Vance Barse has a very unique story and while we had connected via social, it was the one and only time we met up IRL at a conference in early 2020 that we bonded over a shared passion for the advice business.
One thing that makes Vance interesting is he had a long and successful career consulting top financial advisors across the country. So when Vance made the decision to set up his own shop, he was able to draw on the best practices he had observed and had a very clear idea of who he wanted to serve and how he would serve them.
"I became a wealth strategist and founded Your Dedicated Fiduciary® with a simple mission – to be authentic, transparent, and have a positive impact on the lives of my clients."
Learn how Vance Barse took everything he learned in his career advising financial advisors to become one himself and build a successful fiduciary financial planning practice leveraging his advanced planning skills. And hear about how he combines his firm's advice tech capabilities with his comprehensive investment and estate planning, served up with a very personal approach to relationship management to create deep and unique client experiences.
Press play and join the conversation.
· The Vance Barse Origin Story [1:52]
· An Advice-Centric vs. Asset Management-Centric Value Proposition [8:20]
· Vance’s Ideal Client Profile [12:02]
· Philosophy on Fees [18:24]
· Vance’s Discovery Process [21:10]
· How Many Households Can Vance Serve Well? [25:45]
· Vance’s Tech Stack (From Excel to Advisor 360) [27:48]
· Adapting to the COVID-19 Lockdown [39:30]
· The Importance of Community and Social Media [44:25]
· Improving the Industry and Improving Financial Literacy and Inclusion [51:44]
Wealth Management v2.0: The AdviceTech Revolution, Episode 12
with Vance Barse, AIF®, Wealth Strategist & Founder of Your Dedicated Fiduciary®
Gavin Spitzner (President, Wealth Consulting Partners, LLC):
Welcome to the Wealth Management Version 2.0, the "AdviceTech Revolution Podcast," where we are focused on the business of the business, the business of advice. And specifically, we study and celebrate firms that are leveraging the combination of technology and humanity to deliver better advice to more people and better outcomes for more people through that combination.
I'm joined by a special guest today, Vance Barse. I think, Vance, I've only met you in real life once. But Vance has become one of my favorite social media friends. And we even...I'm going to go old school here, we even speak on the phone now and then. But for meeting Vance just that one time, and I think it was a T3 after party in San Diego, where you are today, at the beginning of the year, back when we actually got together in person, one of the last hurrahs. And at that party, we went pretty deep. You will find there's no superficial encounters with Vance. And I found him to be a kindred spirit, someone who embodies many of the ideals and best practices, I believe, when it comes to the advice business and acting as a fiduciary.
In fact, he named his financial planning firm "Your Dedicated Fiduciary", and we'll get into that. Vance has had an interesting journey that's given him, I think, a unique perspective on the business and how it led him to set up the practice the way he did, how he wants to engage clients, which clients he wants to serve based on his particular set of skills. So, Vance, welcome. And I'll begin with you the way I begin with everyone on the podcast. Vance, tell our listeners, tell our viewers your origin story.
Vance Barse, AIF®, Wealth Strategist & Founder of Your Dedicated Fiduciary®:
Well, Gavin, thank you very much, first and foremost, for having me on as a guest. I really appreciate it because I know that originally, you were going to have Jerome Powell, also known as JaPo, as a guest today. But he couldn't make it. And I was happy to serve as backup. The origin story, back in 2006, I remember seeing a bunch of mortgage brokers driving around La Jolla and thinking, "How is it that they are doing so well?" And some intellectual curiosity on my part was such that my then boss introduced me to a gentleman named John Sundt, who founded a company called Altegris. And typically, when I talk about Altegris, I get one of two reactions. I either get, "Who?" or, "I totally remember Altegris."
So my then boss introduced me to Jon Sundt and said, "You know, this young man, I think, would be really well suited for your firm." And I interviewed. And for those that might not know, Altegris was a platform of feeder funds into names such as John Paulson, SAC Capital, Brevan Howard, Winton Capital, Citadel, and a number of others. So here I find myself getting a job at Altegris Investments to very specifically consult financial advisors all around the country on how to use those institutional names in the broader context of the portfolios for their accredited and qualified clients. And little did I realize what was about to happen, which was the great recession that we all remember oh so well. And the firm then developed a suite of mutual funds, and I very quickly found myself traveling the country all over, and eventually covering the Southeast for Altegris. And I was very specifically going into family offices, RIAs, independent broker-dealers, and, of course, ultimately, the wirehouses to advise the advisors on how to use these various alternative investments that were approved on their platforms. And I did that for almost a decade. And then a few family events happened, and I decided to resign from that career and go spend time with my grandmother who had suffered a massive stroke and would never walk again, not to start it off on a negative tone. It was all warm and fuzzy and all ended up being just fine.
But when I decided to transition into this role, I wanted to found and create a financial planning and investment management firm that very specifically focused on filling in the planning gaps, Gavin, that I commonly saw left behind. Not all the time. There's some really great wealth managers out there. There's some really sophisticated wealth managers out there. But I wanted to very specifically focus on filling in the planning gaps that I commonly saw and really specialize on the one thing that so many of us have not been able to enjoy this year, which is the human connection.
Gavin: So tell us more about your practice. You had a million options in terms of how to set it up, where to set it up with, RIA, hybrid, all those things. So, based on the kind of practice you want to run, the kinds of clients you want to serve, and the services you want to provide, filling in those gaps that you talked about, tell us about that.
Vance: I really wanted to focus on advanced planning because I find it intellectually stimulating. I have an undergrad degree in glorified biology. It's neurobiology and neurophysiology. I spent the first 19 years of my adult life, you know, wanting to be a neurosurgeon, and here I am. I guess there's still time. But...
Gavin: Behavioral finance. I mean this is the neurosurgery for the financial advice business.
Vance: That's right. You know, we have some mutual friends, Gavin, that are rather well known for their expertise in behavioral finance. But I really find the advanced planning topics to be intellectually stimulating and fulfilling. And you can see the value. You can see a matriarch and/or patriarch respond to the tangible and intangible value that a lot of those planning strategies can provide. So when I founded the firm, it was actually kind of interesting because I went on, of all things, Facebook, and I put up a post that said, "Hey, if any of you, financial advisor contacts, know of an advisor that wants to sell all or part of her or his practice, please do let me know." And Wayne Bloom, the Commonwealth Chief Executive Officer, reached out within minutes. And he said, "Hey, listen, we've known you for a really long time. We know who you are. We think that you would be a fantastic fit for Commonwealth. And by the way, you meet none of our requirements, like literally zero, like doughnut hole requirements of Commonwealth. But we think that you'll be able to build something. You'd be a great cultural fit."
So I worked from my house the first couple of years. It was pretty brutal because while I had extensive experience in consulting financial advisors at different intermediaries around the country, I really had not grasped the art and science of having the conversation with the investing public. And I remember immersing myself deeply in advanced planning studies, case studies, and just reading everything that I possibly could and absorbing as much information as I possibly could because I really wanted to focus, again, on filling in those planning gaps. So, then a light bulb went off in my head. And I went, "Hmm. You know, maybe there's something different with a model that does not require clients or potential clients to move assets to me."
So I set up a model where initially the firm is available under a flat retainer to review everything, investment account statements, tax returns, estate planning documents, insurance policies, etc., if it has a dollar sign in front of it, I'm going to want to see it, and then reporting back to the family or individual, as the case may be, on findings and advising on the strategies that can fill in planning gaps that they may not have even realized that they had. And in the course of that conversation, in that discovery process, that's oftentimes when the then client will turn and look at me and go, "Well, you know everything about me, you have access to all my information, what would you charge to manage assets?" but we never do require it.
Gavin: I love that. They come to you, they realize that it's a very non-sales but effective sales approach because, to your point, if you got them to that point where, through your expertise and the way that you carry yourself with them, that they entrust you with all that information, you've done the hard part. You've done the hard part. You don't have to sell them on, "Here's my track record and here's how I tried to beat the benchmarks and all that." It's almost assumed that you're going to do a good job on the investment management side based on the diligence and the rigor of your process up front.
Vance: What's interesting about the role is that I'm able to share, anecdotally, sometimes the information that I learned from my prior career. For example, if a family is at a particular bank or wirehouse, generally speaking, I'm familiar with what that firm does, what that firm doesn't do, common potential conflicts of interest, etc., etc. So I figured that I would do away with the conventional, "Move your money to the firm. We have a better mousetrap," because, in my opinion, there is no better mousetrap. There's the best mousetrap. And what that looks like for each person or family is the product of their idiosyncratic fact pattern and, ultimately, what is in their best interest, not only from a product standpoint, but also from a service and financial planning standpoint.
Gavin: Absolutely. And that organization that you provide them by giving them that 360-degree analysis of everything, obviously, there's a lot of good, positive outcomes of deep financial planning, and Monte Carlo analysis and all of that, but I think, personally, most people, more than half the battle is simply getting their arms around what they have and having somebody who's unbiased, no conflicts, your point, an expert to be able to tell them, "You've got these holes in your plan. You've got these blind spots," and deal with much bigger issues, then, "Can I beat the benchmark by 100 basis points?" or whatever it is, whether that's on the estate planning side, the tax side. So maybe let's use that as a pivot or jumping off point, talk about your client profile. Obviously, they're not cookie cutter. I'm sure a very diverse group. But in general, like, do you have minimums? Does it tend to be families on the private wealth side? And I'm also curious, so what's a good fit and also what's a bad fit? And do you have a process to detect if a prospect is not a good fit and you cut that off before you get to a point where you and the client find out it's not a good fit?
Vance: These are all excellent questions, Gavin, truly. So, I don't have an ideal client profile. My minimum is that I like them and I can bring value, and that's the key part. I don't want to simply either charge a flat fee, or have assets here in the absence of presenting value. And there might be people watching this going, "Okay. That's..." Like, no, really. Like, why would I go from house A to house B in the absence of being able to implement value that they aren't currently getting? And the answer would arguably be for compensation. But on a moral, and ethical, and humanitarian level, I just don't see any fulfillment in that as a person. And I'm an absolutely open book.
In my former career, I was once accused by someone in a condescending way of wearing my heart on my sleeve. And I thought, you know what, you're taking that as a criticism, or at least criticizing me for it, but I'm going to switch that. And when I switched roles, I was able to position myself appropriately with clients to get into the warm and fuzzy and to really understand them, their families, what makes them tick, family politics, is Teddy going back to rehab, is there a favored, adult shot... This is life. Like 2020 showed up, knocked on the door, and went, "Hey, remember me? I'm reality and I'm here." And I think people are very keenly aware of that.
But the minimum is that I like them, and that the firm can bring value to them, particularly in ways that they're not getting now. In terms of client profiles, we have clients that might have a million dollars in investable assets, and then there are clients that have double-digit millions. Typically, they come from what I call the banking blender. They have their SMA of equity portfolio, or the lineup of conventional A share mutual funds that have been flipped to institutional mutual funds and qualified and non-qualified accounts.
They have had planning, but there's actually no tangible financial plan. The advisor typically has not opened the tax returns in the meeting to very specifically show key information that should, in my opinion, be driving the planning process. Very seldom does their former advisor have a history of working alongside of the CPA and/or an estate planning attorney. Things of that nature. And some families have more complex planning needs than others. And the planning, as you shared, is not boilerplate. It's very customized, again, to reflect the true needs of that family's profile.
An ideal client profile is someone that we enjoy serving. I shared with you in our last phone call that I call clients on Thanksgiving. And people either go, "Yeah, right," or they go, "Really?" And it's real. I'll pick up the phone, and I will call them to remind them that it's the day of gratitude. And we're lucky to be in the position that we are in their lives. And we enjoy being the right-hand financial consultant for dollar-sign related decisions. And that's it.
Gavin: Now, when you told me that anecdote, that one little thing that you told me everything, I think, I needed to to know about you, that you're doing what everyone talks about, wanting to do to go deeper and really build a connection with the families that we serve and take it beyond just the scientific part of, "Oh, can I create a plan? And can I show you how much you need to save, and maybe there's a better way to ask and locate," and all those things that are important but they're kind of table stakes, you do the part that's hard to teach. It's authentic in you, back to the comment someone made about wearing your heart on your sleeve. It's a cliché too, but you're bringing your authentic self to your relationships, and that's either going to jive with people, or it's not. But in many ways, that's going to lead you to relationships where you're a good fit. And the people that that's not their thing, you'll know that and you won't waste time with folks like that.
Vance: You know, you asked a few other questions, and I would like to get to those. So you asked if there are questions asked during discovery that help identify if someone is not a good fit. Typical questions that I hear, which tell me that either their expectations are too high or they're new to the process are, "What are your thoughts on Bitcom?" And I'm like, "Well, in terms of cryptocurrency, and compliance is going to see this, I have no thoughts, but there's a lot of information out there." "Can you consistently outperform the S&P?" and my standard response is, "If you can show me an active manager that has consistently performed...outperformed, excuse me, the S&P over a 10-plus-year period, I will show you oceanfront property in the State of West Virginia." Number three, "What are your fees?" "Like, fees, like, you've rolled up in a $180,000 Maserati, I don't think fees are the issue here. I think that ultimately what you're asking is, what value am I going to provide and what is the ultimate cost?" Because let's be real, if fees were an issue, the Neiman Marcus and Bentley would not be in existence. It's not an issue of fees. It's an issue of perception, of value. And there are a few...
Gavin: And very successful say, professionals in other fields, doctors. You go to a world-class doctor, you're not going to sit there and say, "Well, how much is this again?" If they're delivering a service, if they're going to save your life, in this case your financial life, you're not quibbling over. You want the value. I mean, you mentioned cost, to me it's value. You want to feel like, "The return on my investment, whatever that is, is well in excess of that cost."
Vance: And another thing that I talk about, Gavin, is their experience. All of us, everyone watching this, you, me, any passerby, when we experience something in life, we're comparing our prior experiences to that. So when someone harps on fees, typically there's a reason. Either they were advised to ask about fees, they did a Google search about fees, and they read, "Well, you know, paying fees is terrible," "Well, okay, I pay an exterminator to come by my house once a month. It's great. He just kind of shows up. Now, there are other services that I pay for, where they just simply show up, and they do the required work." But it's really important that I identify the cause because sometimes it's they had a bad experience. There is a family that is in the process of coming on board. It's a seven-figure account, not that the account size matters, but the husband of this family kept going back to fees, like, "What are the fees?"
