'You need to listen a lot more than you talk'
Establishing a niche: The whole financial planning area for CPAs is a niche in and of itself. Twenty-one years ago, I started this practice after 15 years building a personal financial planning practice at a local CPA firm. We are a CPA financial planning firm that specializes in personal financial planning, tax, and investment advisory services. We're focused on high-income clients, primarily higher-net-worth clients. We're almost like their family office. We're there for every decision they face from a financial standpoint, talking to them often weekly or more.
Fee philosophy: A lot of financial planners charge an assets-under-management and an investment-oriented fee. We charge hourly or a retainer fee all based on hourly rates because we feel like the planning is really what's important. The most important thing we do with clients is that ongoing financial planning process. We've created a nice niche with that and a good reputation over a lot of years.
Getting to know clients: When we're doing personal financial planning, we're dealing with some of the most important issues that our clients face and their most deep-seated concerns, beliefs, fears, and worries. We really need to know about their family situation, what their goals are, what they want their life to look like. It's a lot more than just the financials. For example, we work with wealthy families to make sure their children are financially literate to prepare them to manage their finances in age-appropriate ways. You need to listen a lot more than you talk. You need to ask good, deep, thought-provoking, open-ended questions and really let clients talk about their lives.
What the future looks like: Most people that work with me have been with me a long time. My son, Chris, joined our firm six and a half years ago after spending some time at a national CPA firm. He and I are now just starting a process of working through the vision for what the firm should look like in the future. The challenge for us now, with Chris having come onboard, is how do we take what we do and create a firm that can continue beyond me down the road. I'm not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, but at 57, I need to start thinking about what the future looks like. We are starting that process, which will ultimately lead to some sort of succession plan down the road. I want to make sure we've created something that can continue into the future.
—As told to Sheon Ladson Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.