Don’t be too conservative. Most people end up too conservative when they don’t really understand the different investments available. After taking the proper steps to set up an emergency fund, take the time to learn as much as you can, and with the knowledge you’ve gained try to put long term money to work in a way that provides the highest growth potential . If you’re unsure, talk to a professional, but don’t just hand money over. Try to really learn along the way.
As a part of my series about the The 5 Essentials of Smart Investing, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wes Garner. Wes is the President of TDECU Wealth Advisors located at Texas Dow Employees Credit Union (TDECU), a not-for-profit financial cooperative with more than 303,000 members and over $3.2 billion in assets. As leader of TDECU’s wealth management division, Wes Garner strives to make a positive impact on the financial health of his clients and colleagues through relevant, high-quality advice.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Wes! Can you tell us the backstory about what brought you to the finance industry?
In college, my brother — who had recently graduated and started a construction company as a straight-out-of-college entrepreneur — told me I needed to learn more about how money worked in real life and that I needed to learn early. He gave me a book to read that detailed how saving and investing just 10 percent of your income could help the average person retire a comfortable millionaire. This really opened my eyes to what was possible for the average person if they planned ahead, started early, and were disciplined. It also made me wonder what could happen if people had help along the way, and so I searched to see if there was a career path to do just that. My first job out of college was the role of financial advisor.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
Over the years, I have had many amusing, interesting, and comical experiences, especially in the beginning when I had to figure out how to meet potential clients and convince people that some kid straight out of college could help them with their finances. I ended up talking to anyone who would talk to me. This wasn’t the best prospecting strategy, but I met some really interesting people.
A client scenario a little further out in time that many people found interesting and a little funny was when I was working with a couple that were aging and were at a point to set up their estate planning. They had many millions and were never going to spend it all, but they did not have kids or anyone they really cared to leave money. When it came time to decide who to leave their money to, I was very surprised to hear they wanted to leave it to their poodle, and they were quite serious about this. Now, this raised all sorts of questions that would need to be addressed, but what started as a really unusual discussion allowed me to find out what was important to them, which was very much their dog. However, they had kind hearts and liked the idea of helping others. In the end, we talked about some ways to potentially set up an animal care foundation that could benefit a lot of animals rather than simply leaving more than $10 million dollars directly to their poodle and a caretaker. We were also able to identify some charities that resonated with them and work on making some pledges that would benefit others. I’m glad the benefits of our conversations on this topic will extend to many others.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am always working on new projects, but a current focus is growing our team and attracting younger staff as well. The average age of financial advisors is pretty high because there just aren’t a lot of new entrants to the industry — certainly not in the volumes from the 1990s and early 2000s. Many new advisors from then were actually transitioning in from another industry as a second career.
Right now, we hear more from advisors eyeing retirement than there are looking to join. Retiring as an advisor is also one of those things that is easier said than done and there just aren’t a lot of new people to pick up where they left off. To solve this challenge, we began training people as an entry point into the industry. We are currently hiring and developing the next generation of advisors for our team, while also becoming a destination to help current advisors in the industry create a plan for retirement and succession. By training people brand new to the industry, our team is evolving and we are attracting advisors with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives. We are finding people ready to take a fresh look at the industry and energized by the opportunity to build upon its strengths. By training people that might not otherwise consider working in a difficult-to-survive industry, we are better able to match our markets and prepare for the future.
According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience, what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers?
In a lot of ways, society has become very focused on instant gratification. Even with the many stories of professional athletes, celebrities, and lottery winners losing everything they own, many just do not want to invest time in education.
When I graduated college, I could read a financial statement, but I didn’t really understand how my behavior around money would be a factor in my own personal financial success. I grew up in this industry and had significant mentors so I was fortunate to be able to manage my finances correctly without making big mistakes. More needs to be done in schools to teach personal finance to enable the next generation to understand the rewards and consequences related to financial decision-making.
If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
I would recommend these three things:
● Making personal finance courses in high school a priority. Young adults need to learn what financial responsibility means before they get tempted by the opportunity to finance their lifestyle early in life. Young people that take on a lot of credit card debt may not really understand the effects it can have and how easily it can spin out of control. They also need to better understand what the positive long-term effects of saving and investing can have on their lives.
