Charles Adi is a financial advisor who owns and operates his own firm, Blueprint 360, in Houston, TX. Charles holds the Series 7 and Series 66 FINRA securities registrations along with a Texas Life, Accident and Health Insurance license. And here at the FPA, he’s also the head of our FPA Diversity Committee. He has a successful firm with about 80 clients but, as we talk about in this episode, it wasn’t always that way. In this conversation, Charles opens up about his background, the path that brought him to financial planning, and how he’s built a firm from the ground up. 

Cautionary Advice Turned to Fuel

Charles originally sought a degree in accounting when he went to college as Louisiana State University. But after attending a guest lecture by a financial planner, Charles knew he was on to something. So he emailed the planner and was told to come to the planner’s office to talk. The financial planner told Charles he was impressed by his email and his enthusiasm but, the planner told him, there was one problem: Charles wanted to serve low-income communities. The financial planner admitted that he didn’t know a way for Charles to do that and make money, so he couldn’t help Charles. 

Instead of getting discouraged like many students would, this sparked curiosity in Charles. Why? Because the planner didn’t say there was no way to make money in that niche, just that he didn’t have advice for Charles. So Charles left with a spark, one that followed him throughout his college career. Despite his interest and passion for these underserved communities, though Charles admits his confidence wasn’t there yet, and he was afraid to take the leap given the other planner’s cautionary advice. 

He ended up going the “safe route,” he says, just to make sure that he could pursue work after graduation. He graduated with a degree in accounting and worked in that field for 3.5 years. But as things in his accounting firm fizzled, he put energy into his initial interest — financial planning. He contacted another accountant who was working with a minority firm in 2010 and the rest, he says, is history. 

Struggling to Get Started

Charles, when he decided to pivot into financial planning, was not an overnight success. In this episode, he gets very real about the struggles he faced, including lowered income compared to his accounting days and how his parents questioned his decision to make the switch. He admits that the only thing that kept him going somedays was the promise he made to his first few clients — that he’d stick it out and help them. Today, he still has those clients and a much healthier book.

How did he get there? He kept working, he kept saying “Yes” to clients, and he kept helping other people in his firm. This eventually led to a mentorship that helped Charles learn the “financial planning ropes” — and eventually led to a partnership that was his tipping point. This partnership, which started with Charles’ “can do attitude,” led to a client who referred Charles out to everyone in her address book. From there, his firm grew.

Over the last 5 or so years, he’s managed to grow his practice by word of mouth alone, but it took a few years to get that started as you’ll hear in our interview. Throughout it all, though, Charles was focused on doing the work and helping people. 

Changing Lives

After growing his firm — which now onboards about 2 clients a month — Charles really harnessed his process for working with clients. He says they don’t talk about investments or portfolio balances during every meeting; they talk about what’s important to the clients and then work together to translate that into how their money can help them. Charles even shares his onboarding process and how, in the first few meetings, he lays the groundwork for understanding his clients. 

This process, he says, builds trust and allows him to continue to advise them in the future, regardless of their pain points. He also often works with people who are just starting out, and by building that relationship, ensures an even more mutually beneficial relationship down the road. But it all starts with that initial relationship building, Charles reminds us. From there, it’s about creating a plan and supporting his clients as they implement the plan. We know that’s a big pain point for financial planners and Charles has some great tips — so make sure to listen in on the episode!

During our chat, Charles also talks about his firm belief that the financial planning profession changes lives. He also calls all us, as professionals, to do what we can for our clients and for those who maybe can’t afford our services. “I truly believe that what we do as advisors is so empowering,” he shared. “Because we can truly change the trajectory of someone’s lives just by making them aware of the possibilities.” And we can all agree on that, right?

