In this special Swift Chat podcast episode, Marie Swift interviews a range of guests from the 2023 AICPA & CIMA Personal Financial Planning Summit held at Dimensional Fund Advisors Headquarters in Austin, TX January 30 - February 1. Guests share some of their biggest takeaways from the various sessions as well as why they love attending the summit every year. Marie also speaks with Lyle Benson, Program Chair, AICPA & CIMA Personal Financial Planning Summit 2023, shortly after the summit sharing highlights and insights.
Guests in order of Appearance:
Eddie Kramer, Shareholder and Financial Advisor at Abacus Planning Group
Rob Krueger, Senior Principal at Alexander Randolph
Louise Hunter, former financial advisor, now retired
Kevin Kennedy, Founder of Kennedy Wealth and Tax Management
Jonny Swift, Vice President and Director of Social/Digital Strategy at Impact Communications
KayDee Cole, Founder and CEO of Clarity Wealth Development
Susan Bradley, Founder of the Sudden Money® Institute
Lisa Crafford, Director, Head of Business Consulting at BNY Mellon | Pershing
Lyle Benson, Founder and President of L.K. Benson & Company
Transcript of the Conversations
In addition to speaking at the Summit, Jonny spoke on SEO and online presence, and I spoke on personal branding and marketing that works for advisors today. We set up a podcast and video station with the goal of getting to make a video with, chat with, or podcast with some of the people who were attending, and you'll hear some of that here today in this Swift Chats episode.
In a minute you'll be hearing the short live conversations we had. Plus, at the very end, a slightly longer conversation I had after the conference – remotely, of course – with one of the longtime Summit organizers, Lyle Benson.
Guest #1 - Eddie Kramer
Marie Swift: I'm joined now by Eddie Kramer of Abacus Planning Group. I understand that you live in Fredericksburg, Texas, so not too bad a drive for you, right?
Eddie Kramer: No, not at all. It was only an hour. Fredericksburg is an hour and a half from here, so it was very convenient to come to this beautiful location.
Swift: I take it that the headquarters is somewhere else and you're remote now, you have a different office.
Kramer: That’s right. Our headquarters is in Columbia, South Carolina, and I was in Columbia for many, many years, but I'm a native Texan and as is my wife. We were just ready to get back, so we opened the Texas office for Abacus in 2019.
Swift: Well, everybody knows Cheryl Holland, at least in this community. She is one of the pioneers in this space and a great firm. I understand you've been working with Cheryl and the team for 12 or 13 years now?
Kramer: It's been a number of years. I interned with Cheryl in 2003 when I was a student at Texas Tech University. I came on with Abacus right after that in 2004.
Swift: Fantastic. Tell us a little bit about what you do at the firm, and then anything that you'd like to say about the conference.
Kramer: Well thank you. At Abacus I really wear two different hats, so working in the business and then working on the business. Working in the business, I am a financial advisor for 35 families that are at Abacus, so building our Texas office and then also working with the families in Columbia, South Carolina.
I also lead our business development team for the whole company. I am responsible for building our business development effort across the company, and meeting those goals every year.
Swift: Here you are at the PFP Summit and business development is your thing. This morning we talked about intentional communication, intentional conversation with Dr. Moon. I talked a little bit about branding and marketing, and then we just heard a niche marketing panel with some of your peers. What stood out to you?
Kramer: Oh, goodness. The sessions here have been incredible. This is my first conference to come to, the PFP Summit Conference. I just keep hearing so many good things about it from year to year, and so it's great to be here.
With Dr. Moon with her four quadrants, that was a really fascinating way to think about conversation. Just from a mindset that people are typically going to be talking more in that negative space about things from the past, with regrets or fears in the future. Listening to those words that they're saying and spinning that to a higher place, above the line in the quadrant one and quadrant two.
That was great for not only working with clients, but I thought to use this for people who are interested in Abacus. I lead many of our inquiry meetings and as we're getting to know people who are interested in Abacus, we are listening to what they say and I can be changing my questions rather than, tell me about yourself, to actually asking them questions that they can lean back on successes that they had in the past and bring them up.
It was very reminiscent to me of Ed Jacobson. We're all very sad to have him no longer with us. But the work that he did, it was very reminiscent of that. Think of times that you were successful in the past. Then, how can you play that forward going into the future? I thought about Ed this morning.
Swift: I did too.
Kramer: In your session you spent a lot of time talking about a personal brand. What I really enjoyed about that was there was a real freedom about yes, there's a brand at Abacus Planning Group that we want to hold up, and it's a good and worthy brand that we want to communicate to the public.
But at the end of the day, people have individuals that they care about, that they trust, a trusted advisor for them. We lead personal marketing plans for each of our team members at Abacus. Your comments about personal brand gave me a number of good notes to think through, in helping our team members embrace who they are, what their past is. You talked about having a tribe and being the expert within that particular tribe. That gave me a lot to think about on that side.
Then with the niche conversation, we have a niche, but it's not near as defined as the three panelists. Those three panelists were all very articulate with their niches and we say that we have a niche with closely held family businesses and families with shared assets. But when I think about it, that is so broad as compared to what these three niches were from today.
