The Honor in a Life Well-Worked

Scottsdale, AZ (May 14, 2024)

USA Today published its 2024 list of Best Financial Advisory firms in America. Sensible Money ranked #35 on this list. Wow!

How did this happen? Not the way you might expect. Let me explain.

A Life Well-Worked Approach

While social media abounds with flashy stories of founders suddenly worth billions, we’ve chosen a different path. Building a business is like climbing a beautiful but challenging mountain. I want to enjoy the view along the way, not make a mad dash for the top.

In a MarketWatch article, I described it as “the life well-worked” where I say, “From architects to attorneys, bakers to biologists, electricians to EMTs, home builders to hygienists, plumbers to professors, there are thousands out there who value a life well-worked. And their story is missing from this perspective on the pursuit of happiness.” I should have added business owners to that list.

Relentless Focus on Quality

Owning a business is not glamorous. It is hard work. Above all, it takes tenacity, discipline, and a willingness to get up and get to it every day, whether you feel like it or not.

One day, you may be cleaning toilets. The next day, you may apply for a line of credit. Then, you may discuss pricing strategy, technology needs, and compensation plans. Overarching everything is a relentless focus on quality.

In our case, it is the quality of the service we offer—how do we make sure we aren’t missing anything? We’re assisting clients navigate a complex series of irrevocable decisions as they enter retirement. We’re obsessed with quality because the stakes are high.

Have Integrity in All Areas, Even Marketing

There are so many pay-to-play lists, and we receive weekly solicitations to be on a “Top Something” list, that is, if we pay for the editorial article to be listed. Those are the kind of lists you see on magazine covers at the grocery store checkout section, with cover stories featuring your area’s “Best Doctors,” “Best Architects,” or “Best Financial Advisor” lists.  Most are glorified paid advertising.

“No thanks” is our standard reply, or “Delete.”

This USA Today ranking is not that kind of list. They describe the criteria they used as follows:

“To streamline your search for an adviser, USA TODAY has partnered with market research firm Statista for the second straight year to rank the top 500 RIAs in the searchable lists below.

That’s no mean feat: There were 32,600 RIA firms at the end of 2022 that managed about $115 trillion in assets. About 99% of the money is overseen by 15,100 larger companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to the Investment Adviser Association (IAA), a trade group for RIAs. The remaining 17,500 RIAs each manage less than $100 million and are registered with state agencies.

The ranking is based on the growth of the companies’ assets under management (AUM) over the short and long term and the number of recommendations they received from clients and peers.”

It makes sense to us. We know we’ve grown our assets. The quantitative date is nice, but it is not what drives me or my cohorts.

What matters more to us is the second part, the recommendations from clients and peers. That is how we measure the integrity of our work and our interactions with our communities.

That integrity flows into all areas. While many advisory firms pay or accept referral fees, we adamantly avoid such arrangements. It is a compliance headache and doesn’t feel right to me. I refer people who do a good job, not because they pay me. I understand referral incentives for products or online subscriptions. But for a personal service business? Many companies offer to refer business to financial advisors in exchange for a piece of the revenue. Something doesn’t sit right with me when I’ve examined these options, so we steer clear of them.

Nurture a Sense of Honor

We believe it is an honor to serve our clients. We keep a “wowloveletters” Slack channel to post the comments we receive. We work with the majority of our clients remotely, and we ask them to upload a photo. We keep a wall full of photos in our so we can see the faces we serve.

Clients across the country entrust us with their life savings, often never having met us face-to-face. Is there a more incredible honor? I’m sure there is, such as if I were saving lives. However, while my late Grandma Ellen Ferengul Anspach (1934 Bachelor of Medicine from Northwestern University) was one of the first female doctors in the country, I always knew the medical profession was not for me. While not quite as crucial as lives, people spend their lives accumulating wealth, and entrusting it to someone is an honor that must be earned and we graciously accept.

I consciously implement systems to maintain that sense of honor throughout our culture. Our work has a massive impact on the financial security of our clients and their families, and it is not to be taken lightly.

This is a nit change, but I think of a break room as a room in the back of Target vs. something more kitcheny. lol.  maybe that’s silly.

Know Our Why

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t receive a solicitation for a merger, acquisition, or other capital infusion from a larger firm wishing to free up my time and enhance our growth.

Occasionally, I ask questions, trying to figure out, “Why would I do this? Why would anyone do this?”

I hear those who accept these offers range from business owners who struggle to make payroll, are looking for a liquidity event, or are overwhelmed by the operational side of running a business. Some financial advisors have become accidental business owners. They reach a point where they realize they want to spend the bulk of their time with clients, not on compliance, managing benefits, and operations. A merger or roll-up into a larger firm can solve these issues for them.

None of these issues apply to Sensible Money. I am grateful it is so. There was nothing accidental about my plan to grow a business. I was inspired, almost like a calling, to pursue this path.

I knew I wanted a business focused on helping upcoming retirees and making a difference in people’s lives. If I did it all by myself, I could be a great advisor, but I could never know as much or deliver as much value as a team of talented people. Together, we are better, stronger, and more knowledgeable.

We will continue helping people navigate their transition to retirement, one family at a time. We’re clear about our why. We are honored to be recognized, and that honor is more meaningful because it was, in part, due to recognition from clients and peers.

We appreciate the support and look forward to many more years of climbing the mountain and enjoying the journey together.