Gary Ward’s interest in financial planning began in the Army, as a captain in Special Forces helping his men deal with bounced checks and salesmen pushing financial products that would do them no good.
He started researching personal financial topics to help educate his men, then taking courses, knowing that someday his Army career would end. By the time he retired from the military in 1996, after 16 years, Ward had completed all his classroom instruction toward becoming a certified financial planner, but he needed the mandatory three years relevant work experience to qualify for the CFP exam. (He already had the required college degree, from Lafayette College where he majored in political science.)
“I interviewed a lot of different companies and found I knew more about financial planning than the guys interviewing me,” says Ward. “They knew more about sales and products.”
Ward chose IDS, the only company he found that was teaching and using the financial planning curriculum from the College of Financial Planning and willing to train a newbie in the business. More than 20 years later, he has remained with the company that after several acquisitions led by American Express Financial Advisors eventually became Ameriprise Financial. He’s based in Brentwood, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville, having moved to the area after leaving the army at the urging of his then-wife.
“We have good clients, good managers and independence. We’re called franchisees,” says Ward, about the practice of four advisors, where he operates independently as a fee-based advisor with about 300 clients, with total assets under management of about $50 million.
His typical client is a pre-retiree or retiree, but he also serves young military members and a couple of Gold Star spouses, all in need of a financial plan when he was first engaged. Their assets range widely, from several thousand dollars to several million.
Ward see himself as an “operations guy. Tell me what you want me to do. You’re the commander.” Then he looks at all his clients’ resources to develop an operational plan, which is adjusted as “new missions arise.” They can include savings for a college education, a new child, or a child or adult with a disability — whatever is needed to keep up with a client’s changing circumstance.
Ward designs an asset allocation for every client, usually choosing portfolios of mutual funds or ETFs, but he will include individual stocks if clients are interested in owning a particular security. He uses a variety of resources, including Ameriprise’s approved list of funds and ETFs and Morningstar, Morgan Stanley and other firms for research, and rebalances portfolios at least annually, more often if there’s a big move in the market or a client’s circumstance change. “I’m not trading every day,” he says.
He’s a big believer in Roth IRAs because of their tax advantages at retirement. Roth distributions are not taxed at retirement because the contributions were made after taxes.