I want to continue to think about that for Abacus. I don't know that we'll ever be as niched as what we saw today. Just don't see us heading in that direction necessarily.
Swift: There's been some conversation too about niches under niches, so the different division heads and giving people freedom to use their own pro-personal approach to attract business and to light them up. That's what we all want to do is keep good people who are passionate. I think that there's a healthy balance in the room, that dialogue about how that would work. Does that help the brand or tarnish the brand to have multiple division leaders with different niches and areas of expertise?
I think that the jury is still out from what I'm sensing in the room, but it's a good thing to be thinking about as firms grow in scale.
Kramer: Personally, I was a little bit curious about how it would hurt or tarnish the brand. I don't know that that would be the case.
I know even at Abacus, we have a couple attorneys. They're not practicing law, but they've gone through the Bar. They add a very different dynamic to the team. I want them to be able to help in that way. We have people who are very qualified in the tax area. I don't see that an individual brand would necessarily hurt any of our team members or hurt Abacus at large.
Swift: Yeah. At the end of the day, you have to like and trust the people that you work with, like and trust your clients. I think that that's where the best work gets done. Rather than losing people, maybe giving them that opportunity to fully self-express, within business confines of course.
Kramer: We have a bit of a larger team, for within this space. I think about Susan, on our team. She works very well with our widows and with divorcees and that's just an area that she naturally works excellent in. I don't work so well with that area, but that's fine. That's where we're a team, we're able to share in that way. It gives us a broader net that we can cast.
Swift: It's always great to see you, Eddie. Thanks for spending time with me at the mic.
Kramer: Marie, this has been a treat. Thank you.
Guest #2 Rob Krueger
Marie Swift: We're back. I'm joined now by Rob Krueger. You are from Tysons Corner, Virginia, correct? You have a wealth management firm there? Tell us a little bit about you and your firm.
Rob Krueger: Yes, that’s correct. I am a traditional CPA. I worked for many years in the tax side, starting with KPMG, and then started my own tax practice, and then merged in with Alexander Randolph, which is the wealth management firm I'm currently with.
Back in 2000 to start, it was more of the tax side that I was bringing to the firm. Then in 2006 I decided I was going to become an RIA and start harvesting clients for the wealth management side myself. I studied, got the Series 65 at the PFS Designation, and since then I've been adding wealth management clients to try to expand that part of my practice in addition to still doing some taxes, but not as much recently.
Swift: Fantastic. When you thought about coming to this conference in particular, and I don't know how many you've been to since conferences are now a thing now that we can travel and get together in person, why did you pick this particular conference?
Krueger: Well, I've been coming to these since 1999, back when it was just the PFP Conference. This one specifically, I think I started with the second one. The group started the PFP Summit back in ’17, and I came in ’18, in ’19, and ’20. Here we are after a couple years of Covid, back again in ’23.
Swift: What stands out? I know we just got done listening for about an hour and a half to Susan Bradley from the Financial Transitionist Institute. She's got the certification for those who are trained to help clients go through transitions. We had a great exercise in the room. Anything that stood out there?
Krueger: Transitions are a big part of the clients that I work with because many of them are either widowed or divorced, going through a change, either they've sold off their business, or some of them are retired. I think most of us are always going through some sort of transition. It was really great to hear her talk about that and how to help clients who are going through these processes understand the emotions that come with it, but also on how to move forward during the transition.
Swift: One of the things that I thought was brilliant is Susan brought a workbook and she invited all of us in the room to actually think about our own transitions. That's brilliant to me because we really experienced whatever emotions that we would have going through that anticipated change. I felt a little misty thinking through some of those questions, how about you?
Krueger: Yeah, well, I'm going through a little transition myself. As I said, I did a lot of tax work when I started and last year I sold off about 75% of my tax practice to focus more on the wealth management side. With that came a lot of anxieties and realizing when I had to let longtime clients go after 20 plus years, then try to move myself further into wealth management and saying I need to focus on creating my own brand, adding clients that I want to help serve, but in a way that makes sense to me and the growth that I feel I can handle.
Swift: Fantastic. Thanks for spending a little time at the mic with me. I'll see you around the rest of the day and hopefully we all get out of here tomorrow for our flights. That weather thing is kind of threatening a little bit, you can't change mother nature.
Krueger: That’s true. Well, thank you very much for having me.
Guest #3 Louise Hunter
Marie Swift: We're back. I'm joined now by Louise Hunter and Louise, you would describe yourself as a lifelong learner, is that right?
Louise Hunter: Actually, I would, especially since Mary Medley, the CEO of the Colorado Society of CPAs, has been calling me that for quite a few years. I've been attending Financial Planning AICPA Conferences to maintain my certification as a CPA.
I became interested in this particular aspect of accounting through my long-term financial planner Mark Smith, of Mark Smith & Associates in Denver, Colorado. I am basically an educator at heart. I taught accounting to adults for 20 years and loved it, but I actually got very tired of teaching on three different campuses during the day, sometimes at night until 10 o'clock and online and all that kind of stuff.
I love coming to these AICPA Financial Planning Conferences for the content, to maintain my certification, but mostly because of the people.
