The pioneers of independent financial planning were professionals whose first careers were as insurance agents or brokers but who wanted less-conflicted, broader relationships with their clients. Today’s entrants are as likely to have a degree in financial planning, while their designation of choice is probably a certified financial planner rather than the chartered life underwriter. But there are still pioneers from other fields who are starting up investment advisory practices.
Case in point: Megan Gorman, JD, who founded Chequers Financial Management three years ago in San Francisco. Gorman, a managing partner, is herself a study in contrasts. An attorney and self-described “tax geek,” she majored in medieval English and modern Chinese history as an undergraduate. She is interested in the financial issues faced by A-list celebrities for what their travails can teach the rest of us, but loves solving the technical puzzles of executive compensation and estate planning for her clients. She was an advisor to high-net-worth clients at a Goldman Sachs company (Ayco) and BNY Mellon Wealth Management, and now runs a small (five employees; $250 million in AUM) but growing fee-only RIA firm that offers financial counseling and family office services.
Serving self-made entrepreneurial clients in the epicenter of America’s high technology sector with a substantial internet presence at Forbes and in her recently launched Wealth Connection site, she characterizes her firm’s tech tools as “a great accessory, like a good pair of shoes.” That’s because she believes what she and her team do best is to focus on spending quality in-person time with clients.
Even the name of the firm reflects her duality. If you’ve heard about Chequers, you know it as the country residence of British prime ministers like Winston Churchill. But to Gorman, the importance of Chequers the manse is that it personifies good estate planning and the “juxtaposition of family wealth and self-made wealth.” The property was owned by the same family for 700 years before being donated to the British government by a new-money American couple in the early 20th century.
She founded her firm, Gorman says, because she believes there aren’t enough firms that combine high quality service with highly technical analysis. She also wanted to build a firm “that reflects who my clients are. I work with women, with people from many backgrounds — gay and straight. I’ve been fortunate to recruit and grow a firm that reflects those values.” In recruiting for its team, Gorman looks for people with experience in taxes because she believes tax planning is critical to everyone’s personal financial life. She uses the analogy of an auto mechanic. “You have to get under the hood” of the ever-changing tax code, she says, because “If you don’t, you don’t know tax.”
Chequers offers clients a range of services from tax planning and preparation to estate planning (“everything but drafting the actual documents”) to investment management, charitable giving and cash flow management, as well as advice on employee benefits. Clients are charged an annual “financial counseling” flat fee, which Gorman says provides them with access “at all times” to the Chequers team. For investment management, the firm charges a separate AUM fee.
In preparing tax returns, Gorman says she tells her team that “tax season is the test to see if we did our job well the year before.” She adds, “We lead with taxes because it opens up so many other issues that we can navigate a client through.”
As for her Tweets, Forbes blogs and Wealth Intersection website writings, where you’re as likely to find stories about Michael Jackson or Barbara Bush as you are about financial planning, there’s a method to Gorman’s musings. Her internet presence isn’t designed to drive new business (the firm gets new clients mainly by referrals from existing clients), rather, it goes back to spending time in front of clients.
“They all have such great financial stories,” referring to celebrities’ financial lives, and those stories deliver serious financial lessons “that you can use with clients.”
James J. Green, a former editor of this magazine, is editor of Jamie Green Reports, an advisor-focused writing, editing and shepherding service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.