Hannah's signature

 

What You’ll Learn:

  • Charles’ path from college to accounting to financial planning
  • The role that research and a constant focus on learning play in our career path
  • The difficulties related to building a name and a practice in the profession
  • The importance of cultivating relationships with peers and partners
  • How much of a difference a great mentor can make in your career path
  • Why we should all think about how this work changes lives
  • How to empower clients by simply showing them their options
  • How to solve problems today to build trust tomorrow
  • The different types of meetings Charles’ hosts to onboard new clients
  • How to actually help clients implement their plan (tactical tips you can use!!)
  • Why asking clients to save is better than asking them to stop spending
  • Why you need time, patience, and a commitment to doing good work to succeed
  • Ideas for structuring your services, including financial planning, AUM, and insurance
  • Sliding fee scales and how to charge clients as their income increases
  • Why it’s important to think about the people who can’t afford our advice

 

Show Notes:
In this episode with Charles Adi, we reference:

If you want to see more of Charles, you can follow him on:

 

Show Transcript

Episode Transcript


Hannah: Thanks for joining us today, Charles.

Charles: No problem.

Hannah: You are the founder of Blueprint 360 and so you have this great firm. When I met you at Next Gen Gathering, I was asking you about kind of how do you find clients and you’re like, they all are just, it’s all referral. I’m turning people away. So we’ll dive into that in just a minute.

Hannah: But I’m curious, how did you get into financial planning?

Charles: A great place to start. That’s really a longer conversation than what I think we want to get into, but I’ll just say I went to LSU, I had a background in accounting, that was my degree. And for an elective class, I took a personal finance class my senior year. During that class I had the opportunity to sit into a lecture by a financial advisor. He came from Washington DC and spoke to the class and immediately after his presentation I got his business card and I sent him an email and I said I want to do what you do. Can you help me?

Charles: He called me to his office. I drove, met him, we talked for about an hour and a half. And he told me, he says Charles, your email was great. I appreciate you sending it to me, but there’s one problem in your email. You communicated that you wanted to provide financial advice for individuals in low income communities. This was 2002, I’m sorry, 2006 and quite simply he said, I would love to help. But the reality is there’s no money in that. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but maybe you need to look at this a little bit differently. You might need to make some money first and then go back and give, but if there’s anything else I can do for you, please let me know.

Hannah: Ouch.

Charles: And when he told me, well, to the average person, that would probably be out. But for me it was motivating because he didn’t say it wasn’t possible. He told me it might be possible. I don’t know how to do it. So that was a challenge. But more importantly, he offered his advice and assistance.

Charles: Now, I never called them again and we never spoke again. But just that very little bit of hope of possibility kind of sparked a curiosity about a career that I had no clue even existed. As a child, I was always curious about money and finances. I offered free advice to friends and at the university level when new students would come to the university, they will sit through my money management course where I was on a panel discussion and I was sharing my insights on how to manage money as a college student. I never knew you can get paid a lot of money or make a living out of a career giving financial advice.

Charles: So I think from there that kind of sparked the curiosity. But a lot of people, I didn’t have the confidence to take the leap right away. I knew I wanted to do it, but I wasn’t confident that I can make it and make enough money doing it. So a like lot of people, I went the safe route and I became an accountant and I worked for a big four accounting firm. I did that for three and a half years, but in the back of my mind I always knew that personal finance, financial planning was something that I wanted to do. So when things at firm were not the way I wanted them to, I said let me give this personal finance, financial planning a little more attention and see what I can do.

Charles: So I reached out to a friend of mine who was also, I guess, an accountant per se. He worked for a accounting firm as well, and he actually just left the firm to go work for this fantastic minority firm in Houston. I called him, I said hey, I want to do what you’re doing. Can you introduce me, your boss? And he did and the rest is history.

Hannah: While you’re at this accounting firm, are you actively looking at the personal financing or is that just something that was just sitting there in the back of your mind?

Charles: Oh, no, no, no. When you say actively, that’s an understatement. I mean, I think every night, well, everyday I’ll go to work, do accounting. But at nighttime I would research and read personal finances. I was investigating the FPA Association. I was looking at companies all over the US, looking at job descriptions to figure out what they’re doing. I’m interviewing people who happen to be in the space.

Charles: Honestly I wanted to transition within the firm to their personal financial planning department. However, at larger accounting firms, they’re more of [inaudible] and they do a lot of trust work and tax preparation work. And that’s not what I wanted to do. So it wasn’t really a good fit.

Charles: But no, it definitely wasn’t a passive activity. It was very actively done on my part.

