Updated: Jul 7, 2020
Welcome to episode 40 of The Innovating Advice Show and to my first solo episode.
Thank you to the many listeners that have reached out wanting to learn more about my story and specific approach. As more listeners have reached out I thought it would be valuable to answer the eight most common questions I receive.
So in this episode with me, myself and I, I’m sharing more about how I built Belmore Financial back in 2013; the fee model; how I worked with clients; technology I used and how clients found me.
I also share my top advice for financial planners, where I see the profession going and what I’m building at Innovating Advice.
In 2013, Kate started one of the first completely virtual, fee-only, monthly retainer (no AUM) financial planning practices, Belmore Financial, in the US. As an advocate for evolving the financial planning profession, and being one of the first to create a new model for doing so, she quickly became featured in the media, is an InvestmentNews 40 Under 40 alumni and serves on CFP Board’s Women’s Initiative (WIN) Council.
Kate has spoken on stages from Cape Town to Bangkok, Brussels to Moscow and has worked with practitioners and related professionals in over 35 countries and territories, many of whom she met while working at Financial Planning Standards Board Ltd. (FPSB) as Director of Stakeholder Engagement.
She has a Bachelor of Arts in Photography from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, has been to over 50 countries and can often be found traveling the world with her pilot husband or enjoying the sunshine at home in Las Vegas, Nevada.
00:32 – Introducing myself, Kate Holmes
01:48 – How did you come up with Belmore Financial’s model and what got you to take a risk on building something brand new?
05:40 – How did you work with clients?
13:40 – What did your fee structure look like?
18:30 – What technology did you use?
23:18 – How did clients find you?
26:45 – What is your top advice for financial planners?
30:38 – Where do you see the profession going?
34:10 – What are you building at Innovating Advice?
Hello Hello, Kate here. All right. As always let’s dive right in. So first question, after seven years working in your mom’s investment advisory firm, where you became a partner, you decided to leave and start one of the first completely virtual fee, only monthly retainer model businesses back in 2013.
How did you come up with that model and what got you to take a risk on building something brand new?
So I’d say there were three main things. The first was, as I was going through the CFP certification education, that was the first time I ever learned what a traditional financial plan was. And I actually got a degree in photography in Australia. And so I wanted to be a travel photographer, but I wasn’t trained in business or finance or economics. I just came into the profession completely fresh. And so when I learned that a traditional financial plan is, you know, this 80 page document that has charts and graphs, and kind of gives a big list of basically everything that you need to change.
I just kind of instantly thought, that doesn’t make any sense to me. If I was a client I would not want that. It’s just too overwhelming.
And knowing that life happens, there’s no control over a lot of things that happen in life. Whether unfortunately you end up getting divorced or you lose your job or you lose a loved one. And so the idea of creating a document that lays out what the next number of decades looks like, just fundamentally has never made any sense to me.
The second is that my mother’s business was entirely assets under management. So I’ve never sold a product in my life. It was all AUM based. And as a partner in the business, I knew all of it. I knew exactly how much we build clients. I knew, you know, I realized that the wealthier clients that paid the most often did not need the most service and the clients with less assets under management that paid us less often needed more service.
And so just looking at that, it just honestly didn’t make sense to me. And again, I was thinking if I was a client, is this what I would want to do? And realizing how many people are out there that maybe their assets are tied up in a pension plan that you can’t manage, or they’re young and they haven’t accumulated assets yet. It just felt like we’re leaving out this huge, huge swath of the market and people that could use help.
And the third was, I honestly really wanted to build a business that fit around my life rather than squeezing my life around my job or business. As so often, we find that we do, you know, we tend to spend more time working than anything else, and that doesn’t always leave time for the other things in life. So even though I had a great opportunity to do that in my mom’s business, I still wanted to do it a little bit differently going forward.
And since I love traveling and I was in Seattle at the time, and I knew I didn’t want to continue living there. I was like, Hey, I’m just going to work virtually that way. I can travel all over the world and work from wherever I want to.
So just continuing to listen to my gut and looking around and doing research. And I just could not find a business out there that I could join. That was doing exactly what I felt needed to be done. So I kind of had this epiphany and I realized, I just felt like I had to create the business that I would want to work with if I was a client. So that’s sort of the basis of how Belmore financial came about.
