Interestingly enough I will also celebrate my 10 year wedding anniversary this Spring and this Fall we will have been in our home for 10 years. Wow, 2005 was a pivotal year for me!
As I celebrate these milestones I am also taking some time to reflect on the changes over the past decade, both personally and professionally.
For those of you who are long term clients, you know that Financial Symmetry has experienced enormous change over the last 10 years.
When I started as a fresh faced intern in 2004, Bill and Chad were the only full time employees and I became the third after graduation. Bill was the only primary advisor and Chad and I played supporting roles while studying through the CFP® coursework. Heather recently reminded me how long ago this was by pointing out that Chad and I learned by way of physical text book rather than online like students do now.
A bear and bull market later and we now have 10 full time employees, 5 of which are primary advisors.
As we grew we moved into a beautiful new office space in 2009 which has allowed us to grow and better serve our clients.
While so much has changed over the course of my time here, perhaps the most striking is what has stayed the same:
1. Continuous improvement – From the beginning we have always been looking for ways to improve and do things better and more efficiently. 10 years ago this was on a very small scale and would consist of weekly meetings with the three of us going through our tasks for the week and making sure we weren’t missing anything. Over time this has developed into robust systems and workflows that utilize the talents of each of our staff members. These meetings are now organized and streamlined and the ideas brought to the table are better in both quality and quantity. One of my favorite things about this process has always been that everyone is encouraged to contribute, from CFP®s to interns. Some of our best ideas actually come from new staff members and interns who offer fresh perspectives.
2. Clients come first – While we take pride in working together and developing strong financial planning and investment management systems, we would be nothing without our clients. Your personal situation is always our first priority, which leads me to #3:
3. Money is secondary – Money is a tool that can help you lead the lifestyle you want. However, money in and of itself should not be the goal. This is something I think we all need to remind ourselves of from time to time. In meetings with current and prospective clients it can be easy to get caught up in discussions about investment performance, valuations, quantitative easing, why didn’t you recommend Apple stock, the list goes on. However, the most important parts of our job are to really listen to your goals and give you honest feedback about whether or not they are feasible and what strategies might help you get there. We have the tools to help you work toward your goals, but at a certain point there is only so much we have control over. Which leads me to #4:
4. We have no control over the stock market – I knew this in theory when studying Finance in college and through the CFP® coursework, but it became painfully obvious in 2008 and 2009. Fresh off of earning my CFP® and beginning to work with clients I found myself counseling people about why their portfolio had lost so much value, how are they still going to retire, and what would happen if they were laid off. It was a trial by fire and it benefitted my career tremendously. Financial planning is about much more than choosing the right investments and rebalancing portfolios. It is about real people with real goals, dreams and fears and managing money in an imperfect world where there are no guarantees. This is not always comfortable and making the right money moves doesn’t always feel good. This is why the average investor typically underperforms the funds they invest in and it is also why sticking to a diversified strategy wins over the long term. In times of market exuberance or panic it is important to take the focus off of what the market is doing and focus on what we can control.
As I move into the next decade I can’t help but wonder what lies ahead for Financial Symmetry and what other changes life will bring. I’ll also take comfort in the things that stay the same.