Rosa Shilanski has never had trouble balancing work and family. When her husband, Floyd, started Shilanski and Associates in 1981, she went to work with him soon after, first as an office manager and then as a full partner.
When their three children started arriving, they came to work, too. The younger two learned to crawl around their parents’ desks, and they all picked up chores, such as taking out the trash and stuffing envelopes, as soon as they were old enough.
“When we were just starting out, it was pretty tough,” Shilanski admits. “But it created a great work ethic in them.”
In fact, two of the three never left. Micah, 26, and Jamie, 27, both work full time with their parents. Micah earned his Certified Financial Planner(R) designation at the age of 24 and has his own book of clients, and Jamie manages all of the firm’s client relationships while pursuing her own Series 7 license.
For the Shilanskis, making their business a family affair is a perfect reflection of the work they do with their clients. Many have been with the firm since the beginning, and Rosa and her team are already working with the second generation of those first families.
For young couples just starting out, she will sit down and help them structure their first budget and set up their first retirement accounts. As those young families grow, they build in education and estate planning. Shilanski has even made funeral arrangements for widows.
“Our philosophy is cradle to grave,” Shilanski says. “We are one of the oldest, truest financial planning firms in Anchorage, and we like to wrap our arms around our clients.”
Building long-term relationships has been a driving force behind the firm since its inception, and it was born of the Shilanskis’ bitter first taste of the investment industry. When Floyd left the Air Force and they moved to Anchorage in the late 1970s, they didn’t have much money, but trusted what they had to a financial advisor who ended up losing a big chuck of their savings.
They decided right then that they needed to educate themselves about financial planning and investing, and began talking with some of the other families who had lost money with the same advisor.
“That’s when we realized how many people needed real help with their finances, and we didn’t want what happened to us to happen to other people,” she says.
So when Floyd decided to get licensed and start his own firm, it was founded as a fee-based business. They were convinced that objective advice delivered with plenty of education was the only way to build sustainable wealth and to earn the trust and the confidence of the types of clients they wanted to work with.
Since then, the firm has expanded into a full-service operation, offering fee-based planning along with investment management. Today, Shilanski and Associates has seven employees, including the four family members, and works with 168 fee-based accounts while managing more than 1,000 investment accounts.
Managing that many clients requires tight coordination, which could get tricky in some families. Not with the Shilanskis, though. Over the years roles have evolved that build on individual strengths while tightening the family bond. Rosa and Floyd started building their business using educational seminars, and as Floyd started stepping back, Micah started stepping up, running the seminars and building his own book of business.
Jamie has always loved working with clients, so that has been her main focus. She sets up seminars and handles all client events, including sending out birthday cakes and anniversary cards. Now that she has finished college, though, she’s ready to build her own client book. With her insurance license in hand, Jamie is now working on earning her Series 7 license and is considering a law degree to help build the firm’s estate planning business.
“We each only have our own responsibilities, but we also work together so everyone does everything,” Rosa Shilanski says.
When new prospects come in for a first visit, they will meet with only one family member, but over the course of subsequent meetings, they will meet everyone. That way, if their primary advisor is out of the office when they call, they already have a personal relationship with whoever is there to help them.
Depending on the complexity of the client’s needs, Rosa, Floyd and Micah Shilanski will often work together to design and implement a plan. Compensation is based on the type of work completed. All financial planning fees go to the firm, while each advisor keeps the commissions they earn on their clients’ investment portfolios.
Even managing the business is a group effort. The family members work together to decide on key objectives, while the entire office will sit down to decide on such issues as new technology.
“When it comes to making business decisions, they will all laugh and say I am the boss,” Rosa Shilanski says. “But when it comes to doing something, we get together as a team and talk about it, and I think that’s what keeps us together.”
It also ensures long-term continuity for the business, and provides an added level of confidence for its clients.
“Our goal is that when Floyd and I are ready to retire, Micah and Jamie will take over the firm, and the clients are very comfortable with that,” she says.