So the second question I often get is how did you work with clients? What was the frequency of engagement, what did it look like?
So when it comes to that, again, thinking back about how traditional financial planning works, it’s usually like we’re going to gather all of this information and we’re going to analyze it all, but I’m really, really big on efficiencies and streamlining and, you know, making it as easy as possible to work together. And one of the ways that I did that was through having a website that both attracted the clients I did want to work with and I guess detracted the clients that I didn’t want to work with. So that was just sort of an automatic way of weeding things out.
And then once they got to the website, I made it super easy to schedule a free introductory call. And that is absolutely a two way thing just because someone does want to work with you doesn’t mean that they’re going to be the right fit.
So it really is a two way conversation to make sure that you fit together. And the really interesting thing is I learned that the most common time of day that people were online looking at my website and then finding a convenient time to meet, they were online between 11:30 PM and midnight. And so that told me there was something keeping them up at night.
Now, mind you, that’s not when they were scheduling calls for, I did not have availability, but that’s when I would wake up in the morning and see emails that were coming through from midnight. And so I was always focused on, okay, if there’s something that’s really stressful in your life, there’s something that’s really pressing. That’s the thing that we’re going to handle first because otherwise, you know, I think that’s the best way to set the relationship up for success. And then after that, or if they were just kind of at a point in life where it was pay, I just really need to make sure I’m on track and doing all the right things and need a second set of eyes.
All of it was really about having the more important life conversations and helping clients discover what they really want their life to look like. And so often, and we all do this, I’ve done it myself. I, I know I’ve been there. We go through life, you know, doing quote unquote, all of the right things. And we get the job and we buy the house and we get married and we have kids and we, you know, go work for a company that has good benefits and good pay. And then, you know, 35 years flies by and you’re like, Oh, like, I guess I’m gonna retire. Now. Don’t know what that looks like. And a lot of my background is in those seven years that I was working in my mom’s business, we worked a lot with retirement plans and I fell in love with going into companies and talking with employees.
And it would be everyone from your part time, hourly employees to senior executives in all sorts of different businesses, professions, industries, just a huge range of people. And I realized over and over again, that a lot of people did just kind of go through life. And I had, I feel like hundreds of conversations with people that were approaching retirement and they had no idea what they wanted next, but they knew that didn’t want that job anymore. That maybe in a surprising amount of cases, I feel like because their kids were now grown. They didn’t want to be in their marriage anymore. Maybe they, you know, had been in their house for a long time. They didn’t want to be in their house anymore. And I just kept thinking. I was like, I don’t want to find myself in that position at any point in my life, say nothing of decades down the line, as I started to realize, okay, something isn’t really working in, you know, how we are advising clients.
And I still see tons of technology and tools and systems out there that the only questions are, you know, how old are you now How much money do you make When do you want to retire And what’s your budget in retirement And like, nobody knows the answer to that. A lot of people just answer what they think they’re supposed to answer. You know, they haven’t sat down to do their budget. They don’t know what they want to spend their time on. As a lot of people, you know, a year into retirement told me, you can only clean your garage so many times. So I realized we need to be changing the conversations we’re having with people. So that’s where I would always start. And sometimes it would be multiple meetings in before we would even start talking about money and budgeting was a huge thing.
That was the first thing I did with everyone. Again, unless there was something pressing took care of that, but I worked with, you know, high net worth clients. I work with clients with big incomes, with small incomes. It doesn’t matter. Budgeting is cashflow, I should say is something that everybody needs. And I still hear a lot of advisors and planners assume that because they work with wealthier clients that they don’t need to do cashflow planning. And I’d say that’s missing a tremendous opportunity and need out there because very few people truly have a correct grasp on how much money is going out compared to how much is coming in. So in terms of working together, it would be instead of doing everything all at once, I would do everything modularly. So rather than analyzing all of it and creating this huge list of things, we would just go topic by topic.
