Kim Brown of JNBA Financial Advisors: “What is the firm’s culture like?”

What is the firm’s client retention rate? Seek out a firm that could become a long-term partner. Ask about their client retention rate. In 2001, we started tracking our client retention as an important way of measuring how we’re doing. We knew that if we offered tremendous service and did what we said we were […]

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What is the firm’s client retention rate? Seek out a firm that could become a long-term partner. Ask about their client retention rate. In 2001, we started tracking our client retention as an important way of measuring how we’re doing. We knew that if we offered tremendous service and did what we said we were going to do, we would have the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships. And for more than 20 years, our client retention rate has been above 96 percent. That says a lot. Through bull and bear markets, people stay with us. We’re tremendously proud of that as a firm.

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

Kim Brown is president of Minneapolis-based JNBA Financial Advisors, an independent fee-only wealth management firm with more than 1B dollars in assets under management. She has been an advocate of transparency and independence in the wealth management industry for more than 15 years, and has been inducted into the Top Women in Finance Hall of Fame.

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?

After several decades of working in marketing, including at a large advertising agency. I started my own company offering marketing services to small businesses. I started working with the man who would eventually become my husband, Richard S. Brown, as he was working side-by-side with his mother, Judy, who had founded JNBA Financial Advisors in 1978.

When I began immersing myself in the wealth management industry and in particular JNBA’s approach, I was reminded about how, when my dad died suddenly, his affairs were in disorder despite the fact that he had a lot of trusted advisors around him. Everything was a complete mess. And I really started to understand and value the fact that the right advisors could really make a positive difference in people’s lives. At the time, Richard was beginning to build a team that surrounded the client to make sure that all the pieces of the puzzle were in place, should something unpredictable or unforeseen happen. Experiencing the philosophy that Judy had put in place when she started the business and that Richard was taking to the next level was my motivation for wanting to dive deeply into the business and get involved in helping to build the platform, processes and team.

Today, our independent, team-centric approach continues to drive everything we do for our clients. JNBA has grown into a team of 26 with assets under management exceeding 1 billion dollars.

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?

It’s less of a mistake and more of a lesson learned. After Richard and I got married, we worked together all day long, and then we would come home and we would often talk about work. Sometimes we would have disagreements and occasionally raise our voices. And we quickly realized that when we did, our dog would start barking at us to stop talking. So that was how we learned that we needed to put some thought and effort into balancing our work and personal lives, because our dog really didn’t like us talking about work all the time. It’s really paid off and we have our dog to thank.

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

One area I’ve really been focusing on is continuing to cultivate our firm’s next generation of advisors. Richard and I are nearing 60, and we’re looking at our next chapter and how the next generation of our team will continue our legacy. We’ve worked really hard over the past seven or eight years to home-grow a talented team. We’re able to look towards our retirement years knowing that we’ve built an amazing team that will be able to serve our current clients, as well as the next generation of clients. We’re so lucky to have a business that serves multiple generations within families, and we knew we needed to build a multi-generational team so JNBA can continue with our platform of advocacy for our clients and the industry.

We have a strong tradition of bringing on high-potential talent. During the pandemic we put our longtime internship program on hold, but we did hire and successfully onboard two next-generation advisors during all of this. They’re now successfully integrated into our firm. And now we’re looking at bringing internships back, as well. Our team deserves a lot of credit for making that work.

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?

For me, it was when I started doing seminars with my mother-in-law Judy, who founded the firm. I’ve had several impactful life experiences — both positive and negative — at a younger age, and that was when I realized that those experiences give me a perspective that not everyone has. Working side-by-side with Judy, I learned the art and craft of being empathetic, truly listening to other people and using our own experiences and perspective as a guide. The value of my personal experiences — the death of a parent, divorce — all started to become apparent and I realized that many of us are more alike than we are different. I really embraced and celebrated that. I began to believe that I could truly make a difference and have an impact in a positive way on other people just by sharing my stories and my insights, and then being there to help them walk through their own personal journey.

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?

One is to listen closely to the generation above you and the generation below you. Embracing generational thinking is a very important way to stay relevant.

Another approach that has kept both Richard and me really motivated is that because of what we do, we really do see our place in this world as a privilege. I think if you come from the right place and you really want to advocate for people, making sure they live their best lives because they met you and your company and your team, that’s a really good way to avoid burnout because all the hard work and long hours never seem like such a burden. It always feels like more of a privilege.

And the third is to build and put your trust in a team. You cannot go it alone. I am a huge proponent of teamwork and letting people grow to their best ability and to their best purpose, and to embrace their differences. While we have very consistent processes and a client experience, everybody has their own unique way of delivering them. I learn new things every day from the way my colleagues approach an opportunity or tackle a challenge.

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?

