting, we have another meeting in a couple of weeks to talk about specifics on asset allocation model. So the asset allocation model is built. A lot of my clients now are using the ESG models or social sustainable models. So I really talk about, what does that model look like? What’s the difference between that and a traditional model? Making sure we’ve got the right models for risk and how we rebalance and how we dollar-cost average, all those things that you have those meetings. And then once the assets are all transferred over and everything, we have another meeting with them. I like to get my clients in on a…I want them in my office every couple of weeks for months, because I really want to get to know them and get to know me. And then we let them go so that they’re in the world. And then they come in, usually three times a year, or at least by phone once and two times a year.
Michael: And talk to us for a moment about the nature of a draft meeting. I think there are a lot of firms that’ll kind of do a data gathering, discovery, plan presentation, implementation kind of series. But talk to us about having a draft meeting before you do a full plan presentation meeting. What do you do in that meeting? How do you make that distinct from just presenting the plan and moving to a conclusion?
Laura: Well, that meeting is really to see where they are. They’ve gone through this complex gathering all their documents, all this organizational stuff, clear about some things that they might have known were there but didn’t really understand exactly what it was all about. So that draft meeting to me helps me understand what they got out of the process. What are the priorities and where are we going to take our next relationship? Because it gives us a chance to pause, to say, “Okay, this is what I’m thinking. I really think that you’re in too much risk, and I’ll tell you why. And I really think that you need to add more to your retirement, whether it feels good or not, you’ve got it in your budget.” And to really get that buy-in from both of them as a couple if there’s two. Because otherwise, if there’s not a buy-in and we’re just still continuing to go forward, what’s in the plan doesn’t really then get implemented because it was just this activity we did.
So I’m really very…as a person, I like to have concrete discussions, and then I like them to be confirmed. “Is this what we’re doing? Is this what we said? Am I on the right page here?” And that I think gives them a chance too to say, “Do I really like the way she does things?” I don’t hurry people through decisions. I like it to be organic. I like it to be something that they’ve done together. And so every time after our meetings, I’m like, “You go home and talk about this. What are the things that make you nervous? What are the things that you’re fearful about telling me?” You’ll find out things in the financial planning process that they’ve got debt that one of them didn’t know about. So it can get quite heated. So how am I going to help you as a couple make these changes? So that draft meeting for me is just a chance to pause and say, “Who are you? How are you doing? How did the process work for you?” Because going forward, I’m saying, “We’re going to do this. And part of that implementation is I want to work with you, and is that going to work…are you ready for that?” Does that make sense?
Michael: Yeah. Yeah, it does. It’s an interesting flow because I think for some of us, maybe for a lot of us, we just want to get through the planning process. It’s kind of long and time-consuming enough, as is for some clients. But to me, one of the fundamental ways that planning is shifting, and frankly, interactive planning tools I think are helping to drive this, is sort of this acknowledgment that the plan really is a living document. It’s morphing. Even if you did a good, thorough data gathering process, the plan you present often is not actually going to end out being the final plan, if only because once they see the actual trajectory they’re on and what’s possible, they’ll be like, “Oh, well, all right, well, that was our plan, but I don’t know how that’s coming out, so I want a different plan,” or, “Wow, this plan is actually coming out so well, I could do more I didn’t even realize it was possible, so now I want to change it to do something else.”
And that that plan even isn’t just a living document once we made it and say, “Hey, we’re going to monitor and update this over time,” but that formulating the plan is actually a more iterative process that historically we just couldn’t do very efficiently because you printed and bring it out, and then it’s in the book, and then it’s hard to change the book, and we don’t want to do a lot of meetings to keep changing the book. But when you plan for it, assuming that whatever you present to the client first is something they’re going to react to and then make one round of adjustments on the spot, I guess is sort of the essence of Bill Bachrach’s have a draft meeting before your plan presentation meeting, and just gets even more facilitated with the current technology, eMoney Decision Center and MoneyGuidePro Play Zone and those sorts of tools.
Laura: Exactly. And I don’t want to be a commercial for eMoney, but what I do in that draft meeting is pull up their plan on their website and show them how easy it is for them now to access their financial life on one dashboard. And that usually blows them away. They’re like, “Oh, my gosh.” Because they’d seen that we do have this available, but to actually see their numbers on the screen. And there are some times where they say, “Well, we told you our mortgage was $164,000 really, I checked on it and it’s $206,000.” So I said, “No problem, let’s just change it right now.”
