Journal of Financial Planning: February 2021
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“The doors will be opened to those who are bold enough to knock.” This Tony Gaskins quote is the one that sets the tone for the career vision I have built for myself. As a career-changer, the financial planning profession was not my first home. That was working the heavy-oil fields of McKittrick, Calif., as a petroleum engineer. My ocean-side office in downtown Santa Monica is a far cry from the barren desertscape dotted with pumpjacks in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
After some personal and professional soul-searching while studying for my MBA at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa., I found a new job and professional home working as an adviser for Abacus Wealth Partners. Excited to hit the ground running in my new role, one of the first questions I asked myself was, “How do I make the most of this fresh start in my career?”
As a fervent planner and goal setter, this meant crafting a personal career vision, which I call Christopher’s Career Construct, to build professional momentum as a next generation planner.
This Career Construct serves as my professional roadmap, guiding me as an early-career financial planner to the destination I hope to arrive at professionally in the next five to 10 years.
From one next generation planner to another, we have so much to learn from one another, which is why I felt compelled to share how I crafted my own Career Construct. My hope is that it inspires you to begin thinking about how you may take charge of your career as a next generation planner.
This Career Construct is comprised of five main sections, beginning with what I see as one of the most fundamental questions any adviser should ask themselves.
Who Do You Serve?
Who do you serve? Have you seriously pondered this question as a financial planner? If not, I would encourage you to do so. Some thought-provoking questions that helped me uncover my answer included: What lights my fire? Working with which type of clients would excite me? Is there a type of client that does not bring me joy?
When identifying the type of client you wish to serve, I would encourage you to be as specific as possible. For example, I am excited at the thought of working with LGBTQ+ venture-back startup founders. I could even take this a step further and narrow that client profile to include founders with fintech businesses only.
Specificity is your friend in identifying whom you wish to serve because the next step is putting together a psychographic profile of this client. You will want to put yourself in the shoes of this person and jot down their likes, values, questions, decisions, and pain points. To best serve your ideal client, you must be able to walk in their shoes and see the world through their lens. From there, you can begin to understand how to best serve their planning needs.
Identifying whom you wish to serve as a financial planner becomes the North Star for your Career Construct and the sections that follow.
Building the Competencies
When taking the Personal Financial Planning certificate program at UCLA to become CFP® exam eligible, one of my instructors said something that has stuck with me: “Although it is important to know what you know as a planner, it is equally important to know what you do not know in order to best serve your clients.” This is where the ‘building the competencies’ and ‘constructing the team’ sections of your Career Construct come into play.
For this section, I identified the credentials, associations, and core competencies that would help me best serve the needs of the client I want to work with. For example, I found a Venture Capital University Certificate sponsored by Cal Berkeley’s Law School and the National Venture Capital Association. This certificate would allow me to begin to understand the world of a venture-backed startup founder, such as incorporation considerations, founder’s equity, term sheets, and raising capital, among other hurdles an entrepreneur will face as they attempt to grow and scale their business.
Once complete, I took this a step further by putting together a high-level, five-year timeline where I outlined how I plan to chip away at these different competencies. It is important to maintain a focus on the long term when building these skills because many of the credentials you may have identified could take years to obtain.
Constructing the Team
As a next generation planner, it was important for me to understand that one person cannot be everything for a client. It takes a small village to adequately serve the needs of your clients, and this village can grow quickly, depending on the complexities your client brings to the table. I have broken up my team into primary advisers and secondary advisers who would be instrumental in allowing me to serve the whole client.
It is important to note that your primary and secondary advisers could be quite different, depending on the client you’ve identified that you want to serve. Regardless, it is important to begin putting together that professional Rolodex of outside advisers who can bring specialized knowledge to best meet the needs of your client.
Marketing and Outreach
As a new planner, using mental bandwidth to think about marketing and outreach can seem like a tall order. Of all the items on your to-do list, this is likely towards the bottom; however, building your professional footprint is where you can begin to gain visibility, create connections, and foster mentorship that can enhance your credibility, especially when trying to counteract youthfulness.
It is with this marketing and outreach strategy that you can began to demonstrate your value. The methodology I like to use involves four elements: follow, engage, publish, and speak. Think of each of these actions as having a different level of “impact density.” Follow is the least impactful, engage has a slightly greater impact, while publish and speak carry much greater impact scores as part of my marketing strategy.
With this methodology in mind, I turn to developing my professional footprint. This consists of the platforms that will allow me to best reach the client I hope to serve. For example, I have broken my professional footprint into six platforms: LinkedIn, Medium, Twitter, a personal website, affiliations, and conferences. How you determine your professional footprint should be rooted in the psychographic details you put together in the ‘who do you serve?’ section.
Above all, you want your marketing and outreach strategy to meet your clients where they are. It is only there where they can begin to see your value as a financial planner. Remember: this will require consistent effort. Over time, you will begin to build momentum so better opportunities, like publishing or speaking engagements, will appear.
Specialty Wealth Planning
The last section in my Career Construct is what I call ‘specialty wealth planning.’ In essence, this is my financial planning blueprint that outlines how I plan to address the needs of the clientele I hope to serve.
At this point, I have identified the psychographic details of whom I wish to serve—including their likes, values, questions, decisions, and pain points. I also have begun to understand what knowledge I’ll need to bring to the table to best serve them, while also identifying other professionals who will help me meet the needs of the whole person. Furthermore,
a marketing and outreach strategy is now in place to begin demonstrating my value.
Building on prior sections of my Career Construct, it’s in the ‘specialty wealth planning’ section where I began to develop solutions to their planning needs. At Abacus, we like to think of comprehensive planning as the ‘shape of planning,’ which includes goals, money, safety, taxes, death, and impact. With this framework in mind, I walked through each of these planning realms to document how I could address their planning needs. By the end, I had a solid blueprint outlining how I would begin working with these clients. Perhaps more importantly, it helps give me concrete talking points when I find myself in front of this type of client.
With the completion of the ‘specialty wealth planning’ section, you will have the main pieces of a Career Construct that can serve as the guide to taking charge of your career. It is important to note that this document is evergreen and will likely go through numerous iterations as experiences help better shape your professional vision.
One Final Takeaway
If I could leave you with one final takeaway, and it might be the most important: share your Career Construct with as many people who will listen! Whether it’s a teammate, your firm’s CEO, a mentor, or someone else in your life, informing your network about the vision you have set for your career is critically important, and often an overlooked step in owning one’s career.
As a new financial planning professional, the biggest barrier to sharing my career vision was often self-doubt: Was my vision too bold? Would my peers scoff at the adviser I want to become? Do I have what it takes to actually bring this Career Construct to life?
Once I overcame these personal hurdles, the first person I introduced Christopher’s Career Construct to was our chief of marketing, Mary Beth Storjohann. Not only was I able to obtain objective feedback, especially targeted on marketing and outreach efforts, but more importantly, I now had an advocate willing to aid in making this vision a reality. Before I knew it, Mary Beth had forwarded my Career Construct to both the president and CEO of our firm. News of the vision I had set for myself was now off and running amongst the most senior leaders of the firm.
The ripple effects of taking the step to share your Career Construct will be far and wide, and before you know it, the doors may begin to open for having been bold enough to knock.
Christopher L. Stroup is a lead wealth adviser with Abacus Wealth Partners in Santa Monica, Calif. He holds his MBA from Drexel University and his Certificate in Personal Financial Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles.
This article was originally published in the
January 2021 issue of the FPA Next Generation Planner. If you are interested in writing for the FPA Next Generation Planner, which is designed to provide relevant and helpful information to professionals in the first 10 years of the profession, email Ana Limón.