Donna Skeels Cygan is a most unusual financial advisor.
She teaches clients how to invest in…joy, in addition to stocks and bonds.
She gets lots of lucrative referrals from attorneys and CPAs, and turns them all down.
And whereas advisors who write a book typically intend to use it to boost their status vis-à-vis well-heeled clients and prospects, Cygan’s target audience are the masses of Americans struggling to pay their credit card bills, not those seeking or sought by Merrill Lynch.
The book, titled “The Joy of Financial Security,” came out last year before Thanksgiving, and the timing is probably not a coincidence since she views giving thanks—on a daily, not annual basis—as a key component of happiness.
“I do focus on investments and I do do them well, but I don’t want that to be all there is,” the Albuquerque-based fee-only advisor says in a phone interview with ThinkAdvisor.
So after updating her clients’ net worth statements and addressing tax planning and retirement projections and the like, the principal of Sage Future Financial ends her meetings with a discussion of goals.
“They talk about family, travel, health issues,” Cygan says. “It’s an upbeat way to end a meeting instead of [just] ‘Your account’s up 14%.’”
A few years ago, she gave her clients an article about starting a “gratitude practice.” Then years later, talking to one client couple, she learned that they had adopted the practice of sharing with each other daily before retiring at night something they were grateful for.
“It had been hugely beneficial for their marriage,” she relates.
In short, Cygan, like other financial advisors, wants her clients to become rich; it’s just that she employs a broader definition of true wealth.
“If we can take the focus away from materialistic things, and put it back on family and friends and things that make our lives really rich” is how she formulates her mission statement.
Cygan knows about this source of wealth because she came near to squandering it in her first financial planning practice, which she started in 1998 and then sold in 2007 (after which she spent a year working for the buyer).
The self-described workaholic found herself working most evenings and every weekend while her firm was rapidly growing. “My husband and daughters were feeling really neglected,” she recalls. “So I sold [the business] and got off the rat-race treadmill. I was in a really unhealthy pattern, heading down the wrong path. The decision to sell my firm was very drastic and not what I had planned; I felt had to do it to break really bad behavior.”
After honoring her non-compete agreement, she came back to the business in 2010, but this time with firm commitments not to neglect her family.
That’s why her boutique practice will not see expansion beyond its current 40 clients, for whom she manages $85 million
“If I wanted to grow the firm, it would be so easy. I get so many referrals,” says Cygan, who says the “investing in joy” angle is a big draw for clients and their friends.
“Yes, it’s very good for business. The client sees the advisor as real person who cares about them and their families.”
And while the referrals retain their tempting allure,” I send them to other advisors,” she says, adding: “I just have to protect myself and not get back into the situation of being a workaholic.”
But the self-imposed discipline of maintaining a “lifestyle practice” that she describes as “not growing” and “completely at capacity” has afforded Cygan the opportunity to free up time for other activities, such as the book she wrote specifically for Americans who “wouldn’t reach out to an advisor anyway.”
“The Joy of Financial Security” is “not just a personal finance book,” Cygan emphasizes.