This week on YAFPNW, I’m honored to chat with Tom L. Potts, Ph.D., CFP®. Not only was he one of my professors at Baylor University, but he has also played an incredibly important role in the profession. He is the Professor of Finance and former Director of the Financial Planning Program at Baylor University and has served as past president of FPA. He’s a past chair of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, International CFP Council, and FPA Global Advisory Council, and was co-founder and president of the Academy of Financial Services. As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Potts also just received the ​​P. Kemp Fain, Jr., Award and was also awarded the Ambassador Award from the International Association of Registered Financial Consultants in March.

Basically, Dr. Potts is a busy guy. I was really happy to get a chance to sit down with him and talk to him about how far the profession has come, what role peer relationships play in financial planning, and the growth of academia and education for financial planners. We also talked about addressing biases and which direction Dr. Potts sees the profession heading.


From academia to financial planning

Dr. Potts’ career goes back to 1975, when he started teaching in the finance department at Baylor. He got his CFP® designation in 1987 and, at the time, was one of the only professors in the industry. (Note how he calls it “the industry” at this point in time.) As Dr. Potts explained in our chat, his real introduction to the industry was a bond swap seminar — not exactly the best place to start. He saw people who weren’t very good offering services that were extremely biased, and he wondered if financial planning was really what he wanted to get into. Thankfully, though, he picked a great session led by a gentleman named Tim Coaches that helped guide his first impressions. “Had I not picked the right sessions at that conference,” Dr. Potts said, “I probably would have walked away from this saying, ‘I don't see any future here.’"

After that initial experience, Dr. Potts also started looking for other academics in the “industry.” Along the way, he found Tom Warschauer at San Diego State, Bob Bond who had been at Brigham Young, and a couple of others. They had each been creating programs for financial planning and it was the very first type of that sort of curriculum, so Dr. Potts knew he wanted to work with them. Together, they helped start the Academy of Financial Services, an academic group that was centered around personal financial decisions and financial planning. This was a time, Dr. Potts said, that involved academics and association professionals to work together to develop curriculum and resources that would help guide the industry toward a true profession. 


Coming to FPA leadership in the middle of the Great Recession

On top of everything Dr. Potts did in the late 1980s and all of the 1990s, he also came to be the President of the FPA in 2008 — right at the apex of the financial crisis. As an academic and as someone who had helped develop a lot of the education around financial planning, this was an interesting time for Dr. Potts (to say the least). “Nearly everything was crashing, so it was a very tough time,” he said. Despite the relative financial chaos of the time, though, he found that many financial planners developed stronger communication skills with their clients, and that there was a general sense of “holding down the fort,” letting clients know that things would (eventually) turn around. This was also a time where talking to fellow financial planners was really important, and when interactive learning became more of a cornerstone of the profession and the FPA. While the financial crisis wasn’t fun for anyone, it definitely changed a lot about how the profession approached client work and serving people in general. It also helped create a more collaborative environment, one where financial planners were able to embrace learning from their peers.

“Really good planners, even the ones who are seasoned professionals, want to check with others,” Dr. Potts said. Planners should be asking each other, “How are you handling this? And how are you structuring your client's portfolios? And how are you trying to reduce their fears?” — and they really had to do that during the financial crisis. During this time, FPA became a really important resource for planners and continues to be. As Dr. Potts put it, working with others in your profession is one of the best ways to learn and get the support you need. I tend to agree with him!


The progression of the profession

Another important theme in my conversation with Dr. Potts: listening. Not just to other planners, but to your clients. “One of the best communication skills you can develop is listening to [your] client. And you're listening for what they really want.” This is a cornerstone of what has moved financial planning from a service to a profession — and even to a calling. Dr. Potts had some great insights into the profession here, especially calling on new planners to understand that financial planning is more than a job. He defined a job as somewhere you work, while a career has a foundation and an ongoing purpose. But a calling, he said, is what fulfills you while also providing a much-needed service to society. “I feel like financial planning is that level of calling,” Dr. Potts said. 

An important part of embracing this calling, he said, is adapting to changing times. This also means considering younger generations’ needs. In hiring and in financial planning work, yes, but also for the clients we as professionals will serve. New generations are going to have different technology, different needs, and different preferences for communication (just think about how much communication is done online vs. in person!). Make sure that you’re adopting the technology that will help you serve people, rather than viewing it as competition. 

Another important facet of adapting to change, Dr. Potts shared, is making sure that there is room for diversity in the services, models, and size of firms. He cautions against moving too much to large conglomerations of firms, where all services are provided under one “bigger name.” Small or boutique financial planning firms should still be available to ensure that clients can find the sort of relationship they really want with their financial team. 

This was such a great conversation with Dr. Potts, and I hope you’ll tune in to listen to the full audio. I especially hope you tune in to listen to Dr. Potts advice on how to step into your calling and to serve the next generation of clients.


What You’ll Learn:

  • The role academia had in developing the profession
  • The importance of developing your listening skills
  • Why talking to peers is so important for professional development
  • What the financial crisis did for the profession
  • The difference between a job, a career, and a calling
  • Why you should be thinking about the next generation of clients (not just planners)
  • The risks that come with consolidated firms 
  • What you should have in 3 years from today


Show Notes:

On this episode of YAFPNW with Dr. Tom L. Potts, you’ll hear references to:


If you’d like to follow Dr. Potts for education or motivation (which I highly recommend), you can follow him on LinkedIn.