And I found that created much stronger relationships. It created fantastic momentum because rather than this huge list of, Oh, no, I need to change 83 different things. It was just, Nope, let’s focus on one thing. Let’s get it done. Feel good about that. And then we’ll move on to the next thing. So I would sort of create a list of the ideal topics we would cover over a 12 month period and where possible I would group topics together for clients. So, you know, around tax time that made it easy, kind of having similar kinds of conversations with clients around tax. If it was time for employee benefits, that happens the same way in a lot of places. So, you know, creating some of those efficiencies where possible, but you have, rather than having these long one or two hour meetings, I just, that’s exhausting to me, it’s exhausting to clients.
And I found you can get so much done in a 10, 15, 20 minute call that I just loved having those. And like I said, just creating much deeper relationships with clients and for me, because I fit my work around my life, I personally would often do evening or weekend meetings depending. And, and because everything was able to be scheduled online, then I would just open up the times that worked for me. So sometimes I loved going for a bike ride in the middle of the afternoon. So it worked great to have an evening meeting.
And, in terms of, I know in Australia, for example, they’ve got a whole statement of advice that they have to do, and those are intense documents. And I know there’s a lot going on in terms of regulation down there, but thankfully don’t have to do that in the U S or in a lot of other countries.
So I try to make things as simple as possible. I would always follow up via email with just a bullet point of the topics we discussed the action items that I needed to do the action items for the client, and then target due dates for those. And where possible I would use a Google documents or if it was an option within the financial planning software, putting everything in there so that you’re all on the same page and you’re not having to dig through paper or find past emails. You can just keep everything nice and clean and easy.
The third question, what did your fee structure look like?
So, because I was working with clients in that more modular way over time and not doing everything all at once, I would sort of take what a typical financial planning engagement fee might be, and then break it down over time.
So I would be a little bit flexible depending on what the client’s cashflow situation was. But, you know, the average was a us like $1,250 upfront because there is still a lot of work and diving into the cashflow. And I would have clients come connecting all of their accounts to an aggregator, so we could see everything, a few more meetings upfront. So there was that upfront fee. And then the average was USD$250 a month ongoing.
So it comes out to about $4,000 a year. So that’s fairly standard. I know people can certainly go higher than that. And remember, this was a few years ago. And then after time, usually after a year, depending on what’s going on in a client’s life, then we would sort of move into more of a maintenance mode. So, you know, took care of all of the major items, got everything in place and moving into maintenance would reduce it down to $150 a month.
So maybe we wouldn’t be talking every month, but we do more check-ins every couple of months to make sure everything’s on track. And again, life changes, it’s constantly changing. There’s always stuff coming up. And then if there were more complex clients than that, could be up to $350 a month with a higher upfront.
So there’s a lot of flexibility around how this can be done. I’ve seen lots of other models out there. You might come up with something that hasn’t even been done yet, but I found that worked really well. It created that steady stream of income. I mean, remember, I didn’t do any assets under management. So the upside of that is I was not subject to market fluctuations. And then I had everything just on automatic credit card payment or bank debit. So I didn’t have to send out invoices all the time.
The system just auto-generated them when they paid, just made it super easy. And for clients that weren’t ready to totally dive into things, I would do what I call the jumpstart session. So for $495, you know, if they did want sort of that 90 minute meeting, then we’d jump on and talk about that. They could have like usually two topics that they might need to discuss, but for whatever reason, they don’t want an ongoing engagement. That’s perfectly fine.
And even though I always get asked about what my fee structure is, I’ve done a lot of presentations and talks on how low my expenses were. So I want to tack that on to this third question here, because I see a lot of planners, especially when starting businesses spend a lot of money on areas that might not be necessary and they could be down the line, but when you’re starting a business cash flow is King.
And before you’ve got money coming in, making sure that you’re giving yourself a bit more of a buffer. So if I’m recalling correctly, I think my most expensive month in running Belmore Financial was us about US$526. So super low and even starting the business, because I was a partner in my prior firm, I did do a lot of the compliance there. So I was able to do my own compliance documents and I built my own website, which was super easy.
