Like countless others in the financial services industry, I entered the world of finance through insurance and mutual fund sales. I will never forget the first time I walked into an insurance company office in upstate New York. I had just graduated from college with a degree in economics and a minor in business and felt that my education qualified me for whatever leadership role they might have available.
I confidently approached the front desk and told the staff that I was looking for a job in management. My hopes were quickly dashed when the secretary explained that I would have to become a successful salesperson first, and then I might be able to move on to management. A salesperson first? They never tell you that in school.
Desperate for my first real job, I agreed. In the first interview they explained to me the huge income I could make selling insurance and investment products. The thought of making five times my current salary at my computer repair job was all I needed to hear.
The first year on the job was filled with training on how to be a salesman. The training focused on how the company’s products worked and how to prospect for new business. Occasionally, someone taught me a useful financial planning technique, but most of the advice I received revolved around prospecting and sales strategies. The name of the game was “smile and dial.”
On top of being improperly trained, there was another obstacle in my way—my age. At twenty-five, I found it difficult to get people twice my age to take me seriously, and this made it hard to sell them financial products. What could I possibly know that would help them plan their financial futures?
I decided that I needed a few designations behind my name to increase credibility. But after achieving the first designation, the process of gaining clients’ trust, and hence their business, became no easier. The reaction I was hoping for—something like, “You’re a Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow®? My wife and I have to work with you!”—didn’t exactly come. I was still just a salesperson in the investment and financial planning industry.
Then I thought perhaps the solution was to change broker-dealers. (A broker-dealer is a company that is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and can sell securities to the public or for itself.) I attended broker-dealer conventions looking for answers, and I wandered up and down the aisles listening to sales pitches as they feverishly presented their products to salespeople like me. It was an overload of information (but I did get some nice pens and stress balls for all my efforts).
As I increased my education, however, I began to see how their sales techniques just didn’t add up. They used overly optimistic numbers to make their financial products stand out. They always seemed to focus attention on the mutual funds they managed that had just had stellar performance, yet they virtually ignored the poor performers in their inventory. One strategy focused on confusing the client with such a complicated investment plan that the client would “become putty in your hands and buy whatever you want.”
The Best Advice
I questioned these tactics with an advisor at breakfast, and it was there that he gave me one of the best pieces of advice I had ever received. He recommended that I pursue investment studies outside the financial product sales side of the industry. He assured me that I would never hear any objective information about investing until I removed myself from the mutual fund and insurance companies who stood to gain if I sold their products.
Why I Started This Company
From there, I followed the teachings of Gene Fama (2013 Nobel laureate in economic sciences) and other investing academics. I studied the investment research that came out of the academic circles from such places like the University of Chicago, Yale University, MIT, and Harvard, to name a few.
What I learned was completely different from what I was taught by the broker-dealers. I discovered a way of investing that made logical sense and wasn’t fueled by making a commission. I was hooked.
Not long after that, I was compelled to start my own business. With my new understanding of investing, I could no longer, in good conscience, work for the broker-dealer selling products. I wanted to offer clients an investing experience unlike what they would find elsewhere, where they wouldn’t feel sold to, but instead would be coached to understand investing.
Over the years I’ve added to my team as I’ve found others who, like me, were tired of the sales-driven process found at traditional broker-dealers. They’ve bought in to the academic principles of investing and want to create a different experience for their clients too.
I hold a high standard for all the advisors who work with me, requiring them to obtain the ChFC® or CFP® designations, and become well-versed in the academics of investing. They all have many years’ experience in the industry, and I have personally trained each of them.
Call me crazy, but I believe investing should make sense. I also believe the financial planning process ought to be fun, and it should never be driven by sales. We have found that the end result of our coaching and planning is that the client, often for the first time in their life, gains a clear picture of their purpose. They can finally relax about money because they understand where they want to go and how to get there.
By Paul Winkler
*Advisory services offered through Paul Winkler, Inc. (‘PWI’), a Registered Investment Advisor. PWI does not provide tax or legal advice: please consult your tax or legal advisor regarding your particular situation. This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed to be a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any securities. Information we provide on our website, and in our publications and social media, does not constitute a solicitation or offer to sell securities or investment advisory services, or a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell a security to any person in any jurisdiction where such offer, solicitation, purchase, or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction.