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A Different Perspective: Reflections from an Ex-Wall Street Broker

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LifeHealthPro recently posted an article I wrote entitled “Why You Shouldn’t Trust Washington or Wall Street.”

The following article is the first of a regular series of postings designed to help and encourage independent financial advisors. As an ex-Wall Street broker who lost faith and confidence in Wall Street in 2008, I hope to provide some perspectives that other advisors will find helpful.

Here’s my background: I entered the world of financial advising in 2000 (great timing!) as a 38-year old trainee at a world-renowned brokerage firm.  I was green, eager to work hard to provide for my family and excited about developing a life-long career.

What got me started in this direction at age 38? A little more background might be helpful. I was a pre-med student at Princeton and then the University of Michigan, was accepted into medical school, but then had second thoughts and turned it down. In the meantime, a big change in my life led me to attend an evangelical seminary in Dallas, Texas. I graduated with a Masters in Theology with a view toward full-time ministry, possibly overseas. God had different plans. My wife and I moved back to her hometown in N.J., and I began a myriad of various jobs, including limousine driving, substitute teaching and tennis instructing.

When it became clear that my desire for full-time ministry probably wasn’t going to happen, I needed to find another career. That’s when the opportunity to be a financial advisor at a brokerage firm in my local town opened up. Here’s what attracted me to this career and to the company:

  • Making wise financial decisions is so instrumental. The Bible actually speaks quite a bit about money and the use of it.
  • I saw the opportunity to make a significant impact in people’s lives and to develop life-long trusting relationships.
  • I knew that if I was honest and did the right thing, my company would always back me.
  • I met some employees who loved the firm and worked there for 40 years or more.

Why am I mentioning this? We all should have good reasons for doing what we do beyond just simply making money. You’ve certainly heard this before, but maybe some of you need to re-think your basic motivation for continuing on as a financial advisor.

I felt a strong calling toward seminary and ministry. Did I feel called to be a financial advisor?  Not necessarily. But I do feel that my career is about much more than making money. I get a big thrill when I am really able to help someone and they feel a lot better about their finances. I literally get goose bumps when a client says “I really trust you. Thank you so much for all of your help.” I tell them that they made my week.

Let’s face it. It’s easy to become discouraged and even jaded in our industry.  Prospects sometimes use us for information and free meals. Clients sometimes are unthankful and will occasionally leave us for reasons that don’t make any sense. Partnerships can go sour, and people we trusted can spurn us and even hurt us.

In my first three years in the business, I sat on a main floor in a cubicle and could hear the other rookie advisors talk to their prospects and clients — and later talk about them. It didn’t take long to learn who cared about helping people and who care about helping themselves. It became obvious to me that, for some of them, their main motivation was to make money, and their clients were simply tools to be used to help them achieve their self-serving goals.

It was disappointing to observe this, but I didn’t allow it to make me cynical. I had to put the blinders on, ignore the negative vibes around me, be encouraged by others who were doing what was right and move forward. I had a sense of mission as to the purpose of my work.

It helps to stop and reflect once again, “Why am I in this business?” Are you able to honestly say that you are putting your clients’ needs first, giving full disclosure and not exaggerating anything? Washington or Wall Street we might not be able to trust, but if you are truly trustworthy, people can and will trust you. In a world full distrust and skepticism, that can make all the difference in the world to your clients. That can give you a sense of purpose and mission that what you do really matters, and can enable you to rise above the crowd and make a difference.

This may sound a bit cliché, but it will matter to you on your deathbed.


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