Hannah: Okay, so I’m listening to you and I’m just like, I’m already rooting for you and your career. So you’re here, you’re at this accounting firm, you’ve been researching all these things, and then you get a job in financial planning. So tell me, you had all of these expectations about personal finance and what a career would look in that, because you’ve done your research and your homework on it. What did you find when you actually started working in financial planning? What were you really happy with? What were you disappointed with?

Charles: Yeah, so I guess the biggest thing for me is that I realized that it is not as easy as my research would make it out to be. I’m a very detailed oriented person. I’m a numbers guy. I’ve interviewed people, I talk to people and they make it sound so simple. But I started off with a firm where I was responsible for finding my own clients. So I was not an analyst, I was not working in a support role. I was a financial advisor.

Charles: So day one, the biggest challenge was finding clients. But not only was it hard to find clients, it’s what conversations do you have with these clients? But number two, how do you have a conversation with a client who might know more about personal finance than you do? And you have all these blind spots that you think you know all the answers, but in reality you don’t.

Charles: I would say it was very difficult just starting, finding clients, getting the education you need to advise clients and having more importantly, the confidence to approach those individuals with more assets.

Hannah: So you talked about meeting that guy that came to your class and spoke and him talking about wanting to work with low income people. When you’re out there trying to find clients where you targeted at that market or were you trying to find more people who could pay you more?

Charles: Man, that’s a really good question. So a little more backstory. I started off with a financial planning firm that was based off of a insurance platform. So what that meant was we provided a comprehensive financial planning, number one, investment solutions, but also insurance. So I was focused on meeting my firm goals, not so much from a insurance standpoint, but from a holistic standpoint. They had expectations of me to bring in X amount of clients that will produce X amount of revenue for the firm amongst all three sectors, financial planning fees, investments and insurance.

Charles: So I was just accepting whatever client that would tell me yes. And it just so happened to be that these individuals were individuals that I probably went to school with, I worked with previously or I met out and about at different networking events. I didn’t put a lot of thought into targeting low income, high income. I was just trying to survive. So I was just out shaking hands, kissing babies, trying to find individuals who are willing to work with me, come to the office for a meeting and we’ll see what happen.

Charles: And naturally I had a lot of success with individuals around my age band. I started off in the business when I was 25 so I got a lot of 25, 28 years old. But as we all know, these individuals don’t have a lot of assets, but they do have a lot of needs from a insurance standpoint. So I was able to service them in that capacity, but we weren’t charging financial planning fees to the standpoint that we’re charging now to the individuals like that. They might’ve been making $100,000 per year, but the final planning fee that I was charging was somewhere in the neighborhood of $300, maybe $600 at the most. So the revenue that I was generating from the planning fees, investment management, they were not that high.

Hannah: You’re trying to find your way and like you said, kind of trying to survive. I’m just imagining you going home in the evening. What were you thinking about when you were doing your research more? What were your thoughts? Does that make sense?

Charles: Yeah, no, it makes perfect sense. So I mean, when I was thinking about entering the industry I was very hopeful and I was actually very excited because I knew I had the power to change lives of the individuals that I worked with. Not because I knew it all, just because I had this sheer determination to do a good job.

Charles: But the reality is when I actually started working in the profession, the first few years were rough. To put in perspective, the first year in the business. My total compensation was probably someone neighborhood of $24,000. That is a huge pay cut from what I was making previously at I accounting job where I was bringing home somewhere neighborhood of $60,000 to $65,000. So just that pay cut in itself was very defeating and I thought I was going to be able to find success a lot quicker than what I did. So it was challenging.

Charles: I thought about quitting a lot. And to compound that, I had my parents behind the scenes questioning my decision as to why I made the transition to a profession that’s not as well known or as stable as accounting. I went to school four years, got a degree, was pursuing my CPA, stopped that and just pivoted and focused on financial planning. And whenever your parents see you not succeeding and they see you struggling, they start to question your motivation and your decisions.

Hannah: But you stuck with it.

Charles: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I mean, to be quite honest with you, I stuck with it only because my very first client, this was a young lady I used to work with. I made a promise to her. I said if you trust me to manage your money, I trust you that I’ll be in it for the long run and I will not go anywhere and you’ll be buying it for life. And I hold that promise and I made that promise to all my clients that I worked with over the years. And I still remind them of it today because now they’re starting to wonder, I’ve been in the for 10 years. They’re saying Charles, are you going to get too big for us? I said, no, you were with me when I had nothing. So I’m committed to you until you are no longer committed to me.