Swift: Yeah. The people here are great and the environment here at the DFA Campus here in Austin is really a wonderful learning environment. It must feel familiar to you to have the tiered auditorium, almost like a student to teacher type of experience.
Hunter: Exactly. It's just like being in a lecture hall. Although in my lecture halls, we didn't have the chairs that slid back and forth. Those are kind of fun.
Swift: Really. And the food, which we hear the catering company coming in right now and getting ready for lunch. It has just been an amazing experience in spite of the weather where we've had to make a couple of adjustments from the meeting planner's perspective tomorrow with the ices coming. Who knew in Austin that they'd have this issue. We're going to actually be doing Zoom instead of in person. You bob and weave, and bob and weave.
Hunter: Exactly. But that's life. We have to be flexible as we move along. And fortunately, I have a friend in Austin with whom I will have dinner tomorrow evening, and so I've extended my room reservation for one night and that all works.
Swift: Oh, marvelous. Well you made the best of things. So last quick question. Of all of the sessions that you've been in so far, is there one that stands out and why?
Hunter: Well, let me say that my short-term memory is not as good as my long-term memory, but I have just finished hearing and participating in Susan Bradley's life transitions seminar and it just fit me to a T. I could relate very well to that one.
Swift: I thought it was brilliant and Susan is always just so grounded and lovely to be with.
Hunter: There were some great presentations yesterday too, but that was yesterday. I have to practice my short-term memory here.
Swift: All good. I know how that is myself. Louise, thank you so much for spending a little time at the mic with me.
Hunter: Thank you, Marie. It's been a pleasure meeting you.
Guest #4 Kevin Kennedy
Marie Swift: I am joined now by Kevin Kennedy of Kennedy Wealth & Tax Management. Where's home for you?
Kevin Kennedy: I’m in Western Connecticut, where the weather is actually probably better than it is right now in Austin.
Swift: I know, what a surprise to have this kind of a weather conundrum here. Who knew? So how many of these AICPA PFP Conferences have you been to?
Kennedy: This is actually my first conference. I've become friends with Michael Goodman and he shared the information with me and asked if I'd like to join, and it's been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed it.
Swift: How is this conference, or I think it's actually a summit, right? It's not a conference. It's just a hundred of us here at the Dimensional Campus here in Austin, which is a lovely setting.
How is this different than other events that you go to with your peers?
Kennedy: I think it's just different with the majority of the room being CPAs. Now, there is a unique view on the world and client relationships with the CPA community and it's sort of fun. Honestly, very often I'll go to investment type meetings and I'm one of the outliers owning a tax practice.
Always in my study group we're sort of the outliers in that group. It's sort of fun to share some thoughts and ideas and learn from people who have a similar experience or similar type situation.
Swift: You added wealth management at some point, or which came first? The tax planning and then the wealth management?
Kennedy: Exactly. We started in 1995 as a tax firm, it was really just me with one assistant at the time. Very quickly people were asking for more in-depth financial advice, investment advice. I heard after several referrals, from the clients, geez, I wish you would do this.
I didn't need to hear that too many times until the light bulb went off and I said, there's something here. I started way back, I can't remember if it was 1996 or 1997. We operated in the independent broker deal model for some period of time. Then in 2014 we launched the RIA firm.
As I like to say, the tax piece now is probably about 10% of the revenue. It's been a complete flip that that used to be 90% of it. It’s been great, it’s a wonderful industry.
Swift: Well, happy almost 10th anniversary to you as far as this new focus goes. As we head towards the closure of day two here at the Summit and look towards doing some virtual sessions tomorrow due to the weather, alas, anything that you're looking forward to as we close out our session here?
Kennedy: It's fun to meet people from around the country, people I've never met, a couple of faces I've seen at various other conferences you get to connect with. It's interesting and as I've been doing this for so much longer, I remember when I very first started going to these conferences, I was always one of the young people in the room.
It's sort of interesting to see as time goes along that there's another wave or two. We've all heard about the G2, generation two, firm owners. The most recent session they were talking about the G3 owners. I don't know how young these people are, but they're pretty young, I would think.
Everybody is facing similar situations. We're a small firm. But everybody's got the same questions. The succession planning, how does this all play together? What is the right thing to do for your clients, for your staff, for your own family? I'm always interested in that component of it.
Swift: Indeed. And they're doing a succession planning session right now, and you and I are missing it.
Kennedy: I caught most of it. I know most of it because I've followed a lot of these very carefully.
Swift: Well, thank you. Thank you for spending a few minutes with me here at the mic.
Kennedy: My pleasure.
Guest #5 Jonny Swift
Jonny Swift: Hey, this is Jonny Swift with Impact Communications. I'm sitting here with Marie Swift and we both have sessions at this PFP Summit, which is great. Yesterday you spoke and so tell us a little bit about your session.
Marie Swift: What I talked about is celebritizing yourself as an advisor, as a PFP.
Many of the practitioners that we work with or that we observe, are not stepping into the limelight quite enough in my opinion. They really need to ramp up their celebrity thought leadership status in order to attract more attention. There's a popular term that's going around right now called pro-personal marketing. I have to give credit where credit is due. A marketing colleague friend of mine, Tina Powell, coined that term last year when we were talking to Bob Veres and Matthew Jackson for their paper called The New Frontier.
