Susan M. Tillery, CPA/PFS

President and co-founder of Paraklete Financial Inc. and co-owner of Financial Planning Advocate LLC, both in Kennesaw, Ga.

PHOTO BY PHIL SKINNER/AP IMAGES
PHOTO BY PHIL SKINNER/AP IMAGES

For personal financial planners, ‘the opportunities are limitless …

Learning the tax code for the greater good: When I went to college at the University of Georgia, the only advice my father gave me was, “Make sure you enroll in the business school.” On the day I arrived, I walked into the business school and said, “I’m here to register.” When asked what I wanted to major in, I shared that I wanted to join the FBI. The enrollment officer said an accounting degree was one of the degrees the FBI requires, as well as a law degree, so I decided to get a degree in accounting and later go to law school.

I took my first tax course, and everything changed. In my introductory tax textbooks, the preface said, “The tax code is used to affect and change society.” I had an epiphany. I realized the tax code’s significant impact on society and I wanted to master it. I went to work for Arthur Andersen in the tax department and later worked with the estate planning group, which led me to my love for personal financial planning.

Helping clients and CPAs: Fifteen years ago, my husband and I decided to start Paraklete Financial, a personal financial planning firm. Our business model does not offer investment management. We provide holistic integrated personal financial planning services by educating our clients about all things financial in their lives. It is rewarding to empower clients to make financial decisions that bring them peace of mind. We started Financial Planning Advocate in 2012 as an education company for CPAs. We also wrote the AICPA’s certificate program, which is used by CPAs to take the exam to become a credentialed Personal Financial Specialist.

Becoming a personal financial planner: CPAs who have a desire to assist their clients with their retirement, investment, insurance, estate, and cash flow planning will need to pursue education in each of these subject areas. People skills, listening skills, and coaching skills are also critical to the process. The next step is to obtain your PFS designation, which says to your clients and to the public that you have the requisite skills, knowledge, and competency to provide personal financial planning services. You then determine the types of services to offer your clients. The opportunities are limitless.

Dealing with a volatile market and economy: Our clients ask questions about what they hear in the news. We remind them that the market is cyclical [and] that we considered their risk tolerance when we determined their asset allocation plan. We also encourage them to be wise with spending and prepare for the ups and downs in the economy. Preparation is important and provides individuals with a sense of being in control of their own destiny.


Favorite food: I enjoy a Mediterranean diet because it’s so healthy. But I also love Italian because it’s not.

Favorite music: I love jazz. Miles Davis is one of my favorite artists.

Favorite books: Harkening back to my original desire to join the FBI, I love mysteries, especially historical mysteries.


As told to Teri Saylor, a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest another subject for Last Word, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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