Many different roads lead to successful financial planning.
In Vietnam, Jerry P. Boisseau commanded a 105 mm
Howitzer field artillery battery and, on a second tour of duty during a
20-year career in the military, advised Vietnamese soldiers in the
Mekong Delta along the Cambodian border. These days, he applies that
take-charge discipline to the asset allocation advice he gives clients
implementing modern portfolio theory.
Advisors like Boisseau bring a whole other layer of experiences when they change careers and move into financial planning. Of course, formal education and professional credentials are always the necessary prerequisites. But these planners are part of a cadre of investment professionals who have come to money management by a more circuitous route. Their earlier experiences in entirely different careers have enriched and strengthened their planning practices.
"People who come to financial planning from other walks of life bring a tableau of rich life experiences," says Dr. Barbara Moses, a career self-management guru and author of What Next? The Complete Guide to Taking Control of Your Working Life. "They understand what people need and value at different life stages and can relate meaningfully to those needs."
Below are profiles of five such individuals, who have come to financial planning from other occupations. The human impulse is to seek new challenges.
Boisseau pursued the spit and polish of a career in the U.S. Army for the first two decades of his adult life before putting aside his uniform and retiring in 1981 as a lieutenant colonel. "While serving my country, I grew and matured and once I had no more to give it was time to move on," says the 65-year-old ex-military man.
Deciding to take his field artillery experience into business, he became a broker at Prudential-Bache Securities (now Prudential Securities) in Springfield, Mass. But, he soon realized, "I wasn't a stock and bond jockey. I enjoyed working with people and helping them solve their financial investment dilemmas."
This broader viewpoint brought him into financial planning. He picked up his Certified Financial Planner certification, to go along with the three former academic degrees earned while serving the military.
The desire to answer to his clients only and establish his own business prompted a move to Toms River, N.J., in 1991, where Boisseau established Amherst Financial Services. Starting initially with fees and commissions, it eventually evolved into a fee-only practice. Boisseau manages in excess of $20 million with a support staff of two, including his daughter, Lisa.
Boisseau does modular planning (rather than comprehensive planning) in the areas of investment planning, retirement planning and estate planning. Though his clientele is primarily in the area of the New Jersey coast, he also has clients in Massachusetts, Virginia, Florida and Ohio. "I have some military clients, and through these relationships I have engaged new clients," he notes.
He credits the military for the foundation, values and discipline in his approach to financial planning for clients. "In the military," says Boisseau, " you develop a structured thought process. That is, you identify the problem, research options, determine a course of action, and then implement. In financial planning, we use a six-step process, which is much the same as in the military.
"Any successful investor must have a discipline and must stay with that discipline," Boisseau adds. "My discipline is asset allocation, implementing modern portfolio theory. If a person strays from their discipline, it's like trying to sail a boat without a rudder or wandering aimlessly because you're going to have no direction or plan.
"When I retired from the military I never looked back to second-guess my decision as to what direction my career would take."
The Home Economist
For some people, financial planning is a second career. But for Luisa Nemati, a native of Costa Rica, it's her fourth and best.
With degrees in home economics and business administration, Nemati, 48, started her career in the hospitality and hospital industries, first going from a job in cafeteria management for a national cafeteria chain from Lubbock, Texas, to being a nutritionist and dietary department supervisor in a Dallas hospital. Rankled by low pay and being in a "woman's field," as she put it, Nemati next worked in finance capacities for several engineering consulting firms in Dallas.
Nemati was first drawn to financial planning in the mid-1990s, when she and her husband sought financial advice from advisors at American Express. But it was not the appropriate time for drastic career change number four. "I had a small child at home and a husband who traveled 75% of the time," Nemati says.
The spark was there, however, and she went to work for the giant insurance company AXA in Dallas. She went through the training and licensing process, but once again, insurance wasn't the right fit; nor was a bank job afterwards. Neither focused on financial planning, notes Nemati. The work was mainly transactional. She became disillusioned and bored.
Nemati maintained her membership in the Financial Planning Association, however, and completed her CFP certification. She is now happily ensconced, she says, at Weaver and Tidwell Financial Advisors in Dallas, the financial planning group of a Dallas-Fort Worth CPA firm.
"Our group has been in business four years," relates Nemati. "We have taken the team approach; we see our clients as our families. We do multigenerational modular and comprehensive planning and work very closely with our clients' other advisorsæfor example, CPAs and lawyers.
"When I started in mid-2002 we serviced 27 families. We now service over 110, with a staff of eight and two part-timers." The firm's AUM have grown nearly fourfold, from $40-plus million to more than $140 million.
"We all have varied experiences and backgrounds," says Nemati. "I bring to the table the female factor and the multi-cultural and bilingual factor, and fully communicate in Spanish when clients prefer their native language. I feel changing course into financial planning completes my carrier circle, my natural evolution. I started in home economics and finance, picked up many other experiences along the way, and now I'm full circle into family financial planning and loving it."
Peter Lengsfeld thought he was destined to follow in his father's footsteps and the family tradition. All were either engineers or scientists. So Lengsfeld also became an engineer, and in 1993 went to work as a mechanical engineer at a manufacturing firm creating powder metallurgy parts.