Hannah: So you have this first year where you’re struggling to get by. At what point did you make your next transition?

Charles: So I think my next transition happened when I partnered, and it wasn’t a partnership in which I was looking for. The managing partner of the firm I was working at, she needed some help with her book of business. She knew I was highly analytical, she knew I had an accounting background and she had a need and a spot on her team, although not formally, for me to come on and assist. So I started helping her out and she started giving me a few hundred dollars here and there for my assistance. Then as our relationship grew, she started adding me to her cases and compensated me through the work that we did jointly together.

Charles: But I would say the real tipping point occurred maybe three years in where she was referred to a client, happened to be a dentist locally, and she did not have the time or maybe she did not have the want to to deal with it exclusively. So she brought me on the engagement from the very beginning and I, for lack of better words, ran point, although she still made all the recommendations, but the client was corresponding directly with me. And she allowed me to get all the referrals and manage those independently of her.

Charles: So the client was very satisfied with the work that we did. And when I say she told all her friends, she told all her friends about the work that we did for her and the impact we had on her finances. From that point on clients start coming in, they start calling me, emailing you saying hey Charles, I heard about you and the work that y’all did for so-and-so and I want the same. So that’s when the referral engine really started taking off.

Hannah: One of the things that you mentioned earlier on on in your story is how you were just go sell this product, go sell insurance or whatever it may be. And there seemed to be this lack of training for how to do financial planning. Would you say that’s accurate?

Charles: So I will probably say it’s accurate in the broad realm of financial planning, but in my individual situation, I definitely would not say that. My mentor, the firm managing partner that I worked with, she took the time to actually teach me financial planning. She took the time to explain the rationale behind the decisions she was making. She allowed me to offer up my recommendations and when they were wrong, she didn’t say no, that was wrong. We’re going to do this instead. She asked me why and allowing me to have conversations with her to kind of discuss my thought process. Then she added some more information to kind of point me in the right direction.

Charles: So I definitely think as a whole, depending on where you start out at, you might’ve had the same opportunities. But in my individual situation, I was very fortunate and blessed to have a mentor who was willing to take the time to really give me the time and attention I needed to truly develop as an advisor.

Hannah: So you’re working for this manager who’s really teaching you, you start getting all these referrals. Is that really the base of your practice now?

Charles: So I’ve been in business since 2010 and I would say over the past six years, five years, I have not had to make a cold call. I don’t go to networking events as much as I used to. When I first started out, I probably went to two to three per week, but as my client load increased, the need to go out and market my services definitely decreased. So at this point now I’ll probably get anywhere between six to eight different phone calls or emails per month of individuals wanting to explore my services. And of that six to eight, I probably take on probably about two per month. And that is keeping me satisfied.

Hannah: And busy too. Two new clients a month is a lot.

Charles: Absolutely. I’m glad you understand that because a lot of people, whenever they hear that, it’s like oh, that’s not a lot. But when you’re actually doing financial planning, if I had to guess, it takes me about 20 hours to fully onboard a new client. So yes, I’m glad you understand that is a lot.

Hannah: Well, and it’s a difference, if you’re just selling an investment that’s entirely different than actually doing real planning for somebody. So there is definitely a difference.

Charles: Yep.

Hannah: So going back to this idea that you led with on this podcast, serving the underserved or serving low income people. Are you finding that you’re able to do that in your practice right now?

Charles: I have the ability to serve whoever wants to be helped. And I say that intentionally because I’ve interacted with some individuals who might have low incomes, not a lot of assets who I were referred to, I’m willing to help them, but they’re not really ready to help themselves. So in my current structure, I do have the capacity to help those individuals who don’t have the assets or the income. However, what I’m finding out is I have a real sweet spot of the individuals that I work with. Most of my clients are anywhere between 30 and 40 years old. They might have household income of a $100,000 to $300,000 between themselves and their spouses.

Charles: But really they just have that desire to do better. They have the desire to maximize their potential, to build their wealth as quickly and safely as possible. And that’s kind of who I have settled to work with.