And they see me changing and showing how fluid this is, that the importance about this process in financial planning is you and I developing a relationship of conversations and trusted information that I can come back and say, “Well, let’s just change this. It’s no big deal. Let’s see what happens. I can also do the what ifs. Well, what if this happens? What if there is a disability. You have long-term care insurance. You’ve had for 15 years. A lot of people haven’t had that kind of policy. Let’s see how it shows up.” So I can do those scenarios at that draft meeting to take away some of the questions and fears, but also to let them see that this is a dynamic process. This is not just you coming to me, me telling you what you have to do, and you trying to live up to it or not. And as things change in your life, then I can change it right here at our meetings, and we can go forward.
The other great thing about it is five years down the road I tell them, “We’re going to look at this again, and you’re going to say, ‘Okay, I’m making X amount in my income today, but I’m retiring two years early, let’s change it.’ And I can. So the facts are in here today, and let’s…” I like to look at the facts with them too, because I want to make sure the data entry is correct. And then I say, “So let’s change your income. Five years from now, let’s say you’re only working part-time. Let’s just do it right now.” So those kind of dynamic conversations really get it into more of a feeling. This is a person they’re bringing into their lives to help them understand things, not to be combative and tell them what they should do or shouldn’t do, or to live up to my expectations about what retirement means, it’s a conversation that’s going to be fluid that we’re going to continue to have.
And then the next thing I always talk to them about is, “And your adult children, at some point, we’re going to have the conversation with them, too. They’re going to know you’ve got a website, and they’re going to be like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, my parents don’t do much on the internet.’ And I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, well, let me show you.'” And they’re like, “Oh, that would be really cool.” And I say, “Yeah, we do family meetings. I like to do family meetings.” So I’ll say, “We’ll set up family meetings with you on the next couple of years and say, ‘Here’s your estate plan.'” I say, “We’ll show them numbers or not, it’s up to you. But it would be really a good kind of conversation for everyone because we’ve got all the data. We’ve got the policy information, we’ve got expectance of when you’re going to pass away. We can change that if you want.” And so they just buy in again. And at this point, I’ve really gotten to know them and they’ve gotten to know me, too. I share some of my story as we go along. And so it’s really kind of a celebration of a process. And then it means more to all of us, I think.
And at the draft meeting is when I ask for my final payment, too. So I take half down before I start, and I take the other half at that meeting. So at delivery, I’m not working or worried about getting paid. I get paid there at that draft meeting. And sometimes at the draft, they’ll say, “Well, we really need to talk more about estate. Are we done? Can we have another meeting about that?” Or business planning, because business planning, it can go on, and you can do some things with that quite a bit. So I’ll say, “Yeah, let’s add another hour or two to our schedule, and let’s talk about that again next time.” And then we’ll get to that final.
What Surprised Laura Most About Building A Business [1:36:39]
Michael: So as you look back over nearly 25 years now of being in the business, what surprised you the most about trying to build your own advisory firm or firms, since you’ve iterated on this more than once?
Laura: Well, initially, I was just going to be a financial advisor, and then, as time would tell it, and I decided to divorce my husband, I thought, “Ooh, I’ve got to figure out this retirement thing. And maybe there’s more to advising about investments than just advising about investments.” And I really had to look at my whole self. That’s when I really got interested in financial planning and just fell in love with the profession and what it could be.
So initially, I just thought that I would help professional women navigate transitions, either divorce or widowhood. And then as I got further along into it, I think just because I was raising my family and my kids and became a CFP, I thought, “I really want to mentor other people and develop this financial planning industry.” And it seemed like there was an investment side and a financial planning side, and I wanted to help merge that, kind of be fee-based. And I still have that core belief. So I got involved with the FPA, and I got involved with the CFP Board and really tried to help nurture that. But the firm idea for me didn’t work because I took on too much responsibility, which I think happens to women sometimes. I think we think we can do everything and sometimes we get burned out by it.
So the industry itself I think initially was this solo, everyone was solo and just trying to figure out how to do it on your own. And then as firms came in and people started saying, “Well, you could actually sell your practice,” I remember thinking that the first time, gosh, 10 years ago, “Buy it? What would they buy? These are people, you can’t buy people.” But I helped a person who was a brokerage commission-based investment advisor move into advisory. And through that process of helping him, I actually helped two of them, but his was more developed than the second one, who was new in the industry, I helped understand that this business model of advisory is so important. And I didn’t understand why more people weren’t doing it other than you didn’t get paid upfront as much as you did with commission. But then you had sustaining income.