And I'm, "Well, we've talked about it." And I finally looked at him, and I just said, "What is the concern? What is it that's bothering you about the cost? Because if this is how we start the relationship, I'm afraid that you might be underwhelmed and leave for reasons that might be out of my control." And he said, "You know, it's because I've been at this bank, they were charging me this 1.25%. I heard from the guy once a year, and I looked at what I was paying, and I thought that I was paying too much relative to what I was getting."
And I said, "Okay. Let me be sure to clearly identify the items we're going to talk about in planning meetings, the discovery process, the fact-finding report that I'm going to present to you. Remember, I'm going to have calls with your CPA and your estate planning attorney. And just conversationally, there are three things that I already know that you don't have. So you're arguably going to be getting more value for the amount that I'm going to charge, which was not what the former institution was charging." I could just see the look of like, "Okay. Okay. You know what, I'm satisfied. I understand that this is more than just investment management." If it's just investment management, and someone is inclined to do it on their own, there are certainly plenty of options for that to happen, but it's the planning value and the overall wealth management planning experience that goes into that.
Gavin: Absolutely. And I think you're right. People have been conditioned, and probably have had some negative or not so positive experiences, and you have to educate them on what it is that you do because the impression they might have of financial advisors and financial advice might be very different and likely is very different than what you bring to it.
Gavin: How so?
Vance: You can have a business card, where the role or title for the name of the person on that business card is financial advisor, that person can literally only sell whole life insurance, or annuities. There's no way for the public to inherently know the difference. And it's really caveat emptor. It's buyer beware. We don't teach financial literacy in public schools. Like, "Really, this is a problem? So how is the public supposed to know how to hire a financial advisor?" Most people make these types of decisions based on trust. They ask a friend, they ask a family member, they asked their cousin Billy, they asked their neighbor Joey, whatever the case may be, and then they kind of go on a gut instinct. The problem is that the public does not know what questions to ask to really understand what their true needs are and how to hire an advisor that is most appropriate to satisfy the needs and the solutions pursuant to those needs.
You know, another item that I forgot to mention with this family that is in the process of coming on board is that I asked for his employer's sponsored benefits package. And I said, "I want all information, what long term care, what disability insurance, what life insurance options do you have because I want to understand if you can get those items for a lower cost than what you are currently paying based on the solution," because this particular person purchased life insurance earlier this year from a completely separate insurance agent. You get my point?
Gavin: Yep. Let me ask you this, it's an unbelievable service you're providing, but it's a lot of work. You're not churning out a cookie-cutter, very simplistic financial plan. You know, just you want to retire with X, okay, how much you need to save, and blah, blah, blah. So how...?
Vance: Maybe I should do that, Gavin, "Maybe you should be like Vance Barse, man with a plan, 599," you know, "Cut your check to Commonwealth or, you know," I could be one of those late night commercials, you know.
Gavin: I don't see that happening. So, but with that said, given that level of service and the complexity that you enjoy, and it's your focus, do you have a number in your head of number of families, without growing dramatically and bringing on partners, do you have a sense of how many families you can serve in that way?
Vance: Absolutely. One of the things that I used to see financial advisors do is spread themselves massively thin. It was growth at any price. If you got $100,000, you're coming on board. If you got $10 million, you're definitely coming on board. But there was no real science behind it. And while I like warm, and fuzzy, and touchy-feely, I'm a very data-driven person. I'm naturally an analytic. I just have to work hard at being extroverted, and social, and so forth. And in my mind, it's an issue of incremental time and value relative to the number of hours there are within a workday. In my mind, and I've done some of my own data analysis, you can serve no more than 100 families successfully before spreading yourself too thin. There was actually a lot of data behind that number. There is an author named Rob Knapp, K-N-A-P-P. He wrote the book "Supernova Advisor," which I actually read in my former career, and I ascribe to that whole approach, which is you can only work with 100 households. And I tried having 150 relationships, I tried 200, I tried whittling that down to 750, this is in my former career again, and ultimately, I found that I had the most impact in serving 100 relationships, if you will, which in that role we're a financial advisory and wealth management teams around the country.
So 100 is that number. You can scale and you could have, say, 150 or 200, but in order to really have a solid understanding of what's going on in that family's planning, you'll need to have financial planners working alongside of you, who can run the data, run the analyses, etc., and you could still serve in the relationship management capacity, if that makes sense.
Gavin: That's a good jumping off point to talk about technology, the role of technology in your practice, from upfront, that discovery process that you talked about, the information-collecting process, analysis, plan creation, and then onboarding clients, and then the ongoing client management. So I do have it on good authority that Excel is a...you're a power user of Excel, and there is nothing wrong with that. Excel might be one of the best softwares of all time. But talk about your tech stack hub and the role that it plays in serving your clients and scaling your business.