● Require high school students to pass a personal finance course before allowing students to qualify for college loans. Students really need to understand what the debt burden will be in the long run and that their decisions regarding education debt may need to be managed for a decade or two until their loans are paid off.
● Require future homeowners to pass a financial soundness education course prior to receiving government-subsidized financing. Getting a loan is not even close to the true cost of homeownership, when you also think about the cost of maintenance, improvements, furniture, and other items not obvious to first-time homebuyers. An educational requirement would help people to understand these things in advance, especially if they need a special program to qualify. It would likely help people make smarter decisions about how they go about the new home purchase.
If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive essentials for smart Investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
● Save first and spend the rest. If you save what you need, based on a well-thought-out strategy, you won’t have to feel guilty about the not-so-practical purchases that most people will make. This provides a real sense of control and freedom to spend without sacrificing the long-term goals. People tend to build a better balance this way and often make better decisions over the long run.
● Build an emergency fund, not just for the setback they think could happen, but for the thing they didn’t know could happen because it will. I have talked to so many people that tell me they were in great financial shape until something they didn’t think would happen did and they had a very difficult time recovering. Often, it wasn’t that huge of an expense, but it was enough that it derailed their finances. I have met many people that never knew they would need to help friends or family the way they did. It wasn’t in the plan, but something they felt they had to do.
● Don’t think in only short- and long-term scenarios. Think through the stages of life. It’s not all about emergency savings and retirement. Really think about life and plan for the big purchases and plan for the freedom to make big purchases that you might not know you will seek later on. Talk to a variety of people 10 years ahead of you and talk about their lifestyles, things they’ve learned, and what they would do differently. Ask what they spent money on that they didn’t know they would need.
● Money is usually hard to earn and easy to spend. Before making any investment decision, it would help to make a pro/con list. Think about when you will need the money, what could go right, what could go wrong, and make a decision based on common sense. How much will it help if it works in your favor? Never make a rushed decision on someone’s advice without understanding what you are doing, but don’t put investing on the back burner for the day that never seems to come.
● Don’t be too conservative. Most people end up too conservative when they don’t really understand the different investments available. After taking the proper steps to set up an emergency fund, take the time to learn as much as you can, and with the knowledge you’ve gained try to put long term money to work in a way that provides the highest growth potential . If you’re unsure, talk to a professional, but don’t just hand money over. Try to really learn along the way.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to a large number of people, but I have had some mentors along the way even if they didn’t know that’s what they were.
I’ve learned a lot from my parents and my brother. My parents weren’t wealthy, but made my brother and me a priority without spoiling us. I can easily think back on how my parents made decisions and the sacrifices they made for the family. They were hard workers and disciplined, and I learned a lot from that. I learned from my brother how to start and grow a business. There isn’t a more challenging undertaking than learning about the key financial decisions that come with starting and running a business. Small businesses don’t usually become successful overnight, but they can be very rewarding.
My wife, who I met when she was an advisor at the same firm we both started at, provides a different perspective for me. I met her very early in both our careers and she gave me so much support along the way. This industry wasn’t known for high numbers of success rates. We were on 100 percent commission, were young, and did not have a huge network. Emotional support is so important when building a career in a tough industry. She helped me stay focused and not get overwhelmed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I once heard, “Don’t be upset by the results from the work you didn’t do.”
Life is about hard work and I’ve always worked hard, but sometimes, it may just feel like others have it easy. Whenever I see something I didn’t think was possible, it is almost always the result of an incredible amount of sustained commitment and effort. I like to learn how people leverage their hard work, and what I’ve found is incredible results usually originate from a powerful “why.”
What I learned is to make sure I know why I am putting in the hard work, and work hard at what I enjoy. With enough hard work, people can succeed in any walk of life. Without hard work and without purpose, the negative creeps in. It’s important to keep out the negative. When I can translate things I don’t want to do into improving the lives of my family, clients, and employees, then my perspective changes into something that feels a little easier to deal with. If I can’t translate things into a powerful “why,” then I need to start asking myself some tough questions about the big-picture focus.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a financial education movement, I think it would help so many people. Most people I talk to don’t have a love for money, even the wealthiest people I know, but financially successful people tend to have an appreciation of what money can do for the activities and people they love. Financial freedom creates real freedom of choice. To even start down a path of financial freedom, the average person needs a better understanding of how that can happen.
Thank you for all of these great insights!