Charles: Now I do conduct seminars, I do different speaking events and give back and whatnot. But as part of my bread and butter, the individuals that I work with directly, I have not been able to really, really effect change within the individuals who I initially started out wanting to work with. I’m not saying that I’ve given up, it’s just not been a population that I have found a lot of success in working with at this current time.

Hannah: So in conversations that I’ve had with you, I’ve really appreciated how you talked about the work that you do with your clients. So I’m curious for the listeners, what do you see as the impact for financial planning on clients?

Charles: I get the question all the time when I’m out and about or from friends. They say, what do you do? And I looked him right in their eyes and say, I changed lives. And they laughed and they said no, they, what do you do? And I say no, I really, I change lives. I use those words intentionally because when I see the hope, and I’m going to use that word again, the hope that my clients have after working with me or the realization that they can take their $100,000 to $300,000 household income and make the into $5 million, $6 million over the course of their lifetime if they make some different choices, that motivates them to save more aggressively, look for different investment opportunities. It motivates them to have conversations with their friends or the parents.

Charles: So I truly believe that what we do as advisors is so empowerful because we can truly change the trajectory of someone’s lives just by making them aware of the possibilities. Because a lot of people don’t know that just by saving 10% of your paycheck every pay period, that can be flipped into $2 million quite easily if you’re making somewhere between $80,000 and $100,000 per year. That’s possible.

Charles: So just exposing them to the possibilities, being there to assist them in their time of need, whether that be a health challenge. Oh my God, my father got diagnosed with cancer. I don’t know what to do. Well, they come ask me and I provide them some peace because I let them know that we planned for this and within your plan we knew that this might happen because we talk about what your parents have done financially and we know that they might not be on the right track. So we set aside some money or we know where we can access money to help your parents out if that need does arise. Or working with clients who are not happy with their current employment and they say Charles I really need to go up to school. And we talk about ways to find funding for that so that they’re not having to take out all these loans. or they want to buy a house. And we talk to different programs that offer first time home buying assistance.

Charles: So when I say we change lives, I truly mean that because the work that I do does not just revolve around the balance of your investment account. I mean, we touch all the things that advisors touch that we never get hate on student loans, just being that sounding board to evaluate decisions and protect them from themselves. So, I mean, I think I found my calling and my true happy place in this profession. I think my clients would confirm that what we do, although we call it a financial relationship, is more of a personal friendship at the end of the day where I become their trusted advisor and they call me for everything and anything. And I’m really able to add value beyond the investments, to truly impact their lives in all arenas. And even places that I never thought that I can effect change in just by being there for them to allow them to kind of share their story and allowing me to provide them with my advice.

Hannah: Gosh, even as you’re talking, it was so good. And just the word hope. That’s just such a cool, cool way of framing out why financial planning matters to our clients.

Charles: If I had to guess, very few people know the effects of their financial decisions and what they will have longterm on their lives. So by the power of financial planning, we all have the ability to kind of show our clients if you make this change, this will have this impact on your financial lives in the future. And whenever you show your clients those numbers, I mean, that by itself is motivating and now they’re more entrenched in the process and willing to take your advice on the things that are not so exciting as investing, like making sure they have the right disability insurance within their employee benefits plan at work because they know if they don’t and something happens, then they will not reach this mythical number that we have determined is possible for them based off the analysis that we do as financial advisors.

Charles: I really think that once they really get into it and they really understand what their potential is, then it makes it easier for them to change their behaviors.

Hannah: And that’s our goal. We want clients to not just hear our advice but actually implement her advice.

Charles: That is a challenge that we all have as advisors.

Hannah: So I’m curious, so you talked about these great outcomes that you get with these clients and the impact that you’ve seen happen. What does it look like, how do you actually work with clients, especially countering it to, we’ve hinted at here, just that just selling investments versus actually doing financial planning?

Charles: With my clients, we very rarely talk about investments. We talk more about I guess what the outcome they want to see. So the way I like to look at it is every client comes to a financial advisor for particular reasons. They don’t come to you to become, for me, in my particular circumstance, they don’t come to me because they’re trying to get 8% return on their portfolio. They come to me because something happened, whether they lost a job, they got a motion, they want to buy a house, they want to buy a car, they just had a child, they just got married. So I meet them where they are and I truly does listen. So what are you trying to accomplish? So why did you come see me?

