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Financial Planning > Tax Planning

Doctor-Turned-Advisor Finds New Ways to Help Clients

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Financial advisors are wont to liken their advice-giving approach to that of doctor and patient. Well, here’s an RIA who knows about both professions personally: She has earned a medical degree and is a certified financial planner, too.

From Cordi Powell’s angle of vision, the main commonality between people working in medicine and those dispensing financial advice is having “a heart to help others,” as she tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

Powell founded Favored Financial Planning, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, after serving a residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Brody School of Medicine in Greenville. But married to a physician and with three young children, she found the couple’s separate, demanding on-call schedules at odds with family-raising and opted to leave medicine.

In 2007, she began teaching financial basics to a community of African Americans who were members of her church, joined a tax preparation firm and soon discovered a “newfound love for personal finance and taxes.”

As an enrolled agent, she is federally authorized to represent taxpayers before the IRS. Most of her clients are middle-income African Americans, ages 50-70, with investable assets ranging from $500,000 to $2 million.

For clients who request it, Powell, 51, offers Christian financial planning, which integrates biblical principles with financial and investing advice, she says.

A member of the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, which she joined at the outset of her practice in 2011, Powell, who is compensated solely by retainer, credits ACP and being independent with helping her avoid potential issues of diversity faced by many advisors of color working at, or aspiring to work at, large financial services firms.

Indeed, gender and racial diversity and inclusion are hot-button issues for the financial services industry. In the interview, Powell argues for what she believes is a more equitable way to screen and hire FAs.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the planner, speaking by phone from Greensboro. She grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where her parents worked in the health field: Her mother was a registered dietician; her father was employed by a genetics lab. As for daughter Cordi, her future ultimately lay in caring for the health of people’s finances.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: Do you see similarities between the world of medicine and financial advisory?

CORDI POWELL: People in medicine and financial advisors have a heart to help others. And there are also similarities along the lines of having a plan and sticking to it. Being proactive with your health and with your finances early [in life] prevents [the need for] rehabilitation of your health and finances later.

You earned a medical degree and completed your residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Why did you want to give up being a doctor?

It wasn’t conducive to family life. We have three children [who were very young at the time]. My husband is a physician [too]; so you can imagine how hectic it was, especially when we were both on call at the same time. Balancing family and work was difficult, and [as is common], I, the woman, was the one who stayed home when a kid was sick.

Why did you choose to work in financial services?

In 2007, I started helping the African American community in my church understand budgeting and to become financially literate. Then I moved on to teaching the basics of investing so they could understand the terminology when they would work with a financial advisor.

How did you learn the more complex areas of financial planning?

For a couple of years [after teaching in church], I worked at a [major] tax preparation service. I really enjoyed taxes, and that led to my getting my CFP.

What prompted you to join the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners?

The dean of the business school at the college where I trained for my certification talked to me about ACP, which is a tax-focused organization. So it was a perfect fit.

You practice Christian financial planning and are a member of Kingdom Advisors, an organization of FAs who integrate faith into their practices. How do you define Christian financial planning?

It incorporates Christian and biblical principles into the plans. There are over 2,000 scriptures in the Bible that address finances, from budgeting all the way to investing. Incorporating these into financial planning helps clients for whom [Christian beliefs] are important to really buy into the vision for their financial plan. If Christianity is an important aspect of their belief system, the scriptures back up what we’re talking about [financially] and give them a point of reference and an anchor.

What are some scriptures that speak to investing?

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 addresses diversification; 2 Peter 3:4b says that cycles are inevitable. There are a lot of proverbs about not making rash decisions in your investments. And Proverbs 15:22 and 18:17 are about seeking wise counsel: Outside insight can help point out flaws in something that to [you], seems logical.

As a financial planner, is prayer part of your work with clients? 

I probably pray before and after every client meeting, praying for insight because I feel that God knows my clients and me; so prayer is a [good] way for me to [help] meet their financial needs.

Diversity and inclusion are big issues in the financial services industry. As a Black FA, have you ever encountered racism or discrimination?

I’ve heard about the racial microaggressions or disparity [among] African American advisors in the commissioned world. Those are inherent for people of color, such as not receiving the same advancements like those who are not people of color. But it wasn’t something I had to go through.

Why not?

Because I joined the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners as an independent advisor [right away]. I didn’t have to go through the world [where diversity and inclusion are at issue].

Has being a female FA ever presented a challenge for you?

I don’t feel it has, again, because of the route I took. I didn’t have to face the potential racial or gender hurdles that others may have had to. [About 30%] of ACP planners are women, and a lot of them took me under their wing and helped me [learn how to manage] the family-work balance.

To increase diversity and inclusion, wirehouses and other big firms are starting to hire more Black advisors. Your thoughts?

It would be neat to submit job applications that remove ethnicity so firms can hire based on what’s on paper. That way, when [applicants] have the same credentials, the same education and the same experience, we may have more diversity because [hiring] will go according to what’s seen on paper.

But it’s reasonable to assume that firms may be shocked, or at least surprised, when they meet the new hire face to face, isn’t it?

When I first started in the industry, an African American website developer advised me not to put my picture on my site. But I told her that if I did that, prospects would come through the door and be like, “Whoa!”

So how would that have impacted you as an FA?

It someone has that strong an opposition to my skin color or religious beliefs, it’s better that we get that out upfront because there are plenty of other advisors who can meet their needs. That’s one reason my picture is on the site and that I indicate [prominently] that I’m a Christian financial planner, so we don’t unnecessarily run into a waste of time.

Do you have many clients who are medical professionals?

None! When I started out, a lot of physicians I knew were trying to translate their medical knowledge into day trading. There was a bunch of guys saying, “I can do this!” … and they were doing it. But I disagreed with them philosophically. So those [friendships] never turned into client-advisor relationships. They thought I was too conservative. I just laughed.

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