After a year or so, however, he decided that the family tradition was not for him. "It finally occurred to me that the stock investing I was doing for myself was something I had a passion for," says Lengsfeld, who took a job as a stockbroker with a firm that gave him some initial sales training.
But he found cold calling a chore. He survived, he says, only because "I brought to the table a set of highly developed analytical skills. Because of my background, not only was I able to obtain engineers as clients, since I knew what they were looking for in an advisor, but other brokers in the office were looking to get rid of their problem clients."
He moved to Presidential Brokerage Inc. in San Diego in 1996 and a year later to their offices in Denver, where he lives today with his family. "I liked the fact that the firm had a call-in radio show that generated interested leads for us," says Lengsfeld. "Rather than cold calling, it was calling a warm lead."
But the longer he spent as a broker, the more he realized his skills at that level could only take him so far. So in 1997 he obtained insurance licenses, and then his Certified Financial Planner's designation three years later. "I realized I needed all these skills not only to stay competitive but to stay in business."
Today, Lengsfeld, 37, has accounts with approximately $12 million, most of it transaction-basedæstocks, bonds, mutual funds and options. "I still enjoy the stock-based business I have," he says, "but I've added more financial planning business to the mix. It comprises about 20% of my business, and over time I expect that number to grow."
What has helped his practice is the analytical training he received as an engineer. Says Lengsfeld, "I've been able to keep my perspective that the client's insurmountable problem is just a problem, something that can be overcome using my experience and analytical skills."
Choosing to teach in the inner city seemed a self-evident choice in the late 1960s, the age of Joan Baez, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. For Joslyn G. Ewart, it was natural to want to give back, through education, to urban youth who needed a better chance in life. "I chose to teach in the inner city because I was raised in a home that taught the values of love, education and always going the extra mile for people," says Ewart.
She got a taste of urban life and its travails in her first job, after graduating from Case Western Reserve University in 1974, when she taught general music to 1,000 inner-city students in Philadelphia each week. When it was time to move on after 21 years, she reflected on how she could be helpful to people in a different venue. Since she had done well with her own investing during her teaching career, she thought she could replicate her success with clients interested in professional investing guidance. "I was doing well with my money, and in my second career I wanted to deal with adults," says Ewart.
To prepare for her career change, Ewart got her feet wet in the nonprofit (403 b) marketplace while obtaining the necessary NASD registration, including her Series 24(General Securities Principal). She attained her Certified Financial Planner designation in 1999, and a year later launched her own wealth management firm, Entrust Financial, in Wayne, a Philadelphia suburb. The firm is approaching $50 million under management.
Ewart finds the teaching experience useful, and notes similarities with her new career. "Music combines the elements of rhythm, harmony, melody and tone color to give birth to art and expression," she explains. "Financial planning integrates the elements of goal identification, protection, preservation, accumulation, and distribution strategies to create personalized financial blueprints.
"As a successful teacher, I persuaded students to act in their own best interest. I implemented disciplined strategies designed to patiently and resolutely help each student achieve long-range aspirations. These skills are essential to my ability to deliver customized wealth planning solutions to clients with a wide variety of life and family circumstances.
"Whether nurturing inner-city students and their community, or nurturing clients and their extended families, both require passionate energy, love and going the extra mileæalways."
In perhaps one of the more unusual career changes, Stephen F. Lovell, 55, worked as a sculptor after graduating magna cum laude from McMaster University in Ontario, where he majored in English and philosophy and went on to get an M.A. in English literature. After finishing his course work for a Ph.D., he didn't complete work on his thesis, a process he describes as "moving bones from one elephant graveyard to another." He quit academics.
He worked for a dozen years as a sculptor in his own artist's studio in a white pine forest, sculpting by hand small figurines in clay. The business did well enough that Lovell had two TV shows done about his lifestyle, and a number of newspaper articles and radio interviews about his pieces.
Of his sculpting experience, Lovell says, "Financially I was successful, but I felt isolated from the things that matter in lifeæpolitics, people, intellectual pursuits. A pleasant lifestyle was not enough to make up for this shortfall."
In time, he decided to pursue a course more in line with his upbringing and education. While he earned his M.B.A., he was also searching for a new direction. This turned out to be more of an "old" direction. "My dad was an insurance man. He took me to MDRT (Million Dollar Round Table) conventions from the age of three, and at the age of 12, told me to become a stockbroker." Lovell also recalls visiting homes with his father, and was treated graciously by people whom his dad called "clients."
"I grew up with this pleasant association about clients," Lovell recalls.
As a financial planner and owner of his own business, Forsythe Heritage, in Walnut Creek, just outside of San Francisco, Lovell does comprehensive financial planning for well-to-do clients. He manages $25 million and specializes in estate and business succession, retirement, education planning and health insurance. With nine different credentials and two more coming, Lovell maintains a rigorous education program and subscribes to more than 30 news services.
Unlike the other financial planners, Lovell did not find his earlier career as an artist helpful. Rather he sees it as an interruption to the development of his life as a financial planner.
"I believe the attitudes and traits of the artist and the business person are nearly inimical," Lovell says. "A few characteristics of my work as an artistæindependence, variety in tasks and creativityæare also present in my career as a financial advisor, but this overlap seems immaterial to me."
Lovell's son is now studying to be an actor, and he blames it on his dad.