James LaHam: “YBe sure you understand how they will be paid”

You want an advisor that can always relate to your current life stage and financial situations and understands your lifetime goals and desires. As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or adviser, I had the pleasure of interviewing James LaHam. James LaHam is the senior tax and […]

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You want an advisor that can always relate to your current life stage and financial situations and understands your lifetime goals and desires.

As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or adviser, I had the pleasure of interviewing James LaHam.

James LaHam is the senior tax and financial consultant of Berman Hopkins Wright & LaHam CPAs, the largest independently owned CPA firm in Central Florida. He was also managing partner for 15 years. His previous experience includes vice president of taxation at American Pioneer Orlando, senior tax manager at Deloitte, partner at Braun Preboske, LaHam & Brettingen in Antigo, WI, corporate accountant at 3M Company and staff accountant at KPMG. He is an expert in taxation and financial consulting, a frequent writer, speaker and trainer on various tax and financial topics, and an author of several books, including the entertaining and insightful personal finance guide, “Financial Planning Revolutionized.” He currently lives in Melbourne, Florida. To learn more about LaHam and his work, please visit

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?

Even as a young kid, I understood the value and power of money in terms of opening doors and making life easier for me and my family. I began working in earnest when I was 14 years old.

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?

As a young CPA, I settled an IRS case for a very wealthy client and told him we settled on a proposed assessment of 180,000 dollars for 35,000 dollars. I thought he would be ecstatic, but he yelled at me and told me that if I was so happy settling for 35,000 dollars, that I should pay it.

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

I am working on training and mentoring young people on finance and taxation and hope to do that on a national basis.

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?

I used to tell people what I thought they should do. That was wrong. You should only give them all of the facts and options and let them make the call.

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?

Do not take life too seriously. Do not take on and live with problems your clients have created for themselves.

Understand that there will be recessions and difficult times. Enjoy the good times and anticipate and learn to accept difficult times as they will pass.

As an example, I used to get extremely stressed out telling a client they owed a lot of money until I came to realize that they likely made a lot of money or caused their own problem. It was not my doing.

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. Ask how long they have been in the business, and how long have they been with their current company.
  2. Find out if they are legally operating as a fiduciary, which means they must always act in your best interest.
  3. Be sure you understand how they will be paid. I recommend a fee-only advisor, which means you only pay one fee, say based on assets under management, and not commissions and a fee on top of that.
  4. Be cautious of advisor that plays to your religious, political or social interests, as they could have bad motives by appealing to your emotions. Be intensely wary of anyone guaranteeing results like Bernie Madoff did.
  5. You want an advisor that can always relate to your current life stage and financial situations and understands your lifetime goals and desires.

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?

Your financial advisor does not have to be wealthy, but they should be financially sound and clearly successful. Once you have a significant amount of assets and a more complex financial situation, it is time to turn over most of your asset management to a proven and competent advisor. It’s kind of like not needing a travel agent for domestic travel, but once you are venturing to foreign and exotic countries, it would be time to get some reliable assistance from a travel expert.

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?

One of my first bosses was a man named Fred Braun. He taught me value of saving early in life and being kind, giving and considerate of others and the environment.

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. 🙂

I would expand on the concept of the “Neighborhood Watch.” There is so much anger and tension created recently, virtually all of it from politicians that do not live in your community. It is time to expand our Neighborhood Watch to be our City and County Watch. Reach out to the people that live in your community and bring back compassion, fun and an understanding of the diversity of people and their opinions. Be open to the possibility that the mind that needs you the most may be your own.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

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

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