Welcome to Episode Five of the Financial Finesse podcast. In today’s podcast, I invite you into my financial advisor mastermind group. If you don’t know what a mastermind group is, it’s a peer to peer mentoring group where you get support and advice on issues you may be facing in running your business or in your life.
My mastermind group has been invaluable to me in supporting me in building my financial advisory practice, keeping up on industry news, and deepening my knowledge of issues that affect my clients.
There are five of us in our group, and we live in all different parts of the country. And as we are all lifelong learners, we met through a professional development program. We all clicked, and we decided to take our meetings on a more intimate level and start this mastermind
And for today, we’re not going to do our usual masterminding. Instead, I’ve asked all the group members to share a story about how they’ve helped a client and a little bit about their firm. And this way, I hope you’ll get an insight into how financial advisors help their clients build really successful financial lives.
And Maura, why don’t you start?
Hey, thanks, Cathy. So, to introduce myself, my name is Maura Griffon. My firm is called Blue Spark Financial, and we’re based in New York City and in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where we have been sequestered here during the shutdown.
So we manage about 130 million for 70 families, households, mostly headed by single women. So that is basically our clientele, is women who are on their own, either because of divorce, or death of a spouse. Sometimes it’s women who’ve always been single, and their parents have died, or they’ve adopted a child and that child is now going to college. But people who have something going on in their lives that’s caused a transition and a shift in how they think about money. Many of them have never managed money
on their own, for these big issues, maybe they’ve saved money, but they don’t. They’re now approaching retirement and they don’t know how to de-accumulate. Sometimes that’s a word, they’re like, oh, I love that word. I know how to accumulate but I don’t know how to de-accumulate.
So and it’s, it’s emotional. Money is emotional, especially in these times. And so if there’s a common denominator to all of all of our clients, it’s that,
again, mostly women, but also they’ve got a finite portfolio of money, a pot of money that they need to last them for the rest of their lives. And, you know, I think it’s that combination of emotional support, as well as, you know, deep understanding of the technicalities of taxes and estate planning, and basically all the components of what goes into true financial planning. And I you know, I also want to mention that we are, we’re fee only fiduciary firm, which means that we put our clients’ interests above our own, that we’re not salespeople. We’re acting on the, we’re on the same side of the table as clients.
The you know, we often ask questions like, what does money mean to you? And you know, often people are not even thinking about money. They’re thinking about having enough of it, but they’re not thinking about what money can do to get them their best lives. And so it’s you know, it’s peeling apart that onion of how to use the resources and create align your values with what they want, what they’re spending on and what their goals are.
So it’s a lot like coaching in that way. It’s helping people find their purpose, and then being able to create a financial plan around that purpose and goal, that aligns the financial planning and the investment planning as well.
My clients tend to be, you know, conservative because they are worried about, you know, having this money last. And so at the core of what we do is what we call an endowment method of investing. Some people call it a, it’s similar to a bucket strategy, which some of you may have heard of, but it’s basically it helps clients sleep at night because it approaches the investment portfolio, not from a position of are you conservative, or are you risky, it’s a matter of a timeline. And so say that from now to five years out, we have that is the safety portion of the portfolio. So they know they can pay their bills, and that no matter what the market does, it can have wild swings up and down, but they know that their income is steady, and they’re going to be getting that monthly paycheck. And that helps
A lot of people and then there’s that five to 10 year portion of the portfolio. And that’s got big cap stocks, dividend paying, it’s got REITs, it’s got, you know, kind of solid equities, but a little out on the risk scale from bonds and cash equivalents. And then that 10 years plus, which, as we all know, the economic cycle goes up and down. But that can be invested in riskier and riskier equities, like small caps and international and emerging markets and some of those things that have their cycles and have their day. But that’s and that feeds then into the safety portion of the portfolio. So it’s an ongoing dynamic strategy. Maura I love that you’re going into the details of this and
I really appreciate it so our viewers can get an idea of like a practical way that we help. Can you give
A brief story of a client situation that you where you really felt like you added some value to their financial life, given all of these things that that you do, and we all do for our clients. Sure. So I have one client who
lost her husband. And so again, had had a pot of money that was largely invested in US large caps. She hadn’t paid much attention. And you know, it, it was a time when the market went down. And so she saw her portfolio, go from one number to another number, and it was frightening and so to be able to reallocate that portfolio, according to her needs, and to see what she was going to spend it on. So that means untangling a lot. A lot of issues like, like spending and upcoming taxes.