So I’ve just seen a lot of changes in the last 25 years in our industry working more and more towards now the advisory platforms. And now the advisory platforms are more affordable to even use. And so I liked it. I like where we’re going. I like seeing what’s happening. We’re opening up to diversity and inclusion. Just I’m so excited to be a part of what’s happening, and not only in our industry, in our country. But I think some of that happened because of the Supreme Court when they ruled that we could get married in 2015, June of 2015. It kind of opened the door for us to say, “You know what? We now have legal rights.” Because prior to that, our legal rights were not equal to another couple who were married. So now that that has changed, I think you see our industry changing.
And we also are seeing people of color coming to the forefront in leadership and things and having a voice at the table. So I love what’s happening. I love the disruption. Because I think from the disruption and the chaos comes change, and then that change, though, moves into more harmony. It moves into, “Okay, this is what we do now.” And I really see that, that this is what we’ll do now in the future.
Michael: So what was the low point for you along the way?
Laura: Oh, the low point, gosh, I’ve had several. One of them was thinking I was going to have this firm…in 2000, I started that firm idea. And I just really thought I was going to be able to do it. And it took so much money out of my personal savings and income, and I just felt like such a failure. I thought I could do it by motivating people, by coaching, by putting them through training, by having checklists, by having an admin. My God, if you had all these things, you could be so successful. And they were good people, good people, but I just felt like such a failure. And then when the recession hit, it magnified it because I didn’t have…I had no new clients in 2010, I think it was, not one. I had people say to me, “Well, you should sell insurance then. You need to do this or you need to do that.” And I said, “No, I’m a financial planner. I am not going to all of a sudden do something else to make money. My God, I’ll starve. I’ll eat rice and beans before I’m going to give up my ethics.”
And so it was a tough time because my wife is also self-employed, and so massage therapy is a luxury for a lot of people. And so the people who came every week started coming every other, the people who came every other came once a month. My clients did not leave me. That was the good thing. We talked so much. I did so much proactive. We had conversations all the time. But they took money out to pay off debt for their adult children, a lot of them. It wasn’t them who weren’t the savers, it was the next generation. They stopped putting money in their retirement. My small business owners couldn’t put more money in their retirement. So that pullback. So it hit me like a storm.
And at first, I thought it was my fault, “What had I done wrong?” I was actually the FPA president in 2013, but prior to that, I was a national president of a organization called WIFS, Women in Financial Services. And so I just stuck with my peers. And we did a lot with financial literacy programs, and we did a lot telling each other, “This is not our fault.” We did the best we could with the information we had. And what we’ll do is we will work hard going forward to make sure our clients have the best recollection out of this that we can.” And with that resilience then for myself, and I know some of my peers who are closest to me, we said, “We will build defensive practices where this will never happen again to us personally. So that I won’t be spending all of my discretionary, I won’t be bringing in clients that don’t fit 100%. I’ll just insulate myself so in case there’s another recession, which I have no control over, I won’t feel like such a failure.” Those were really tough times for me then.
I think sometimes I worry about what I say to people is sometimes is not sugarcoated and it’s taken wrong. So sometimes when I think about what I’ve done in the past that was negative or failure and some of my leadership roles, I’ve been too strong in my honest discussions. And so I try to look at that now and say, “How can I have a message that people can hear without being so confrontive?” Those were things that I know are my failings. But I think at the end, we’re all imperfect humans. And I follow Brené Brown like a cult. I just love a lot of the things she says. And I’m really trying to stick with her principles on “Dare to Lead” and try to make sure that my values that I try to have are also looking at unconscious bias and thinking, “Okay, Laura, where you said that was really not kind if you think about how you said it in the bigger scheme.” So I think we’re always learning from our failures, or at least I am trying.
Michael: So then, as you look back, anything you wish you’d done differently in building your firm in this journey? I’m particularly struck that early on you had mentioned a couple of times just the way that you handle a lot of issues differently now as you’ve aged and have more world experience than the way that you dealt with them in the past. So what do you know or have experienced now that you wish could go back and tell you from 20-plus years ago?
Laura: I’m not really one of those people that I have a lot of regrets. I think I show up in my truth of who I am today. And my younger self was a little more brash and wasn’t as polished and maybe didn’t hold her tongue like I do sometimes today, but I don’t know that I would do anything different. I’ve always been that kind of person that took the road less traveled. And so I know when I was talking to my dad about some discrimination I was feeling when my son was in high school, he said, “Laura, what do you expect? You’re telling people you’re a lesbian in this community. What do you expect?” And I was like, “Oh, well, I expect respect. I guess I expect that because I’m a parent, that I should have some respect because I’ve got a really good strong student here.” And he said, “No.” He said, “You’re doing things that are not approved of by all people in the culture. So you’ve got to expect some of that pushback.” And I said, “I think that’s crap.” I still think it’s crap.