I encourage people looking for a financial advisor to look at five critical areas to help them choose a long-term partner that’s aligned with their values and priorities:

  1. What are their values? I think the foundation for every good financial advisor, every good business really, is their mission, their vision and their values. That’s the first thing I would ask for, because if they can’t demonstrate and talk about their values, then the foundation is weak because you don’t know if you can relate to what drives them and their core beliefs or not. Will they do the right thing, even when no one is looking? Find someone who understands that the right thing to do is the right thing to do.
  2. How are they compensated? It’s important for you to know how someone is paid so you understand the motivations behind what they’re recommending for you.Does the firm and/or advisor make a commission on the recommended investments placed in your portfolio, or by making referrals to other professionals? As long as you know what you’re paying for and it’s not hidden from you, then there’s full transparency. Then you truly have a strong foundation to build trust. And then of course, are they delivering what you’re paying for? And you have to be the judge of that. But I think you need to have a relationship where your financial advisor isn’t only holding you accountable, but you’re holding them accountable. It’s a two-way street. That level of accountability has the ability to create tremendous trust and success.
    -Be crystal clear about whether the firms you are looking at are independent Registered Investment Advisors and are held to a fiduciary standard. JNBA is and always has been a fiduciary. We have a legal and professional obligation to put our clients’ best interests above our own.
  3. What is their wealth management philosophy? Aim to partner with a firm whose philosophy matches your own. There are people who manage assets, there are people who do financial planning, and then there are people who bundle asset management and financial planning into a concept called wealth management. And everybody defines planning, asset management, wealth management differently. So make sure you understand the platform that your financial advisor is going to deliver to you. Are they going to create a financial life plan that’s fluid, that takes you through your life, that takes into account transitions that may occur in your life, expected or unexpected? And then do they really, truly understand your goals? Do their recommendations and proposed strategies support your goals? What do you want your money to accomplish for you as you head into retirement? Your financial advisor should be able to help you navigate and work through all aspects of your life.
    -Another consideration is to look at if your advisor plans to simply offer you advice, or if they’re going to hold you accountable and help you take the steps to execute your plan. Do you want ideas, or do you want someone to walk beside you and nudge, push or challenge you along the way because they’re invested in your success?
  4. What is the firm’s culture like? To make sure everybody is focusing on one thing — what is in the best interest of our clients? — it takes a strong culture and leadership, proven processes and collaboration, and an extremely committed team. Look for a culture based on trust, reliability, accountability, and advocacy. One important element of JNBA’s culture is our team approach, for instance. We all surround our client. A JNBA client is everybody’s client.
    -Your people define your culture. You have to hire the right people who share your firm’s stated values. Richard and I have empowered our whole team. We’ve always said, “If you ever need to make a tough decision and we’re not available, or it’s got to be made immediately, ask yourself one question: What decision is going to be the best for the client? And when you make that decision with the client front and center, we will support it.”
    -Culture has got to drive every aspect of what you do, including the work you do for your clients. You have to be able to relate to your advisor, not only on a professional level, but on a personal level, because the best part about finding a great financial advisor is that you can develop a lifelong relationship with them. And that’s where the magic happens.
  5. Finally, what is the firm’s client retention rate? Seek out a firm that could become a long-term partner. Ask about their client retention rate. In 2001, we started tracking our client retention as an important way of measuring how we’re doing. We knew that if we offered tremendous service and did what we said we were going to do, we would have the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships. And for more than 20 years, our client retention rate has been above 96 percent. That says a lot. Through bull and bear markets, people stay with us. We’re tremendously proud of that as a firm.

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?

I think everybody can benefit from hiring a financial advisor. Not everybody will hire the same kind of financial advisor, but that relationship and professional experience can help you understand your finances and take charge of those finances, no matter if you have a lot of money or not. Some people have fairly straightforward needs, and others have much more complicated needs — families with large generational wealth, for instance. Across the spectrum you can benefit from setting financial goals and making sure you’re making the right choices in every stage of your life to meet your personal goals. One of the valuable lessons I learned from my dad applies here. He always used to say to me, “How much you save is going to be far more important than what you earn.” And that’s true, because that’s how you build wealth.

Every life stage can benefit from a financial advisor, whether you’re just starting up, whether you’re in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties or facing retirement. There aren’t many events in life that have to do with finances that a great financial advisor can’t add value to.

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?

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of mentors in my life, but I think the example that my parents set for me about work ethic is probably the best example that I’ve had. They taught me that no matter what path you take in life, if you work hard at it, you can achieve it. And I’ll always be grateful for that.

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. 🙂

My movement would be the “golden rule” movement. I think if we lived in a world where people treated others as they themselves would like to be treated, we would have greater kindness, satisfaction and joy.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

Thank you!

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