Planner-to-Planner: Growing a Resilient and Sustainable Financial Planning Practice in This New World

Financial planners exist to serve others and in doing so they are able to build resilient and sustainable firms. At least that was the way for the group participating in a recent call in FPA’s Planner-to-Planner conversation series.

“This group is so ultra-concerned with ‘We exist to serve others,’” said host and past FPA President Elizabeth Jetton, M.Ed., CFP®. “I had to call on that because it’s pretty impressive.”

Jetton led a discussion, powered by TD Ameritrade Institutional and Vanguard, among thought leaders on how to grow a resilient and sustainable business in this new world.

“The ability to maintain your core purpose with integrity in the widest variety of circumstances; to recover, persist or thrive amid disruption, I think that’s what we do for our clients but I think it’s clearly important for our businesses,” Jetton said. “How do we as owners and employees—small or large—how do we maintain that ability?”

First, Focus on the Practical Matters

Meg Bartelt, CFP®, is celebrating the fourth year of her firm Flow Financial Planning. For Bartelt right now, the first step to sustainability is the focus on practical matters like building up a cash cushion (the business equivalent of an emergency savings plan), developing a business continuity plan and a succession plan.

“I’m not there yet, and that is anxious-making at this point,” Bartelt confessed to the group.

While Bartelt has two employees at her firm, she’s the only one who is authorized and trained to do investments. She doesn’t generally like investing and is exploring the option of a TAMP (turkey asset management program) so she can make her business more sustainable and free up some of her time and mental space for other things.

Find Your Guiding Philosophy or Core Values

Marty Kurtz, CFP® noted that 50 years ago when the profession began, many people operated as sole proprietors or partnerships that weren’t very sustainable.

“When I was looking at opening The Planning Center, I thought, ‘What do I really want as a philosophy to guide us?’” Kurtz told the group. “I came up with the thought of what if 50 years from now there’s different advisers, different clients, same money. How do we build something sustainable for 50 years?”

That question became the vision and philosophy, which has helped them determine how they manage the organization.

Dave Yeske, DBA, CFP® said that at Yeske Buie, they go by the notion that everything they do is in service to the people.

“We have 500 clients and that’s our priority 24/7,” Yeske said. “After that we have 15 team members and that’s our next priority. It’s always about the human beings and everything we do has to be in service of their needs—their mental, emotional and financial needs.”

In developing a core philosophy, Yeske noted that you should determine what the values are that you’d never abandon and let that be your guide.

“We see our role as their financial planners as being very broad and all-encompassing,” Yeske said, adding that the resources they provide clients are diverse. For instance, he noted, one week the firm held a macroeconomics and coronavirus webinar and the very next week had a webinar for a guided meditation.

“We’re trying to think about the whole human being and what their needs are and what we can do to meet that,” Yeske said.

The core values for RTD Financial are its GPS, said Richard Busillo, CFP®, AIF®, RPA.

The core values “really guides us through every decision we make in the firm,” Busillo said. “We literally sit there with our core values on the board and look at decisions we’re making and if they don’t meet our core values—No. 1 being our clients first—than we don’t do it.”

The staff helped to develop the core values, which gives them a sense of ownership and pride in them, Busillo said, and he recommends that approach.

Serve a Niche Market

Bartelt specializes in serving women in tech industry in their early to mid-careers. It’s a super niche market she decided to serve because she herself was a woman in tech, having been a technical writer in that space prior to pursuing financial planning as a profession.

“That has simplified really every aspect of my life, but also in this time has made it easy to stay focused on what does it mean to be resilient for that very narrowly defined population,” Bartelt said. “That for me has been the single most helpful thing in every aspect of my business is having a really well-defined niche.”

Be Ready to Adapt and Handle Anxiety

Guy Cumbie, CFP®, CIMA®, RLP®, said that the most important element in a financial plan is flexibility.

“In that spirit, we think that the best way to cultivate and maintain resilience is through real-time adaptiveness,” Cumbie said.

Being resilient and able to adapt are key.

“To me it’s one of the best approaches to dealing with uncertainty,” Cumbie said. “The uncertainty is pretty much infinite. We try to adapt, and try to adapt readily, rapidly, and proactively enjoy that adaptation process.”

Cumbie said they adapt in the business dimension (running the shop), the planning dimension (how we do and talk about the plan with clients) and with the knowledge base (helping his clients understand the current events with the COVID-19 pandemic, potential vaccine situation and testing).

Also, Cumbie said, learning how to deal with your and your clients elevated levels of anxiety.

“If you’re a remotely normal human being there’s an elevated level of anxiety,” Cumbie said, adding he talks to his clients about sleeping well, eating nutritiously and meditating. “All of that is especially important now with the elevated levels of anxiety.”

Adaptation and flexibility also come into play in deciding when to go back to the office.

Yeske Buie employees began sheltering in place on March 8, eight days before San Francisco mandated it. They’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about how to handle their return.

“Our take is that we’re going to be very empirical and data-driven and we’re going to watch this on a day-to-day basis and not have any preconceived notions of how soon people need to get back to the office,” Yeske said. He added that the firm purchased 15 laptops fully configured by his tech team so that employees can securely and efficiently do their work.

Get Your Succession Planning in Order

Busillo is living proof of succession planning in action.

“I didn’t start RTD,” he said, adding that many times people think he is the R in RTD, but Roy T. Diliberto started the firm and Busillo joined the team several years later. Diliberto has since retired and Busillo is now the chairman and CEO. The company has nine shareholders and 37 staff members, so the employee to owner ratio is high.

That is what makes their firm sustainable.

“We have a succession plan,” Busillo said. “Our youngest shareholder is 30 and I’m the oldest shareholder and we have a whole line of people in between. One of the things that’s important about building that succession team and succession plan is to be able to come up with ideas to make it feasible and practical for the next generation to buy in.”

Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of FPA Publications, including the Journal of Financial Planning, the FPA Next Generation Planner and the FPA Practice Management Blog.