I think I probably said the same thing, but not so catchy. I said something about we're entering the age of the fully express self-actualized advisor, which I really think is true. That's really what pro-personal is, where you can express yourself in a way that lights you up and that resonates with other people, your best client. We talked a lot about public personas yesterday, how to build one. I gave a lot of case studies and then just becoming a slightly famous person in your own right.
Jonny Swift: Yeah, very well received session. Tomorrow I will be speaking on best practices for SEO and online presence for advisors and how advisors can win new business through having a strong online presence. A lot of advisors here actually aren't looking to grow and aren't really looking to win new business.
Having a strong online presence can actually really help with client retention as well, and just looking larger than life online, like you said, kind of becoming a celebrity in their community or their industry or their tribe. Owning the halo, becoming a thought leader can really help with client retention.
Also, a lot of advisors here are thinking about what's next. There's been a session on succession planning and you know, G2, the next generation of leaders, a lot of advisors and accountants here actually have children that work in their firm, and are thinking about the next stage. I think having a really strong online presence and building the credibility in the halo for the firm and the individuals at the firm can help that next generation win new business and also retain clients.
Looking forward to speaking tomorrow. Still unsure if we're doing this virtually through Zoom or what it's going to be. We have some inclement weather, so we'll see what happens. But really great event here. Great setting, the Dimensional Campus is amazing and the room is just a really great setting for learning and encourages a lot of open discussion and comments and things like that.
Marie Swift: Yeah. I want to touch on something you just said, Jonny, about marketing and one of the things that we were discussing in the room yesterday in my session was, what is marketing? It’s really everything that you do to attract and retain business. I think that advisors who say we don't need to grow, we don't need to do marketing, are actually not quite right.
They need to be thinking about attrition. They need to be thinking about the next generation of clients and the next generation of owners in their firms.
Jonny Swift: Right, because even if right now their current clients don't really care much about the online presence, you can bet that the next generation of clients does and lives online. It’s very important in this day and age, and I think we'll continue to see that going forward. Thanks, Marie, for joining us on the Swift Chat podcast.
Marie Swift: Yeah, and thanks for having me on the Swift Chat podcast. It's funny because we're the two Swifts and we're here together. It's so much fun to travel and get to meet new practitioners and get them at the mic with us. Let's go get some more practitioners to come talk with us.
Guest #6 KayDee Cole
Marie Swift: I'm joined now by Kay Dee Cole, and you are with Clarity Wealth Development. Where's home for you?
KayDee Cole: Corvallis, Oregon. It’s about 90 miles south of Portland. We're kind of the middle of the valley. Oregon State University is what it’s known for.
Swift: Oh, fantastic. It must be beautiful. What brought you here to Austin? Of course, we're here at the AICPA PFP Summit and we're at the Dimensional Campus here in Austin. Why did you come?
Cole: I like the idea of a smaller conference, and I'm not even a CPA. I am a financial planner, but I love the content and the practice management and I went to one in 2019, I think it was. And it was great. I absolutely loved the networking. It's felt more personal and people were really great and accepting, and it was really interesting to kind of see the other side of a CPA business versus a financial planning business. But we're all pretty much the same.
Swift: Yeah. I think that that independence, serving the clients well, being competent, all of that, the fiduciary values that we talk about in the planning community, it's present here. Even with the CPA backgrounds that are in the room now. They're all personal financial specialists. I think that's what the PFS is, that designation.
I spoke a little bit about being a bit of a celebrity or slightly famous in your community as a way to stand out and garner more attention. I know we had something yesterday on niche marketing, that was really fun. We talked about better communication skills with Dr. Moon. Then today I sat in, I believe you did too, on Susan Bradley's session about transitions and how to manage our own stress, but also our clients’ stress. Of all of the sessions, what has been your favorite and why?
Cole: One of my top ones was Dr. Moon talking about conversations and where people are and how to get them out of that fear and anxiety stage, which kind of falls into Susan Bradley's stages of transition. We all deal with these clients that are in some form of a change. I always struggle sometimes with how long do I let them kind of stay in the past.
How do we move them towards thinking about the future and things like, I'm a registered life planner, and all those little pieces all kind of come together. It's kind of neat to see different presentations on the same kind of transition style. How do you really get to connect with the client? I think that's been one of my favorites.
Swift: Yeah. I love George Kinder's work and the RLP. I have attended the two-day course which is seven stages of money maturity and read the book. I think George is just amazing and what a great contribution he's been to our profession and our community. Anything about your other curriculums or interests that you do to keep yourself sharp and to help your clients more?
Cole: Well, that's why I come to conferences like this. It just gives me a whole different perspective from different people. I learn something every time. I'm a student of learning about financial planning all the time. I encourage my staff to go to conferences. I think it's one of those things that you just need to keep exposing yourself to new ideas, because I've developed and transitioned myself over the course of my career and thinking about that next step of transitioning to the younger generation and me taking more of a backseat.
It is so important to keep yourself engaged and learning more and connecting with people because you just never know where that's going to lead.
Swift: Something that you just said reminded me of when we were on the shuttle bus coming over from the Omni over here to the DFA Campus, and that's that you have done the EOS system for a while.
