If you are in or approaching a point of transition and don’t know where to turn, seek out a financial advisor. Relying on Google for answers to complex questions isn’t smart because a financial mistake today could have serious ramifications 10 or 20 years from now. Whether you have massive student loan debt to pay off or are going through a divorce, there is an advisor available to serve you.
As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or adviser, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Meyer. Deborah L. Meyer, CPA/PFS, CFP®, is the author of Redefining Family Wealth: A Parent’s Guide to Purposeful Living. Deborah also owns WorthyNest®, a fee-only financial planning and investment advisory firm that helps parents build wealth, and SV CPA Services, an accounting and tax firm for forward-thinking entrepreneurs. Deborah has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and CNN Business and is a contributor to Kiplinger. She is a 2019 CPA Practice Advisor “40 Under 40 Honoree” in Accounting and received the 2018 AICPA Standing Ovation Award. Outside of work, Deborah spends time with her husband Bryan and three sons.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Deborah! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks for having me!
My career began in public accounting at Deloitte, providing tax compliance and consulting services to small business owners and corporate executives. When many of my mentors left the firm in 2006, it was time to expand my professional horizons.
Next, I joined Matter Family Office (then Financial Management Partners) and learned a tremendous amount about the financial services industry, the different compensation models, and servant leadership.
I left Matter Family Office seven years later to pursue better work / life balance. My husband was working full-time while enrolled in a rigorous MBA program, and we had two young kids. The hectic pace of life was unsustainable.
SV CPA Services emerged as a side business in 2014. It wasn’t until two years later that I had the courage to start my own Registered Investment Advisory firm, WorthyNest®, from scratch. It’s my personal mission to help parents build wealth without compromising their values. My book Redefining Family Wealth is another extension of that mission.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
Sure — although it is very personal. Shortly after joining Matter Family Office, I asked one of my mentors about “next steps” in the profession. He encouraged me to pursue the Certified Financial PlannerTM, or CFP® designation.
After nearly a year of studying, I felt prepared. The exam had not yet been converted to a multi-part computerized test; it was still two full days of pen and paper. The night before Day 1 of the exam, I couldn’t sleep. Nausea and anxiousness got the best of me.
Ironically, it wasn’t just a case of test nerves. I was pregnant with my first son!
The lesson? Don’t make assumptions without having the facts. It’s easy to let emotion drive your decision-making, but logic is also key.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! My vision for Redefining Family Wealth is bigger than one book. I want to help thousands of parents build wealth in alignment with their personal and spiritual values. To that end, my firm will be developing online courses and launching a podcast in 2020. Additionally, I expect to write other books down the road.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
Success is a journey, not a destination. Many of us spend time searching for the next big thing. We trap ourselves into thinking “If I only do or have this, I’ll be able to achieve that.” This mentality can make you feel like a victim … like you’re missing some magic ingredient. Instead, focus on gratitude for the good things already happening in your life. You’ll be a lot happier!
Success also means different things to different people. I feel most successful when my faith and relationships with my husband and kids are strong. Work is just icing on the cake. Sure, there are moments where an accolade or achievement makes me feel “successful.” But that moment isn’t long-lasting. Success in my professional life means serving clients better and finding new ways to help others.
Whatever your definition of success, celebrate the small wins. Sweeping change isn’t made in a day. Healthy habits will serve you well in the long run.
What three pieces of advice would you give to your colleagues in the finance field to thrive and avoid burnout? Can you give a story or example?
Here are my three pieces of advice to thrive in the finance field (and really any profession):
- Recognize that not everyone will look like you or share the same worldview.
The financial services industry is fairly homogenous. Approximately 23% of the 85,000 CFP® professionals are women, and that statistic has been holding steady for at least 10 years. The racial diversity statistics are even more grim: only 3.5% of CFP® professionals in 2017 were black or Latino.
Our industry NEEDS diversity in gender, race, and ideological perspectives. Just because you look or act differently from someone else does not mean that you don’t deserve a seat at the table. It’s this uniqueness that will help a potential or current client form a deeper bond with you.
