There are people who are so embarrassed by the messiness of their homes that they either feel they have to clean up before their cleaning service arrives, or they just don’t get a cleaning service at all. There are others who are so embarrassed by their financial behaviors that they either feel inhibited in front of their advisors, or they just don’t go to an advisor at all.
The truth is, everyone faces judgment and even the best of us judge, says Timothy LaPean, founder of Minneapolis-based Thoughtful Financial Planning, who is openly gay and who, through the course of his life, has faced judgment — both personal and professional.
That’s why his overarching goal as a financial advisor is to ensure that he creates a space for his clients to come to with peace and to feel secure in the knowledge that whoever they are and whatever financial foibles they may have, LaPean is there to listen and help, not judge.
He launched Thoughtful Financial Planning in 2014 to serve, he says, “people who are more like me, both demographically and financially.” Most of his clients are women, members of the LGBT community and “those who love them,” and many have faced great difficulties in their lives with coming to terms with who they are.
LaPean is able to be both advisor and friend to his clients because he’s able to empathize with their individual situations, given that his own journey was long, painful, and fraught with judgment from school days — where he was bullied for what his peers perceived to be his sexual orientation — to adulthood, where he believes he was passed over for promotions (even if in retrospect these jobs weren’t the right fit for him) because he is gay.
Although he came out in his 20s, the net effect of his experiences caused LaPean — who began his career working in support at what was then American Express Financial Advisors — to try and avoid judgment by being someone else.
“Because it felt like my career was being damaged by being my genuine self, I began to behave very much like someone else, best described as a butler or a servant: I was very formal and I kept distant and that stayed with me,” he says. “I focused on being very professional and competent and it got me places, even though I didn’t like it and it made me not really myself at all.”
LaPean went on to get his CFP and in large part because he was tired of being someone else, he decided to start his own firm so he could become himself again.
“I wanted to be one person at home and at work, I wanted to be the same person all the time and to bring that integrity to my practice in order to make my clients comfortable in knowing that I am recognizably the same person all the time,” he says.
Being his genuine self helps LaPean immensely in gaining a client’s trust and creating the kind of open communication that ensures a lasting relationship. And he is as open about himself and his life — including sharing the personal financial woes he has been through — with his clients as he would want them to be with him about theirs.
Although society-at-large and the financial planning industry have come a long way in understanding the needs of the LGBT community, LaPean still believes it needs strong advocates like himself, people who not only understand the financial nitty-gritties of the laws, taxation issues and the like, but who also really get it on a more personal level.
“Millions of people everywhere have experienced negative things in their lives, things that have a lasting impact and affect who they are, their work, their earnings and much more,” he says. “The discrimination we in the LGBT community have experienced in the past is still with us and impacts us both personally and professionally.”
Being able to understand and relate to a client’s journey, to respect “individual personhood and individual experience” are all important to LaPean as a financial advisor. He’s fortunate, too, he says to have the support of Minneapolis’s very forward-looking and progressive financial planning community, which is made up of advisors on the cutting edge of societal shifts who are open to willing to embrace change.