Vance: So for those that might not know why I'm over here laughing borderline uncontrollably it's because Gavin and I talk a lot, and I'm very lucky to know him. It goes without saying that he's a powerhouse in our industry. And he asked me one day, "What are you doing for tax-loss harvesting?" And I'm like, "Buddy, I am so good at using Excel." And he's laughing at me. And he's just like, "Why?" And I go, "Because in my data-driven brain, I'm very visual, it's easy for me to take long-term and short-term and then gain and loss and move things around so that I can figure out what's easiest to me visually." And it was a really committed conversation that we had. So, yes, despite me being in my early 40s and familiar with what hashtags and Twitter are, I still do use Excel to conduct tax-loss harvesting. And I hope that so many of you out there are just belly laughing at me right now because I know that there's software to do it.
Gavin: I know there's a lot of fintech software providers that are laughing or, I don't know, chomping at the bit to get to you, for sure.
Vance: Well, I like the suggestions of the software. But I have been unable to find a software that has the Vance Barse method, if you will. And I don't mean of Excel spreadsheets, but I mean of really understanding the interface between the human aspect of things and the technological aspect of things. Is there one, two, five, seven positions in a non-qualified account that we could use for donor-advised fund, or charitable remainder trusts, or charitable lead trust? Or can one of your software systems out there, for all of you fintechies, can it incorporate the cost basis and current value of real estate holdings, or highly appreciated art, or other collectibles so that the software itself can recommend the items that would be a great fit for charitable intent, or if it's a concentrated position, taking different tax lots, and those that are near basis, or at a loss, etc., etc., coming up with a potential plan of action, where the software is driving that to the advisor, which, by the way, Gavin, is a great theoretical, and it's a great reality if it happens.
But let me ask you this, what happens to the value proposition for so many advisors that upsell their ability to do tax-loss harvesting in a customized way? I don't know the answer to that question because I don't know of a software that can go, "Hello, Barbara and Ted," or whatever their names are, "how do you want to satisfy your charitable intent?" "We don't have any." "Well, how do you know? Let me show you the math." Little things like that. And I'm certainly open to suggestions. But I'm really excited to talk about the tech stack that I do use and I'm also a heart on the sleeve kind of guy. I know no other system than Investor360, which is from Commonwealth. Why? Because I simply haven't used it. I've seen them. I get calls about them. I get emails about them. I get, I think, 17 LinkedIn requests a week in the inbox thing, which I just never look at anymore, "Hey, we want to show you our software."
Here's why I'm so happy with Investment360. In the discovery process, I sit down, and I've already mentioned the documents that I request. The only thing that I didn't mention is a household balance sheet and if someone is a C suite executive, or if they have a family business, I want tax returns for the business, and sometimes a balance sheet for the business. But you get my point. And I put all that information to the side. And I simply ask them, "What is most important about money to you?" which is actually a question that I heard Bill Bachrach asked once. And I thought, "Huh, that's a really great question," because it's simple but it's also so complex. And it's the jumping off point. And I don't always ask that question. But I ask a series of questions that really gets into the core of who the person is, and who the couple are, and what's most important to their family. And it's almost like in the context of that conversation, the investments, whether it's $1 million, or $500,000, or $20-some million, all of that goes away, and it's all about the family and what's most important to them. And sometimes, the conversations almost become allegorical because we talk about what does it mean to be a member of the family? Have you ever had a family heritage statement? Have you ever actually documented what's most important from a core value standpoint to the family, etc., etc.? So then, all of the documents are uploaded to Investor360, they get an Investor360 login, and I tell them absolutely everything, excuse me, with a dollar sign in front of, it can be uploaded to the system, you have access to it. Outside accounts like your 401(k) accounts, if you have very highly concentrated stock positions, all of that data is linked. Literally, it's all right there in one pretty window, so that they can have a snapshot of all things dollar sign related.
And in addition to that, they are able to upload their estate planning documents, which is helpful for me because I can see, for example, they might have a will, they might have a trust, but they might not have a POLST, or they might not have medical directives, or they might not have the appropriate powers of attorney that they might need. I'm not an estate planning attorney, by the way, so this is not legal advice, insert all disclaimers here, but it helps me plan better. And all of those documents including tax returns and so forth can be uploaded. And sometimes, the clients will find value in uploading copies of their passport, or their driver's license, for example, because what if they're traveling in Europe and they lose their passport? How are they going to have a copy? Well, they can go on and they can print it out and you know the rest of that story. So my familiarity with the broader technological landscape, and I love the stuff that you put out because there's so many companies that have all these great different fintech solutions, my knowledge of that landscape is limited. My love for Investor360 is quite strong because I know the system, and every possible thing that I need at my fingertips is right there.
Gavin: They've done all the heavy lifting for you, the integration, the capabilities. So you're saying Investor360, I know it as Advisor360. So is the Investor360 the client portal side and then all the tools you use to manage your practice, trade and rebalance…that's the Advisor360 part? Am I using the...
Vance: When you talk about portfolios, like, everything is in there. I come up with the custom portfolios. And it's just I love the tech that I have.
