When they married 12 years ago, financial advisors Linda Lubitz and Norm Boone merged their lives but not their thriving practices. And never the twain shall meet. Her advisory is in Florida; his, 3,000 miles away in California. Keeping separate and distinct businesses is how the bicoastal couple likes it. Lubitz tells why in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.
The pioneering certified financial planner, who opened shop 22 years ago after building a BD in New York City and then becoming managing partner of Evensky & Brown, is founder and president of The Lubitz Financial Group, a fee-only practice in Miami.
Boone’s San Francisco-based RIA, Mosaic Financial Partners, was acquired last year by Private Ocean, where he is a principal and senior advisor.
With a hefty accent on comprehensive planning, the 7-person Lubitz RIA serves high-net-worth individuals and pension plan trustees whom she describes as “amiable delegators.” In other words, “We don’t want to work with people who are pains in the ass.”
Lubitz, who grew up in Manhasset, Long Island, New York, has amassed a sizable collection of honors over the years, including being recognized by Worth magazine as one of America’s best financial advisors for more than a decade and owning one of the Top 50 Women-Led Businesses in Florida, according to the Commonwealth Institute in 2018.
Yet, surprisingly, she has chosen to keep her practice small-scale. Her assets under management are about $250 million, and she outsources operations to Dynamic Wealth Advisors. Boone, on the other hand, preferred to develop a big business.
What was it like for a female executive in the 1980s financial services industry? Lubitz has more than a few stories about sexism from men, a fact of life she talks about in the interview, as well as sexism from women.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the CFP, who was speaking by phone from her Miami office. At 69, she has no plans to retire, and that probably has something to do with maintaining an enviable work-play balance over the years: Lubitz’s hobbies range from orchid-growing to golfing. Then there’s her passion for adventure travel. Next jaunt for Lubitz and Boone: Madagascar.
Here are excerpts from our interview:
THINKADVISOR: You and your financial advisor husband, Norm Boone, each have practices — yours in Florida, his in California. Why haven’t you combined firms during 12 years of marriage?
LINDA LUBITZ BOONE: Our practices have two different cultures, especially how we’re aligned in financial planning and investment management philosophy. Firms are often a reflection of their leadership, and we’re two very different people. So it’s all that, in addition to the logistics.
Your practice is small. Is that by design?
We purposely stayed small. I didn’t want to run a big business. Management isn’t my passion. It’s Norm’s passion, and he built up a big firm. My firm has seven people, a wonderfully comfortable family. We can’t take on more than one new client a month.
On the personal side, how do you and Mr. Boone deal with being apart since you’re based on opposite sides of the country?
It’s not easy, but it’s extremely manageable. We’re together 75% of the time and always have been. We have two homes, which we had before we got together. Originally, we set up a schedule where I was in California two weeks a month, and Norm was in Miami one week a month. Frankly, both of us enjoyed our weeks apart!
What’s your client niche?
We don’t have a target client base. We best serve “amiable delegators.” We don’t want to work with people who are pains in the ass: We want clients who aren’t going to be calling us consistently to ask questions about their investment management. It takes a while to build trust, but some people turn on their computer every day and look at the movement of their accounts. These are not our ideal clients.
You put the emphasis on financial planning and charge a separate fee for it rather than wrap it into the investment management fee. Please explain.
Because we do such comprehensive financial planning, we won’t take on a client unless they commit to doing their financial planning with us. We think that’s truly where our real value lies — helping them change their behavior, such as learning how to save well and spend wisely during retirement and not make big mistakes.
Your minimum fee for financial planning is $5,000. How do you calculate that fee?
I’ve created an “engagement estimator,” which is pretty much like a Chinese menu. There are [many] things that we provide and other things clients will need depending on the complexity of their situation and age. When we tell the client what we’ve calculated, they either say, “That’s fine. Let’s go” or “I can’t pay that.” If they don’t value the really comprehensive in-depth work we’re going to do and are complaining about the fee, they’re not a good client fit.
You started out in financial services more than 30 years ago. To what degree did you encounter male sexism?
Boy, did I encounter sexism, nasty talk and men’s inappropriate actions. Of course I did. I was on Wall Street building a broker-dealer when I was 32 years old. I was trying to learn from people — men, because Muriel Siebert [the first woman to own a NYSE seat] was pretty much the only woman on Wall Street back then. I’ve also encountered female sexism.
Years ago I spent a couple of hours with a prospective client couple who I was convinced were going to become clients. But then, a few weeks went by; and I hadn’t heard from them. So I called the man, who was my acquaintance. He started laughing and told me, “When I got in the car with my wife, she said, ‘We’re never going to work with that firm because that woman reminds me of your ex-wife’!”
What’s the secret of your success as an advisor?
I was in the certified financial planner world very early and started going to national conferences. I met the thought leaders in the profession and communicated with them. I’m eternally grateful to Harold [Evensky], who asked me to join him about two years after he started his [advisory] firm. He’s a wonderful close friend and mentor. He advised me to make sure to do two things: give back to the profession and give back to the community.
How did working with Mr. Evensky come about?
I had spent 18 years in banking and as president of AmeriFirst Securities, the broker-dealer of AmeriFirst Bank. I left when the Resolution Trust Corp. shut the bank down during the savings and loan crisis. That’s when Harold asked me to join him. I started on the management side because I’d never worked with clients. Then I got my certified financial planner designation about a year after Harold got his, and I started building a client base. I hung up my own shingle 22 years ago.
Broadly, what types of clients need your help most?
People who are in transition — a suddenly divorced woman or man, a sudden widow or widower, a sudden inheritor. They don’t have as clear a picture of their future as those who aren’t going through a transition. It’s a time when they’re especially vulnerable. Widows and widowers, in particular, can be taken advantage of.
Do any specific clients in transition stand out in your memory?
One became a sudden widow when her husband died of a heart attack in Europe. She has a liquid net worth of $8 million and a home that’s worth probably $5 million. I’d met her about six years before her husband died and kept in touch. When I saw [the obituary], I sent her a sympathy card. About three months later, she asked to see me.
Was she seeking a new advisor?
She was being courted by all the big names in town. She said, “I go to these offices, and it’s all men; and they talk over my head about how wonderful they are and how they serve [wealthy] families. But I feel like I’m a nobody.”
Why was that?
Because she didn’t understand her wealth. One of the joyous things is that, after she became my client, she refereed people. She told me that she’d become “Widow Central” for her friends who knew [nothing about finances]. So I suggested a luncheon for all of us at the country club I belong to. We had a series of three luncheons, and I taught them things they needed to learn about taxes [and money management].
You’ve had a long, highly successful career. Any plans to retire soon?
No, but my partner and senior client advisor, Jorge Padilla, is a principal of the firm; and we have a succession plan in place for him to continue gaining a greater share of ownership. Maybe I’ll go down to four days a week. But I’m still energized by sitting across the table from someone and helping them solve a problem.
Does your husband have plans to retire?
Norm has to settle his routine. As he’s slowed down his involvement in the profession, he’s been doing a lot more not-for-profit work.
What’s on tap for you two when it comes to diversions?
We’ve always loved to travel, especially adventure travel. Our first vacation together, we walked up Mount Kilimanjaro. Next year, we’re going to Madagascar!
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