You know, I’ve seen planners say, Hey, I’m going to get a website for $5,000. And yes, that can be a great investment once you got the cashflow coming in, but you might tweak your business model in the first year. You might decide to niche more or expand your practice. So if you’re thinking about starting a business and thinking that there’s all this cost involved though, caveat — I will say for those of you listening in Australia, unfortunately you all know full well, the expense of starting a business there is incredible. I’m still absolutely in awe of all you Aussies that have built businesses down there. so it’s definitely more expensive there. I know that. But in a lot of parts of the world, there’s tons of low cost or no cost technology that can really help you get started while you’re focusing on your messaging, on building your business and then you can refine it over time. It’s very likely that that’s going to happen anyway. So don’t try to be perfect in the beginning.
The fourth question is what technology did you use?
This is often a whole presentation on its own. So I’ll just cover some of the high level things. And again, this is talking about the technology I used a few years ago. All of it is still around now, but sometimes I talk about different options that are available now. But, you know, for example, I did build my website on Squarespace. It was super easy, super inexpensive. And I played around with it a lot. I want to say it was kind of a fun outlet for me. And I would tweak some of my language and I would tweak things that were on there, kind of doing testing to see what resonated with people. And one thing I’ll say about a website or social media is show your personality. I got so many compliments from clients that were like, Hey, I can see your personality coming through and that resonates with me.
So whatever your personality is, whatever your hobbies are, whatever you’re interested in, those are often the similar kinds of people that you want to attract. So don’t feel the need to just show this totally polished professional, I’ve got everything put together, look. Show up with your fun side or your quirky side or your nerdy side, whatever it is.
I mentioned doing online scheduling. So at the time I used ScheduleOnce, which worked great. Now I use Calendly, which has just been absolutely fantastic. There are so, so many options in there that make it a really great experience for anyone booking, everything is adjusted in real time. So if right now you put your kid’s soccer game on the schedule that automatically blocks it off on Calendly. So people can’t book over that. It’s a really nice system and super inexpensive.
And then for its signing documents, I mean, I worked virtually, so there was no mailing paper back and forth. I could be traveling anywhere in the world. So I used DocuSign and there are lots of great tools out now for e-signature and that’s one of the upsides of the global pandemic is people realizing that e-signature is actually a really efficient way of doing things. And a lot of people don’t have printers and scanners and everything at home. So it’s good to see more and more people adopting at.
For financial planning technology. This is a big and challenging one. I know around the world, there are still not a lot of great options that are available everywhere. We’re very lucky in the U S so I used eMoney Advisor, which had a great online document vault for securely storing documents.
It had more sophisticated analysis of things where that was necessary. And then I used MoneyGuidePro, which I just, I really loved super user friendly, incredibly engaging, great client facing tool. I had clients that would regularly go on and tweak their own plans and just get them super involved. And you know, how little tweaks can make a difference. And rather than just focusing on retirement, it would allow them to look at what does it look like if I do an annual holiday with my family every summer, or what if we want to buy a vacation home or buy a boat or, you know, send kids to college, whatever it is. So it allowed us to have those deeper conversations and I could do it in a way that was really engaging. So I’m always looking for technology around the world that allows that for financial planners.
I talk with technology companies regularly. There are a lot of good ones out there, but we do still have a technology gap. I’m really hoping we can see filled in the next few years.
And then things like VPN virtual private network, really big on security with encrypted email, I’d encourage you to go back and listen to episode 16 with Joel Drake, where we talk about the importance of making sure that you and your clients are secure, whether you’re working from an office from a conference hotel, airport, you name it.
So again, lots more than I can say on technology, but that’s at a pretty high level. And, it was really nice to see, like I said, all of the low cost and sometimes no cost tools out there that just make it really easy to start a business or make minor tweaks to things without incurring a great expense.
Question five: How did clients find you?
So I did actually track where all of my prospects came from because you want to know, where should you be spending more time? Where should you put in more effort?
And it kind of cracked me up that they honestly came from everywhere. So I think one of the advantages was being one of the first to market with this business model. Even associations in the US that I was a part of, I would get referrals from there. I know that’s not happening as much because now, especially in the US there are thousands of advisors with a very similar business model, which is super cool to see.
I would speak in the media quite a bit. And that’s one of the things that can feel intimidating, but journalists are people, and they’re always looking for great sources that they can have.
