Wanted: Certified financial planners with at least 10 years of experience who can cover any financial topic, and can do so in a variety of settings from corporate offices to factory floors, and from online to over the phone. You must be willing to sever ties with your existing clients and planning practice, and be able to travel frequently to deliver workshops and on-site financial planning sessions to companies around the U.S. The base salary is $80,000 with full benefits, plus bonus and equity-based programs that can boost your income significantly. You must also give up your existing securities licenses, because the firm doesn’t want the conflicts of interest that come from selling products. And you can work from home.


So far, 20 CFPs have said yes. They’ve bid adieu to their prior clients, ditched whatever securities licenses they held and passed a rigorous training program to become financial educators with Financial Finesse.

Founded by former hedge fund manager Liz Davidson in 1999, the El Segundo, Calif.-based company sees itself at the vanguard of the financial wellness trend, specifically as it pertains to workplace financial education programs. With company pensions going the way of rotary dial phones and many American workers scratching their heads wondering how to handle their defined contribution plans (provided that their employer even offers one), financial literacy—or the lack thereof—increasingly is seen as a major societal problem.

Corporations realize this, and more of them are willing to pony up for companies such as Financial Finesse to visit their workplace and educate their employees on vital concepts such as debt- and tax-related issues and to review insurance coverage and asset allocations in their retirement plans. The basic premise is that financially stressed workers can be a drag on production and on a company’s bottom line, and that investing in their financial well-being via workplace financial education programs could be a win-win for everyone.

Davidson says Financial Finesse works directly with 47 Fortune 1000 clients. The roster includes Aetna, Nestlé, General Mills and Viacom. They also work with a lot of professional athletes, and have a client relationship with the NFL Players Association. In total, the company reaches more than 600 clients—partly through its partnership with GRP Advisor Alliance. This network of retirement plan consultants provides access to Financial Finesse’s online financial learning center and financial help line to smaller companies that typically couldn’t afford the fully customized programs it provides to larger organizations.

“I think we’re at the forefront of building a movement,” Davidson says with enthusiasm and conviction.

Frequent Flyer Miles
The financial planners who work at the company mirror Davidson’s exuberance. Or, at least, that’s the case for those who were interviewed for this story, all of whom expressed zeal for their work and for Financial Finesse’s mission.

“When we’re in meetings, we have an internal saying that’s sort of our rah-rah message: ‘We’re here to change F’ing lives!’” says Linda Robertson, who lives in the Philadelphia area and is the company’s director of planner operations. “We say ‘F’ing.’ We don’t say the actual word. We’re still clean internally.”

Robertson holds a bevy of financial designations—CFP, ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant), CEBS (Certified Employee Benefit Specialist) and MSFS (Master of Science in Financial Services). Before she joined Financial Finesse in 2005, she marketed 403(b) plans to teachers in Delaware. “I worked for an insurance agency and sold their product, which was a high-fee, high-surrender variable annuity, and sometimes I came home and thought, ‘I did this in the best interest of me and not of the clients,’” she says.

Bothered by that, she eventually searched for another job. “When I saw the opportunity to provide financial coaching and to help people reach their goals without that hidden agenda or conflict of interest, I thought it was almost too good to be true,” Robertson says. “And so 11 years in I still pinch myself because it’s everything I love to do without having the pressure of sales quotas for products I sometimes didn’t believe in.”

Back when Financial Finesse had fewer planners on staff, Robertson was known as the Road Warrior because of a busy travel schedule that sometimes had her out on assignment for two weeks at a time. “For planners who do have children at home, we have a travel cap so we don’t ask any team member to travel more than 50% of the time in any one calendar year. I’ve reached that cap just once in my career here,” she says.

Even with her duties as director of planner operations, she still travels as much as one-third of the time. “Because of my tenure here and that I’ve worked with all of our clients on implementation, and I do a lot of our curriculum development, I’m probably our pinch hitter,” Robertson explains. “I could go to any of our clients and be comfortable. I just came off the road a couple of weeks ago from doing some HSA workshops at three factory locations in the Corn Belt. I was there when the workers were coming in with their white smocks and hairnets; I’m there at 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. to catch the shift work as they’re coming in and out.”

Fortunately, Robertson likes to travel. “All of our travel expenses are covered,” Robertson notes. “I like to collect points, so I get to decide what airline I fly and I can manage my own travel.”

From the sounds of it, Robertson has a busy schedule. As do all of the other Financial Finesse planners. “This isn’t a place where you can just sit back and relax,” she says. “We are a small team and we leverage that. There’s never a dull moment, and we’re expected to give 110%, which we do willingly because we all have a passion for this.”

Unbiased Education
Liz Davidson, 45, was an investment banker at Smith Barney Harris Upham before she attended business school at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. She had a friend on the brokerage side who shared her Warren Buffett/Benjamin Graham value-oriented, buy-and-hold investing philosophy, and they started a hedge fund after she graduated from UCLA.

Even when dealing with hedge fund clients, Davidson noticed there was a big knowledge—or at least behavioral—gap when it came to appropriately diversifying their portfolios. She concluded that if the top 1% are making serious mistakes, what about the rest of the investing population?

Davidson did some basic financial planning workshops “for fun” for Anderson alumni, and came to realize there’s a huge need for financial education and guidance. “I fell in love with this—to have people walk out of a room and feel empowered and send thank-you notes, she recalls. “That didn’t happen at a hedge fund. When we had a bad quarter we got called, and when we had a good quarter it was like, ‘You’re doing your job.’”

But that realization put her at a career crossroads. “I had to decide whether to stay in the hedge fund business or take a risk and start Financial Finesse,” she explains. “I was going to regret more not trying it than I would taking a safer route.”

Financial Finesse initially focused on providing financial education to women, but Davidson quickly realized she needed to branch out if she wanted to build a national network. She also realized a couple of other things. First, just because there’s a need for something doesn’t mean there’s demand. And second, despite vetting financial planners to deliver these workshops and having them sign non-solicitation agreement contracts saying they would just be delivering educational content and not doing any sales or marketing, a few of the planners crossed the line.

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