We did have a session on that yesterday, which was really enlightening for me to understand what a Level 10 meeting is and what a rock is and how this whole EOS thing works. Maybe in the last few minutes that we've got together, you could share a little bit about how you use EOS in your business?
Cole: When I started thinking about what are my plans and how do I want to build this out, I went back and forth whether growing or not, and I decided growing was better. You just never know what's going to happen. I learned about EOS and traction through XYPN Network and one of the things that attracted me to that was just having a set process and something that can build on itself going forward.
We were a small firm, so we had kind of had to adapt it to how we operate, but it's been extremely helpful in making sure we just have these steps that everybody knows the expectations of around it. They know kind of what to expect. They enjoy being kind of a part of the growing of the firm, which I had not really thought about.
It's been really helpful in getting us more laser focused on what we're trying to do as a firm, but also how are we trying to develop our staff.
Swift: Fantastic. Kay Dee, thank you so much for spending a little time with me here at the mic.
Guest #7 Susan Bradley
Marie Swift: I'm joined now by Susan Bradley. Susan, we're here at the AICPA PFP and CIMA Summit here in Austin. You held a masterclass this morning on transitions. Tell us a little bit about that session.
Susan Bradley: What was lovely about it is the audience, the people who attend this conference they all seem to know each other or trust each other. There's a really nice community here, so I think they felt safe and ready to have a personal experience of transitions because we're all human beings.
We all go through transitions and rather than talking about how to work with clients in transition, we were talking about how you do change, how you do this, and it was wonderful, Marie, to watch people process. We gave them quiet time and then had them speak to other people and form little groups. And when I would say time is up, they would say, wait, wait, wait, we're not done yet. That's a really good sign.
Now tonight people are asking, could we do some more? This is a special kind of group. They're not held up in the idea that they're the expert, they have the answers. They're willing to go into new space and experience it. It's been a blast to be here. I love this community.
Swift: I was in the room and the workbook is very helpful. I'm going to take it back home and do some more work because it takes some thinking and just being honest with yourself about our vulnerabilities. I tend to be the stoic march on through the wind and the rain keep calm and stoic German that I am.
Change is coming and we're all wiser if we prepare and acknowledge. Do you have some tips about what people going through transition should be thinking about or at least considering?
Bradley: The one thing that we tend to get blocked on Marie, and I know you're going through your own shifting, and that's an elective.
You're saying, I'm ready for this, I'm preparing. Sometimes life pivots and we don't like it and it happens suddenly. I think it behooves all of us in the modern world we live in to really understand the value of change. Not to push against it and to build our own internal skills.
Know how you mess up. Know where the strength comes from. Know that asking questions and saying “I don't have a clue” is actually part of the skillset. There's nothing wrong with that. We live in a, I call it the FIO world, the figure it out world, because life is moving quickly. As financial advisors, we want to tell people what to do and many of the times there's nothing to do.
It takes time to step back and process and figure it out. That's actually a skill. It's not the absence of a skill. That's a really big strength for someone who is facing change to know.
Swift: One of the other things in the workbook that I appreciated is, I'm going to call it a tool. I know you had a quadrant tool, but my favorite was a checklist where it helped you fill in the blank to tell someone how they could best support you in communications.
I filled it out thinking, okay, if I'm talking to my wealth manager, as everybody knows who's listening to this, I'm not a wealth manager, I'm a PR and marketing person, but I have a wealth manager. If I said to her, please be aware that I need to process my responses, and if you'll give me options, that would be great because I want to co-create my future with you.
You gave us a fill in the blank with some things and I kind of modified it, and that's not exactly what I wrote, but I thought that that was beautiful. If advisors would actually say “could you go through this inventory and tell me how to best communicate with you?”
Bradley: We find in using that tool for 20 plus years, that I don't know that it's a hundred percent. It's never quite like that, but it's pretty darn close.
People are relieved that someone actually asked and they had a chance to think about it. And they had a chance to not just check it off, but explain what that means and why they value that, and explore with someone who's giving them advice, the best ways to offer options.
For instance, some people want to just know that their advisor thought about other things and they want to know. Others want to know what are the options I should be considering? They'll go deep in each of them. We all have our own personal way of doing it, and this isn't a psychographic thing where we're telling someone who they are and how they best communicate.
We're asking the individual, and I bet all of us know the answers, it's just no one's ever asked. We need a process, a structure to start to get at what we quietly know inside. We're giving people a chance to discover and then articulate, and then put it into action. Of all the tools, that's the one that's been easiest for advisors to use.
It goes right into their CRM and clients love it. They absolutely love it. If you think about it, there's nothing more important than communication. All the research says that, but instead of telling someone how you do the best advising, ask how they like it. The one question that I love to watch how people answer is when you work with me as my financial transitions, that's what we say in our world, please remember my need for, and my tendency to. It's just their language. Nobody else’s.
Swift: In the last few minutes we've got, tell us a little bit about the institute and about the certification.
Bradley: Most people know me through the Sudden Money Institute, it's easy to remember. We have a training, coaching, and certifying division called the Financial Transitionist Institute.
