Consider Your Past to Determine Your Niche

Next Generation Planner: July 2021


Tina Wood-Wentz
Biostatistician, Mayo Clinic

Career changers should consider using their prior career experience as a springboard to clients. This could include experience with a prior employer, prior employer type, or prior profession. Prior experience in these areas provide an automatic niche of expertise, and your name is already known to former colleagues as an internal expert.

What Is Your Niche?       

There are several useful strategies for determining your niche, according to Jim Grote, CFP®, in an August 2010 article in the Journal of Financial Planning. One of them is leveraging your past, specifically, what have you done for a living before becoming a financial planner, and what occupations do you understand?

What Is Your Career-Changing Situation?

If you’re a career changer, you are coming at the financial planning profession in a non-traditional way. That may mean finding part-time work on nights and weekends while you persist in the prior profession to keep your income up, especially if you have a family to support. Or that may mean coming in as a full-time new hire who is driven to get their client load up as soon as possible to return to a pre-career-change income level. Either way, you have a unique advantage compared to the usual post-college graduate: you have a large network of people whose company benefits you have prior experience with, and with whom you have previously established years or decades of name recognition and trust.

Using Your Former Profession as a Niche

Especially when you are getting started in the profession, it helps to have secondary forms of proof of your expertise.

You are already intimately familiar with the benefits structure of at least one company in the field of interest. In fact, if you were associated with that company for an extended duration, such as if financial planning is your encore career, then you may also be well acquainted with the benefits changes that have happened over time. These changes may not be well documented in the materials available through your client’s HR intranet website. If you had older friends or mentors among your former colleagues, you likely had been involved in conversations with them as they were in the process of retiring, gaining a variety of second-hand experiences of the decisions, challenges, and options they faced.

Especially if your former company is a primary employer in one area, there is a higher likelihood that there will be “married-married” employees there—that is, when a married couple are both employed by the same company. There are often extra benefits or penalties for married-marrieds and additional opportunities of who carries the medical insurance, healthcare flexible spending accounts, and dependent care flexible spending accounts from year to year, without having to weigh the quality, direct cost, or available providers associated with the coverage.

For example, if you are a former engineer with 25 years’ experience at a Fortune 500 car company, then you were probably intimately familiar with the benefits at said company, and that likely translates to knowing the typical benefits available at other Fortune 500 car companies. If you started there when you were single and stayed there while you married and had kids, you have first-hand experience with all three of those scenarios and the transitions between the benefit states.

Customizing Your Client Service Calendar

It’s also easier to target your niche when you can specialize your client service calendar. If you are a career changer formerly working in the local school district, you would be intimately familiar with their 403(b) and 457(b) options, and you would know that open enrollment happens between the two school years, so your client service calendar would include open enrollment benefit reviews as soon as the benefits changes are announced in May. You would also know that their healthcare flexible spending account dollars must be spent by June 30 and reimbursed by September 30, so reminders to your clients about those dates would be part of your client service calendar as well.

If you are a career changer from a non-governmental, non-profit employer with a top hat 457(b), then your client service calendar could include an April financial review for selection of a contribution percentage for 457(b) open enrollment in May, since that’s a pre-election that only occurs once a year. And if they’re unsure of their date of retirement, at that same April meeting you could provide counsel on the value of delaying a proposed retirement date from June until September, with an aggressive 457(b) funding schedule, to set aside additional dollars pre-tax in that calendar year. Similarly, for those approaching retirement, you could include on your client service calendar a September review of the value of their pension. This would be before the annual recalculation in November based on the current interest rates, and this would allow you to discuss what might happen to their pension lump sum value if the interest rates go up or down, and how that might impact their choice of retirement timing.

If the two primary employers in your area are the school district and a for-profit company, you can help spouses employed by both types coordinate their family finances. This could be done by using the for-profit assumedly higher wages to subsidize the family expenses and maximize their 401(k) while the school district employee maximizes both 403(b) and 457(b) contributions. The for-profit employee likely has November as their open enrollment window and December 31 as their flexible spending account dollar use deadline, so every six months you can help the couple coordinate the amount of flexible spending account dollars to be put away. Cash flow could be put aside for March employee stock-option purchases at the for-profit spouse’s company with a February planning meeting on your client service calendar for this purpose. As retirement nears, if the for-profit employee’s stock options vest in April, then you can counsel them on the value of not retiring until May.

Coordination and Optimization of Employee Benefits

Often employees don’t understand the implications of their benefit elections. They may over-elect use-it-or-lose-it flexible spending account dollars. They may be a low healthcare utilizer and still elect a high premium health insurance plan, for no better reason than because that’s the plan their older (and typically more healthcare dependent) work mentors utilize. Failure to understand that there’s an additional married-married benefit of life insurance coverage for the children may mean an unnecessary life insurance policy for the children is bought using out-of-pocket dollars. Or failure to understand that the employer has a per-household limit on rolling 12-month FMLA leave usage could cause great frustration or disappointment if two health emergencies strike. This may be the final motivation to convince one spouse to change employers. Even one year of optimizing benefits elections for a single person can save your client thousands of dollars now, without having to talk about the instability of future market returns, and be an easy justification of your fee for younger clients.

Initial Marketing Beyond Friends and Family

When starting in a financial planning career, your first potential prospects are often considered to be your friends and family. However, as a career changer, you have already established a wider network of people who know, like, and trust you—your colleagues at your former employer. You already have name recognition. Before your career change, you likely had already been an internal expert on the company benefits for your work area and possibly your spouse’s work area as well. If you’d been there a long time, you may have been a resource for your colleagues as various benefit changes rolled out. These are experiences you can call out on your website to cite your expertise, but they are also things your colleagues will remember if they seek financial advice and find your name on their list of candidates.

But What If I Want to Specialize in Retirees?

Even if you want to specialize in retirees of XYZ company, as you are getting started, you may need additional income opportunities. This is a great opportunity for the career changer from XYZ company to offer one-off, hourly, or project-based planning engagements for younger employees of XYZ company, focusing on providing counsel on benefits election at open enrollment time or for new employees. And getting your name out among any employees of XYZ company is good marketing for water cooler, Yammer, Slack, or Happeo discussions when those closer to your target demographic are seeking recommendations on professionals to consider; I regularly see fellow employees making requests for recommendations of financial planners, tax preparers, and/or CPAs from colleagues on our intranet discussion forum.


Specializing in one or a small handful of similar, large companies will give the career changer an automatic niche of expertise and allow them to leverage prior experiences. This will help shorten the career changer’s runway to resumed financial stability with the career transition, providing a springboard to clients in the new career. Additionally, this concept can be leveraged by career changers with a spouse who has spent time at the company of interest since they have already had familial exposure. 

With an extensive background that includes whitewater kayak instructor, data scientist, tax preparer, and board member for many non-profits, Tina Wood-Wentz is a financial educator, paraplanner, and founder of Wood Financial Services LLC. Tina brings a passion for understanding numbers along with helping and educating others. She wants her fellow employees from her data scientist career to feel secure by understanding their personal financial situation and employee benefits.

General Financial Planning Principles
Practice Management
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Learning / Aspiring