20 years ago this week, I started out on my second career as a financial planner. That has me reflecting a bit on my early years in the business, and how far I have come.
In 2003 I had sold my interest in a garment tag and label business which had been my livelihood for the prior dozen or so years. I was only 42 years old – so I needed to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I had always wanted to teach, so I did some stints as an adjunct business professor at Monmouth and Fairleigh Dickenson. That was fun, but I needed to figure out my next real career move.
I knew that I did not want to work in the corporate supply chain world again. I sold out for a reason. It was sucking the soul out of my life. I eventually decided that financial planning looked like a profession in which my financial knowledge and skills could be put to good use. The idea of helping ordinary people make critically important financial decisions appealed to me. It certainly seemed to be a better use of my time than helping big corporations shave a few cents off their supply chain costs! The problem is I had NO IDEA how to break into this industry.
If you type “financial planning careers” into google, you will find a myriad of insurance and brokerage firms that will hire you, with no experience, with almost no questions asked. The old maxim of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” rang loudly in my ears. Even with no experience in or knowledge of the industry, it was clear to me that this was a sales-centric business model, rather than the consultative planning role that I had imagined for myself.
I knew Peter Passalacqua through my church. Peter was the owner of Frontier Financial Planning, a solo independent planning practice in Somerville. As I quizzed him about his work, he agreed to take me under his wing and teach me the ins and outs of the business, in return for my help in building his website and marketing efforts. I started working with Peter in January of 2004 – twenty years ago.
Peter’s approach to the business was exactly what I had envisioned. He was keenly interested in doing the right thing for his clients. He was focused on financial planning, not product sales. I worked with Peter for a couple of years as I studied for my Certified Financial Planner certification and various licensing exams. After a few years, I broke off on my own to start Financial Pathways in January of 2007. I will always be thankful to Peter for being so generous with his time and expertise, and so patient with me while I learned my way around. I don’t know how I would have done it without him.
Twenty years down the road, I still enjoy this work. I love meeting new people, helping them manage the more complicated financial aspects of their lives. I most enjoy the big moments that come after years of careful planning. I never get tired of what I call the “retirement glow” which is a certain carefree look of happiness that I see on the faces of my newly retired clients! Or the young couple buying their first home. I have exceeded all my career expectations from those early days and then some. I have truly been blessed with good fortune!
When I think back, I marvel a bit at my own boldness at this time in my life. I knew nothing about the industry. I had no idea what financial planning involved, or how the industry worked. I just knew that this is what I wanted to do and set my mind to figuring out how I was going to do it. Someone once asked me “What would you have done if it didn’t work out?”. I thought back to those days and realized that the thought of failure never crossed my mind. It was like leapfrogging across a pond – I only ever saw the next challenge right ahead of me. There is something to be said for positive thinking. Failure only becomes an option when you believe it is an option!
I am also reflecting on the knowledge that I could not have done this on my own. In addition to Peter, I would also like to thank all the others who made this possible. My wife for believing in me during those early lean years as our savings dwindled. My kids for the all the hours I spent studying for the next CFP exam while they were growing up. The owners of CFD Investments and management at TD Ameritrade, who bent their own rules to give the little upstart a chance. Luba Globerman, my business partner for so many years who helped me grow the practice into the successful firm it is today. And of course, I most need to thank my clients - especially those of you who have been with me on this journey almost all the way back to those early years. I thank you so much for your loyalty and the trust you have placed in me over the years. I will never take it for granted.