From the October 2011 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

As Good as it Gets

We’re all worried about the next generation of financial advisors. If Jason Good of Intelligent Financial Services is any indication of the quality of the next generation, we should all relax

Photography by Joe Treleven Photography by Joe Treleven

At some point, we all need a John Gagliardi in our lives. The legendary coach of the St. John’s University Johnnies in aptly named Collegeville, Minn., has led the team since 1952. He’s just shy of career win No.  500; a conservative, John Wooden-like figure who teaches his players more than the game of football, instilling integrity and responsibility in his team, and preparing them for challenges and successes that lie ahead—on and off the field.

Overwrought? Maybe—until you meet a former charge. Advisor Jason Good still looks like a college player; hardly the stereotypical Al Bundy, stuck reliving his “glory days” as his hairline recedes and his waistline grows. We’ll skip the obvious pun with his name, but Good has those rarest of skills; left-brain analytics to decipher pages of spreadsheets combined with right-brain creativity to hone his people skills (and let’s not forget a healthy competitive streak). And Gagliardi is the first thing Good mentions when he’s asked how he’s come so far, so fast.

“Coach prides himself on teaching his players more about life than football,” Good says with obvious affection. “It sounds simple, but we had a lot of guys go out for the team and he always said, ‘If you don’t do the right thing, someone’s waiting to take your spot.’ He instilled the values of hard work, determination and perseverance. He taught me a lot about the Golden Rule and how to treat people. It was six years ago that I played for John, but I still feel that connection to him.”

That connection is partly responsible for helping Good to attain the Chartered Financial Analyst designation in just over one year (blowing past the dreaded washout-inducing part two). He’s also received his Certified Financial Planning designation and was named president of Intelligent Financial Strategies in May 2010. Did we mention he’s only 27?

His philosophy, work ethic and dedication to service are a model for other “Young Turks” just starting out: a case study to include in financial planning-based college curriculums.

After graduating from St. John’s with an accounting and finance degree, he joined a hedge fund in the Twin Cities—but staring at Bloomberg screens all day didn’t have quite the same level of camaraderie and interaction he experienced on the field.

“I always wanted to work with individuals,” Good says. “I witnessed some unfortunate experiences my father had with financial professionals. That sat in my stomach and was one of my fires ‘burning within’: to try to help people like him, those that are wandering around without a guide.”

The strong network of St. John’s alums led to an introduction in 2008 to Chuck Garrity, the founder of Intelligent Financial Strategies, a Fidelity Institutional-affiliated firm. Garrity, who was semi-retired in Naples, Fla., was looking for a succession plan and found it in Good. A valuation was done by an outside firm and a deal was struck where Good “cleaned out [his] bank account and put some cash on the table.” It also involved a fixed note and an “earn-out.” Between the three components, Good came up with the needed capital.

“I guess I don’t reflect on it very often because it’s a big risk and a bit overwhelming,” Good says. “I just felt comfortable with the situation and Chuck obviously felt comfortable with it as well. They were friendly negotiations. And over the past two years we haven’t (knock on wood) lost a single client. We’ve been adding about a client per month since then.”

A new face brings new ideas, and Good was ready with his own.

“There weren’t a lot of operations, procedures and systems in place,” he says. “I thought I could help build the firm and bring ideas that I had gathered from my previous firm. IFS has since been revamped--everything from compliance to technology to our client meeting process.”

The firm now has three people in the Minnesota office, and will most likely add a paraplanner in the coming months. One recent hire, Joe Pitzl (another young gun at the tender age of 30), is the director of financial planning at IFS and heavily involved in the Financial Planning Association as the national chairman of FPA NexGen (he also sits on the FPA’s Professional Development Advisory Group, Communities Advisory Council and the editorial board for Practice Management Solutions magazine).

“Joe came up with an idea called the IFS Action Plan,” Good says. “We’re not big believers in the old school, 70-page plan; one where you plunk it on the table and watch a client get paralyzed by it. What he’s done is broken down financial planning into 24 categories, depending on if there’s a business involved, education planning, etc.”

Good says it’s a modular plan, structured in a way to make it as easy as possible to implement. There is a goal attached to each section, a current status, an estimation of where the client is on his way to reaching the goal and then an action plan, which involves linking the objective to the current status.

“We’ve just started rolling this out to clients and the reception has been tremendous. The nice thing is that it’s 10 or 11 pages at the most.”

The plan, Good says, is the story, but the spreadsheets and number crunching all happen behind the scenes. As he wryly notes, going to a financial planner is too often seen as a mix between getting teeth pulled, taxes done and major surgery.

“What we found is that during the actual meetings, clients tend to not want to talk about ‘how’ we do something rather than ‘why’ we do something,” he explains. “It’s transformed the manner in which we conduct our client meetings, and makes it more enjoyable for everyone. We want them to have an attitude of getting to talk to us, rather than having to talk to us.”

The firm manages $120 million for 80 clients, and does not require a minimum to invest (although they like to see potential for a long-term relationship). The average age of the client base is currently 64 (a holdover from Garrity’s tenure with the firm), and is something Good is making a conscious effort to reduce.

So how do they prepare for clients who may resist “young punks tellin’ me my business?”

His frequent allusions to—and respect for—the masters probably help, and the interview is peppered with references to Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger and Ben Graham (which squares with his value-based investment philosophy): “We win by not losing,” or “On the trading side, sometimes inactivity is the best activity.”

“A few years ago that really scared me,” Good says. “‘Gosh, are they going to listen to me? They could be my grandparents.’ What we found is that once we’re in the meeting and demonstrate knowledge and listening skills, the age difference actually turns into a positive.”

“But I also think just having Chuck in the background helps,” he admits.

When he explains his investment strategy and tactics, it’s immediately clear why his older clients are put at ease (“At least three years of living expenses for someone in the withdrawal phase,” and “We’re big believers in reversions to the mean; we don’t want to overstay our welcome in any particular area”).

“We like the collaborative approach, and we let the clients lead,” he says. “We don’t have 500 clients and we’ll never be a mass production firm. We have a close relationship with our clients and that’s the way we want to work.”

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