Wanting More: Work-life balance

In the fourth episode of our podcast, learn how going independent can be emotionally—and financially—uplifting. Your clients aren't the only ones who benefit from more meaningful service.

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An investment advisor ushers their children out the door to take them to school.

At 41, Jesse Giordano was at the top of his career. But he didn't feel like it. He was no longer happy, and it was taking a toll on other relationships in his life. Then he co-founded an RIA firm and took back control.

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Read the transcript

Jesse: It's six o'clock in the morning and I just get out of the shower. It's dark outside. The car service is waiting out ready to take me to the airport, because I'm flying down to Louisiana for a business trip. And, as I'm getting ready, I hear my wife; she walks into the guest room where I am, and she sits down at the end of the bed. And she noticeably hasn't been sleeping. She, her eyes are bloodshot. She's a little… You could tell like her hands are shaking. She takes a deep breath, and then she says to me, "What happened to us?"

Jerry: This is the moment when the life of Jesse Giordano changed forever.

On the outside, things were perfect: At 41, Jesse was at the top of his career.

He was an incredibly successful financial advisor at a large investment bank in New York.

He was lauded for his sales, his ability to attract clients and educate follow advisors.

He was married, had a beautiful house, a boat, and a solid group of friends.

But on the inside, Jesse was unraveling.

Jesse: From the outside, I looked like financial success and money success, but on the inside I was very unhappy. I felt very alone and had no idea how I got to this point in my life.

Jerry: Jesse would go on to make some drastic changes, which included quitting his job and launching his own firm, Opal Wealth Advisors, founded on principles that go beyond the conventional investment model.

He wanted to create a business that would transform his own complicated relationship with money, but also offer that service to his clients.

Welcome back to your insider's guide to becoming an independent Registered Investment Advisor, or RIA. 

I'm Jerry Cobb, Senior Business Consultant at Charles Schwab, and this is How I Became an Independent RIA, an original podcast from Schwab Advisor Services.™

Speaker 1: You get to the point where you're like, "You know what, the risk I can take to leave and be independent is absolutely worth it."

Speaker 2: I felt apprehensiveness, nervousness, but yet excitement. 

Speaker 3: You know that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Speaker 1: Really everything we wanted was possible.

Speaker 2: Even when it's hard or more than you thought, you still got to do it.

Speaker 2: Everything that stopped me from taking that next step was just fear and that fear was in the way of me actually being fulfilled.

Speaker 1: Complete freedom and happiness has been the result.

Jerry: Advisors take the leap to independence for a variety of reasons, but among the most common are a fundamental dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a nagging feeling that there's got to be a better way to serve their clients.

Today's episode explores the story of Jesse Giordano and his business partners' launch of their own independent RIA firm, Opal Wealth Advisors. 

It's a firm that goes beyond offering investment advice by emphasizing clients' broader relationships with their money and offering value-added services like life-coaching.

We'll hear about how Jesse and his partners made the transition to independence and established their firm.

Then, we'll check in with an industry expert to help us understand how typical Jesse's story might be and what lessons can be learned from it.

And, as always, we'll get a little practical advice, and bust a few myths about the RIA journey so you can learn from others as you consider your own path forward.

But let's go back to what motivated Jesse to take this leap of faith.

Jerry: Jesse grew up in a family of small business owners. His mother and father worked together at their garden center. 

It was clear that money was front and center in their lives.

Jesse: Every day around the dinner table, my mom and dad would talk about how many customers were there that day, what were the sales, and, from time to time, there would be conversations about, "There's not enough business," or "There's not enough profits," and worries about, "Are we ever going to make it through the winter?" Or, "Is there enough money to pay for college?" And I remember thinking to myself, "We can't be happy without money." Life became about money and success for me; it was clear to me in that moment that, if I didn't master money, that I would be unhappy in my own life.

Jerry: It was the desire to be financially stable that motivated Jesse to go into finance. But he soon found that the profit-driven culture of the financial industry fed an unhealthy relationship he had with money.

Jesse: You know, I remember thinking to myself, "If I just make $100,000 early in my career, but then I'll be happy and then I'll make it. And if I just make 200 and make 300 then... Being in that culture of the constant dollar chase, when every system was built around that, well, it wasn't the happiness and fulfillment that I thought would be there."

Jerry: Jesse rose through the ranks quickly. 

Years passed. 

He got hired by a large investment bank in New York. 

Professionally, he was at the top of his game but, personally, he was headed for a breakdown.