Charles: And based off that initial conversation, I understand what the desires are and I meet them there. So I give them what they’re looking for so that they’re satisfied and happy. But at the same time I also embed some of my financial planning frameworks and my philosophies about money so that they can see the big picture, they understand the wealth potential and then get a commitment for them to work in the ongoing.

Charles: So typically my average clients says hey, Charles, I got student loans, they’re in the medical field. They probably have $300,000, half a million dollars in debt. Help me. Sure I can help you. But also let’s look at your tax situations. How can I create more income for your household? Once we make this tweak here, reduce your tax liability, you get more dollars coming into the household. I can then use the same dollars that we just saved you do to purchase that insurance that you’ve been neglecting or not buying as you think you couldn’t afford it.

Charles: And then I say, well, if you make this tweak here, we call this insurance company for your auto insurance and reduce your coverage or change your cover or we shop the policy, we flip some more cash. Now they’re able to start that 529 plan that they previously thought they couldn’t afford. And over time as their income and situation changes, they have our discretionary cash flow and we’re able to fill all the buckets. But that would’ve never happened if I didn’t earn their trust from the very beginning by solving their problem today of reducing their student loan payments or coming up with a solution to that student loan conundrum.

Charles: So I’ll just look at it, meeting them where they are, filling that gap, addressing that need today, but also along the way earn their trust to allow me to continue to have the conversations and get them to buy into the process of financial planning by showing them that we can do this, without changing their lifestyle today.

Hannah: So I love the idea of meeting clients where they are. So do you find that you have a set number of meetings that you meet with clients or what does that look like, the nitty gritty of your client process?

Charles: Onboarding a new client, we probably anywhere between three and five meetings, depending on the complexity and the number of things we’re trying to do. The first meeting is just a data gathering intro where we discuss what their needs are. I ask some questions about what assets they have and then they submit to me some documents. Then I onboard them on my planning tool Iumoney, they see other assets in one place. They understand what they have, what they owe. And then I say time for me to go to work. But in that first conversation I ask a lot of questions to figure out what their objectives are, what they want to see happen, and I build a plan for them that addresses their needs.

Charles: So the third meeting is typically the presentation where I present to them the solution to their problem. And then I say oh, by the way, I also noticed along the way that you have these gaps. And whether they have a lot or a little, I let them know we have work to be done and I want to be your person to help you. However, I want to walk you through the process and along the way give you the education you need to understand because my job is only done if you understand why we’re making these changes. Because I can tell you what to do and you might do it. But the next person that come around and say why are you doing this or question your decision, you’ll change your approach. So we spend a lot of time educating our clients as to why we’re making these changes that we’re making during that third and fourth meeting where we’re providing the recommendations to them.

Charles: But I think what makes me a little bit different is I actually work with my clients to actually implement the recommendations as well. So a lot of my clients, I tell them to change their 401k allocation and if I leave it them, they won’t do it. So we schedule a meeting and we do it together. We get on Zoom call, I can see their accounts, their portal, I’ll walk them through the process of how to do it. I tell them to get insurance and they probably won’t do it on their own. So I might directly introduce them to a broker and I’ll call the broker and say this is what they need. We discussed it, but I also follow back up with their broker to ensure that they actually did what we discussed.

Charles: I tell my clients to get their estate documents done. Again, they won’t do it on their own. So it’s just that personal touch that I think makes a difference where you’re ensuring you’re clients actually execute the recommendations and they’re satisfied with that. And that’s how I get referred the way I do, because the clients see the results.

Charles: I tell them my clients, you gave me six months with you, you’ll see a difference. And if you don’t, you get your money back.

Hannah: And so for clients going through this process, what’s kind of the range that you charge for your financial planning services?

Charles: I think the financial planning world’s going to be mad at me. I’m dirt cheap. And I’ve been told that I need to increase my fees, but my average client pays me $600 for a financial plan. If they have more than half a million dollars in, I want to say net worth, then that might go up to $1,000 maybe. But typically between $600 and $1,000. And I have a deal with all my clients. I say I do all the work for free and you only pay me if you’re satisfied.

