Sean Gould of Waddell & Associates: “Do you have a trusted referral for this advisor?”

Is the advisor a fiduciary? This is important because an advisor acting as a fiduciary is required to always act in the client’s best interest when making decisions. They must also avoid any conflicts of interest. Hiring an advisor requires trust, and it helps to have that individual legally required to act in your best […]

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Is the advisor a fiduciary? This is important because an advisor acting as a fiduciary is required to always act in the client’s best interest when making decisions. They must also avoid any conflicts of interest. Hiring an advisor requires trust, and it helps to have that individual legally required to act in your best interest. This leads me to the next question you should ask.


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

Prior to joining Waddell & Associates (W&A), an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, Sean received his Bachelor of Accountancy and Master of Accountancy from the University of Mississippi in 2007 and 2008, respectively. He completed the CPA exam in 2008 and is a licensed Certified Public Accountant in Tennessee.

After completing his master’s degree at Ole Miss, Sean joined Ernst & Young, LLP (E&Y) as an audit associate. While at E&Y, Sean worked on several engagements including AutoZone, Buckeye Technologies, Pinnacle Airlines, and Kirkland’s.

Outside of W&A, Sean is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants. He is an active member of his church, and in his spare time enjoys playing golf.


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?

My grandfather founded a small business in 1932 that my father and uncle continue to operate today. Because of that, I feel I have always been drawn to an entrepreneurial story.

I began my professional career in public accounting as an auditor for Ernst and Young. Although I enjoyed learning about the various financial strategies within different industries, my goal was to use my accounting background to work with families and business owners and their unique financial planning needs.

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?

I cannot recall an outstanding mistake I’ve made at work. I’m grateful for that since most mistakes for money managers are NOT funny.

I still learn more every day on the job, and that’s why I enjoy working in this industry so much.

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

Lately, I have been working with my business-owner clients on strategic balance sheet decisions. This time last year, the focus was on finding ways to reduce costs and increase liquidity ahead of a probable recession. Less than a year later, we are entering the early stages of an economic recovery, and the focus has shifted to balance sheet optimization. This includes refinancing debt, allocating resources and assets, and deciding on purchasing vs. financing.

Economic cycles now move at such a rapid pace. The timeframe to make important strategic financial decisions is expedited. It is very important for me to have ongoing open lines of communication with my clients because strategies that can improve net worth over time need to be planned and implemented rapidly once decisions are made.

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 a series of events. After completing the CFP® exam, I went through extensive training at my current firm, Waddell & Associates (W&A), which developed my skills through direct collaboration with our senior advisors. Through this experiential learning process, I gained valuable insight into how to succeed in this profession. I learned that to have a successful working relationship with my clients, it is important to have done my homework on their unique circumstances so that I am always over-prepared for meetings. They need to know that I am fully invested in their best interests, particularly during stressful decisions and market events.

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. Always strive to learn. This past year served as a great example of how we can help our clients navigate complicated and new situations. With the passing of the CARES Act and the introduction of PPP loans, for example, there were many opportunities for advisors to learn the new regulations in order to help their clients.
  2. Never stop networking. Find people you enjoy and learn how you can possibly help them, and in time they may return the favor.
  3. Always set goals that are measurable and attainable. Stay motivated.

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?

Hiring the right advisor is a key component for anyone wanting to achieve their personal and financial goals. I always encourage people to ask these five questions when interviewing a financial advisor:

  1. Is the advisor a fiduciary? This is important because an advisor acting as a fiduciary is required to always act in the client’s best interest when making decisions. They must also avoid any conflicts of interest. Hiring an advisor requires trust, and it helps to have that individual legally required to act in your best interest. This leads me to the next question you should ask.
  2. What are the advisor’s credentials? One way to ensure the advisor you are interviewing is a fiduciary is to work with a Certified Financial Planner®. This designation requires the fiduciary standard for all members as well as a significant level of experience and continuing education. A CFP® is uniquely trained to look at the entire financial situation. You can verify if this person is certified through the CPF® website (cfp.net).
  3. How does the advisor get paid? There are several ways financial advisors can be paid, including commissions and fee-only. When an advisor is fee-only, their income is limited to client fees alone, which limits possible conflicts of interest. Fee-only advisors are not incentivized to pick one investment over another or trade your account to possibly earn a commission. Everything is transparent.
  4. Does the advisor invest their personal money in the same strategies as their clients? It is always important to know how the advisor plans to invest your money. Knowing the advisor invests their own personal capital in the same strategies as their clients can provide comfort.
  5. Do you have a trusted referral for this advisor? Word of mouth from a friend or someone you trust about their personal experiences with an advisor is a great place to start. It is still important to meet with the advisor and make sure the partnership is a good fit.

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 believe everyone should work with an advisor, regardless of their tax bracket, net worth, or age. Building a financial future and achieving your goals and dreams requires a plan.

The role of an advisor is to know the ins and outs of the very complex world of financial matters and to use this knowledge to provide education and recommendations on how to optimize your specific financial circumstances. Even if a person believes their financial plan is straightforward, there are always strategies that can be implemented to maximize net worth over time. For example, an individual who has recently entered the job market and hopes to start a family may have limited resources for investing, but a good advisor will assist with how to develop a budget, save for their child’s college, think through life insurance coverage, and provide options on how to invest in retirement accounts.

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 work with several great advisors throughout my career. As part of my firm’s initial training, I was able to assist our senior advisors to prepare for and participate in client meetings. These experiences were invaluable and gave me significant insight to the different techniques that can be utilized and the diverse approaches each advisor used with clients. I would not be the advisor I am today without these experiences.

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 wish more people had access to financial literacy training. I have seen the positive effect that an increased level of knowledge regarding personal finances has on improving a person’s quality of life and the way this can expand to friends and family. I believe that high schools would better prepare future generations by offering a basic financial literacy class.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

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

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