Next Generation Planner: August 2021
Katrina Soelter, CFP®, Director, Wealth Management,
KCS Wealth Advisory
Katrina Soelter’s first career was not financial planning. She joined Teach for America and earned a master’s in reading instruction while teaching elementary school. However, she realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t the best fit for her.
“The big lightbulb moment was when I was thinking about the fact that I had to do whatever I was going to do for 30 or 40 years. I really wanted a career where I found the art and science of that, the professional development piece, interesting; where I wanted to carry professional development books in my bag because I found the subject matter interesting, and that wasn’t teaching.”
Soelter wasn’t sure at first what to do with that realization, but luckily, moms always know best.
“My mom reminded me that I had taken an elective course my junior year of college on personal finance, and I absolutely loved it; I could not stop talking about it.”
In the post-Great Recession era, Soelter wasn’t fully sold on the reputation of the wider financial services industry. She started to research different fields within the industry and sought informational interviews with anyone who could make some time for her. That led her to financial planning and CFP® certification but introduced a new obstacle.
“There weren’t a lot of entry-level programs in the field, so the interviews I was getting were at a couple of firms where it was sink or swim, list all of the people that you know, [they’re] going to be the people you go try to get as clients. I thought, ‘I was a teacher six weeks ago, I don’t think people are going to want to give me their money.’”
Soelter’s grandmother introduced her to her financial planner at Wells Fargo Advisors, who was looking for a client associate. She joined the team and started working on her CFP® certification through the UCLA extension. She found a supportive team at WFA and joined the firm’s mentor program, working closely with her senior adviser to learn the ropes. Eventually, though, she started to recognize ways she wanted to get more personal satisfaction from the profession.
“There was nobody else in my branch doing real planning. The software was limiting, and there was nobody else who was a CFP® [professional], and nobody else who was a woman. My team was fantastic, but I wanted to do hardcore planning. That meant cash flow, and reviewing the tax returns, and reviewing the estate plan, and reviewing and making recommendations for insurance.”
Soelter also wanted to focus on smaller clients with under $2 million in assets. She turned to her network and a previous connection with Laura Gilman, co-founder and managing partner of KCS Wealth Advisory.
“It’s the holy grail: a woman who is a CFP® [certificant] and had been a CPA, who was doing hardcore intensive financial planning at a small-to-midsized RIA with a fiduciary mandate, and everybody at the firm is a CFP® [professional] or a CFA.”
There are parallels between Soelter’s previous experience in teaching and financial planning that helped her in her new role
“There is a spiritual connection because teaching in elementary school, you’re breaking down complex topics for small children, [and] I break down complex topics for adults now. The other part of it is there’s a backwards mapping that has to happen as a teacher to meet all of the standards throughout the school year. You have to take it from big picture—what are the units you’re going to teach?—break it down to the standards, make sure you’re meeting every standard, break that down to a weekly lesson plan, break that down to a daily lesson plan, and break that down into the actual exercises. What is financial planning except that?”
Soelter also credits the Financial Planning Association’s residency program as a “game changer” in her development as a planner, particularly in how to interact with clients to help them find the best solutions for their specific situations.
“Especially coming from a wirehouse environment and not an RIA environment, it was really powerful for me to watch established planners use conversation to get at the values and big-picture goals for clients in a nonthreatening way. That wasn’t necessarily happening in the same way at the wirehouse, at least in my experience there. Watching established RIA and CFP® professionals gently lead a conversation to get to the heart of why the client was sitting in the chair, trying to figure out their plan, was a really powerful experience for me. That sort of conversational approach, which engenders trust, helps the client feel heard and is question oriented, and focuses a lot on listening at the beginning instead of pitching, was a big deal for me.”
Soelter encourages planners who are starting out in the industry to approach their clients from “a place of love,” and find a firm where they can serve clients authentically.
“The reason we’re in this field is to help people and because people really don’t have access to solid, truly professional, truly fiduciary financial advice. It can be overwhelming and confusing, [and if you] come at it from a place of love, people can tell. Secondarily, find the environment in which your method, your persona, is going to be supported. Don’t be afraid to change places so that you can find where you feel supported.”