And how to, you know, digging into the best ways to save on taxes. And basically creating that timeline using assumptions about the future because obviously we can never know. But that calmed her and to be able to see it as it’s not just a lump of stocks and bonds that this is it’s invested according to her needs and timeline. I’m sure she gets a lot of comfort out of that. Had she ever used an advisor before? I know her husband had, okay. Yeah, and that’s pretty common with women where the husband handles the financial matters solely. And then the woman’s on her own and really needs some support. Precisely she said that she would had never been invited to the meetings and when she did they, the advisor didn’t talk to her.
So she tells me that she
loves working with me because I listen.
Good listening skills are critical. And I think many of us women have them. Don’t you know you all agree? Yeah.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I love this group. And thanks Cathy for putting this together. Great. Thank you, Maura, great stories. And good. I know you do great work for your clients. Thanks Bev would you like to go next? Sure, sure. Um, my name is Beverly Cox. I’m an independent Certified Financial Planner and a chartered advisor in philanthropy. And I’ll go a little slightly different direction than Maura and just tell you a story of a particular client but I have been a financial planner for 30 years. And I have lots of stories and the ones that I really appreciate the most are the ones where I’ve been allowed to be
for decades involved in someone’s financial and really their whole life because of that relationship. So they have grown up with me obviously over the last 30 years and accepted me into their lives and allowed me is which is the way I look at it to love and support and be of service to them as they evolve through their own lives. So in those days, 30 years ago, most people came into financial services business through the insurance store, and that was me as well. So
and then I’ve evolved into the CFP and of financial comprehensive financial planning, but I have a number of widow clients that I seem to attract and I have a great deal of affinity for them. As single women who are usually as Maura was saying not been at the table or not been as involved when they when they did have a spouse
and so they do appreciate the help and they need the help. And I like that situation. So this is a story of one of them. So her name is Jane, which is not her name. And she was happily married with two children, one in high school and one in in junior high school. Both she and her husband who was an older man were working at well-paying but high stress jobs. And one of the biggest financial goals that they had from early on was to pay the total cost of college for these girls and particularly at name brand schools they wanted.
Although he had some health problems, Jane’s husband tragically, unexpectedly died. And
it was a horrible time, I was there for that as well. And it was heartbreaking. And so other than taking care of her needs of the moment in terms of cash and
making sure she felt secure, I did very little planning, we really, I think it’s part of my job as a planner, to hold space for that experience that you have to allow the person I believe to go through. There is a process of grief and loss and, and it’s not where your head is right? It’s like you have to emotionally allow that process to happen. So my job is to be there and to stay with that and then to when that client is signaling and allowing me to talk about her future then we can go more into okay, let’s make some plans. So and in my experience, it can take more than a year to get my particular widow clients to that point. And that’s fine with me. That’s fine with me. So a quick question here during that year, how often do you meet with this client and is it via phone, face to face
kind of setups? Coffee dates,
which she was probably an hour away from where I was living and we would, we talked a lot, we actually did and I in those days especially I was going to client’s homes, so we probably went together.
We probably saw each other four or five times that year, then would be on the phone. So it’s like, you know, what I think we represent is we are a safety connection, right? A connection you’ve allowed me in, you allowed me to know what’s going on with you financially. Now use me and use my strength when you don’t have it. Use me for questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll go find the answer for you. So I just feel like we are a resource that is so much beyond managing money as well, right? That if you allow us to, if you let us have this kind of relationship with you, then you get the full
foundation of talents and skills that we can bring to the table. So, that answer your question? Yes. Very good. So I want to go on with this story if it’s okay. Okay, so in the first few years after we, we made it through and she was ready to do some planning, we actually did a lot of the plans that are in place and solidified her future. And that and she was tenacious, and this was a wonderful quality and she deposited and contributed to her 401k to the max every year. And part of that was matched by her company, which was great. We took some of the insurance proceeds from her husband’s policy and purchased a permanent life insurance policy for her and that was to cover some of the responsibilities if she were not there for her girls. She also had a large policy through her employer as well for that
and but it also
There’s cash value life insurance provided a place to accumulate excess reserves money that she could get to if she needed to and was also not at risk. So we had this safety net again, emergency money if needed. So we obtained as well an investment that can be turned into a guaranteed stream of income for her retirement. If that were what we needed to do. We wanted to put the potential in place so that we knew there were these streams of income that could serve her. We reviewed long term care insurance policies, alternatives, and we chose a traditional Long Term Care Policy for her because now Jane as a widow with these two girls, she wanted very much to protect