10 years ago, our community voted to have a certification. It was not my original intention. Then we needed to say, what do we call ourselves? A financial transition is, the definition is one who's skilled and trained to manage change, and certified gives the public the information that these people have been through deep training. They're held to fiduciary standards. They're held to advanced education requirements
It's a 12-month program. It's 90 minutes a month on a cohort call led by a fabulous trainer and it is direct experiences. There's a textbook and process to use with your clients, unlike others where you're studying outside of your office. As you do this with your clients, write up the experience, discuss it. There's an audio version as well as the textbook. We appeal, I hope, to all kinds of learners. We've developed a very tight global community. We're in five continents and we find that our work transcends all the cultural differences and all the business platforms as well.
It's a certification, it's advanced. You have to have a primary designation, have to be client facing for at least five years and be willing to do hands-on work with your clients. That's the experiential side.
Swift: Fantastic. I know that our time here at the Summit, at least on site, is coming to an end. A lot of people are trying to get out to beat the weather, but I take it you and I will be some of the last few at the hotel tonight continuing the conversation.
Bradley: I look forward to that. It's really nice to see you, Marie.
Swift: Good to see you, Susan. Thank you.
Guest #8 Lisa Crafford
Marie Swift:All right. I'm joined now by Lisa Crafford. You're with BNY Mellon Pershing, and you're part of the business consulting team, is that right? What do you do in your job?
Lisa Crafford: That's correct. I get to spend my time working with advisory firms all over the country on helping them run better businesses. We look at strategy and growth and human capital, and really allowing our clients to have more fun and be more effective in how they run their businesses.
Swift: Last night you joined Bob Veres in a little fireside chat, I guess we would call it. Although there was no fire.
Crafford: No, we are missing the fire, we could've used it here. It's a little chilly, it's a little cold.
Swift: Basically, you and Bob synthesized the wisdom in the room and what happened in the sessions yesterday, and I know you were a little late getting in because of flights and all of that good stuff. Maybe you could recap some of the things that came out of the conversation at that fireside chat, and then anything that you've picked up today being here at the Summit.
Crafford: Absolutely. I think the content yesterday was excellent.
I missed, as you said, a couple of those sessions, but chatting with folks afterwards, it's really obvious just how influential those sessions were and how the conversation continued. I think what makes this Summit really special is how at the end of the day, there's that opportunity to reflect back on what people have heard and challenge them to actually think about what that looks like when they go home.
Whether it was your marketing session or Dr. Moon session on the four quadrants or the EOS session, there's elements where they're all individual sessions, but there's also elements where they kind of all link up a little bit. If you don't take the time at the end of the day to reflect on that and put those puzzle pieces together, I think you don't get the full value of the conference experience. It was really fun chatting with Bob last night with everyone in the audience participating and, and trying to put some of those puzzle pieces together as a group.
Swift: Yeah. The networking quality, the types of people who are here, about a hundred practitioners. It's a small group and it's meant to be that way. Maybe you could just contrast this small tribal community experience with some of the bigger conferences.
Crafford: This is a great size. I think it's big enough that you have some differing types of firms and therefore different opinions and different viewpoints on how to approach the challenges and opportunities that we all face as running advisory firms.
But it's small enough where you can sit down and have a really meaningful conversation with somebody and get past all that small talk. I think that's just a really nice benefit of this size of group. I think it also really attracts those types of people who want to engage and interact with each other.
I think oftentimes when you go to the mega conferences, it's very easy to get lost in the crowd. Here, there is no crowd to get lost in. People are here because they want to engage and they want to talk and they want to learn. They want to take the content from those speakers and talk to their peers about what that might actually look like on Monday in the office with their teams.
Swift: I think it's a fabulous environment. This is my second PFP Summit. I spoke in 2019, different venue, but still lovely community and it's always great to see you. What is next for you? Where are you headed?
Crafford: Likewise. Next for me, we have our Elite Advisor Summit coming up in March in Arizona, and at the end of February we have our next Leadership Forum Meeting in Denver. Actually, it's nice to have something in my own city. We're graduating our third cohort from that program. Really excited to see that crowd come back together again.
Swift: Then, of course, in summer, Pershing INSITE.
Crafford: Of course. That seems like a long way off, although I know it'll be here before we know it. We've already got weekly planning meetings. We just extended an invite today to a hundred college students at CFP programs and HBCUs around the country. We're really excited to have a great student participation and advisors join us in Orlando in June for that.
Swift: Yeah, never a dull moment. Safe journeys.
Crafford: Absolutely. Thanks so much.
Guest #9 Lyle Benson
Marie Swift: All right, we are back with another great Swift Chat, and I am joined today by Lyle Benson. Lyle, you and I were just in Austin together. Tell our audience why we were there and what we were doing.
Lyle Benson: Thanks Marie. Thanks for having me, I appreciate that. We were together at the AICPA Personal Financial Planning Summit, which was held in Austin this year.
This was the first time we'd been together in person at the Summit since the pandemic. It was great to bring this group back together. This is a conference that's a little bit unique in the planning profession in that it really is a very intimate gathering. We limit it to a hundred people. It's a very interactive opportunity to really engage with some of the thought leaders in the profession from around the country.