Charles: I’ve been doing this for seven years now and I’ve only had two clients not pay after I’ve done the work. So I do all the work upfront and they pay after I deliver the plan to them, only if they’re satisfied.

Hannah: Then are you doing, are you managing assets or selling insurance on the side?

Charles: Yep. So I also manage assets. So asset management fees, in between one and a quarter, going all the way down to, I want to say 75 basis points depending on the level of assets that they might have. I also offer insurance products as well. So I think the fact that I do AUM and the insurance products, that allows me to kind of offset the cost for the planning fee because I look at it on a comprehensive basis and the total revenue.

Charles: So if I had to guess average revenue per client when I factor in insurance AUM and planning fee, year one it’s somewhere between $3,500 and $5,000 and it goes down until year three where we probably are about to break even as their assets grow.

Hannah: And you found that this for your business model is a sustainable way of doing it?

Charles: Yeah, because I mean, for my client, like I said, I work with a lot of doctors and dentists and they have very predictable needs for insurance that is not filled that I find them within first three years of their career. So I’m able to know that if I work with a dentist, charge him a fee of $600 for the planning fee and I get them to make contributions to their investment account for three years, their portfolio should be about $100,000. That’s $1,000 of revenue. And then on the insurance side, primarily disability insurance, but when I offer them the disability insurance year one, the revenue is enough to kind of offset the reduction in fee.

Hannah: And those clients are only going to get bigger, right?

Charles: Oh absolutely. Because they are definitely committed to saving and we have an agreement with all my clients that I get 50% of all your excess. So we don’t deal with what you have now. Whatever you’re able to save today is fine. I just asked them to commit that on an ongoing basis, if they can commit to saving 50% of their excess, that’s a bonus. Salary increase or tax refund, whether that’s to an investment account with me, whether it’s the real estate properties, whatever the case might be, they must commit to saving it. And as long as they do that, we’ll be just fine.

Hannah: That’s a really cool way of looking at it. I haven’t done that with clients before, but I think that makes a lot of sense.

Charles: Yeah. Because I mean, I found that if I tell a client to reduce their spending, they’re going to tell me no. But if I tell them that I’m going to ask you in the future and you’re be okay with it to give me 50% of whatever extra you have, they’re more inclined to say yes because they don’t know what they’re missing because they never had it before. So as their income increases they’re able to defer more of their earnings to wealth building activities.

Hannah: Anything else that you want to talk about on your process or things that I’m not asking about that you think are important?

Charles: No, I mean, I think the biggest thing is really that personal relationship. I don’t want to oversimplify my process by any means and I just want to reiterate and clarify that a lot of the referrals that I’m getting now is based off the work I did early on in my career. Like I said, I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I already work with probably about 80 or so clients. And when they are making these referrals to me, these referrals didn’t start happening until two to three years down the line.

Charles: So it’s going to take time to get to a point where these referrals are just coming. But if you have the patience and you can commit yourself to doing the good work, it’ll definitely come.

Hannah: For your financial planning fee, I know you charge that initial planning fee. Do you charge that ongoing every year after that or is that just a one time fee?

Charles: No, so it’s ongoing every year after that. So I have, I call it a sliding scale based off of your net income. Someone called it a retainer model. But yeah, so my average client, while the assets are less than, I want to say $250,000, they’re paying $50 per month. As their assets increase from $100,000 to $250,000, $250,000 to $500,000 I believe is $100 per month. And although I have it, I have the charging, once your assets are over $1 million, I can charge up to $200 per month, but I typically stick around the $100 per month because I realize that if they’ve committed themselves to the process, the amount of work that I’m doing on an ongoing basis is definitely manageable with the compensation that I’m receiving off of $100 per month.

Hannah: You’re one of the people that I think sees this bigger picture of our profession, that is not just about your career, just about making money. And so I’m curious what are the issues that you see that our generation of financial planners is going to have to tackle?

Charles: I think the biggest issue that we’re all faced with, and I’m still struggling with, is how best to provide our advice to those individuals who can’t necessarily afford our fees or those individuals who are low income. I think that’s the biggest challenge that we’re going to face because what I’m realizing is our industry, be it not intentional, kind of pushes us to work with a certain demographic of individuals. And there’s a huge void in the space for individuals who don’t have the asset minimums, the income minimums for us to service.

