The Game Has Changed: What I’ve Learned from My First Year Running an RIA
I can still feel the pit in my stomach. Friday afternoon, the sound of colleagues discussing weekend plans and the upcoming Bills game. I was headed for my boss’s office to resign from my corporate job.
It’s not that I was in a bad position. I enjoyed my job and the people I worked with. I just knew there was a better way.
Flash forward, a year later, here we are. This week marks the first anniversary of my decision to launch an independent financial planning firm.
What a year it’s been. Entrepreneurship is every bit of the emotional rollercoaster it’s said to be. I’ve felt empowered, exhilarated, and exasperated – sometimes all within the same day.
As I reflect on the past year, what stands out is that building my firm has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. But it’s not the satisfaction of still standing a year later – it’s the gratification of being able to truly work in the best interests of the families I serve and feel like I’m making a positive difference in their lives.
The Game Has Changed
I’ve learned that, for the most part, families seek professional help with their money not because they lack access to information – these are people who have created successful careers and accumulated substantial savings to get them through retirement. What they are looking for is someone they trust that can help them sift through the information and determine what’s useful and relevant to their specific situation.
Financial planning at its core is about helping people determine what they want their life to look like. After that, it’s the development of an ongoing and iterative framework that aligns your use of capital with what’s important to you.
Of course, the technical aspects are still important. You have to know your stuff and understand the investing landscape intricately. But that’s become table stakes in our industry. The real professionals are the ones taking the time to get to know their clients as people, and helping them live their version of a fulfilled life.
Authenticity is the Way
Throughout this process, I’ve learned the power of developing and sharing my authentic voice. My business today reflects exactly who I am and everything I stand for as a person. When you can lean into who you are and what you believe in, your message has a way of resonating with the right families who share a similar worldview. It also likely turns off some who may not be the right fit. Both are good outcomes.
In a society where more people are connected than ever before, it’s become increasingly difficult to discern the meaningful from the superficial. The financial services industry is no different. When you work at a larger firm, you’re taught to look, act, and speak in a certain way. It can be really difficult to identify the right fit to help you grow and protect your money. At our core, we’re all seeking genuine, human connection. Life is too short to be anything other than exactly you.
Everything is a Tradeoff
Being a business owner requires an unwavering focus, as there is no shortage of demands for your time. It’s critical to pay attention to what roles provide energy and fulfillment. For me, that’s having discussions around what’s most important in the lives of the families I serve.
After all, there are four types of wealth in life; financial (money), social (status), time (freedom), and physical (health). It’s only when you find the proper balance that you’ll be able to live a truly rich life, and time is the only resource we can’t get back.
It’s a frequent point of conversation I have with families who are preparing to transition into retirement. Yes, I do believe that most people can do an adequate job of making all of the pieces of their retirement fit together in a tax-efficient manner and live a great life without professional help. The question is how you want to spend your time and energy in retirement and what that’s worth to you.
The Company You Keep
Some of the most impactful advice I’ve embraced from the start is to surround yourself with people who most inspire you.
When I transitioned from being an employee at a big firm to becoming a fee-only, fiduciary planner, I went from being a salesperson to an advice-giver. What I didn’t fully realize at the time was the difference in mentality that each world provides.
I’ve found my way into some tremendous professional circles that I can confidently say I wouldn’t be here without*. Instead of the traditional scarcity mindset and treating fellow professionals as competition, it’s an abundance mentality when you commit to putting your clients’ interests first. There are far too many people out there that need real financial planning for any of us to serve individually. The more we collaborate, the better served our clients and the greater community will be. It’s a beautiful thing.
*h/t to the Advisor Growth Community and XY Planning Network
In business and life, there is a tendency always to be moving the goalposts and expecting more from yourself. This applies to many realms of our lives, from savings to professional and personal goals.
More than anything, this year has taught me to appreciate this season in life for what it is. When I look back at what I thought I knew when launching compared to now, it’s night and day. In the future, I know I’ll look back and realize the same. I think we all can benefit from slowing down and taking the time to recognize just how far we’ve come on our own paths in life.
To those that have had my back all along, my wife, family, friends, and clients. You all have allowed me to live out one of my biggest dreams.
Sure, you could make the case that launching a business right before a global pandemic is not advised. However, I’m grateful for my health and the health of the people I love, and for the opportunity to continue earning a living doing what I’m meant to do. It’s all part of the journey, and we’re just getting started. The best is yet to come!
Brett Koeppel is a fee-only Buffalo financial advisor, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM , and the Founder/President of Eudaimonia Wealth. Eudaimonia Wealth is a fee-only, fiduciary, Buffalo financial planner and wealth management firm dedicated to helping families prepare for and transition into retirement by providing independent, objective financial planning and investment management advice.