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Meet Advisor of the Year finalist Marvin Mitchell

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Marvin Mitchell was attending law school in Texas when his grandmother, Betty, was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. He delayed his education and returned home to St. Louis to help care for her. Although Mitchell says the decision to focus on his family was a no-brainer, interrupting his education wasn’t easy. Mitchell was the first in his family to earn a college degree and was working toward lifting himself and his family out of difficult financial circumstances.

During her illness, Betty expressed that her worst fear was being a financial burden to her family. The stock market crash and a loss of her long-term care insurance intensified her financial worries. Mitchell’s family came together to help her.

“Although we never felt burdened, the fact that my grandma believed she was a burden toward the end of her life hurt me a lot,” says Mitchell.

His grandmother’s situation prompted Mitchell to study how he could help other people in similar circumstances. He eventually decided to start his own practice, Compass Retirement Solutions, and he has been in the business for 10 years. Mitchell logged $12 million in annuity production, $3 million in money under management and $250,000 in first-year life insurance premiums in 2015.

Mitchell built his practice on family-first values that extend to both his clients and employees. “I have a strong belief that employers should treat their staff like their very best client,” says Mitchell. “If the staff is happy and content with their job, it typically reflects to the clients.”

Mitchell also invests himself in his community, as evidenced by honors he has received, including most recently the 2016 Legacy Award from the St. Louis County NAACP chapter, recognizing commitment to community involvement.

On challenges his practice faces: Many potential clients have been so inundated with bad advice from so-called “experts” that when they meet with me they are shrouded with preconceived notions. They may have heard the word annuity is bad because of blanket statements without the proper understanding of the different types of annuities and how one versus the other can best fit their situation. Many of my clients want safety for some of their money and it takes a wealth of time educating them to reprogram the accumulation mindset. 

On client retention: In addition to periodic reviews, our clients receive a monthly newsletter, educational correspondence, periodic phone calls from staff, and invitations to client appreciation and educational events. Our goal is to have at least 20 touches per year to ensure each client feels appreciated and has the opportunity to express any concerns or ask any questions.

On building trust: I build trust by listening to client needs, setting clear expectations, and doing what I say I will do when I say I will do it. Setting expectations is extremely important. It is unrealistic to expect a 12 percent return year after year. However, if that is not clearly communicated to the client, it can cause frustration and disappointment. We are transparent about fees and there is no bait and switch in our practice. In today’s environment, where there is so much mistrust and skepticism, clients appreciate our direct and transparent approach. 

On challenges for retirees: The biggest challenge is the very real possibility of running out of money. Another challenge is having too much risk and too many fees. Most retirees have not properly transitioned from the accumulation phase to the distribution stage. I recently met with a 65-year-old woman with over $500,000 who told her advisor she wanted to be safe. The advisor kept her in aggressive stocks, and when the market dipped, she lost over $100,000. She became afraid and put all of her money in cash. Not only did she miss the potential rebound, she was now earning less than 1 percent at the bank. She unknowingly exposed herself to inflation risk and she paid the advisor over $10,000 that year only to lose her money. If she had been aware of all of her options, she would have been $100,000 richer.

On his passion outside work: Being a retirement advisor is what I do but not who I am. I am passionate about helping improve the quality of life of family, friends and my community. I love to give my time and resources to various causes that have meaning to me, such as the National Kidney Foundation and the Pink Angels Cancer Foundation. What I am most passionate about is helping first-generation young men earn a college education. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I realize it can be a struggle to take the first step. We all need help at some point in our lives. I’m very blessed to have the ability to give to these important causes.

On the industry’s future: I am already seeing a shift in the financial industry. As boomers become more educated about the value of independent financial advice, the independent model will eventually surpass the broker-dealer model. In this information age, our clients are quickly learning about fees and conflict of interest and eventually will not tolerate it. In this changing regulatory environment, it will greatly decrease the advisors who may not have the client’s best interest. However, I am optimistic a new crop will rise.