January 25, 2011

Marilyn Capelli Dimitroff: Helping Clients Make Good Choices—Top Women Extended Profile

For this industry activist and member of the 50 Top Women in Wealth, it started with finance

top women in wealth logoMarilyn Capelli Dimitroff knows numbers. A mathematician with a master’s degree, after college she taught high school and college math. But after her children were born, Dimitroff decided that “teaching Algebra 2, three times a day for forty years” wasn’t the life she’d choose.

Instead, this member of AdvisorOne’s 50 Top Women in Wealth for both 2010 and 2011 turned to finance, first becoming a stockbroker and then completing the CFP program. “All the tumblers fell into place,” she says; she found her true calling: understanding people’s situations and their needs, “instead of selling the stock of the day.”

marilyn capelli dimitroffNow President of Capelli Financial Services, Inc., she never looked back and never gets bored, because there is so much change in the field: law, the economy, the tools at hand, and people’s situations. “It’s really satisfying,” she says, “because you see the difference you can make.” She believes she gives clients clarity about their choices, so that they can make the right decisions, rather than telling them what to do. “Because, ultimately, it’s their money and their life.”

Her firm was born out of the work she did for one of her first clients, a bank president who offered her a job after she finished his financial plan. He was “really persistent,” she says; eventually she set up and ran a financial planning division within his bank. He also hired a woman to run the brokerage division, she adds; eventually the two women founded their own firm, and the bank became a client instead of an employer. “We formed a broker-dealer and an RIA firm,” she says, “and that’s how I got my real start.”

In her own life, she explains, she wants freedom to do what’s important to her. “So I view that as important for my clients as well.” Giving people that freedom, to do what they really value in life, is what she sees as most important about her work. Taking their focus off financial worries and helping them understand both necessary resources and the financial and nonfinancial risks they face allows them instead to turn their attention to what is really important.

Clients’ Trust

Capelli Dimitroff is powerfully affected by her clients’ trust. She says probably a dozen couples she has worked with for a while that have divorced, and, “in every single case,” she still works with both ex-spouses. “They know I am impartial and that I care about their new independent futures.”

The Fiduciary Standard

Not done breaking new ground, Capelli Dimitroff is proud of her work with the CFP Board and her chairing of the ethics task force that included the fiduciary requirement for CFP certificants. Despite controversy and pushback, she says, she’s very satisfied with its outcome. “I think it was the thing that started the whole conversation about fiduciary.” While the task force is “not 100% satisfied” with the outcome, she’s pleased that financial planning is seen as critical to financial well-being.

“I love the fact,” she says, “that the SEC supports a fiduciary standard for anyone giving personal financial advice to individuals, and I think the devil’s going to be in the details” of working out the final result. But consumers, she adds, do not understand the distinctions presently in place, and need the protection the fiduciary standard will offer. “What I want to see coming out of this is something to clarify for the consumer the standard of delivery for all personal financial advice, and that it be at the higher responsibility.”

One area for wariness, she says, is any ruling on compensation. “I don’t think compensation is a danger point,” she explains. “I think people can be ethical under any compensation structure…[or] ethical under a commission structure and unethical under a fee structure.” A lot of the argument is around that, she says, and also around the notion that when operating under a fiduciary standard everyone’s cost will go up and products will be limited. “Those arguments,” she says, “have very strong workarounds.” While there are issues concerning proprietary products and principal trading, “I think there are ways to work that out, and that will be in the details.”

See AdvisorOne for complete coverage of the 2011 50 Top Women.

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