Rorik Larson during his time in the Army. Rorik Larson retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel.

As an Army officer in Iraq, he led soldiers through the chaos of war, striving to keep their emotions at bay. Now, as a financial planner, Rorik Larson leads clients out of financial chaos, helping them invest emotion-free, he tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

A lieutenant colonel when he retired from the Army after 22 years, Larson, 55, served as a helicopter pilot and flight instructor stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, Korea and Germany from 1987 to 2009.

In 2011, he founded Essential Financial Strategies, a fee-based practice focused on mass affluent families. The certified financial planner helps working couples with young children find balance between saving for retirement and funding their kids’ college education.

Inspired by watching “Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser” on PBS, Larson, at 14, grew interested in finance and invested the money he made delivering newspapers. But 30 years later, the father of a young son and facing Army retirement, he felt apprehensive about the future. That’s when he decided to acquire formal education about finance and, while still in the Army, earned an MBA in financial planning from California Lutheran University.

Before opening his RIA, he worked for H&R Block preparing tax returns; by 2012, he was an enrolled agent. That was a year after launching his solo practice with guidance and support from the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, of which he is a member.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the FA, speaking by phone from his office in Palos Heights, a Chicago suburb. Divorced and the sole custodial parent of Ryan, age 10, he can, in part, attribute compartmentalization to his success at solo childrearing while running a solo practice: “There’s a time in my day,” he says, “when I switch hats and go do my Dad job, which is the important one.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: When you retired from the Army after 22 years, why did you want to become a financial planner?

RORIK LARSON: I was uncertain about my future and so, learned more about finance. Then I realized that that education and skill could help others because financial stuff can be scary. Especially when you’re in a transition, having someone with expertise by your side is helpful. I thought I could help walk people through that sort of journey.

How did being in the Army help you as an advisor?

I had to lead [soldiers] out of chaos in a lot of situations — find out what was important and put emotions at bay. When clients come to see me, particularly if they’re in a transition, they have a sense of financial chaos. Taking the emotion out of investing goes a long way to ride through the ups and downs of the market. It’s very rare to have a client call in a volatile market. It just doesn’t keep them up at night.

When you were stationed in Kuwait, you needed to watch CNN to find out what was happening there even though you were in Kuwait. Why was that?

Without outside sources, like television, we didn’t necessarily know what was going on in the world around us. We would see a CNN correspondent on TV and when they heard a siren, they’d say, “We’ve got to put our gas masks on now.” We’d hear those sirens too. And from the distance, we’d hear the sirens in a sort of relay fashion as they came closer and closer to our base and got louder and louder. So we knew we also needed to get into our protective gear. We later learned that [the U.S.] had taken out Iraqi missiles or planes.

In your capacity as a financial planner, how do you help working couples with school-age kids with retirement planning and college funding?

Since pensions have dried up, retirement planning has morphed into managing 401(k) plans. College planning is in the midst of the student-loan crisis, which has been daunting for so many families. Yet, they still want the best for their kids and will often unknowingly sacrifice their own future for them. I’m trying to help them to a path to balance the two and accomplish both things.

How?

For example, having a budget for schooling rather than just cobbling [money] together to get a particular school paid for; or trying to choose a school that, from a financial point of view, makes sense for them financially as well as for their children’s education but won’t hurt their retirement or potentially overburden them or their children with student-loan debt.

How do your “Wealth Review “and “Wealth Project” differ?

In a one-time meeting, the Wealth Review is a snapshot of the client’s current situation. They can try out financial planning and get suggestions on handling their two or three most pressing concerns. I also use it as a gateway to my year-round comprehensive offering on retainer. The Wealth Project is for some situations that may not fit into one of my other offerings. For that, I charge an hourly rate.

Back to your military service: You’ve said that you “started as a pilot and ended up a bureaucrat.” Please explain.

I had a lifelong dream to become an army helicopter pilot, and I fulfilled that after a two-year journey. I moved on to aviation maintenance and then was selected to work in a three-star general’s executive suite, where I was eventually responsible for running the office and keeping all the paperwork flowing. I was, kind of, the suite manager.

Any other responsibilities?

After about a year, in 2006 we were deployed to Iraq, where I proofread condolence letters of gratitude to Gold Star Families after they were notified of the loss of their loved ones. More than making sure the notes read correctly, I made sure they were going to the right people. You needed to get it right the first time because there was no second chance.

When you were starting your advisory practice, you joined ACP (Alliance of Comprehensive Planners). How has this helped you as an advisor?

It provided me with a model for getting my business up and running — including regulatory requirements and figuring out how to help clients. I can reach out to other members who have gone through [specific experiences] to get feedback and access their collective wisdom. [ACP’s] retainer [method] of compensation helps me budget my business. It doesn’t vary with market changes; and if clients decide to do charitable giving, for example, it doesn’t affect an AUM number because my fee is set.

What was the most challenging part of your job in the Army?

Having to deal with people with lots of diversity that were coming from different viewpoints and backgrounds. But it gave me a perspective to work with clients from diverse situations, to take my own bias out of it and to listen to what’s truly important to them.

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