So I built relationships with a few journalists that it was great. They would call me when they were doing various stories. Sometimes I, you know, wasn’t an expert in that area, but other times I was so thinking about where your target market is. If you’re working with young families, can you get quoted in parenting magazines. If you’re working with entrepreneurs, can you get quoted in entrepreneur magazine.
So looking outside of just the profession at where your target market is. I also had strategic partnerships working with estate planning, attorneys and CPAs. And like I said, I worked with a lot of retirement plan sponsors. So as a financial planner ideally you have those partnerships so that you’re collaborating on for your clients, and that can be a great way of, of cross referring people.
The other thing I’ll say, kind of going back to making it easy to work together. That was one thing that I actually heard from a few prospects, on my website, I was super clear about what it looks like to work together. Even what client expectations were, what the fee structure was. And then just having them be able to book that free meeting with you, if you think about somebody’s stressing out, or can’t sleep because they’re worrying about their finances late at night, when they wake up in the morning and they go to the office, they might not have time – if the only option is to call your office to make an appointment between 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. They might not ever get around to that. So making it as easy as possible to work together, that that can be a big one.
And I would say if I was doing it again, in terms of how clients were finding me, I would absolutely niche down. I tried to, my intention was to work with people in their twenties and thirties, but interestingly in my first year, my average client age was 57. And it was super interesting because I realized that I had no conflicts of interest. And that was really appealing to people because I was not selling products, not managing assets, just truly having that flat fee. So that was a big selling point.
We’ve got a Peita Diamantidis’ episode from Australia last week, episode 38. She has great advice on how to niche down, almost comically so. So go back and listen to that one for her advice.
Question six, what is your top advice for financial planners?
I would say there are three things here.
The first is if you encounter, you think, or it’s implied that, you know, it’s the way we’ve always done it, that’s a phrase that should raise a red flat and have you pause and revisit everything with fresh eyes.
There are a lot of things that made sense and meant you were providing good service 10 years ago that can actually be an inconvenience now. And I always use scheduling as a perfect example of that. It can be a great touch point. It’s a good way to engage with the client, but think about how many people are busy, whether you’re working with executives or busy families or people that travel a lot, it can be really inconvenient to have to call during business hours.
So look at everything with fresh eyes and think, is there a better way of doing this because the world is evolving, it is changing. We need to keep evolving with it.
The second thing is make sure that you are doing the work yourself and then be vulnerable with clients.
I talked a lot about the importance of really helping clients figure out what they want their life to look like. And in this global pandemic now, just like in the global financial crisis, it can actually be a tremendous opportunity for innovation and it can be a forced catalyst for people that have, maybe in the back of their head, they haven’t even acknowledged it themselves thinking, Oh, actually I want to go back to school or I want to change careers or I want to start a business or whatever it is. Make sure that in order to help your clients have those conversations that you’ve done that work. It could be that you want to change jobs or start your own business or change your relationship or where you live or whatever it is. So just make sure you’re doing that work.
And then it makes it so much more powerful when you can be vulnerable with your clients, because you’re asking them to be vulnerable about one of the most intimate things in life, which is talking about our money. And of course, make sure that your own finances are in order.
I realized as I went through all this work myself and I was always telling my clients where I was traveling and what I was doing. I realized clients kept saying to me that I actually became an example to them of what’s possible. And the fact that I started a totally different business and building my business around my life, it just created super cool conversations with clients and encourage them to do things that they probably wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
And the third thing is unlearning is hard.
Don’t fall into the experience trap. I hear from quite a few advisors that are thinking about making a change or starting their own business, but they say they don’t have enough confidence because they don’t think they have enough experience. But I’ve also seen with quite a few advisors and planners, when you’re in different companies, whatever size it doesn’t matter. And they do things a certain way and that gets ingrained into you, that it can be really hard to unlearn that and talk yourself into doing something crazy like I did and starting something totally fresh, but make sure that you’re listening to your gut. I know it can be scary, but you can do a lot of planning. You don’t have to totally jump ship.
And there’s a great episode next week with Louis van der Merwe in South Africa who started his own financial planning business in his mid twenties. We have a fun conversation about how that went and his advice on that topic.
Question seven, where do you see the profession going?
