Purpose is everything. It’s what gets you out of bed every morning. For us, it is about being able to cross spheres into zones where the industry isn’t headed yet and tearing down walls rather than building them up. You have to be a progressive thinker and walk into situations or approach clients without any predisposed opinions about who they are or what they do. I walk into every situation with an open mind.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Schechner of Essential Advisory Services. There are many things an entrepreneur learns and needs to exercise on his path towards a successful business. As I’ve written in an article about listening here, listening is an extremely important skill. It’s a crucial part of communication. Without the ability and discipline to really listen to customers and employees, leaders may find themselves off track in their journey. In this interview, Matthew Schechner points to listening as an important key to success. Matthew Schechner began his financial planning career in New York City with Gruntal & Co. Following this, he spent several years at Oppenheimer & Co. as a Senior Vice President. Just prior to finding Essential Advisory Services, Matthew spent 10 years as a financial planner with National Holdings. In 2018, Matthew founded Essential Advisory Services with the intention to empower families and individuals through guidance, education and a warm sense of community. The judgment-free financial planning firm is located in Westbury, New York, offering services including goal-based planning, women and LGBTQ services. In 2019, Matthew received the honor as Envestnet’s Essential Advisor of the Year, being selected out of a pool of over 90,000 advisors. Most recently, he received the First-Class Service Award from National Holdings in 2019.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?
Myfirst job out of college was as an employment manager at a large hotel in South Florida where I hired employees and later evaluated them based on a set criterion. This was a turning point in my professional life because I realized that too many people were working too hard with little to no reward for their efforts. It was then that I realized I didn’t want to measure success just monetarily. I wanted room for personal growth in my career path not just financial incentives. Combining my desire to help people with my passion for crunching numbers, financial planning seemed to be the perfect fit.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company, and can you share that story with us?
My a-ha moment came when I made the connection that financial products cannot be the sole solution to one’s life struggles. Changing my mindset, I started thinking with the end in mind. This is the basis for goal-based planning. In order to find a solution, you have to know your direction. This revelation brought me to where I am today. Switching from a micro-advisor to a macro-advisor, I founded what would later be known as Essential Advisory Services.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first started, and what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?
This was not a mistake that I made but I was on the receiving end of it. Sometime around 1999, during the internet boom, a client called me up to buy another 1,000 shares of JDS Uniphase. Spoiler alert, JDS Uniphase did not have a very happy ending. I made many attempts to talk the client out of it but I remember like it was yesterday the client saying to me, “Matt, just buy the stock. Do you know what JDS stands for? Just Don’t Sell! Just Don’t Sell!”. In the moment I chuckled but as time progressed, I realized the value in this lesson. Don’t let greed cloud your vision. It can lead clients to make irrational emotional decisions. I now double as an investment behavior counselor for many of my clients.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company, what was your vision, your purpose?
In this industry and any industry really, purpose is everything. It’s what gets you out of bed every morning. For us, it is about being able to cross spheres into zones where the industry isn’t headed yet and tearing down walls rather than building them up. You have to be a progressive thinker and walk into situations or approach clients without any predisposed opinions about who they are or what they do. I walk into every situation with an open mind. Focus on being a problem solver and assist those who are struggling to find planners who are willing to work with them.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
At Essential Advisory Services, values drive everything we do. We believe in integrity, competency and compassion. We run a love-based business and we’re multi-dimensional. This means empowering clients, having a collaborative mindset and always using a team-oriented approach. Everything we do is backed by truth and transparency. I believe in altruism. After meeting with clients I always ask myself, are the people in that room better off because I was there? If the answer isn’t yes, then our work isn’t done yet. Demonstration is the best way to lead.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
During the downtimes, you have to work harder and take care of the clients a little more. Always go the extra step and communicate. Your principles should remain constant despite the constant ups and downs of the marketplace. You may have to do more handholding when the market is volatile, but who we are never changes.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I first started out, I learned that life is a grind filled with peaks and valleys. I tell this to my own children all the time. When you are in a valley, complaining won’t help, it is a grind, and life truly is a grind. It’s not always about crossing the finish line in perfect condition. It’s alright to stumble and trip, but cross that finish line successfully. You have to grind through the worst of times so you can ride through the best of times. I don’t have a particular story, but I never once considered giving up and I appreciate every moment I’m in, even in the most difficult of times. I do recognize those moments and I don’t go through them blindly, but I understand that there are moments we just have to grind it out, and clients understand that too, and we’re in that boat together.
How are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
I’m happy to say that things are going exceedingly well. Our direction is true and we are committed to having our values guide us. The fact that we never deviate from our core principles is why we are so successful. Our principles and strong adherence to a values-based business is the reason we are where we are today.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or example for each.
- Having empathy is essential in any industry but especially financial planning. You have to be able to understand where the clients are coming from and where their heads are at. Understand why they think the way they do and be understanding. It’s important to be able to put yourself in your client’s shoes and understand where they’re coming from.
- Be intuitive. Being empathetic gives you the knowledge to forecast the future a bit, and not just from a marketplace standpoint with client’s assets, but it allows you to be more in tune with what’s happening in a client’s life.
- Listen. This goes hand in hand with empathy and intuition, but you need to listen to have both qualities.
- Communicate until you are blue in the face. Communication is about more than just being able to deliver your message with a “hey, how are you doing?” Right now, we are working to improve our communication skills with various demographics. Not all clients respond to the same communication tactics. As the market expands, there are a plethora of ways to deliver your message, but it depends on whom you’re targeting. For example, a baby boomer has a different set of communication preferences than a millennial. Know your client and learn to communicate with your client the way they prefer, not the way you prefer.
- Along with communication, you should avoid being myopic. Many people in business have a one- dimensional view of their clients. It’s important to have a multi-dimensional view, especially when you’re a financial planner. Too often people have their blinders on and only see one point on the horizon instead of seeing the entire horizon. Being multi-dimensional allows you to leverage more opportunities to help clients.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The person that always comes to mind for me is Joshua Barg, a colleague and a friend whom I have worked with for a long time. He helped me find the road to financial planning and I am eternally grateful for him. He understands the impact of planning long before I did. I encourage any young professional to find a trusted mentor to guide you.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
People all over the world would benefit from learning the importance of saving. Our motto is work hard, play hard, but save harder. Everyone has the capacity to save but people seem to forget this. I think that we need more creative savings plans backed by government sponsorship. Possibly some type of structured savings vehicle that mandates savings. This movement would start with educating how people can save at a younger age. The sooner the better.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Twitter — @essentialadvis2
Facebook — @essentialwealthwellness
LinkedIn — Essential Advisory Services
Thank you for all of these great insights!