From the January 2013 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Sensible Maverick

Fee-only advisor Dana Anspach brings an independent streak to retirement advice.

Dana Anspach of Sensible Money, an RIA in Scottsdale, Ariz. Dana Anspach of Sensible Money, an RIA in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Turning life’s lemons into lemonade is a neat feat. But turning oranges into a juicy branding concept for your practice—now that’s original. And financial planner Dana Anspach has done it.

“I was having breakfast at a place that serves fresh-squeezed juice and watching oranges roll into the juicing machine. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘I wonder how much more juice they get out of each orange than I do by hand-squeezing.’” 

“That’s when I got the branding [idea]: The right retirement planning decisions can help you get more ‘juice’ into your cup,” says Anspach, founder and principal of Sensible Money, an RIA in Scottsdale, Arizona. The four-person firm manages assets of about $40 million.

“Start Squeezin’” is the FA’s catchy mantra, especially for clients stepping into the retirement-income planning arena. This stage, she impresses upon them, demands a different type of investing compared to the saving phase. Typically, extra “juice” gets tossed out in high taxes, excess fees and “incorrect planning assumptions.” To boost assets, Anspach helps clients make that juice flow in the opposite direction.

The advisor, 41, who custodies with Charles Schwab, has focused on retirement-income planning since 2003, the year she realized that “people can’t afford to make mistakes when they hit a certain age. I became passionate about that market segment,” says Anspach, a CFP who also holds the Retirement Management Analyst (RMA) designation.

For four years, she has written the online About.com column, “Money Over 55”; and this spring, her first book, Control Your Retirement Destiny (Apress), is to be published. A graduate of the University of Florida with a B.S. in marketing, Anspach clearly boasts a creative bent for building brand awareness. But the fee-only planner is more substance than mere style.

“There’s a purity of giving fee-only financial advice, and for me you do not step outside that,” she says. “You often make less money that way. But I can’t sit in front of a [prospect] and promise a 10% return a year. Advisors do that all the time. It makes it incredibly challenging for those of us who are telling the truth.”

An advisor for 17 years, she started as a commissioned broker, including a stint at Merrill Lynch, but soon discovered she was far more entrepreneur than employee.

“I’m not a good employee—I’m stubborn and independent,” says the candid advisor, an in-demand speaker at groups such as the Retirement Income Industry Association, Government Finance Officers Association of Arizona, and Fortune 500 companies like Medtronic.

Taking a holistic approach in designing plans and constructing tax-efficient investments, she surprises clients by using Social Security benefits as what she calls “a longevity hedge.”

 “Without pushing anything, Dana lets the client make the decisions. But she lays everything out in a way that leads up to where she thinks you need to be,” says Mike Smith, 62, a client in Akron, Ohio. “She has the patience of Job.”

Born in Iowa City, Iowa, bred in St. Louis and St. Cloud, Fla., Anspach, as a 10-year-old, passed the time on long car trips by solving compound-interest problems on her father’s calculator—much to the delight of dad Glenn, who holds a master’s in math.

“I guess,” she says, with a laugh, “I was destined to be a financial planner.”

But destiny didn’t barge in right away. Aspiring to an advertising agency career, Anspach, however, found slim pickings in Grand Junction, Colo., where she and her then-husband moved right after college. She settled for selling ad space door-to-door for the marketing and publishing firm R.L. Polk, and moonlighted as an aerobics instructor.

Enter: destiny. One Polk client was an FA at brokerage Waddell & Reed; and his friendly, astute financial planning advice piqued Anspach’s interest. Soon she was a Waddell advisor trainee.

Four years later, in 1999, the Merrill Lynch job came along—and with it, a turning point.

“My naïve perspective was that I was going to a firm with a much more unbiased approach because they had a wide selection of product,” she recalls. But “Merrill Lynch has a culture of sales—and that culture wasn’t for me.”

Warned one day by a high-ranking local manager: “No matter how much you do here, it will never be enough!” Anspach felt for sure that she was on the wrong planet. Eight months after joining, she resigned from the wirehouse.

Relocating to Arizona weeks later, her career started to cook. In Phoenix, she joined a CPA firm, Hopkins Parker, and began building a financial services practice within it. After five years, she bought the practice and merged it with a firm that a friend had launched, Wealth Management Solutions. In 2011, she went solo with Sensible Money.

Anspach’s About.com column serves as a marketing tool, and the content can be as provocative as it is informative. Intro to one recent piece: “I’m probably going to get some hate mail for posting this article.” The article: “10 Things Your Financial Advisor Might Not Be Telling You.” No. 7: “Social Security Can Make More Money for You Than They Can.”

One thing Anspach will readily tell you is that financial advisory isn’t selling. The biggest mistake FAs make, she says, is “leading with product solutions instead of a planning process. When you’re with a broker-dealer, often you’re not exposed to some of the non-product solutions that we should be talking about.”

The FA, who is divorced, owns three motocross dirt bikes that she vroom-vrooms around on in the desert.

“My mind is clear when I’m riding. You’re very much in the now,” she says. “The cactus and mountains are just gorgeous.” 

A bad wreck six years ago wasn’t so gorgeous. Thrown over the motorcycle’s handlebars, she hit a rock chest-first, suffering a pulmonary embolism and broken wrist. A chest protector—crushed in the crash—probably saved her.

Six months later, she thought she was ready to try again.

“My hands were shaking,” she recalls. “But a friend who was with me said that if I got back out there, I’d be okay. And I was. We rode 50 miles.”

Page 2 of 2
Single page view Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.