Having dyslexia clearly presents challenges. But here’s a dyslexic financial advisor who plays to his strengths — qualities and abilities with which dyslexia has in fact equipped him.
In an interview, Daren Blonski, 39, tells ThinkAdvisor how he works with a clientele of “millionaires next door.”
And he also discusses what FAs need to know about neurodiversity — the range of differences in how the brain functions. Dyslexia is one of those differences, and 1 in 10 people have it.
The certified financial planner, co-founder of Sonoma Wealth Advisors, an RIA, argues that “to be successful with a dyslexic mind, you have to work outside the system because the system isn’t designed for your brain.”
After founding a few companies in the leadership development field, in 2011 Blonski began a career in financial services as an Edward Jones advisor in California. Five years later he left to form Enso Wealth Management, which rose to $1.2 billion in assets under management. This fall, he and financial advisor Chris Sipes launched Sonoma Wealth.
The firm receives about 40 leads a month as part of the Dave Ramsey SmartVestor referral program. Blonski’s AUM alone is $105 million.
Though he struggled with reading in school, during college he found “tools and methods to work around [his] way of learning,” he explains. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in organizational studies from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s in psychology and organizational development from Sonoma State University.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the California born-and-bred advisor, on the phone from his office in Sonoma. Noting that dyslexia is genetic, he said that two of his and his wife’s three children are dyslexic and that the youngest, 4 years old, appears to have dyslexia too.
Off-hours Blonski, participating in marathons and mud runs, is an impressive athlete: As he writes on his website: “If there is a race to be run, a weight to be lifted, a mountain to be climbed, [he] is all in.”
Here are excerpts from our interview:
What differentiates your practice?
We like to refer to our clients as the everyday millionaires living next door. Blue collar isn’t quite the right term, but they’re people who work really hard and save for a good retirement. They’re looking for support and advice as they transition into it.
You have a Master of Arts in psychology. Does that help you as an advisor?
Yes. Nowadays [advisory] is more about the relationship people have with their money than which investments [to choose]. It’s about how you’re going to make better decisions with your money, and that’s all based on behavioral psychology.
But what do you think about the increasing use of technology in providing financial advice?
Technology is far superior than the human mind in selecting investments. But it’s a mistake to remove the human element from the client relationship because you [need to] understand people and why they make the decisions they make. Computers and AI haven’t yet figured out how to do that.
You were diagnosed with dyslexia when you were in school. As an FA, what challenges does that present?
In order to be successful with a dyslexic mind, you have to work outside the system because the system isn’t designed for your brain, which works a little bit differently from that of the normative population. A lot of people think dyslexia is only about mixing up words and letters. But dyslexia can mean a lot of challenges around word decoding, oral fluency, spelling [etc.].
What is your particular form of dyslexia?
Listening to the oral word is easier for me than reading it on a piece of paper. When I read words on a page, my brain has to slow down.
Financial advisors need to read and absorb a great deal of information. How do you accomplish that?
Every week I listen to three to four books on Audible and to two or three podcasts. If the books are highly technical or if I have to read a huge technical paper and don’t have an Audible solution, I may look at the abstract and the conclusion of the paper [only].