Meet millennial Ally-Jane Ayers, co-founder of financial planning firm Brooklyn FI. In her WeWork space, client meetings are held as rock music jams, and the office decor rocks a poster of a cemetery.
Nope, the artwork isn’t a subtle hint for her young clients to start planning retirement, which, incidentally, FI has rebranded “financial independence.” Ayers, 30, just happens to think cemeteries are beautiful. She was recently married in one, as she mentions in an interview about her practice with ThinkAdvisor.
New to financial services, the former music editor and writer may be quirky, but she isn’t kooky. Indeed, her office ambiance is only a surface frill. The core intention of this enrolled agent credentialed by the Internal Revenue Service is to guide clients to “financial peace of mind.”
The fee-only firm specializes in serving self-employed creatives, like designers and photographers, and tech professionals, like engineers. Average age: 34. About three-quarters of client meetings are held in the FI office; the balance take place via video.
Ally-Jane — known as AJ — is one of a new vintage of young entrepreneurial FAs setting up their own millennial-targeted shops and calling their own shots. Unlike most advisors of previous generations, they are distinguished by diversity and focused on fiduciary.
Ayers’ practice specializes in “turning side-hustles into nest eggs,” according to her website. There is no account minimum, and fees start at $4,200 a year, payable by the month.
Her interest in the financial services profession turned serious after interviewing Shane Mason, a CPA, personal financial specialist (PFS) and certified financial planner, on “Moneysplained,” a podcast for “people afraid of personal finance,” as it is billed.
Ayers started the show when, seeking an FA for her own investing, she couldn’t find one “who was speaking [her] language as a creative,” she says. In 2017, she and Mason, 31, formerly with PwC, launched Brooklyn FI.
For now, Ayers is concentrating on the operations side but joins partner Mason in every client meeting. She expects to take her CFP exam this summer.
In her initial career, Ayers was a senior editor at Bandcamp, an online music platform, and worked for five years as commissioning music editor at Bloomsbury U.S.A.
Now steeped in the world of finance, she’s writing for publications like the Journal of Accountancy. And she’s penning speeches about finance to deliver herself. In fact, a recent one to her alma mater was: “The 10 Things Every Skidmore Graduate Needs to Know about Money.”
Here are highlights from a recent phone interview ThinkAdvisor held with the Brooklyn-based, Los Angeles native, new to financial planning but not new to creative thinking:
THINKADVISOR: Why are prospective clients attracted to Brooklyn FI?
ALLY-JANE AYERS: They’re being sent to their parents’ advisors and usually meeting with men much older than they are. That doesn’t fit well. So they’re looking for people who look like them — and we look like our clients.
Do the creative folks you specialize in have particular needs to address?
It’s often helping them with business planning: figuring out the tax side, what kind of entity structure they should be in, what kind of retirement accounts are open to them as business owners or working freelance. Bands need a lot of help getting set up, figuring out who gets what, who owes what in taxes.
Some of that seems fairly basic.
A lot of clients come to us not even knowing that SEP IRAs and Solo 401(k)s exist.
What does the “FI” stand for in Brooklyn FI?
Financial independence. That’s what we want all our clients to reach. We’ve rebranded retirement as financial independence because our creative clients love what they do. They’ve built up successful businesses as photographers, advertising executives [et al]; and they don’t really see retirement in their future.
What do you think of the FIRE — Financial Independence, Retire Early — movement?
I’m a big fan. I think it’s incredibly inspirational for folks who feel trapped in their job and don’t see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’ve implemented some of the principles in my own life like, saving money on dining out. I bring my lunch to work pretty much every day.
Your firm not only has a written fiduciary pledge, but anyone can download it from your website. That’s unusual.
We’re absolutely committed to the fiduciary standard because we believe that the financial space typically hasn’t served most people very well, especially young people. They feel they want more transparency. When anyone under the age of 50 — so, it’s not just millennials — go to a financial advisor, they do research ahead of time. They want to know what they’re getting.
Your thoughts about the FA suitability standard?
As an outsider coming to the space, I was kind of shocked to learn about the suitability standard and that the fiduciary standard isn’t the norm. Why wouldn’t someone looking after your money put your needs ahead of their own?
Why did you become an enrolled agent, the highest credential offered by the Internal Revenue Service?
As a freelancer in book publishing and music journalism, I did my taxes myself for years. When [CPA-CFP] Shane [Mason] and I decided to start this firm, I wanted to beef up my credentials; so I went for the enrolled agent designation.
Why do you offer investment management as a separate service?
Younger clients don’t necessarily have assets to manage. A lot of our clients have student loans. Many have negative net worth. That’s why we structured our fees so that they could get in the door: We don’t have a minimum. If they’re able to pay our fee, we can help them. A lot of our clients are in the stage of building up assets, so investment management is something we’ll focus on in the future.
What’s the biggest challenge for you as someone new to the industry?
When to stop work! We work nights and Sundays to make sure we’re available to clients. So trying to balance building a practice and having personal time is a change and a challenge. Often it’s 9 o’clock, and we’re still in the office solving a problem for a client because work feels so exciting.
You and your husband, record company executive Nabil Ayers, were married last December in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. Odd choice for a wedding.
I love cemeteries. I think they’re so beautiful. They don’t remind me of death at all. I love wandering through them. They’re always well-kept and have really beautiful droopy willow trees. I find it very romantic.
As a place to say your marriage vows!
I wanted a wedding that wasn’t traditional. I don’t like to fit into some mold. Our financial planning practice definitely doesn’t fit into a mold. When we were looking at wedding venues, I thought: Why not do it in a cemetery?
As a financial planner, what’s your long-range plan?
At a certain point, I’d like to be able to step back a little and focus on wider financial education. I feel very [strongly] about the lack of financial education in this country, especially among young people. I’d love to travel around and speak about the financial opportunities out there that maybe they’re not taking advantage of.
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