The path to financial planning is different for different people. For David Blaydes, it began with a job helping people in traumatic situations while he was working his way through Olivet University as a paramedic. Eventually that gave him the sort of empathy he would need as a financial planner to assist people who have lost their jobs-and later on to help cancer patients sort out their finances.
Blaydes' firm, Retirement Planners International, in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Ill., where he has lived and practiced for the past 25 years, now devotes 20% of its business to financial planning for cancer patients and their families.
Blaydes' work with cancer patients grew out of a personal tragedy. A friend, Stan Hansen, whom he had known since kindergarten, was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, and died shortly after. Then the same fate befell another lifelong friend. They were all in their mid-to-late 40s at the time.
"I never felt so helpless in my life. I went to Houston with Stan to see a specialist who, it turned out, could offer no real hope. He said Stan had a 15% chance of living 36 months. Stan asked what he should do now and I did not have an answer," says the CFP licensee. "I will never forget that feeling of helplessness and I never want to be in that position again."
By coincidence, the week after he returned from Houston, Blaydes got a call from Jeannie Cella, the executive director of the Hinsdale Wellness House in Hinsdale, Ill., a resource center for cancer patients (the chairman of its board had founded an outplacement and executive search firm Blaydes also worked with). The Wellness House wanted to offer financial planning as part of its program for cancer patients and asked Blaydes if he would be interested in making a presentation to them. He agreed to make a couple of presentations free of charge, and that turned into a continuing commitment.
"I remembered the feeling of helplessness Stan and I had felt just the week before in Houston," he says, "and I said yes to the Wellness House in the hope of helping others avoid that feeling. I wanted to be part of a solution that would give people a place to start."
Blaydes went to numerous sessions at the Wellness House before he began advising the people there. "We have had other advisors in here who just wanted to build their business," Cella says. "I did not want that kind of person. David came in saying he did not want to do anything until he understood our clients-until he knew he could say the right thing and be sensitive to what they were dealing with. He spent a tremendous amount of time going to our programs before he talked to anyone."
Blaydes was careful about the way he spoke to the patients at first, but one stood up and said it wasn't necessary-that they all knew they had cancer and accepted it as part of their "new normal."
"In reality, I was scared to death I was going to say the wrong thing. I was trying to work up my courage. But I then saw that it would lighten their burden if they had their finances in order. Those cancer patients who are 'at peace' have typically worked through their financial planning so they can go on with their living."
Cella adds that Blaydes has succeeded in his effort to help. "The people here adore him. It is so easy to see his sincerity. They trust he knows what he is talking about, and that is key to people in this situation because it is at a time when they do not know who to believe."
Kris Barnebey of Downers Grove, Ill., is a living testament to Blaydes' work. She lost her 44-year-old husband to cancer last summer and has three children ranging from ages 9 to 14. "My husband passed away sooner than we expected and I was overwhelmed. I had no idea what I was doing. David helped with the finances and helped us find a lawyer. It was one less thing I had to worry about," she says.
"I recommended David to a friend of mine who is in the same situation I was, and she did not take my advice," Barnebey says. "Now she is constantly worried about her finances."
Blaydes does not make money from his presentations at the Wellness House, but he's quick to add that his firm, which has $200 million in assets under management, does make money from those who become clients. His fee averages 1% of AUM. He personally handles only minimum investments of $1 million or more, but others at the firm can handle anything above $100,000 in investments. Retirement Planners International has three financial advisors and four other employees, all of whom came to the firm with at least five years in the financial field before joining.
Blaydes is a member of Advantage Financial Group, a supervisory office within the National Planning Corporation, which is his broker-dealer. (Broker-dealers handle the supervision of groups of representatives through this middle-management arrangement.) Blaydes, a $1 million producer, was the firm's top producer in 2009.
Helping Those Out of Work
Though cancer patients have become an important part of his work in the past decade, the bulk of his firm's work is with people who have lost jobs, people who come to Blaydes through the outplacement firm Kensington International, an affiliate of Career Partners International. Kensington's managing partner is CEO of the Wellness House and that is how he made the original connection with the cancer resource center. Blaydes says he knows of no one else in the industry focusing on outplacement services to the same extent he has over the past 15 years. He has built a technology and business infrastructure that will allow him to expand his firm's outplacement planning nationally.