Coming out of college I had my sights set on either becoming a financial advisor or going into the FBI. I knew I needed a career that would challenge me and be different every day. Growing up, the family business was a mortuary and If there was one thing I knew, it was that I wasn’t going to be a mortician.
My career as an advisor took me from one of the largest brokerage firms in the country at the time (Dean Witter), to a large bank, and then to owning my own firm. I got to live and train in NYC back in the 1990’s and I’ve had opportunities to travel all over the country.
Up until I retired last year, I performed my role at a high level, constantly being in the top 15-20 of all reps in the company. I had built up my own firm, had a very loyal customer base, and over the last few years, I had more freedom in my job.
So why would I walk away from all of that? There are two sides to that answer. One is from the personal side and the other is from the financial advising industry side.
From a personal standpoint, I had already mentally checked out about a year earlier. After my former business partner died of colon cancer at 47 years old, it shook me. I remember going to an investment conference soon after and in one meeting I was attending I remember sitting there scanning the room. There were probably 200 advisors listening to the speaker. As I looked around, my guess is at least half of the room was over age 60, many of them in their 70’s.
“That will not be me” I thought.
Right before I started writing “Retire Early. What are you waiting for?”, I knew I had fallen out of love with being an advisor, but I carried on. By the time the book was completed, so was my financial advising career.
The part of the job I always enjoyed was helping people reach their goals. I was fortunate to work with quite a few clients from the day they retired until the day they died. Helping people is what I loved most.
What I am most proud of over my 24-year career is that I never sold out. When sales managers would come to us (the advisors) with the “corporate agenda” and ask us to sell a certain product because it paid a higher commission or sell a product because it was new, and the company paid a lot of money to set it up, I always stood my ground and balked at it even though I knew it could get me in trouble.
I met some absolutely wonderful people through my years as an advisor. There were a few that “took me under their wing” as a young broker and showed me the ropes when they didn’t have to. I was very fortunate to be able to work with some wonderful clients who put their trust in me and I never violated that.
By definition, I was considered a salesperson because anytime you describe a product, and someone buys it, you’re a salesperson. However, I never considered myself one. I liked to describe myself as an educator and financial problem solver.
I often thought that one of my children might one day take over my business but as they got older and showed very little interest, I didn’t push them towards the industry. Matter of fact, at this point, I would push them away from it.
From the financial industry side, the industry has changed a good bit from the time I entered it to today. There is more paperwork, forms, and disclosures than ever before. It’s a mountain of paperwork and you can spend a day just chasing forms. The paperwork took away a lot of time that could be used meeting with clients and handling their accounts.
There were conflicts of interests that I was never comfortable with. For example, at Dean Witter, I can remember them being really high on Telephone de Mexico. It was their number one stock on their recommended stock list. One of the other advisors had found out that Dean Witter was also underwriting some loans for Telephone De Mexico, which then started to make sense. Dean Witter needed their advisors to sell the stock, so the price would increase, which in turn helps them underwrite the loans. I could write a book alone on what is wrong with the industry and the conflicts that still exist.
Dealing with the public had also become increasingly difficult. For example, in recent years and on multiple occasions, we’d have people call our office to schedule an appointment. My office would call them the day before their appointment to confirm and then they would never show up. This was happening more and more. As someone who is very respectful of someone’s time, I was finding that there were a lot of people who were not.
Over my twenty-four years in the industry, being a financial advisor, stockbroker or financial planner seemed to go from being a very well-respected title to one today that is much less than that. The general public is much less trusting and rightfully so when you hear about the Bernie Madoff’s of the world.
Even though I have walked away from the industry, I still find a lot of enjoyment out of helping people and that is why I wrote the book and I look forward to coaching people towards retiring early. I’m also considering another project where I’ll help people with investing on their own.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing the financial advising industry as a whole. This industry allowed me to provide for my family, provided me the opportunity to help thousands of people, and through experiences, helped shaped me to be the person I am today. It’s the only occupation I have ever known. But like a lot of relationships, we grew apart and we had to divorce. But we’re still on pretty good terms.