Talk about wearing two hats: Registered investment advisor Michael Garry is owner of Yardley Wealth Management and Yardley Estate Planning, two separate firms operating in the same office suite — and ever the twain shall meet.
In an interview with ThinkAdvisor, he discusses the benefits and challenges of helming these individual but complementary practices.
Previously an attorney with two Philadelphia law firms, the CFP, 53, switched to financial advisory when he joined Merrill Lynch some two decades ago, then moved to Global Investment Management, an RIA, as chief compliance officer for five years.
In 2007, he resumed practicing law upon opening Yardley Estate Planning, a year after he launched his RIA, the FA’s primary business.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however, he has seen more estate planning engagements this year than in any other since forming his estate planning firm: A rising number of people are requesting such services, the preparation of wills, in particular.
With $115 million in assets under management, Garry focuses on pre-retirees and retired professionals with investable assets averaging $800,000-$900,000.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the estate planning attorney, who was on the phone from his Pennsylvania home. The two businesses are based in Yardley, a Bucks County township not far from his native Philadelphia.
Garry actively prospects for advisory clients using social media — and nothing but social media. “The internet saved me,” he says, elaborating on how digital communication is ideal for this socially reserved FA.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
THINKADVISOR: What’s the biggest benefit to having both a financial advisory and a law practice for estate planning?
MICHAEL GARRY: Estate planning is a big part of what all advisors talk to their clients about. I can do it in a little more depth than most, and that’s helpful. It’s a nice service you can add.
How does it serve you as a business owner?
Most new clients need both services. So it helps to attract people. It’s hard enough for them to find a financial advisor or an attorney they like, and usually people will interview a few. A lot of clients have told us that going to one location for both services was a big part of their reason for looking into us and hiring us.
On a personal basis, what do you like about having the two practices?
First, I like the intellectual challenge. Staying on top of both things keeps me active, busy and thinking. Also, I didn’t practice law that long before I became a financial advisor. So this assuages a little guilt I feel about borrowing all that money, spending all that time going to law school and passing the bar exam, but then not practicing law for very long.
What constitutes most of your estate planning work?
Preparing wills. We mostly do basic documents. People need wills, and usually within them are trusts for kids and grandkids. Occasionally, someone wants a standalone trust. Now that the estate exemptions are so high, many fewer people need real complicated tax planning.
Amid the pandemic, have you had more clients that want to do estate planning?
Yes — and it’s the clients who have initiated it. We’ve already had more people that had estate planning engagements this year than in any other year — [especially] more people than usual who aren’t our financial advisory clients.
Do your advisory clients ever employ your attorney services on a one-off basis?
Yes, when something in their life changes or the law changes. It’s a normal thing. For the most part, 70%-90% of the law firm’s clients are ongoing or new financial advisory clients.
What’s the biggest challenge to having these two firms at the same time?
Trying to keep up with everything — the work, regulations. It adds a big layer of complexity. And there’s [lots of] time involved in meeting with [estate-planning] clients — doing the documents and making sure everything is OK. There’s also time needed to keep my licenses active and for taking continuing education. So there’s definitely a cost to it, but it’s been 13 years now — and so far, it’s been worth it.
Did you always plan to start an estate planning firm along with your financial firm?
No. But almost a year after I opened my advisory, a friend said to me: “I don’t know why you haven’t started [a law practice] too. It makes so much sense.” I thought, right, it was something I could do — so why not do it?
How do you prospect for advisory clients?