any kind of devastation financially that might happen to her own future. So that was important to her and that policy gives her a lot of peace of mind and it still does. So those early investments have been the foundation of what
We have done as she has, has had more money, we have done more with her money in terms of investments. And again, she’s socking as much as she can into her 401k. Every year, we went to a good estate planning attorney together, and we had the documents drawn up. And through the years, she has gone now since two more reviews with that estate planning attorney and we are always involved in any changes, suggestions that estate planning attorney has. So we’ve kept her docs up to date, which also gives her a great deal of peace of mind. So we also did a lot with cash flow. So cash management and I have found this with lots of clients that allow me a lot of time in their lives is that a lot of it is about a transition that they’re going through at some particular moment where it’s like okay, how do we finance that? How do we find the money for that? So we were going from you know, they had two good incomes to now we’re at one
income. She does have a widow’s pension, but it was still a different financial situation. There was lots of jockeying and balancing for different conflicting things that are going on. How are we going to save for these girls’ colleges, run a household, buy and sell cars, she had some relatives that needed some financial assistance sometimes, and then maintaining and repairing, refreshing her longtime home through all these years. So all those extra expenses were identified as we could and planned for. And through the years, we did take advantage of the cash value in this life insurance that she had accumulated. A HELOC a home equity line of credit that we had in place on the home. And even credit cards with zero percent programs were taken advantage of over the years if you needed the money and that’s where you could get it. That’s a financial transaction to manage. And that was my job. So she was super helpful to me. Because
she was a good saver. So I worried about and planned for the big picture. And then she just kept plugging away. So that’s an important part of any of any relationship is to have that enthusiastic client that’s helping her own situation. So have you, what your story is telling a perfect example of what a truly comprehensive financial plan is, where you’re looking at everything, you’re looking at cash flow, you’re looking at risk, and you’re helping them with insurance, and you’re looking at their estate plan and all the other issues that go into a truly comprehensive plan. So I’m really glad that you shared with us that broad array of issues that we help our clients with. So thanks so much for that story. Thank you. And Steph, would you like to go next, Stephanie Bruno? Sure. Cathy, I love your podcast, and I’m honored to be here.
Part of it today and I’m really honored to be part of this group of women who are so smart and also bring me a lot of joy. I’m Steph Bruno, my firm is Sea to Peak Financial Advisors. We have offices in Denver and Seattle, and I too am a fee only firm. So I enjoy working with executives that are complex and busy. Most of my clients are first generation wealth, they have just worked hard and done very well and they just need really good help. It’s important to me to not only help my clients grow their wealth, but to also see that make a difference in their lives. So I’ve incorporated life planning, you know, Cathy talked about before, it’s sort of brainstorming our client situations. I look at it if you think of like a jigsaw puzzle. Some people can do a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture on the box which is really difficult but
I think if you look at the picture on the box, and you look at all these pieces that we have, and then you say, what’s the best way to organize these pieces to get to that picture? I think about that’s what we do. And that’s what we can do if we have a really good life plan.
I’ll give you an example of how I think this made a difference. And one of my clients lives, I have this great client, she’s an environmental engineer, loved her work, loved the purpose behind it. But she had been working 60 to 80 hours a week. She had a lot of international travel. And she was also a little tired of the corporate bureaucracy. So she wanted to do something different. So we engage a life planning process to figure out, well what do you really want your life to look like? And what we came up with is she really only wanted to work about 40%. She wanted to spend about 20% of her time doing some nonprofit work. She wanted to spend about a
another 20% of time working on a novel. And really then just having a lot of fun. So once we figured out what the end what she wanted it to look like, the next stage that we went to is she had to figure out what that work was going to look like. So we work through an encore career handbook. So that helped her figure out what is this work I’m going to do, that’s going to be 40%, but yet still really fill me up as a person and meet that purpose piece of it. So she enjoyed the work that she did. She just wanted to do less of it. So she decided she was going to do some consulting work. And that also she was going to serve on corporate boards as well. And so that would provide some income. She had been on her board at her company, so it’s going to be a nice steppingstone to doing that work. And so once we had these two pieces in place, then the next part was to look at what does the financial plan look like?
