Our firm's 20th anniversary is this week, so naturally, we're reflecting on our journey so far. Of course, a lot has changed since Ken first opened his doors on March 14, 2000. But more important to us are the values that haven't changed since our founding. They're central to who we are, and to why we do what we do every working day.
Fee-Only, Starting Day One
"From the 1990s, when I first thought about going into financial planning," says Ken, "I knew I wanted to be a fee-only advisor. It was obvious that this was the most important commitment to make to remove conflicts of interest between the advisor and the client."
Many commission-compensated salespeople insist they are unswayed by the financial product sales that make money for them. Some of our clients' prior experiences tell a different story, one that suggests that, too often, a commission does influence the transaction an advisor recommends. And because a person may be unconscious of such biases, we chose to commit ourselves to a compensation model that aligns our interests with those of our clients as closely as possible.
So, if you detect a note of pride when we say we never take commissions from anyone at any time for anything, there's a good reason for that. In 20 years, we've been offered a commission exactly once. Our response: "Send it to the client."1
Fiduciary, Because You Deserve Nothing Less
In the past several years, consumers have begun asking us a question we hadn't heard before: "Are you fiduciary financial planners?"
Yes, we are. We've been fiduciary financial planners for 20 years. It's a big reason we joined the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners (ACP), an organization that's been teaching professionals to be fiduciary, fee-only advisors for a quarter-century, starting long before many consumers knew to ask about the fiduciary standard.
It's true that investment and insurance sales gave birth to financial planning, which explains the profession's emphasis on commissions. But no matter what steps competitors may take to water down the term fiduciary or to legitimize their own practices, we will continue to focus relentlessly on one question: "What is in the best interest of the client?"
Holistic, the Way Your Life Is
When Ken began studying financial planning, it didn't take long for him to realize that people needed help with a lot more than their investments. Many households need someone to coordinate all the different salespeople and professionals influencing their wealth: stockbrokers, tax preparers, lawyers, insurance agents, lenders, and more.
"It's a lot like scheduling," says Ken. "I learned to use just one calendar because whether I was setting up a business meeting or a personal appointment, as a friend once explained to me, 'It's all one life'."
Whether we're coordinating the work of other professionals or overseeing the client's own efforts toward their goals, we believe the holistic approach takes less of the client's effort to produce a better financial plan, where all the distinct parts work in harmony with each other.
Accomplishments and Clients We're Proud Of
Sure, the firm has come a long way. There have been new team members and new offices, awards2 and books. But what makes us even more proud and what keeps us coming back every workday is summed up in our firm's motto:
Taking the anxiety out of our client's financial life is why we're here. We want to help you think about your financial situation just enough that the rest of the time, you can comfortably put it out of your mind.
And our favorite successes aren't just about moving assets to less-costly investments, or getting another year's tax return out of the way, or helping to close a dangerous gap in auto insurance coverage. They're not even in steering clients clear of costly mistakes in investments, in taxes, and in life. Our favorite successes are in helping clients see that getting on the road their goal isn't that difficult; that everyone experiences setbacks, but there's a clear, well-traveled path to get back on track; and that getting to that place, where you don't have to worry about money, is often closer than you think.
To All Our Clients: Thank You.
If there's one thing we've never quite known how to put into words, it's that there is no greater honor for us than to be your guide on your journey. To all our clients, thank you for the last 20 years. Here's to the next 20, and all the adventures ahead, for us and for all of you.
1 We'd helped a client find an employee benefit plan for their small business, but the provider was used to paying a referral fee. They said they couldn't send it to the client, a fact that we think says something about how the commission-compensated world works in financial services.