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How a 30-Year-Old CFP Runs a Booming Digital Firm

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If you aren’t the disrupter, you will be the disrupted. That’s where the financial planning industry is headed, according to one of its more prominent young disrupters, Rianka Dorsainvil, 30.

The certified financial planner and founder of fee-only virtual firm Your Greatest Contribution elaborates on that prediction in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

Dorsainvil, the former president of the Financial Planning Association’s NexGen community, is atypical in assorted ways. For a start, while most advisors are male, middle-aged and Caucasian, she is female, a millennial and biracial (African-American and Chilean). Plus, the business model she employs is 180 degrees from traditional.

The planner is already making inroads with her successful two-year-old solo practice featuring client meetings via video conferencing. She focuses on young professionals, who are charged a retainer payable on a quarterly basis.

In the interview, Dorsainvil argues that the disrupted will be traditional financial services firms that fail to leverage technology, critical to advancing the advice profession.

Based just outside Washington, D.C., in Lanham, Maryland, she has about 25 clients located throughout the country — the beauty of a virtual practice, Dorsainvil stresses.

Before opening her shop in 2015, the CFP worked as a planner for six years at Maryland RIAs, including The Family Firm. She went right into financial planning following graduation from Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture and applied economics.

As a popular industry speaker, Dorsainvil underlines the importance of recruiting and retaining next-gen financial planners.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the forthright FA, on the phone from Lanham. Why did she choose the unlikely firm name, Your Greatest Contribution? It’s not such a stretch: Because her customary key question to clients has been: “What do you want your greatest contribution to be?” Here are highlights from our conversation:

How is the financial planning industry changing?

We’re entering a new dimension of final planning: You can be the disruptor, or you will be the disrupted. Advisors who are doing well and will do well in the future are those who are leveraging the technology that’s advanced our profession. They don’t see it as a threat. “Intelligent technology platforms” [that is, robo-advisors] have mastered a way to efficiently provide investments and rebalance portfolios. But [all that] has been commoditized. So what other service are you providing clients?

Who will be the disrupted?

Traditional firms aren’t leveraging technology. They’re not looking at their succession plan and hiring the next generation. So they’re the ones who will be the disrupted. The disruptors are figuring out what we can be doing better and allowing the next generation of advisors to have a seat at the table and provide their input.

What are you, personally, bringing to the table?

I’m not afraid to take the road less traveled. I’m not getting stuck doing things the traditional way. For example I don’t charge on AUM. I’ve gone the opposite way: I charge a retainer because I know that the young professionals in their early 30s and early 40s I work with may not necessarily have a large nest egg — but they have a great cash flow. They’re undergoing big changes with their careers or personal lives. So they need help. We have real conversations.

How do you measure the success of your business?

By the impact I’m making from being an example. There are more advisors over the age of 70 than under 30, though that may be changing as more professionals take the CFP exam. But there are only 23% women CFPs — the same number for the past 12 or 13 years. And when we talk about people of color, that number is even lower [in the single digits]. So I have a platform to show others that you can be a woman, and you can be a person of color, and you can have success in this profession.

What would young planners like to see changed?

I find it very odd that some firms don’t allow their entry-level or associate planners to sit in client meetings. We’re graduating from the CFP Board-registered program and have a lot of technical skills but no worldly experience or the sales skills advisors of 20 years ago had, who went on to learn the technical skills. Sitting in client meetings will allow young planners to have a seat at the table.

Did the firms you worked at before opening your own practice let you attend client meetings?

Yes, even when I was interning. And I learned so much like, how to ask sensitive, challenging questions, how to read body language, how to make the person that doesn’t feel heard take control of the conversation.

How are you affecting your clients’ lives?

I’m able to impact them today, and that’s going to have a ripple effect for the rest of their lives. They’re able to work with a certified financial planner who’s a fiduciary and not selling anything. So they don’t have to worry whether or not I’m making the best decision or recommendation for them. And, what they’re learning from our conversations, they share with others. It permeates through their family and social spheres.

Why did you choose to go 100% virtual?

I didn’t want location, inconvenience or time to be barriers. So I not only have clients who are in my backyard in the D.C. area but by using video conferencing, I can work with literally anyone across the country that’s seeking a financial planner. Phone calls are nice, but being able to see the client adds an extra layer of the personal touch.

What’s your fee structure?

It’s $4,000 paid on a quarterly basis. My retainer was formerly $3,400; but this is now my second year, and I know how much time I’m spending with clients. A lot of them have a small business on the side or a side hustle, so I’m working with them on both their personal finance and their businesses.

Why do you charge a retainer instead of an AUM fee?

If you’re an advisor who charges based on AUM, when the market is up, you look like a genius. But when the market is down, that’s when you see the most shifts — clients changing advisors because traditional advisors with an AUM fee base their value on investments. That can now be done by an intelligent technology platform. So what other value are you bringing?

Is being female a help or hindrance to being an advisor?

It’s definitely an asset. Men point out that women are good listeners. Yes, we are — but we see that as just being normal. We have an innate nurturing ability to empathize with our clients’ situations even if we haven’t gone through them. Also, sometimes women clients can be much more open with another woman. And if the woman in a couple isn’t the person that controls the finances, we can make her feel comfortable and provide her with a voice.

How do you accomplish that?

If I notice a wife isn’t speaking up, I’ll say, “What do you think, [name]? I haven’t heard much from you. How does [this issue] affect you?” You can see a shift in her body language, as if to say, “Finally I get a chance to talk and be heard.”

Who’s helping young people living from paycheck to paycheck who, when they approach retirement age, have saved nothing? They can’t bring substantial funds to a planner for help in avoiding that.

There are advisors who offer hourly consulting, and some CFPs have budgeting programs. I have one for $1,000 in which we work together over the course of three months. It’s important for young professionals to understand that if you want a professional service, you have to pay for it. If they’re living from one paycheck to the next, something needs to come off the table in order to pay for something that’s really important.

You’re from a low-income background: Your mother was a welder; your father traveled with the Navy. Your grandmother raised you. What type of work did she do?

She was a nurse in an assisted living [facility]. So she was taking care of older people.

And now you’re taking care of people — younger ones.

Yes, I am — financially. But I don’t turn away older clients. I have a couple of them. One is a doctor in his 60s who came to me when I first opened my virtual doors. I asked why he chose me. He said, “I’ve worked with [older] professionals, like tax planners and estate planners. Now I want to work with someone younger with the hope that you’ll outlive me so I can pass on to my kids what you tell me.” I was like, “All right!”

It was surprising to read on your website that you’re not accepting new clients at the moment. How come?

I want to make sure that the quality of service I give isn’t hampered by the quantity of clients I’m bringing on. I have a lot of referrals. So if there’s too much going on, I’ll just put that [notice] up and ask people to join a waitlist. When I feel like I have everything under control with the clients I have, I’ll email the waitlist, and they can get on my calendar.

What’s your long-term career goal?

I see myself going one of two ways: I can continue to grow and bring on an associate planner and do more speaking [engagements] about recruiting and retaining next-generation planners. Or I could latch onto a larger RIA who sees the value of Your Greatest Contribution and the importance of having a national virtual presence. I still want to be the disruptor but also, maybe, work with millionaires and offer a full-service line virtually.

Don’t you like being a solo practitioner?

It would be great to have more support and be able to grow this firm as big as I envisioned it. When I was starting my firm, I never wanted to do it by myself. I’m a people person. I love working with a team. But there was no one else I knew like me who wanted to build a firm like mine. So I did it on my own.

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