We had to look at a lot of different scenarios, you know, starting off, what if she doesn’t make any money the first year? Or what if over this timeframe, she makes enough money to support herself, but not enough to save for retirement. She also had corporate stock. So we had to look at, what if the corporate stock dropped by 50%? How was her plan going to be affected? We were working to reduce that concentration. But she still had some. And of course, we wanted to look at what if it all worked out, right? Like, what’s the dream here? And if everything goes according to plan, what is that going to look like?
When I think of this client, she is a rock star.
I think all of my clients are. I love the work that I do, and I love my clients, but I think she in particular, really embraced this process. And I think that’s part of what made it successful.
We also had to look at what were some of the technical issues around her benefits. So as I mentioned,
I work with executives. They’ve got a lot of complex benefit plans. And they have different distributions and payouts and those types of things as well. And so one of the things we knew was that at age 55, she got much better deferred compensation payouts. Also at age 55. As she stepped away from work, she would be able to withdraw money from her 401k plan without penalty, should she need those funds. And of course, we had to plan for the fact that she was going to need some liquidity, right. We wanted to make sure that we had some safe cash set aside. So as she embraced this next phase of her life, that she really wasn’t worried about the money. She was secure in that process and could really go for it.
So this client, she went through this process, and today she has a consulting practice where she
does consulting projects, but only the ones she picks and chooses. She does work for two corporate boards.
She’s about ready to send her novel into her agent. And this is not just a novel she wrote over the weekend. She’s worked for three years with a writing coach, and is sending it off, and her encore career has been so successful, that we just updated her life plan to include her home on Martha’s Vineyard where she’s currently spending the summer so
yeah, yeah. Yeah, it just shows to me that when you have really good planning, combined with a good vision of what you want your life to look like, what can truly happen.
Steph that is such a great story. And you know, it’s a perfect example of something that we all do called scenario planning, where you look at several different iterations of the plan, depending on what they want to do, you know, their most audacious goals and then maybe if that doesn’t work out a little lesser, but it sounds like she reached all her audacious goals, which is amazing.
I’m sure she loves you for it. I’m sure she thinks you’re a rock star too.
Okay, thank you. Tanya.
I am Tanya Nichols. I love being with you guys. This group is one of the most I look forward to our time together. Every two weeks more than just about any other meetings I attend.
I really get a lot out of just hearing just all of these ladies telling their stories, even today, you can kind of pick up all the strengths and talents that they have in their brain to their clients. So thanks for having me. Um, I run an investment firm for women within a few years of retirement in northern Minnesota and Duluth on Lake Superior. And
I just was going to my kind of story for today was about a new client actually. And she was referred to me and she’s not quite divorced, yet.
In the process of going through a divorce, and I loved Steph’s story where, where her, her client was able to really get clear about her vision. And then step by step get through it. And this client is in this phase of transition, where her vision is really clouded by uncertainty. Much like what Bev was talking about with widows for example, and the major transition with something like losing a spouse or, or even retirement, all those transitions can make things somewhat cloudy. And so she is getting divorced. And it’s been discussed, but it’s not quite. It keeps getting there’s hang ups and anybody who’s ever been through one kind of knows how that goes.
But she’s been in a situation where she has felt no personal agency over her money. She’s been a really successful executive. She’s been the earner in her family. However, she’s had no agency over her
wealth creation and the money that she’s saved over the years. Her husband has been primarily responsible for that. And so as a result, there’s like a lot of money avoidance going on for her. And so what was interesting about her and these kind of cases, I love to get involved with at this stage, just finding me by she asked some friends for introductions and referrals. And through a friend of a friend, she came to my website and check this. And
she scheduled this first call and just that exercise for her because she’s never had an advisor. She’s never even logged into her accounts at this point. Her husband handled everything and she’s a successful high-powered executive yet at home, she did not have this power. And so just purely making that phone call to me was
Like step one in her taking her financial life on and taking control of her future. And then by call two, she had every login for every single one of her accounts, and she had a list for me of her net worth and all of her assets. And watching that unfold for someone is really exciting because a lot of my clients are really successful, yet they don’t feel good about their money. They’re women in this retirement age who grew up and likely became successful in an industry, which most industries where leadership was dominated by males. And so they found a way to get a seat at the table, sometimes by shrinking and yet now here they are, and they’re successful, and they’re the ones who run the table. Yet they still are almost hiding their success or they feel almost bad about their money. And so part of the work that we’re doing or that we hope to do is really help all of our clients feel good about their money and their wealth and their success. So
This particular client, we’re just getting started. And some of the most important work we’re doing at the beginning, is just giving her permission to let go of you can’t do everything at once, which is what many of my brilliant colleagues have alluded, alluded to. So for her, I could spend all day talking about are you saving enough for retirement, even though she’s close to 60, it’s not the priority, the priority is getting moved on this divorce. And so stage one, we resolved that the first step is to build a reserves out of her investments and help her decide which investments she could use to fund a reserve account, so that she feels secure and that she’s got her own, you know, bucket of cash reserves to take care of these immediate expenses, like lawyers bills and a new condo and some of these things that she needs to act on. And then her homework is really to go meet with that divorce attorney and get moving on this divorce because until she does that, I think it’s
gonna be really hard to get clear about where she’s going. So, stage one for her is building these reserves and getting her all of her different accounts. She’s got like 13 different accounts at different places. And so we’re going to work to get all of those consolidated and simplified so that she can continue with this personal agency over her dollars. And then we’ve postponed some of the planning, like regarding retirement, and how much should she be saving and is there enough and where she’s going to live permanently, all that is kind of set to later, but I’m giving her permission to say or helping her give herself permission to say I’ll get to that. But right now we need to address these items first. So our mission really is to help our clients feel good about their success and their money. And as Beth mentioned, it’s like one of the greatest privileges to be involved in these stories with people.