Look, it is such an exciting time. The possibilities are endless. I have been having so much fun with guests on the innovating advice show. So many business models that I hadn’t heard of ways that people are evolving the profession. I’ll make sure to link to all of these in the show notes, but a few examples are Adele Martin in Australia [Ep23] and Catherine Morgan in the UK [Ep29], how they are leveraging technology and social media to reach a ton of people providing online courses and ways of engaging virtually, and just being able to work with a lot more people that otherwise might have not have access to advice.
We’ve got Cary List in Canada, the CEO of FP Canada on episode 34, talking about how in Canada, they’re totally rethinking financial planning education and the approach to it.
Andre Novaes in Brazil, back on episode eight and how they do dreams under management. He just blew me away with his approach and we’ve got Kim Potgieter in South Africa on episode 31, just doing amazing things in the coaching space and how they work with clients and especially on retirement, but conversations that you can have at any age.
So great stuff happening all over the world. And I didn’t even realize when I was putting together that list, that’s actually someone in all six continents. So it really is happening everywhere that things are evolving. Things are moving more towards coaching. People are finding ways of increasing the diversity, equity and inclusion within their businesses, within the clients they work with. So super exciting time. And I’d love to see what you come up with and how you continue to push the profession forward.
And in terms of some of the things that I still want to see, I think we still need a lot of clarity around titles and roles. You know, there’s a place for everyone. So if you’re a salesperson perfectly fine, we need that. We’re going to continue needing that. But I even get confused talking about financial planners, financial coaches, life planners, wealth managers, financial advisors, investment advisors, you know, it’s all kind of jumbled together. And I don’t think that helps anyone. It sure as heck does not help the public. And I think we’re all here to make sure that we are helping citizens all over the world and that continued overlap of coaching and planning.
I still see a lot of conversations where people are saying that those are two separate things and I think they absolutely need to come together. And that is sort of the most impactful part of financial planning really is that coaching side and, and making sure that we’re focusing on that continued need for diversity, equity and inclusion.
We need to make sure that the advisors and planners all over the world are fully reflective of the people all over the world. So that’s somewhere we’ve still got work to do, you know, financial planning is still seen as elitist, but there’s technology that can help us reach so many more people and people beyond our geographic location.
And again, there are so many people doing great work out there. So I’ve been honored to have a lot of them on the show and there are a lot more to come.
And the last question, what are you building at Innovating Advice?
So from the early days of starting Belmore financial seven years ago, I was speaking out about the need for the profession to evolve. And as I was doing that and working with a lot of financial planners and companies all over the world, I quickly realized that as much as I love working with clients, that I really feel I can have a bigger impact working with other professionals and working with those planners and companies that are eager to evolve this profession.
So over the last six years, I’ve done a lot of speaking engagements all over the world, which I just absolutely love. They’ve all been virtual here during the pandemic, but have been doing a lot of those and really looking forward to getting back on stage, seeing everyone in person it’s just such a great way to meet people.
For those listeners that know that I love ‘finding your people,’ going to conferences and being able to connect in person. And I certainly miss that during this.
I also love working with innovative tech companies. So I mentioned there’s that huge gap around the world of technology solutions that are enabling these evolving business models. So it’s been fun to work with people that are creating solutions to that. And I’m always on the search for more. So let me know if you’re creating something innovative.
I work with financial planners and financial advisors to help you figure out what you want your life to look like and then how to adjust your business to achieve that.
So it might be just looking at streamlining and efficiencies, you know, do you work too many hours and you could use that extra time with your family or friends or hobbies. Then we can look at that.
Technology is always a big one and that fits in with streamlining and efficiencies.
A lot of advisors around the world I hear from are working on adjusting their fee models and figuring out what makes the most sense for you, for your target clients and how to go about implementing that.
Especially if it’s making a change and some advisors end up realizing that it’s time for a company or a job change, and we can work through that together or work together towards launching a new business. Like I said, it’s good to have a long runway. There’s a lot that can be done and building up that confidence so you’re set and ready for when it’s time.
So I know I wasn’t able to get to all of the questions in this episode, but please keep sending them to me and I will include them in a future episode.
Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Have a wonderful day!