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“It’s a manic business, the highs are high and the lows are low so always remember a new cycle is coming no matter what.”, with Courtney Altemus and Tyler Gallagher

My “tipping point” was the day I started enjoying the journey of my career and stopped focusing on outcomes. There are too many uncontrollable factors that determine ultimate outcomes and it can be self-defeating to adjust behavior and attitudes according to outcomes. I have goals, I have a plan, I adjust my plan and I […]

My “tipping point” was the day I started enjoying the journey of my career and stopped focusing on outcomes. There are too many uncontrollable factors that determine ultimate outcomes and it can be self-defeating to adjust behavior and attitudes according to outcomes. I have goals, I have a plan, I adjust my plan and I execute. Once I started keeping my focus on my goals, adjusting my performance to put me in the best possible situation to achieve those goals and maintaining my focus on execution of my plan, the outcomes were better than I could’ve ever expected them to be.

As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or adviser, I had the pleasure of interviewing Courtney Altemus. Courtney started TeamAltemus in 2017 to provide financial advisor due diligence and financial literacy education to athletes. After a few decades on Wall Street, first as an investment banker then private wealth manager, Courtney decided to start her own unbiased business that doesn’t manage money nor is it associated with any companies that do. Courtney brings a unique and valuable skill set of extensive study and experience in finance (MBA Finance) and human behavior (BS Organizational Behavior Management, English minor). She believes that without the ability to empathize with and understand an individual, all the financial knowledge in the world isn’t going to help that individual achieve their financial goals. As a Director of Wealth Management, she had helped professional athletes make investment decisions for years but only after educating them extensively about finances. The endless and sad stories of athletes going broke and/or being defrauded by other investment advisors was frustrating to watch since Courtney had been able to help so many athletes avoid those pitfalls. She realized the only way to reach more athletes was to release her securities licenses and create a new space. TeamAltemus, instead of managing assets, helps clients vet and monitor their advisors. The team also teaches financial literacy and financial advisor due diligence to collegiate student-athletes. TeamAltemus wants to change the narrative and ensure that only positive stories are associated with athletes and money. During her investment career, Courtney worked at Barclays, Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse and DLJ. She began her career at Wells Fargo in commercial and investment banking. She has served on the Alumni and Business Advisory Boards at La Salle University and as an advisor to the World Series of Entrepreneurship.


Thank you so much for doing this with us, Courtney! 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?

I’ve always been interested human behavior and psychology and I began my undergraduate studies as a psychology major. I quickly realized that intense study in science was not for me but I discovered my fascination with economics, the markets and business. I was thrilled to learn that I could combine my curiosity for human behavior and business by pursuing my BS in Business, Organizational Behavior Management. I had no idea what industry I wanted to work in when I entered the workforce so a position in a commercial banking management training program seemed logical to me. I thought if I spent a few years learning about all different industries through the world of corporate lending, I would find my calling in one of those businesses. The thought of staying in banking for the next few decades never entered my mind!

I came to learn in the world of corporate banking, to be successful I had to study new businesses every day. I had to understand their models, functions and fundamentals in order to understand what they needed to excel relative to their peers in their respective industries. This was far more exciting for me than specializing in any of the industries and verticals I structured deals for. I went back to school for my MBA in Finance because I thought Investment Banking was my calling. I loved the challenge of learning enough about the clients’ businesses and their needs while concurrently understanding enough about every area of the bank to structure the best solutions every time.

A funny thing happened on the way to my MBA in Finance while I was continuing my investment banking career by day and pursuing my degree at night. I realized this business of solving financial challenges for other businesses was highly dependent upon one’s ability to understand people. When I incorporated my human behavior studies with strategy and number-crunching, my success and enjoyment in my career went to a new level. I loved this combination of business, markets and people so much, I decided to formally add the study of the people who ran the businesses to my everyday work and pivoted to wealth management. This meant I still had the exciting challenge of learning about the clients’ businesses and I had the added challenge of understanding how these businesses impacted their personal lives and their families. I still had to understand enough about every area of the bank to structure the best solutions for these people and their families. Wealth Management on Wall Street was the ideal combination of a role in which I had to tap into my financial expertise, markets and solutions expertise and my ability to understand human behavior to help people solve challenges!

During my 20+ years on Wall Street I had the opportunity to work with professional athletes in addition to the entrepreneurs and corporate executives. Anecdotally, I noticed these professional athletes make more responsible life decisions as they made more responsible financial decisions. I also realized I could have a big positive impact on futures and their families by teaching them alongside advising them financially. I thought I could change the narrative about athletes and money by growing my pro athlete client base. By trying to reach more athletes as prospective clients, I identified the need for unbiased financial literacy education and financial advisor due diligence for athletes. Their careers are unique, they’re preyed upon more than the general investor population and they typically don’t have much exposure to the world of personal finance and investing; they don’t know what they don’t know. The definition of my role as an investment advisor meant I couldn’t accurately claim I was completely unbiased. I released my securities licenses and TeamAltemus was born. We created the space of delivering unbiased expertise from former financial advisors and athletes.

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?

My first 6 months in the Wealth Management industry was spent in DLJ’s MBA training program, modeled after the highly successful MBA training programs on Wall Street that started some of the most successful careers. The training methods of these programs were also fuel for infamous books and movies. While the methods were constructive and effective, the execution of those methods were sometimes inappropriate, offensive and counter-productive. I was fortunate enough to experience a program run by a brilliant man who managed to run a grueling and highly effective financial boot-camp while staying (for the most part) within boundaries of professionalism at that time.