Gavin: Fascinating. Is there any tech, or tool, or even just an engagement practice that you have found actually helps your clients follow your advice and achieve better outcomes? Because, ultimately, that's what matters. You can come up with the best plan in the world, mathematically precise, run Monte Carlo up the wazoo -- that's a technical term -- but if the client doesn't do what they do... I didn't get that one pass you…If they don't do what they need to do, what you've counseled them to do, to save more, to save smarter, to spend less, to set up the estate plan, none of the stuff you do on the front end matters. So any thoughts around that, to actually getting them to follow through on advice over time?
Vance: Well, at the core of the service model is technology. And I do that for two reasons. One, because I want clients to become familiar with the capabilities of the technology and demonstrate, in meetings very specifically, how I can bring up, for example, the estate planning documents, and we don't have to go through a bunch of paper, and it gets them familiar with the value add, if I can use that term, which is one that I generally don't like because whenever a wholesaler calls, "We want to talk to you about our value add," "No. That's okay."
Gavin: I've got a bugaboo about talking about financial planning. It's the same thing, like if you have value add, don't talk about it being value add. Just deliver the value. Same with financial planning, don't talk to me about, "Oh, you do financial planning," just do financial planning.
Vance: That's right. Thank you. Yet again, on the same page. So the second reason that I have the tech as a foundational element of the client experience is because we kind of have to, in my mind, think about people right now today who are 38 and younger. How did they grow up? They weren't watching "Hee Haw" with grandma and grandpa. They were staring at a cell phone, this thing, the gadget. It's a map. It's a bank. It's the email. It's social media, even though you don't really socialize. It's the bang, bang, bang. It's all on the phone. And I want to have the technology there and have the multiple generations served by the firm, very familiar with the technology so that it's appealing to the family members that are on the right-hand side of the age bell curve, but it's also...I don't want to say necessary, but it's consistent with the user experience of those family members who are on the left-hand side of the age bell curve.
Gavin: We've alluded to it a couple times, but let's talk about the year that has been, being locked down, socially distant, different firms and advisors had different experiences in terms of how they've adapted to that in terms of new business and serving existing clients. You are the ultimate road warrior. So you've, I think, had a little bit of a different experience then, many. Can you speak about how the year has been for you in your practice?
Vance: Sure. I traveled full-time for years. It would be typically two to three cities per week. But going through TSA, traveling by plane, it all became very second nature to me. So one of the unusual aspects about my firm is that we have clients that are spread throughout the country. It's not like a so-called typical financial planning or investment advisory firm where everyone's right down the street and all the clients come into the office. My clients don't want to come in to my office. They're busy. They might be busy running businesses. They might be busy traveling, well pre-COVID. They might be busy with grandkids. No one wants to come to downtown San Diego and take two elevators to get to the office to talk about tax-loss harvesting and... Forget about it. So having Zoom, they...
Gavin: They want to see your Excel spreadsheets. Come on.
Vance: Yeah. Yeah. Two things I've never discussed in a client meeting, the actual Excel spreadsheet or Monte Carlo. I was thinking about that when you said it, and I was thinking most of my clients, when they hear Monte Carlo, are going to think about an awesome vacation destination, when this COVID thing goes away. But anyway, point is, I traveled to clients, whether it's to their home, or to their places of business, or hopping on a plane to go and see them. It's just what I do. So the first six months of COVID were a little bizarre in that I did not travel much. And then, I finally hit a point where clients are going, "You know, I want to see you. And let's keep our distance." And the only difference between pre-COVID meetings and now is the lack of the hello and goodbye hug. That just simply doesn't exist, for obvious and good reasons.
But in meeting with clients, socially and physically distancing, certainly on planes...which, by the way, planes have never been clear. It's an amazing time to travel by air. It is amazing. I know people might be going, "You're a crazy guy." Literally, it's amazing. The airports are clean. The airplanes are clean. It's generally a ghost town. And on Southwest, which is what I've generally been flying, the middle seats have been empty. I mean, it's just, like, check, check, chickity check, this is awesome, the technical term awesome. And in six months, people, I think, they were just over it. They're going, "You know what, we've looked at the data." And many of the clients served by the firm are in the at-risk cohort. They are 70 or older, many of them have pre-existing health conditions, and I'm very, very mindful. And I'll call and say, "Hey, we're going to be in your area. I would love to see you. There's absolutely no pressure. I'm happy to take a test if you'd like me to. I've had no symptoms. I haven't traveled internationally, etc., etc."
And all but one have said, "Absolutely. We'd love to have you come by. Let's just stay six or more feet apart." And it's been fine. The year has just been bizarre, though. I mean, think about this, what started in March as, "Stay at home for two weeks, let's flatten the curve, and hopefully everything will be fine," has evolved into nine months of this vacuum of...I don't even have a word for it, Gavin. It's just bizarre. It's just truly bizarre. But one thing I found really inspiring and also fulfilling is that so many clients have engaged on the phone and Zoom over multiple months. And I've seen this resurgence in insofar as what matters most to human beings, time with family, fulfillment, passion.