So I feel grateful to be doing this kind of work with people.
I can’t tell you how valuable it is to hear you all share your stories. There’s been pieces of every single one of your businesses that I’ve brought into my own with my client relationships, and to brainstorm and solve for some of these issues with clients is just invaluable to me. So thanks for having me, Cathy. I agree with you, Tanya. This group is invaluable and I wanted to touch on something that you said and it’s a theme throughout as, as you could see a lot of us work with women, not exclusively not we don’t all work with women exclusively. But there is a common theme with women where they don’t own their power financially. And I think that all of us are really dedicated to helping women do that. And either in ways where they can feel more free to spend, or we also let them know when maybe they need to not spend so much and but in all ways we want them to get empowered around their
money. So thanks so much for that story, Tanya.
So now it’s my turn.
So I work with mainly independent women. And when I say independent women, I mean women that are responsible for the finances, and it could be whether because they’re widowed, divorced, maybe they’re in a partnership, but they make the money and they have the decision making over money, things like that. But mostly women, I do have some men clients. And a typical situation for me, is a woman who is retired and has lived in the family home for decades. And all of a sudden starts to think about how much longer do I want to live in this home? And, and do I want to keep maintaining it, the roof and the yard and you know, it’s hard as you get older, you lose your
strength you, you have to be careful of getting up on ladders and doing all those things. And but it’s such an emotional decision to leave the family home. So the first thing you do is you tackle that, right? You have conversations around, doing that making that big giant decision to sell the family home and move into more of a retirement community situation. So I’m there to support them through the thought process. And in doing that, secondly, it’s the financials. And this is where the number crunching comes in, where you determine whether they can afford to sell the family home and I’m thinking about a woman in particular that I’m working with right now. But this is fairly common situation for me and my clients. So I use specialized software to input all the numbers. What if you sold your home for this much or you got this much proceeds? And what can you afford to buy? Is your next place a retirement
community and will that work for you for the rest of your life. And we have such long lifespans, I usually use 95 to 100 for lifespans to make sure that they don’t run out of money if they make this big move. So I give them peace of mind over the financial decision. First, it’s helping them get through the emotions. And then next is the finances. And there are a couple of other issues involved with this move. And that is, what do you do with all the stuff you have in your house? This is a daunting thing. This one particular client was a single child and one of the only nieces in the family and she ended up with all the silver, like five sets of silver and five sets of China. Well, and you know, you can imagine all the furniture and everything else she inherited over the years. So that made this move even harder and more gut wrenching for her because her kids, nobody wants that stuff anymore. Her adult
children did want it, what do you do with it? So it’s working through things like that, helping them let go of things and, and issues that will help them move forward. So I find great satisfaction and in helping clients through situations like that, because I really feel like I’m being a helper to them and, it just makes them feel better about such a major life transition.
So I hope that um, now that we’ve all told our stories and let you know who we are, I hope that you’ve enjoyed this and got a little bit of a peek into the kind of issues that financial advisors help their clients with, and how we support each other through this wonderful mastermind. And I want to say to all of you, I love you all. And thank you so much for participating in this podcast. And maybe we’ll do it again sometime.
Thank you, Cathy. Thanks Cathy.