If they pat you on the back and say, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of you,” RUN! At the end of the day, you are the only one responsible for your investments and wellbeing. You are the one who should care the most. Become more than a client with your advisor, become a partner. You should trust your advisor but always know what is going on.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Theresa A. Harezlak, CFP®, CDFA®. Theresa is a Financial Advisor at Savant Capital.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Theresa! 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 Dad passed away from a sudden heart attack when I was a senior in college. Keep in mind, we never talked about the financial industry, we never talked about me becoming a financial advisor and we never discussed much of my life past my college graduation. But, it was at that time I saw what an unexpected event could do to a family. I saw firsthand how important it was that he planned well enough to make sure that even in the event of his untimely death, we would be taken care of. I learned from things that were planned out with perfection and I learned from mistakes and missed opportunities that made life a little more difficult. It was then that I decided my path was to help people organize and manage their finances and be prepared for those unexpected events.
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 have learned many lessons along the way. One that I always remember to this day is that it is okay to not know everything, but it is NOT okay to pretend that you do. I have been in this business for 31 years and there are still questions that I need to research. The most humorous mistake I can remember was when I was first starting out in my career. I was working for a bank as a management trainee, where I worked in every department for a short time. When I was working as a teller, I accidentally gave the wrong change on a transaction. I read the machine wrong and gave a customer $900.00 back instead of $90.00. He left the bank but came back once he realized my mistake. He quietly pulled me aside and informed me of my error. I learned a lot that day about kindness, honesty, discretion and mostly to always double check your work!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, I am working on two projects at this time that I believe will have a positive impact on individuals and our community. The first is Savant’s Women’s Wealth Initiative. This initiative was created to inspire, inform and empower women to pursue their best financial futures. We host educational events, networking opportunities and provide resources to help women feel comfortable taking ownership of their finances. We also encourage women to become financial advisors. According to the CFP board, only 23% of Certified Financial Planners are women. There is definitely room for improvement.
The second project involves educating seniors on the issues that affect their lives. This includes choosing the appropriate advisors, planning for their heirs, preparing for life changing events, protecting themselves from abuse, and planning for elder care. I find that when people are informed, they are not as frightened about the future and they make better decisions for themselves.
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?
An important mentor in my career once told me, “anyone can be an instant success in this business…..after 20 years.” Much is said about putting in your time and continuing to build your business. One way I escalated my career was to make sure I was working with a company that I believed in. Never underestimate your ability to be successful when you believe in what you are doing. I would tell people just starting out, make yourself valuable. Become an expert in something that everyone needs but where few know the topic thoroughly. A few examples of this would be Social Security benefits, estate planning options, and divorce planning. Be the “go to” person in your firm. Lastly, be willing to do the things that others are not willing to do. For example, become very comfortable with public speaking. For many people, this is not in their comfort zone but can be a valuable talent that helps you succeed.
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?
It can be discouraging at times but always keep the mindset that you are not only helping people with their investments, you are enhancing their lives. When you give good advice, care deeply about your client’s wellbeing, proactively help them, you are doing something much more than investing their assets. You are making a difference. Also, since it can be a demanding career, it is important to keep your priorities in line. For me, that was my family and I always protected my time with them. For some people it may be their health, their title, their free time. Whatever it is, make sure you keep your priorities in order or you will experience burnout.
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?
- Work with a fiduciary with experience in many disciplines. Investments are only a part of making sure you are financially secure. Find someone who knows about investments, taxes, estate planning, social security options, and any other discipline that will affect your financial stability. I often see new clients who have investments that do not coordinate with their goals. They have beneficiaries named that don’t coordinate with their estate plan and they are paying too much in tax where some could be avoided. A while ago, I had a new client and as we were reviewing their beneficiaries on old accounts. I noticed a woman’s name as the primary beneficiary that was not his wife. It turns out, it was his ex-wife and the beneficiary was never changed with his past advisor. I have seen this more than once where an unintended beneficiary is still on an account.
- Know how the advisor is paid and know how that will impact the advice and services you receive. For example, know the difference between commission based, fee based and fee ONLY advisors. I was working on securing a new client. We were competing with a local advisor in the area that is commission based. When we reviewed our fees with the prospective client, they informed us that the commission based advisor wasn’t going to charge anything to manage their money. Clearly, this was not the case. With some education, this prospect saw how that statement was dishonest and trust was immediately broken.
- Just because this advisor is good for your neighbor doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for you. Look for someone who shares your values, tolerance for risk and basic life experiences. For example, if your advisor has a large client base that invests in hedge funds, IPOs and penny stocks, they may not be a good fit for you if your goal is steady growth and preservation of principal. Your neighbor may have different values, assets and goals. Choose wisely and remember, a good advisor cannot be all things to all investors.
- Find an advisor who is familiar with tax consequences of your portfolio. Tax management is becoming extremely important to securing your financial future. An example of this would be the overselling of annuities. True, annuities may have advantages in certain circumstances, but I run into people every day who wished they would have never purchased one. The tax deferral sounds good but may turn into a disaster later in life when you take money out or try to pass them to your heirs.
- If they pat you on the back and say, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of you,” RUN! At the end of the day, you are the only one responsible for your investments and wellbeing. You are the one who should care the most. Become more than a client with your advisor, become a partner. You should trust your advisor but always know what is going on. Bernie Madoff is a perfect example of this. He was very good at making people feel comfortable and “taken care of” while he was being criminally dishonest. True, he is spending the rest of his life in jail, but that doesn’t help the people who lost money and perhaps their financial stability.
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?
At some point, everyone can benefit from working with a financial advisor, regardless of how much money you have. For those with modest investment portfolios, mistakes along the way can be disastrous for their financial future. For example, a client living off a modest portfolio will have a more difficult time recovering from a market downturn. Working with an advisor can help keep them focused and disciplined. For those will larger portfolios with more moving pieces, it is very important to get with an advisor who has knowledge of investments, tax, asset protection and estate planning. All these areas are important and should be coordinated. An advisor is someone who can coordinate all these pieces.
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 am most grateful to my Dad for helping me succeed in this business. As I mentioned earlier, his passing was the reason I am here today. It truly made me realize that I could make a difference in someone’s life and something good could come out of such a tragic and sad event. I always said, my dad’s final lesson in raising me was to pass away. That gave me the motivation to be successful and to always know that I could take care of myself.
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 want people to know that money is just a tool to help you achieve the life you want. It is something to be respected but not wasted. Earned but not stolen. Important but not worshiped. It is really about living the life you want to live. That could mean that you end up with a lot of it or very little. You can be happy either way. One of the best things I have heard is to always live within your means. If you do that, you will have choices and freedom to live your life free of unnecessary stress and pressure. In a world that is full of instant gratification, that is a hard lesson to follow.
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Learn more about Savant’s Women’s Wealth Initiative: savantcapital.com/women
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.