Vance: Health. What's that?
Gavin: Community, just being...
Gavin: Physical community, virtual community, whatever it is. I think this has put a real spotlight on that human need for being part of a community.
Gavin: Speaking of which, though, with all the physical distancing, I think you'd agree social media has its downsides, but I look at more of the positives. I think it's just been an incredible lifeline and a source for inspiration and just connectivity, especially over these past few months. I mean, especially in the RIA and planning space, there's such an incredible group of folks that are very open, sharing ideas, some professional, some social and personal. You're an active member, what do you take away from it?
Vance: You know what's funny to me, so I hired a consultant to advise me on branding, and media relationships, and, ultimately, my website design. And I remember this person saying, "You got to be on Twitter." I'm going, "Yeah, right." Twitter, that's what kids do. What are you talking about? Little did I know, and this is also a sign of personal growth for anyone...like it's amazing in life how we look at things and we go, "I had assumptions I was completely unaware of." I thought that Twitter was just sort of unnecessary evil, if you will, for social media, specifically in finance.
And I have been so lucky to build relationships, great relationships through the platform. And originally, back in 2015... No, I'm sorry, 2014, not that the year matters, I started to sound like my grandpa, "Back in my day..." Back in 2014, I created a Twitter account to follow my friend Danielle DiMartino, who's fantastic. All of you watching this should absolutely follow her. She's a riot. She's brilliant. And she's a very accomplished author. She wrote a book called "Fed Up." I just wanted to get her updates because I'm a fed head. Like, I love talking about monetary policy and so forth. So I kind of let it go. And the guy was like, "Hey, well, do you have a Twitter account?" I'm like, "Yeah, but I'm not really active on it." And so we revamped it a bit. And to my surprise, it has been such a platform of engagement. And I don't even know where to start or end because there's so many journalists on Twitter who are active, not only obviously promoting their articles and news, but they want information.
Vance: Absolutely. And I'll have reporters reach out to me and they're like, "Hey, you used to consult financial advisors. I read you in... you know, whatever article recently, I'm working on another story and I'd like to talk about this. Do you have experience in this?" And one thing about journalists is if you are an expert in something, or if you can serve as a sounding board, it's great. But I'll tell them, if it's on some quirky aspect of something that I don't know, "Hey, you know what, I'm not your person. But I will help you find someone who's an absolute expert." In the community itself, it's so great to see the collaboration among financial planners and even tax Twitter for that matter. Jeff Levine, CPA planner, it's great. You know, we had breakfast one day…we completely nerded out on advanced planning. So to your point, it's been a great community and it's been a great break from the bizarre year that 2020 has been.
Gavin: Absolutely. And I was very similar. I had an account, I think, since '09, didn't use it at all, had kind of forgot about it. And then, I don't know, year and a half ago, two years, something like that, I started to pay a bit more attention, and connect with people, and share ideas, and have become good friends with quite a few people, including people that I have not even met in real life, maybe some phone calls, but even just social. Yeah, like I said, I think it's been quite a lifeline in terms of maintaining some level of community and engagement, especially these past months.
Vance: It just reminded me of something, if I may.
Vance: So every so often, I'll see someone in the financial Twitter or otherwise known as FinTwit community post something about how they're feeling, he could be having a bad day, or there are people that have been experiencing short term bouts of melancholy, and depression, and so forth, or there are some financial advisors that are new and just a little tweet and they talk about their frustration. And I have been so happy to be able to connect with those people because this is life. Like, it's real. Like, think about other social media platforms like, "Here we are in the Bahamas. Here's my awesome brand new dog. Here's my awesome Maserati," I don't have one of those, by the way, here's my...whatever. And it creates this idea that, like, everyone is just doing so amazing, and wonderful, and successful. But, man, this is life. Life can be hard. Life in 2020 can be hard. You know what can be really difficult? Starting a financial advisory practice from scratch.
There's some really, really bright people who haven't learned how to have the conversation. They're not in a position to necessarily have a great mentor. And it's great to see these people out there and engage with them. And I'll offer people, "Hey, call me. If you're having a tough time, in life in general, call me." There are five people with whom I have spoken in the last six months. And I'm not sharing that to be like, "Hey, this is great. I feel amazing." It's just life. Like, I feel like it's part of the community. It's what we should be doing because what we're going through right now is truly bizarre. And I think it's great when I look back over periods of my career, when I've had excellent mentorship, I want opportunities to provide mentorship to folks to say, "Hey, you know what, here's a mistake that I made. Definitely don't do that," or, "Here's something that worked for me. You should do this sooner than I learned how to do it because it builds the collective good."