We make sure that the speakers are spending at least half of their presentation in an interactive mode. With participants, we create a lot of opportunities for participants and attendees to really spend time together and talk about the things that are important to them and really create this sense of community that we've got among this audience that really does seem to appreciate and learn from this. Not only from the sessions, but from the interaction they get with the other attendees.
Swift: Yeah, I think you called it a study group on steroids, which is wonderful because we were sitting in this lovely symposium type setting right at the Dimensional headquarters in Austin. Listeners, viewers, if you've ever been in an auditorium where the speaker is in the bottom and they look up at you and it's kind of a crescent, it is fabulous with all the multimedia that Dimensional had, and then just the quality of the people in the room was spectacular.
Benson: I think it's that, and I think it's also the ability of the audience or the willingness of the audience to jump in and be part of the conversation. The audience is as much of the presentation as the presenter is in a lot of cases, and we saw that a lot over the course of two and a half days in Austin.
Swift: Let's talk about that. I know that I enjoyed my session where I talked about marketing and PR and how to be authentic, and I love that people would interrupt me and interject. It was such a participatory group. Bob Veres made some great comments and he's always a great contribution to the group.
Tell us a little bit more about what happened at the event.
Benson: We try to weave together sessions that would be of relevant to someone growing a large firm all the way down to someone in a sole practice, solo practitioner, and try to provide sessions that really focus not only on firm growth and firm development, but also the individual development.
Along those lines, we started out with a session by Dr. Haesun Moon, who's a professor with a wide range of things she's involved in. She's based out of Toronto. She did a session on better client conversations and curating purpose, possibilities and progress. She really helped us think about our conversations, not just with clients and in our firms, but our overall conversations, conversations with family members and how we can make them more meaningful and more purposeful as we talk to people in a more thoughtful way.
That felt like a great way to kick off the conference because she was someone that none of us have really heard before at a financial planning conference. She's not somebody that's been on the circuit, essentially, and she has some really nice perspective and a very down to earth way of presenting it as well.
That was a highlight. Another highlight I think was Susan Bradley did a masterclass on life transitions for financial advisors. I think it was as much for our clients as it was for us as financial advisors. So many of my generation, my peers, are at a stage in their careers where they're thinking about what the next stage looks like and maybe transition into retirement, or others have sold firms, or looking at bringing that next generation of leadership in.
She really has a very thoughtful approach to how you think about transitions and some great perspective on what transitions really entail, that I think can help prepare us to be better able to handle transitions and better able to help clients as they go through transitions. Those were two sessions that really stood out to me from a very interactive, very personal way in terms of really connecting with those speakers.
Swift: We had some great panels too, and I remember because there was an ice storm that was happening in Austin, we had to skip one day at the Dimensional Campus, and we were in a more of a meeting room right at the Omni, which was a beautiful hotel conference area in and of itself. We had a panel on succession planning, or was that interns? What did Jon Yankee do?
Benson: He was interns. Succession planning, we did at the facility, the next day was the interns.
Swift: The panels I thought were interesting because that was your members actually bringing some of their expertise and insight from actually doing that, marketing, interns, succession planning. What were some of the highlights from the participation of the panels?
Benson: We really like doing panel presentations, especially at Summit because it really gives an opportunity to present different approaches to a topic. One that we did was on succession planning, as you mentioned, but we wanted to have succession planning from the second generation’s perspective.
We had three second generation owners of CPA financial planning firms that could give us perspective on what did they go through to get to the stage of ownership, and what issues are they facing? So often we hear succession planning focused on from the founder’s perspective. This perspective I thought was a little bit different and gave us a real good insight.
They were very different scenarios. Brenna McLoughlin is a partner with Michael Goodman and his firm in New York City, a large, fast growing firm. Akemi Dalvi has a firm that she took over and bought from her father, who had founded it many decades before. Then Brian Martin with Accredited Investors in Minneapolis and their two founders, Ross Levin and his partner, were kind of original folks in our profession. Some of the founders of the profession, essentially. Brian is part of a group of second-generation owners there. That was really good to get that perspective and have the different aspects of it.
The other panel that really went well was the using niche practices to grow your firm and digging deeper into that. Again, we had three unique people who had different experiences in that area. Andrew Fisher, who is now with Cerity Partners who developed a niche in serving cross border clients. He has become sort of one of the experts in the country on that topic and has really focuses his effort there. AJ Ayers was another one. She and her partner Shane have built a firm, Brooklyn FI based in New York, but essentially a virtual firm where they travel during the year. They live in different places at different points during the year. They've built this interesting model very different from what a lot of us would see in a traditional CPA or wealth management firm. They've got a really unique perspective that I think is really valuable for people to see.
Then Akemi came and appeared on that panel as well because her practice focuses on serving the needs of Asian Americans. She's based in LA, she's of Japanese descent, and her father had built a practice that way, and she's continued to grow that practice and face some of the challenges in which that audience is becoming diluted essentially as people marry outside of the Asian culture, and just sort of dealing with all those issues.
