When I was a senior working on my bachelor’s degree at the University of Dayton, I wanted to be a stockbroker. In the Fall of 1987, I was lucky enough to land an internship at the downtown Dayton office of Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith, Inc., and was it ever an eye opener! Like any unpaid intern, I did a lot of grunt work—filing, answering phones, filling out client forms, etc. But the most important aspect of that long-ago internship was the opportunity to observe the brokerage business. (I even happened to be in the office on the morning of October 19, 1987—also known as Black Monday—when the stock market lost nearly 23 percent [508 points] of its value in one day.)
What was the most valuable lesson I learned from that internship? Well, much to my surprise, I learned that I did NOT want to be a stockbroker. I learned that the job was—and still is—primarily a sales job. I have great respect for those who can make a living grinding away at making sales calls all day, but it’s definitely not for me. It’s not the act of “dialing for dollars” as much as it is the act of selling. Some individuals are just born salespeople. They love to talk to people, and they enjoy the challenge of manipulating others to behave in a particular way. I (kind of) wish that I could be a bit more like that, but I simply am not.
Jump forward to the day when I left my job of 21 years and wanted to become a financial planner. I searched for firms I would feel comfortable joining, and soon learned that—unless I arrived with my own book of business—selling would always go hand in hand with every financial planning job that crossed my path. I think that it’s strange to expect someone who is good at finance and investing to have a salesperson’s personality as well. They are diametrically opposite skill sets, but—nonetheless—the financial services industry is structured in just that illogical way. The desire to avoid the high-pressure sales environment was one of the reasons I’d decided to start my own firm, and—I’m happy to say—have not regretted that decision.
Several months ago, I attended a networking event where I met a woman who told me about a firm she represented in the local West Palm Beach area. The firm was woman-owned, growing rapidly, and she asked me if I would be interested in talking to the owner. While most meet-and-greets just turn out to be a chance to create new connections, I’m always open to potential opportunities. Since I was willing to learn about other local companies in my industry, I accepted her invitation. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised by what I learned! Leave it to a woman to build a firm like this!
First, it is one where the financial planning and money management services are separate from the business development (sales) functions. So people with good financial skills and knowledge—like me—are not intimidated or turned off by the requirement to sell.
Second, the money management services are based on a philosophy of passive management, and studies have shown that this approach is just as effective in the long run—if not more so—than actively managed portfolios. In fact, a March 12, 2015, CNN Money article stated that an S&P [Dow Jones Indices Scorecard] reported that “Nearly 89% of those [active large-cap] fund managers under performed their benchmarks over the past five years, and 82% did the same over the last decade.” Here’s my translation: My newly discovered firm cares more about providing clients with efficient, effective, low-cost investment management than employing a high-priced money manager and extracting high fees from clients.
Third, they do not sell insurance products disguised as investment vehicles or any other financial product that pays them a commission.
And, finally, they are family focused and recognize the importance of a good work-life balance so that everyone is able to go home at a reasonable hour. There is none of that macho unspoken culture that the later you work the better employee you are. The hardest I ever worked at the office was when I had three young children to come home to at the end of the day. That meant I had to get everything done between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. I’m sure that you’re familiar with the saying “If you want something done, give it to a working mom.”
But I digress…the point I’m trying to make here is that I’ve found a firm that is the type of enterprise I would want my own business to grow up to be. The firm, Castle Wealth Management, has invited me to join them, and I have accepted. This means that my small but much-loved Best Life Financial Planning operation will be closed. The good news is that I will continue to do the work I love to do, and will also maintain this blog on the new website, www.castlewm.com. Please follow me there…