Everyone wants the story of his career to read like a fairy tale, but the story of Annette Simon’s really does. No, not because it’s a rags-to-riches fable, or ends with “happily ever after.” It’s because, despite the fact that she hasn’t been slurping porridge, testing chairs, or trying out mattresses, Simon’s recent job history sounds very much like the tale of Goldilocks. The first planning firm Simon tried, back in 1996, was too small. The second one she tried was too big. With fingers crossed that the third firm’s a charm, Simon is hoping her newly launched practice will be just right.
When Simon left her fee-only planning firm in spring 2001 to join the nine-member Baltimore-Washington Financial Advisors in Ellicott City, Maryland, she seemed to be following a familiar story line: The solo Planner, hearing the footsteps of the evil ogres Bank, Wirehouse, and Accountant, bands together with other planners to outwit the giants. This spring, however, she’s added her own plot twist, seeking her fortune in a way that doesn’t fit the mold at all: a two-planner partnership, one for financial planning (herself), one for investment management. That’s it.
What makes her think this structure is “just right”? Simon had joined Baltimore-Washington Financial Advisors (BWFA) after several years on her own because she’d found it tough to offer exclusively financial planning. “I had made a strategic decision to offer only planning, not investment management, because I felt that as one person, I couldn’t competently do both,” says Simon, 43. “Unfortunately, the hard facts of this business are that most people just can’t make it on financial planning alone.” Joining a multi-faceted financial firm that offered everything from investment management to tax services and estate planning seemed precisely the answer.
After a year at BWFA, however, she realized that it wasn’t the right fit, either. The hefty commute was wearing her down, and logistical obstacles prevented her from working from home as much as she had expected. What’s more, she adds, “I realized something that I think I’d already known, which was that I’d been on my own and independent for too long to be a very good employee!”
In order to offer investment management services and avoid having a boss other than herself, Simon decided she needed a partner. She’d met Veena Kutler, a CFA and former T. Rowe Price fund manager, while presenting a workshop on stock options last summer, and the two women had hit it off immediately. Over the subsequent months, as they discussed their respective goals, skills, and ideas about running a firm, they realized that they’d make a great match. “Veena and I are enough alike that we can work together really well, but our talents are complementary, since I’m much more comfortable with financial planning and she’s really knowledgeable about investments,” says Simon. “We think that between the two of us, we’re going to have a really powerful package.”
In the new firm, Mosaic Financial Advisors, Kutler will be setting the ground rules for investment management (among other decisions, the firm will use TechFi for portfolio management) and Simon will do so for financial planning (the firm will use Simon’s preferred planning software, NaviPlan). Simon and Kutler plan to open a joint office soon, but have no plans to begin assembling a large staff. “I think we’ll hire one administrative person, and we’re talking about outsourcing some of the work,” she says. “But managing employees is a lot like raising children sometimes, and”–she laughs–”we both already have kids.”
In large part because of those kids, both Simon and Kutler hope to work from home much of the time. “Our kids are about the same age, so we’re both kind of living around their schedules,” says Simon, who has three children, ages 10, 14, and 16. “I think we’ll telecommute quite a bit.” Although they realize that working from home may deter some prospective clients, they figure the “right” clients will understand. “We’re going to lose a certain percentage of people right off the bat because if they hear the dog barking and the kids in the background, they get worried,” she says. “But a lot of our clients are people like us–dual-income families in their 30s to 50s who are dealing with many of the same issues we face. I think lot of them would like to be able to work from home, too, so they can relate.”
Are Clients Concerned?
Nice plans aside, you can’t help wondering what Simon’s clients think of her job-hopping. After all, from last spring to the present, her clients have had the names of three different firms–Prosperity Planning, BWFA, and Mosaic Financial Advisors–printed across the top of their account statements. Who could blame them for being a bit discombobulated, or even switching advisors?
But they’re not, and they haven’t. In fact, says Simon, they’ve hardly blinked. “My clients are an understanding bunch,” she says. All of her clients made the leap with her when she transferred to Baltimore-Washington Financial Advisors, and, though it’s too soon to say definitively, it seems most will make the jump to the new firm as well. “They’re attached to me more than to any particular firm,” she says.