2. Examine your values.
So many of us try to bifurcate our personal and professional lives. I think that is a mistake. Your best professional self will emerge when you are living in alignment with personal values. Or, said another way, you will burnout or become disengaged if your job requires you to repeatedly contradict your values. It is challenging to excel professionally if one of your top priorities is family, but you are slaving away at work 50 or more hours per week.
Here’s another example: you are pro-life for religious reasons, but your boss asks you to facilitate a charitable contribution to Planned Parenthood on your client’s behalf. What do you do in this situation? I experienced that dilemma firsthand and compromised my personal values in the process. Although I regret my decision now, I didn’t feel there was even a choice and never voiced concerns to my boss.
The financial services industry is hungry for talented, hard-working employees. Make sure the cultural fit with an organization is right from the start and reassess it every couple of years.
3. It’s OK to say no.
Any career changer or newbie to the industry knows there is an invisible hurdle you must climb to garner respect from more seasoned coworkers. And while it’s important to work hard and learn as much as you can (particularly in the early days), there comes a certain point where the amount of available work exceeds your capacity to complete it. Bosses typically reward high-performing team members with — you guessed it — extra work.
Eventually, you must graciously say “no thank you” to the additional workload. If you become physically ill or your family relationships suffer, that is often a red flag that you’re well on your way to burnout or already there.
Ok. Thank you for all of that. Let’s now move to the core focus of our interview. As an “finance insider”, you know much more about the finance industry than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to hire a financial advisor (not you :-)), which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing? Can you give an example or story for each?
Conduct research online.
You can tell a lot about a financial advisor from his or her online presence. Is the website up to date? Can you find her on LinkedIn? Does he have any disciplinary history? FINRA’s Broker Check is a free tool and an excellent starting point to see if the advisor has any skeletons in his closet.
Don’t be discouraged if you cannot find the advisor on Broker Check right away. It took me a few attempts to pull up my own record; typing my legal name and firm name did the trick. Then, because I am an Investment Advisor Representative rather than Broker, there is a redirection to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website.
Ask “are you held to a fiduciary standard at all times?”
A professional is following the fiduciary standard when he or she acts in your best interest. The suitability standard held by many traditional brokers is more lenient.
Below is an example for women.
Suppose you walk into a store to buy a new dress. One catches your eye, and you proceed to the fitting room. As you glance at yourself in the mirror, you notice that the color makes you look a little pale and does not look great around your midsection. But you’re shopping alone and know that fitting room mirrors can be deceiving. You step outside and ask the fitting room clerk for a second opinion, “How does this dress look on me?”
If the fitting room clerk is operating under a suitability standard, she may say something like, “It looks nice. I think you should buy it.”
If instead the fitting room clerk is held to the higher fiduciary standard, she can only recommend a dress that looks fantastic on you (it’s in your best interest). The fiduciary clerk may respond, “Hmmm. I like this dress on you but think this other one may look even better.” You try on the new dress and love it. The color is perfect, and it fits wonderfully.
The fitting room clerk is salaried. Under either standard, she doesn’t have a financial incentive to recommend one dress over another. Yet if held to the fiduciary standard, her recommendation must be in your best interest.
So, how do you know if an advisor is held to a fiduciary standard — without directly asking him? The rules recently changed with a new Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct. This industry standard means all Certified Financial PlannerTM (CFP®) professionals will always be required to act as fiduciaries or risk losing their license.
Find out how the advisor is compensated.
As established in the prior point, look for a Certified Financial PlannerTM to ensure your financial advisor is held to a fiduciary standard. Even better, find one who is “fee-only” and doesn’t work on commission. National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (“NAPFA”) is the leading association of professionals whose only source of compensation comes directly from you, the client. In other words, advice and compensation are totally independent of product recommendations.
Fee-based advisors sound a lot like fee-only advisors but operate quite differently. Fee-based advisors can accept fees for their guidance and investment oversight but also can receive commissions on specific products like annuities, life insurance policies, and loaded mutual funds. This could create a conflict of interest for the fee-based advisor. If he has the choice between selling an annuity and earning a more substantial commission than one on a passive exchange-traded fund, he may suggest the annuity. Fee-only advisors provide an extra level of transparency.
