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Suzanne Buska: Financial planning is a family affair

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While many financial advisors boast of their family run businesses, how many can truly say they’re part of a company now welcoming the fourth generation member to their retirement-planning team?

It is indeed a family affair for Suzanne Buska of Central-Wisconsin-based Buska Retirement Solutions, with her well-respected firm coming up on its 75th anniversary next year. Her grandfather, Joseph Buska Sr., opened an insurance firm in the Wausau area in 1939; he was later joined in business by his son, Suzanne’s father, Joseph Jr. She joined that business in 1980 and branched off into a retirement planning-focused company in 1992. A few years back, her eldest son, Cole J. Bruner, joined her team and is working to eventually take over when she opts to retire.

See the 2012 Advisor of the Year Finalists

Suzanne Buska says that’s still a long way off, though the family connection has been a blessing, in most ways.

“I had always admired the hard work that my father and my grandfather did, though they were certainly working all the time,” she says. “But it was also a very successful business. I also liked that they were helping people, teaching them things they didn’t know about different financial products, and that always really made a difference in our clients’ lives.”

She admits that the retirement business wasn’t necessarily her first choice for a career, but after 30 years of helping people with estate planning, retirement income planning and safe money strategies, she says she’s happy she followed in the family footsteps.

“I went to college in Milwaukee, where I wanted to get into fashion merchandising, and later I took some accounting courses when I lived in Madison,” she says. “I decided I wanted to come back and work with my dad, but he didn’t want to hire me at first–he knew what it could be like to work with family all day. When I told him that the competition was going to hire me, he said, ‘No way,’ and offered me a job.”

Buska’s father did serve as an excellent mentor in her approach to clients and their needs, and in 1992, she opted to go out on her own, splitting off from a company that now included her sisters, who worked on the P&C side.

“If we had a reality show about those days, it would be No. 1,” she laughs. “Now they work just down the street from me.”

The family’s long-standing presence in Central Wisconsin has been part of their appeal, but with increased competition in the retirement planning business – even in a community of 100,000, considerably removed from other major centers, some seminar-heavy advisors are now coming from as far away as Minneapolis – Buska says that she’s had to do more than rest on the family name.

“We’re very busy, in part because of our reputation–we have 2,000-plus clients and we get a lot of referrals. But we also do a lot of marketing, and we really work to service our existing clients. My son and I are in sales, and we have seven staff helping with accounting or as client relationship managers.”

To that end, Buska has also tried to differentiate her business through community education, hosting an ongoing series of Social Security maximization seminars at a local college, in addition to the standard routine of client-appreciation events.

“Our motto is not products, we sell solutions,” she says. “And now I can see that this was really true. I’ve got some clients who have been with me all these years and now that they’re well into retirement, I can see that they were properly set up, income-wise, or with their LTC–and they’re now being taken care of. We’re also helping a lot of the kids of our original clients.”

For a long time, Buska was also an advocate of market-related retirement investing and held both her Series 6 and 63 licenses; when the market crashed in 2008, she sensed the danger in pushing her clients in those directions and voluntarily gave up her licenses.

“I’m a very conservative investor – I just never wanted to lose even my own hard-earned money, which was a lesson my dad taught me–so I saw that it was time to pull my clients out of the markets and move them into fixed, guaranteed products, which I think was the best thing I ever did.”

Nowadays, Buska and her team’s specialty is creating a well-documented retirement income report for new clients, helping establish a financial roadmap for successful retirement.

And in the future? Buska says she’s enjoyed working with her 27-year-old son – though she too didn’t necessarily want her kids in the business, and opted to hire him at first when he threatened to go off and work as an independent–since they make a great team.

“I’m the social person, and he runs the reports and does the numbers. We work our appointments together, and I do a lot of the talking. He’s been a rock star since he started.”

Suzanne Buska

Buska Retirement Solutions

Rothschild, WI

Number of years in industry: 33

Total production 2012: $14 million

On mentoring: “I am always willing to help others succeed in our industry, especially being a woman. I really want to see more women succeed in the insurance and financial industry and would love to be a wealth of information for them. I really enjoy coaching and mentoring other agents to help them find their niche and dominate their market.”

On managing the client-advisor relationship: “We provide them with an Income Maximizer report in our second meeting, which projects the longevity of their money under different scenarios in retirement. We also show them how they could maximize their Social Security income. Once they become a client they are contacted by our Client Relationship Managers every three to four months to check in and see if they have any questions or concerns. We provide them with an annual net-worth summary detailing their various assets. We also hold client appreciation events regularly, which are a huge hit with our clients. We always give away prizes and sponsor a charity. Clients talk about them for the rest of the year.”

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