Every Tuesday during that 6 months, he conducted impromptu mock sales situations. The unlucky weekly “volunteers” were assigned a scenario and had two minutes to prepare a call. The first time I was volunteered, I had to make a cold call pitch. The call was broadcast on the speaker system in the office. I was terrible, made just about every mistake I could’ve possibly made.

When the call ended and I stepped into the room where the rest of my cohort and the program director had been listening, I was mortified. The director immediately started screaming at me. He was frenetically pacing the room and yelling a list of mistakes I had made. I was listening intently, trying to learn and not reacting. My lack of reaction apparently caused him extreme frustration. He departed from all professionalism and screamed, “You’re so stupid, your kids will never eat!”

It was such a shockingly outrageous statement that the whole room erupted in laughter. Even the director had to laugh at himself. I learned his outsized reaction was due to high expectations of me because of my intelligence and good performance thus far in the program. The strategies and concepts I learned in that exercise have remained ingrained in my brain. I also created a self-assessment benchmark for the rest of my career; if my kids were eating (i.e., I was providing for my family), a tough day wasn’t as bad as it felt and a good day was a great day.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My most exciting project is the business I’ve started. Our first competitor surfaced earlier this year which is validating and also scary. Establishing the space is going to help athletes (and other investors) make more informed decisions when choosing financial advisors and monitoring their ongoing performance. Advisors will work with more educated clients who will have more reasonable expectations in both good and bad markets.

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?

My “tipping point” was the day I started enjoying the journey of my career and stopped focusing on outcomes. There are too many uncontrollable factors that determine ultimate outcomes and it can be self-defeating to adjust behavior and attitudes according to outcomes. I have goals, I have a plan, I adjust my plan and I execute. Once I started keeping my focus on my goals, adjusting my performance to put me in the best possible situation to achieve those goals and maintaining my focus on execution of my plan, the outcomes were better than I could’ve ever expected them to be.

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?

1) It’s a manic business, the highs are high and the lows are low so always remember a new cycle is coming no matter what.

2) Don’t get mired in the data. Convert it to meaningful information, use it to help you and move on.

3) If and until the entire finance industry is automated, people will be differentiators

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?

1) Don’t rush: a little extra time with your cash earning an insignificant interest rate is always, always better than losing money due to the wrong choice for a financial advisor.

2) When considering prior performance, pay attention to outperformance on the downside.

3) And again regarding prior performance, it doesn’t guarantee and only sometimes indicates future performance. Find out how a potential advisor rebalances after outsized performance on both the downside and upside.

4) It’s important to choose someone who is a good listener but more importantly, a good listener who also empathizes.

5) Find out how the advisor is compensated.

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?

It is critical to start the hiring process as soon as one has any amount of money to invest. Even if an investor doesn’t have enough investable assets for a full-service advisor, if the best advice isn’t sought early the investor may never accumulate enough assets to hire a full-service advisor. There are an abundance of online tools that offer a hybrid model of technology and human input to help investors when they’re first starting. It’s so important to start developing good habits early.

As in any service business, different types of advisors are appropriate for different levels of investable assets and wealth. The due diligence and ongoing monitoring process is lifelong. Every meeting with a prospective advisor is a learning opportunity. It’s critical for an investor to have an objective expert to help with assessments throughout their investor life-cycle.

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?

Janet Hanson was the first female sales manager at Goldman Sachs. After leaving Goldman, she formed 85 Broads which became a global network of 30,000 women in finance. Additionally she was co-founder of Milestone Capital which she ultimately sold to Lehman Brothers and joined the firm as an advisor to the President on women’s and diversity issues. Janet is a brilliant financier, an awesome human being, incredible Mother and steadfast champion of women.

I am incredibly fortunate to know her and forever grateful for her mentorship and advice. There are too many stories of her guidance and support of me to pick just one to share. However, there’s a story of a story she told me that has had a lasting impact and undoubtedly help fuel my success along the way. She recalled for me the day her boss at Goldman Sachs announced her promotion to sales manager. There was an epic celebration on the trading floor since she was the very first female to be elevated to such a role at Goldman. Champagne flowed and it was a rare time that everyone on the floor was relaxed and celebrating. Janet was elated beyond measure and left work that day on the ultimate career high. When she returned the next morning, there was a note on her chair from her boss. It simply asked, “What have you done for me lately?” Janet recalling this story to me was the most impactful way to teach me to acknowledge the highs and lows of a career in finance but always be ready for the next cycle/chapter to begin.

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. 🙂

Starting my business is my attempt to inspire a movement. As I mentioned before, professional athletes are preyed upon for financial fraud at a much higher rate than the general investing public and their careers are very unique. Unless an athlete was raised in a family that taught them about saving and investing, they’ve never been exposed to it. They typically receive outsized compensation at a very young age. Because of the time demands in the career of an elite athlete, they don’t have time to even learn what they need to know to conduct due diligence on financial advisors. By all means, they don’t have time to perform adequate due diligence on financial advisors.

Without proper financial advisor due diligence for athletes, the exceedingly high rates of financial ruin will continue to dominate stories of athletes and money. Our next generation of investors is watching and learning from the negative stories about athletes and money. Changing the narrative is imperative if we want to instill good financial foundations for the future.

The beautiful thing about this due diligence process is it applies to all investors. By starting with the investor population that needs it the most and has significant influence in the media, an awareness of the need for due diligence and ongoing monitoring of financial advisors will spread to all investors. This will bring the most amount of positive change to the most people.

Asking a trusted friend or family member for recommendations for advisors is not conducting due diligence. It is but one method of compiling a list of prospective financial advisors. Increased savings rates boost economic prosperity. A strong economy fuels growth, productivity and the best opportunities to succeed to the most amount of people.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@TeamAltemus

team-altemus.com

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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