Understand if you fit the profile of an ideal client.
Some advisory firms say they specialize in working with “individuals, families, women in transition, physicians, attorneys” and so on. Can you tell the irony in my voice? They’re not really excluding anyone. Larger advisory firms can get away with this one-size-fits-all mentality but only if they have specializations within the firm.
A financial advisor at a smaller established firm should have a clear idea of the niche — the unique segment of clients they are best apt to serve. This ideal client segment can be any number of things. Through XY Planning Network, I know of an advisor that serves pro fisherman and a different advisor focused on women in tech. The niche need not be defined exclusively by profession or income, though.
My niche is married Christian parents who want to build wealth in alignment with personal and spiritual values. Shortly after starting my firm WorthyNest®, I worked with a single guy who had no kids. It was a poor fit because I couldn’t relate to him at all. Our conversations were surface-level, unlike the deep ones I have with clients who fit my ideal profile.
Think about why you’re hiring an advisor, and ask specific questions related to your concerns.
Most of us don’t wake up in a cold sweat and think “I need to hire a financial advisor” today. You are likely in a state of flux or preparing for an upcoming transition. This transition could be any number of things: retirement in five years, sending your child to college in two years, welcoming a baby into the family, divorce, or an unexpected loss of a loved one.
Arm yourself with questions that are specific to your stage of life.
If your oldest daughter is a junior in high school and plans to attend college, ask the advisor about his experience with FAFSA (the application for financial aid).
Perhaps you inherited a sizable amount of money and want to know the best way to invest it. In that case, inquire about the advisor’s investment philosophy.
As you prepare for an early retirement, ask the advisor about medical insurance options between the target retirement date and Medicare eligibility. Find out if she has planning software to show you different “what-if” scenarios, varying the projected retirement age, expenses, or annual savings prior to retirement.
I think most people think that financial advisors are for very wealthy people. This is likely not actually true. Can you explain who would most benefit from hiring a financial advisor and why? Can you give an example?
Unfortunately, this myth is prevalent. But it’s just a myth. If you are in or approaching a point of transition and don’t know where to turn, seek out a financial advisor. Relying on Google for answers to complex questions isn’t smart because a financial mistake today could have serious ramifications 10 or 20 years from now. Whether you have massive student loan debt to pay off or are going through a divorce, there is an advisor available to serve you.
I am proud to be part of XY Planning Network because each member is a sworn fiduciary. We are here to serve clients, regardless of age or asset level. Many advisory firms exclusively work with retirees or pre-retirees who already have a substantial amount of financial assets. XY Planning Network advisors typically work with clients in the asset accumulation stage — helping clients with cash flow management, insurance evaluation, estate planning, tax mitigation, investment strategy, and more.
Also, do not assume that you must work with a financial advisor your entire life. Advisors at Garrett Planning Network and select advisors at XY Planning Network agree to work on an hourly or project basis.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That’s a tough question. There are so many people who have influenced me in a special way.
As a child, it was my mom and dad who encouraged me to “be anything” and try new things. Now as an adult, my husband Bryan is my rock. He is there with me through every tough decision or joyous celebration. I come up with new ideas often, and Bryan is my sounding board. He helps me determine which ideas to pursue.
Professionally, I’m grateful to Don Poling, Jason Rule, Kathy Lintz and Susan Jones. Not only are they smart, but they are also wonderful teachers.
Finally, Jeff Goins. His book The Art of Work shifted my perspective on work, turning it from a job to true calling. Jeff has been instrumental in my journey as a writer, even coaching me on the outline of Redefining Family Wealth.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In St. Louis, there’s a Christian radio station named JoyFM. Hosts frequently bring callers on the line to share how they “spread some joy” or are the recipient of joy.
For example, suppose you are in the McDonald’s drive-thru on your way to work in the morning. Instead of simply paying for your order, you add an extra $10 to your payment and give the cashier a paper certificate (to hand to the next customer). The certificate reads “you just got joyed.” When a recipient of joy calls into the station, the level of gratitude and awe in their voice is palpable.
I’d love to see this movement spread beyond St. Louis. Are you with me?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Thanks again for having me.