Gavin: Okay. I find in this community, there's such a philosophy of abundance versus scarcity, not like, "Oh, I'm in competition. I'm going to keep everything close to the vest," and, to your point then, sharing the realities, every day is not sunshine, everything doesn't always work, and people having each other's backs and, really, it being a vehicle for improving our industry, which is one of the things I want to talk about. You know, there's so much work that still needs to be done to make our industry more inclusive, really, in a couple ways, in terms of the clients that we serve, giving access to advice and solutions to more people. It's been very concentrated, obviously, for the longest time, but also in the composition of our firms. It’s hard to do the first, if you're not doing the second, and having people in our firms and in our industry that look like America, and understand people at different stages and what their needs might be. So making the connection to social media, there's been just some incredible voices for pushing that envelope forward and pushing the industry forward, not always comfortably, but in a meaningful way. Any thoughts or perspectives around that?
Vance: Absolutely. How much time do we have, Gavin? I remember when...
Gavin: You know what, that's the beauty here. No one's given us the hook.
Vance: I remember when I started at Altegris and there was this person there, who was, let's just say, not nice. I didn't come from a country club background. I didn't have that life. And this person made me very acutely aware that I had gotten in barely, just barely, because I had read the right books and knew just enough to answer some key questions in the interview, or so I thought. And I remember later, thinking back on this and going, you know, it was my polite persistence to get that job. I'm only bringing that up because there's a lot that this industry can do to better itself. And I don't mean just the fiduciary standard, or having the equivalent of the Hippocratic oath in financial services. But we hear a lot on social media and at industry conferences about diversity and inclusion. And here's my ask for the industry, like, as all of us talk about it, what are each of us individually doing to be about it? Sonya Dreizler is a fantastic friend. I encourage everybody to follow her on social media. You know, I think about all of the privileges that are often available through any successful business, and we happen to be in the industry of financial services.
So very specifically, what do each of us do to give back and to advance others within the industry? And those are two separate things. And one of the passions that I have is financial literacy. And there's a group in San Diego called Just In Time Foster Youth. So these kids, if you will, have come up to the foster system and they're about to transition into adulthood. And guess what? Financial literacy, as I shared earlier, is not taught in schools. And so, here you have these young adults who have grown up in the foster system about to transition into retirement. You know what they get? They get a ton of credit card applications and solicitations in the mail. Come on. What's the difference between good and bad debt? And the questions go on from there.
So I encourage financial advisors, it doesn't matter your age, it doesn't matter your so-called success. And it's all relative, like, literally, it's all relative. What are you doing to specifically give back? And one of the things that we look for in hiring are those types of stories. And so many jobs in the world, not just our industry, but in the world, are created because of who you know and the network that you have. There are a lot of people out there that don't have the network because of their background. You know, they weren't born with the silver spoon, if you will. Not that that's bad. There are people that were, and they worked really, really hard and they worked really, really smart, and they built successful businesses. And I'm certainly not knocking that. But I do think that we, as an industry, have the ability to diversify our cultures and our employment basis.
Gavin: Absolutely. And there's lots of data now that shows it's not just the right thing to do. It's good business. It's absolutely good business, businesses that are more diverse and truly inclusive, which is, in some ways, not that there's not more work to be done to make sure we've got diverse workforces. But that's not even half the battle. It's then how do you make sure everyone has a voice and everyone is heard. It just benefits everybody. What it's all about, we talked about this the other day, it's all about being intentional. It's not just saying good things, and hoping for the best, and saying, "Okay, I'm supporting the cause. But how are you physically doing it? What steps can everybody take?"
Vance: You know, a thought just occurred to me. I remember the first week that I was at the firm I mentioned, said person comes up to me and says, "You know, this is where people end their careers, not start their careers. This is the hedge fund universe. You knew just enough, just enough to get your foot in the door." Now, I happened to be standing in the men's restroom. And I looked at this person, and I said, "You know, when you walked in, I thought I smelled a turd," and walked out. And that was the extent of the relationship. And I just thought, "You know what, Vance, chin up, chest out, do a good job." And I remember being so thankful, so thankful that I was able to convince John Sundt to take a risk on me because it changed the trajectory of my life and my career. I never woke up on a Tuesday and decided, "You know what, I'm going to go consult financial advisors for a living, and I'm going to learn a whole bunch about them. And then, some life events are going to happen, and I'm going to go ahead and start my own firm and focus on filling those planning gaps." Like, it just happened. But I was given opportunities, luck helped, but hard work and determination also helped. And it's really great for those in the industry who are in positions to do the same.
Gavin: Give other people opportunities. Everyone, I look back at my life just like you, so many places where somebody took a chance, somebody opened up a door, and we need to do more of that. This has been awesome, Vance. I really enjoyed our conversation. Want to talk again because I want to hear about the Harley, motorcycles, your journey. We'll go back to that another time. But this has been absolutely a treat. Thank you so much for the time, and your candor, and sharing.
Vance: Hey, Gavin, thank you so much for the opportunity. And remember, stay off those motorcycles. I no longer ride them. Plenty to chat about next time.