I don’t really regret anything. My younger self was scrappier, and she definitely got into more fistfights than I do today, but she brought me here. She’s the warrior that came out of the woods from my childhood. And without her, I can’t stand strong. But I have to temper her because she will bite. And oftentimes it’s better just to bark some than to actually bite. And so I’m learning that, but I don’t regret it. I don’t regret what I’ve done or where I’ve came from. I actually harnessed it in.
What Advice She’d Give To Young LGBTQ Advisors And What Success Means To Her [1:47:49]
Michael: So is there any advice you’d give to younger advisors looking to come in today, and maybe LGBTQ young advisors in particular?
Laura: Yeah. I always say your voice matters. And I think it’s important to be authentic. I’m a really consistent person. I’m the same person at home as I am in public and with my children. And so I really think it’s important to be who you are fully. And there’s going to be parts of yourself you don’t like or parts of yourself you’re afraid of, bring them out and polish them up if you need to. But it’s all worth the risk. Because if you are comfortable with you and who you are, then you’ll find the people that accept you for who you are and will want to work with you. And there’s going to be people that don’t want to work with you. And really, in the long run, you don’t want to either. So I think you really need to just be who you are fully.
Find that nutritious circle of friends and family that build that tapestry. I think diversity makes us strong. I’ve always thought about that. And find those people that can help you develop and model what you want to be and who you want to be. But remember, you’re your unique self. That’s who you are. And you can’t…you don’t want to change who you are. You want to be brave enough to stay who you are. Brené Brown has that saying, “Stay brave, a little awkward and always kind.” And I have that on my desk. And being always kind is not one of the things that I find easy because I am a fighter, but I’m always trying, I’m trying. And so I think that’s what’s important. Be who you are fully and try to be open to how you develop yourself so you can make a difference. I think people in this business want to make a difference. That’s why we’re here. Some of them do want to just make money, but I think that’s a smaller portion. I really think we’re all social workers that are trying to find the resources needed to help people live their fullest life.
Michael: And for advisors who want to help find some of that community and role models, we talked at the beginning about the Rainbow Network that you’re building for advisors, I think initially within LPL, but looking to go broader. So if listeners are interested in being involved or connecting to that, what should they do? I don’t know if you have a website up yet or should they just reach out to you directly to get more information as it becomes available?
Laura: Yeah. I don’t have a website out yet. And Marci Bair and I are starting to sit down and talk about those things and get some outlines going. I have a lot of connections on LinkedIn, and I am active. So when people connect with me on LinkedIn, we’ve started a list trying to get things together there. LPL has started a LinkedIn group for LGBT community. And then on Twitter, of course, there’s followers, but really LinkedIn for professionals for myself would probably be the best way.
Michael: Again, this is episode 148, so if you go to kitces.com/148, we’ll have links out for Laura’s LinkedIn page as a way to contact her if you want to get in touch.
As we wrap up, Laura, this is a podcast about success, and one of the themes that always come up is even just the word “success” means different things to different people, sometimes different things to us as we go through the stages of our lives. And so you built this successful practice for yourself, gearing up now to sell it and succession out in the coming 10 years. But I’m wondering, how do you define success for yourself at this point?
Laura: I wake up every morning and say, “Who do I need to speak to today? Who do I need to be in conversation with?” And for me, success is knowing I showed up fully. It’s not necessarily the money. The money never scared me or prompted me, I guess because I wasn’t raised having money. So it just wasn’t. But I have a really good relationship, strong relationship, honest with my children, and developing with my grandchildren, with my spouse. I have a strong network of friends and some family that are there for me no matter what. And I just feel successful that way as a person. From where I came, I had a tough childhood, so from where I came and how I managed to find good, loving people to have full relationships, I’m still just in awe of that.
Michael: Well, amen. Well, I love the journey that you’ve been on and the way you’re bringing family in for the next stage of the business. It’s incredible journey.
Laura: Yeah, I’m really excited about it. It was not what I had anticipated, but I think it speaks about the success of a person when those closest to you want to be around you a lot.
Michael: Amen. Well, I think you’ve earned it. Well, thank you, Laura, for joining us on the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Laura: Well, thank you for inviting me. I just really appreciate everything you’re doing in the industry. And you just keep trying to find ways to connect us as well as question things that are happening that need to maybe have some light, and also to not just take one person’s answer for anything. I really like the way that you show up in our industry too, Michael. And I appreciate you inviting me here on the podcast. This has been an incredible conversation for me.
Michael: Well, my pleasure. Thank you.