Charles: I’m definitely working on different models and different ways that I can adapt my practice to serve those individuals who probably can’t afford me on a one on one basis. Maybe through group coaching or maybe through an online platform, I don’t know. But I think that we as an industry as a whole definitely should continue to put in thought in dollars behind figuring out different models of servicing our clients so that we can truly help individuals who want to be helped, number one. But those individuals who don’t have the assets to kind of pay for our services.

Hannah: You’re looking at group coaching and other things that. Do you see anybody who’s really doing that well in the space?

Charles: I haven’t really looked to be quite honest with you. So when I think about the different, I guess, strategies I want to implement for my practice, I kind of keep my head down and try not to look too left and right just because I don’t want to get distracted by some of the successes, but more importantly some of the failure that others are having. So I really don’t know what’s out there to be quite honest with you.

Charles: But I do know that there is a community of coaches who offer advice online that have blogs and podcasts and whatever you might call it, that are very successful. And they’re making money and they’re offering services to individuals who normally would not look like clients for financial advisors. What I find interesting about these coaches is that they’re charging monthly subscription fees, upwards of $150, $200, $300 per month to individuals who are making $40,000 per year.

Charles: So when I see that, I know the appetite, the individual is there to pay for these fees. It’s just figuring out how to, I guess, productize our services as advisors and deliver it in a way that we can do it compliantly and thoroughly enough so that we still honor our designations as advisers or whatever credentials we might have as fiduciaries.

Hannah: So what would be your advice for those who see similar problems and want to help solve those problems?

Charles: Just do something. So I mean, within our practice, I mean, it’s funny. Just do something. But within my practice, I reserve 10% to 20% of my time to work with individuals who are referred to me that normally won’t meet my requirements from a compensation standpoint to offer my services at a discount. That’s something that I’m doing personally.

Charles: But I think if all the advisors, they want to do something similar, we can do that. We can affect change. I think if a group of advisors come together and say, you know what, I see the same issue, let’s all tackle it together, I think we can affect change. I just think that a lot of us have thoughts and ideas that go unexecuted or unimplemented that end up on the shelf. And as time goes on, our lives get more and more complicated and we don’t have time to revisit these and actually implement them.

Charles: So if we just commit ourselves to just doing something and if we have an idea, explore it and stop being so secretive about it. Tell others. Because you might be able to get a group to help you execute versus just trying to do by yourself. So I mean, I think the answer is just doing it, trial and error.

Hannah: I have a little note on my computer screen, you have a sticky notes on there and it says that most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.

Charles: Yeah, no, I mean, I totally agree with that. And speaking personally, again, I would say my biggest issue is, I’m not going to say I’m a perfectionist, but I have a clear vision of what I want the end a product to look like. And when it doesn’t look like that, I don’t push the button, I don’t go, I stay and revise and revise and revise.

Charles: I heard a quote, I think Cheryl Sandberg of Facebook said it, done is better than perfect. And I’m trying, I’m not saying I’m succeeding, but I’m definitely trying to adapt that philosophy into the work that I do because I spend a lot of time modifying work products that to me don’t meet my quality standards. But I think to the average person, they’ll be saying Charles is just fine. I think we as advisors, we all struggle with the same challenge where we try to make things perfect, as opposed to just getting out there and seeing what sticks and making modifications as time goes on.

Hannah: So what would be your advice for new planners starting out in the profession?

Charles: Quite simply just enjoy it. I mean, I think this profession provides a lot of benefits to connect with a lot of cool people. I think definitely number one, enjoy it. Number two, ask a lot of questions. As a new planner, people tend to forgive a lot more and they expect less from you. So ask a lot of questions. Don’t think you have all the solutions. It’s okay not to know.

Charles: But most importantly have patience. I’ve been the business for 10 years, like I said, and I’ve seen I want to say 60 individuals or more leave the profession just because they weren’t making the income that they wanted to make within the first two years within the profession. But if this is truly a calling for you, this is something that you really want to do and you understand your why, why you chose this profession, I think you can sacrifice two to five years of income for the ultimate reward that comes on the other side of the struggle. And I tell you it’s there because I’m experiencing it now and I’ve met lots of others as I traveled who are also experiencing the same reward of financial planning.

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