“Chase after the dream, not the money,” says Kimberly Foss, founder and president at Empyrion Wealth Management.

A career in financial planning, according to many practitioners, must be a labor of love, otherwise an advisor’s work—and clients—could suffer.

Thus, when Financial Advisor asked experienced financial advisors about the most important lessons they had learned throughout their careers, many suggested that potential advisors follow their hearts. They should want more than just to work with money; they should also have a desire to serve people and families.

“In everything that you do, the client always comes first,” says Andrew Crowell, vice chairman for D.A. Davidson’s individual investing group.

Though financial planning is still a young industry, the first wave of experienced planning practitioners are diverse in age and background. Many, like Russell T. Hill of Halbert Hargrove Advisors and Lynn Ballou at EP Wealth Advisors, come from the first generation to move away from selling financial products and toward offering holistic financial advice, while others such as Divam Mehta of the Mehta Financial Group and Michael Kitces of Pinnacle Advisory Group are leaders among the second generation of financial planners.

The leadership also comes from diverse backgrounds. Ballou became an advisor after garnering years of experience as an accountant. Ric Edelman, founder and executive chairman of Edelman Financial, originally set out on a journalism career. Deena Katz, of Evensky & Katz/Foldes Financial Wealth Management, migrated to financial planning after a stint teaching English.

Many of these successful practitioners emphasized the technical aspects of financial planning. Some recommended that advisors expand their technical knowledge to become more versatile for their clients and more useful to their firms.

Others suggest that would-be advisors collect various professional certifications to demonstrate their practical skills. “Build as big a foundation as you can so you have multiple options as opportunities present themselves,” says Rick Buoncore at MAI Capital Management. “Get your CFP. Get your CFA. If you can go get your MBA, go get it.”

A number of participants suggested that such general expertise can also be developed through mentorship and professional organizations.

Advisors should also seek out specific expertise and develop a niche or specialty, as broad general knowledge will not distinguish them from the rest of the financial industry, notes James Brewer, president of Envision Wealth Planning.

What follows are the three or four nuggets of wisdom seasoned advisors would give to people entering the profession.

Ross Levin, CEO and Founder
Accredited Investors Wealth Management
Minneapolis, Minnesota

1. Little decisions have big implications. Try to understand what you want your business to be in five years and make decisions regarding clients, business model and staffing that will help move you in that direction rather than taking everything that comes and being swept along.
2. There are few absolutes and little that we can actually say we know. The most important aspect of a long-term practice is getting you and your clients comfortable with impermanence. Things are always changing, so getting comfortable with change is better than pretending that you know what the future holds.
3. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. When you are looking at the cost of fixing problems, ask yourself, “If this cost a dollar, what would I do?” This will help you look at what the right thing is rather than rationalizing doing the wrong thing to save some money.

Dave Polstra, Partner and Co-Founder
Atlanta, Georgia

1. QTIP trusts can create problems in second marriages when the patriarch dies. Many times they result in ruined relationships between the patriarch’s children and the second spouse. And what is interesting is that everything may seem rosy and wonderful and full of harmony—until the patriarch dies, and then watch out!!! Life insurance might be a better answer.
2. When the patriarch in a family begins to develop dementia, old age or ill health, I have seen elder abuse from children and from second spouses ... urging the patriarch to transfer assets instead of sticking to their well-thought-out estate plan that was put in place when the patriarch had better capacity to make wise decisions.
3. Over the years, I have taken clients to visit charities. I never ask them to make a contribution or to create a planned gift in their will, but by exposing them to the charity, many times they become involved with the charity financially, both with their current giving and/or through a planned gift. I have identified over $6 million of charitable contributions from my clients to these charities, just by exposing them to the charities’ mission.

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