Each of them had specific things they were dealing with in their practices that grew out of having this focus in one area. Those were two really interesting panels in addition to the internship one that you mentioned. With the internship one, it was great because Jon Yankee brought on with him a fellow who went through their internship program, so he had the experience of this wonderful program that Jon's built at their firm for many years and then went out and he did something else after that. You got a perspective from both the intern and the firm founder or the firm second generation leader in that regard.
Swift: Yeah, I had the opportunity to be in the room and to participate with that lovely setting, that symposium setting when I did my session. We had two speakers at the back end who were very flexible. One from Dimensional who came in via Zoom, and then my colleague and partner, Jonny Swift, was actually in the Omni room, but also simulcasting to another meeting room right down the road, maybe five miles away in Austin.
I don't know if there were other virtual participants, but I wanted to give a big shout out to the meeting planning team and to the committee and all of your folks, Lyle, because I felt like the amount of complexity that had to happen due to the ice storm, it was grace under pressure. Kudos to you. Who would've thought that Austin would have an ice storm while we were there? Anything else about that last day of the two session?
Benson: Yeah, thank you for that comment. I think you're absolutely right. We were able to pivot and I think attendees really appreciated the ability to pivot. The AICPA Conference team really helped us get that done. I was surprised we were able to pull it all off, but it really came off almost seamlessly. The only other thing I would mention those were two good sessions on the last day.
The one that we didn't talk about was the open mic session. We felt Summit is such an interactive experience, we wanted to have a session totally dedicated to having the audience suggest the topics. No specific agenda, no topics that we wanted to cover, but what's on your mind as a financial planner, a CPA financial planner in the world today? What are you facing? What issues are out there? We got some great conversation.
Some conversation continued into the evening over dinner as well. It filled up an hour plus of just ongoing conversation about topics that weren't necessarily on the agenda for the rest of the conference, but that the audience was really feeling concerns about or wanted to talk about. We said we were really excited about how well that went and how well it was.
Swift: Yeah, I enjoyed that one as well. That kind of ties back into another interactive session. The fireside chat, although there was no fire, but Bob Veres, of course, from Inside Information, and Lisa Crafford from BNY Pershing were there to help facilitate and really draw out the wisdom in the room and the high points for the people who were attending.
What about that evening? How was that for you?
Benson: We’ve always tried to do that at Summit and in the past, we've been able to have a physical fireside chat. We couldn't do that at the facility at the Omni this year, but it really worked out well. I think it's a great way to pull together what's been covered over the course of the conference.
In this situation, we did it on the first day, so we didn't get the second day's effect. But ideally, giving the audience and the attendees a chance to really talk through what was covered, bring out other issues that arise, and bring out other topics that grow from there, is something we've really enjoyed doing at Summit and Bob's done a great job.
We've had Bob help with that aspect of Summit for the last couple years, and he and Lisa are just so well connected to the whole profession and everything that's going on in the profession that it was a wonderful way to get people engaged and pretty much all the attendees stayed around after the reception to be able to have that conversation.
Swift: While I was there with Jonny, my colleague, we also had a table where we interviewed as many participants at the Summit who would come and talk with us either on video or on audio. After you and I are done recording today, which is after the Summit has concluded, my producing team will stitch on, if you will, some additional video or podcast segments so that our audience can hear directly from those who are with us, some of the things that bubbled up for them. As we close our segment here today, Lyle, is there anything else that you'd like to say? Maybe tell us about next year?
Benson: Thank you, Marie. We've already started planning next year. We actually have a conference call tomorrow to talk about this and start to lay out some thoughts on agenda, some thoughts on what went well, what we might want to improve on, how we expand on it. We're also at the same time, pinning down hotel logistics and all of that as well.
We'll probably be back in Austin at the Dimensional Fund offices, which are just such a wonderful facility, as you mentioned, for sessions like this. I should mention too that we capped the attendance at a hundred people. We want that study group feel to Summit, and it sold out this year.
We filled up the room at a hundred attendees. I would anticipate with some momentum that we've built from this and the community continuing to grow. We had a number of new faces this year, attending for the first time. I think it will probably sell out next year. We'll hopefully have an agenda early and start to build what the speaker list looks like and the topics and all. We want to encourage people to look at it and get it on their calendars for next January.
Swift: What's the best way for them to watch for the dates and the agenda?
Benson: I think the AICPA, personal financial planning section, AICPA.org/PFP is really the best place as we keep the Summit very well represented there along with all of the other things that the PFP division does for members.
Anyone can join. You don't have to be a CPA to be a member of the PFP section. We're very inclusive in that regard. We'll certainly reach out to people that attended Summit in the past and let them know as things develop plans for next year.
Swift: All right. Lyle Benson, thank you for being here.
Benson: Thanks, Marie.
Welcome to the “Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry” blog, where you will find ideas and tips from Marie Swift, a nationally-recognized marketing communications consultant who's worked with some of the top financial services and financial advisory firms in the nation over the course of her career. The "Swift Chat" series, which is available in both a video and a podcast format, is co-hosted by Impact Communications Vice President Jonny Swift, who selects his own guests and brings a Millennial perspective to the show. This blog spotlights financial services firms and allied institutions that the Swifts deem as adopting "Best Practices" in the industry. You will find numerous posts with tools and ideas aimed at helping independent financial advisors communicate better, scale, and grow.
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