Jesse: It's six o'clock in the morning and I just get out of the shower. It's dark outside. The car service is waiting out ready to take me to the airport, because I'm flying down to Louisiana for a business trip. And, as I'm getting ready, I hear my wife; she walks into the guest room where I am, and she sits down at the end of the bed. And she noticeably hasn't been sleeping. She, her eyes are bloodshot. She's a little… You could tell like her hands are shaking. She takes a deep breath, and then she says to me, "What happened to us?"

I found myself that February morning about to embark on the very divorce that I was trying to avoid. 

Jerry: Jesse's marriage ended in divorce.

Distraught, he went to his close friends and colleagues, Lee Korn and Joe Filosa for advice.

But there was another issue eating at him. He was successful, but not happy at his current firm. He thought he could be doing more for his clients.

During this conversation, Jesse learned that Lee and Joe both shared some of his concerns about how well they were able to serve clients within the structure of a big firm.

Lee: The corporate culture was: How many credit cards can you cross-sell, and how many people, you know, are going to take out loans and how much money do we make on cash margin? When I started in this career, I was part of that machine. You know, it was about putting up numbers, being the best, being at the top of the leaders' board. How do you get better? How do you do more business? And it just got old. As time went on, those corporate forces of maximize profits, increase shareholder value; it just didn't align with what I was looking to do and what I was looking to deliver for clients.

Jerry: Like Jesse, Lee and Joe both wanted the flexibility to design a financial plan that would be more customizable to clients' needs, something that their current firm just wouldn't allow them to do.

Lee:  If you're at a big firm, your products and services are restricted to what is offered through that big firm. I'll give you a perfect example: A client is looking for a commercial loan, right? And if you're working for a big bank, or you're working for a big wirehouse, they have a lending department; you have a mortgage license with them. It's either their solution or no solution.

Joe: So, we weren't free to go and look at the best solution for the client pertaining to lending.

Jesse: And looking at the big firm, where the money is held, where the research, where the products and services, where the advice comes from−all from the same place in the big wirehouse. And there's conflict there: one feeds the interest of others.

Joe: I felt a little... Was it really in my client's best interest that I always, you know, use one company to provide lending, and so on and so forth?

Jerry: It soon became clear that, if they wanted the freedom to serve their clients in meaningful ways, they'd have to start their own firm.

Jesse: By working with an independent advisor, the advice is now not centered around the interests of what the firm shareholders are looking for but really around the client, and entirely around the client.

Joe: The motivation for me to go independent was freedom and flexibility to choose what's in our client's best interest, period.

Jerry: And Jesse was convinced that the firm needed to be founded on the personal realization that had changed his life.

That morning, when Jesse's wife asked him what had happened to their marriage, Jesse realized that he didn't know how to answer her.

And that despite all of his financial success, he was unhappy.

He began to examine his choices.

Jesse: I realized that everything that I was doing for the last 10, 15 years was shaped around that relationship, that decision that I made that you can't be happy without money. And I started to realize what actually gives us fulfillment: Remove money as the goal and put it in the background, and get really clear on what's really most important to us in life. And let that guide us, and align the right financial structures behind it to give it power and fuel for what was really most important for us to be accomplished. And that right there is when the idea of Opal Wealth Advisors began.

Jerry: The new firm had to offer something that actually ran contrary to the culture of finance that Jesse had experienced: It had to help clients who wanted to reshape their relationship with money.

Jesse: For better or worse, the financial services industry is really built around dollar being the endgame. But they were perpetuating this need for, like, "Whatever I have is not enough," and, "I need to get more of that and more of that." That had me focused on, for me, the wrong thing.

Jerry: So, instead of a singular focus on accumulating money, which Jesse learned could be an endless and unfulfilling cycle, he wanted his clients to see money as a vehicle for achieving their dreams and living the life they wanted.

His partners couldn't agree more.

Lee: It's not about the dollars and cents in the bank account. It's what that money is there for. What it is that it gives them? Does it give them freedom? Does it give them time to spend with their grandkids [00:22:00] when they retire? Does it give them the ability to travel? Does it give the ability to help their family members, to help their children, to help their grandchildren, right? So, it's not about the number. It's about, "What is that money there for? What is it in support of?" We thought, "Wouldn't it be amazing to stand for someone being fulfilled in their life, not just their pocketbook?"

Joe: Most people, they're really looking for, like, their life's purpose. It's not just the financial plan; it's almost like a life plan, where the catalyst for people to get what they want out of their life, and it doesn't just have to do with money.

Jerry: So, after many conversations, Jesse, Lee, and Joe, agreed to take the plunge and start their own firm, founded on the principal of helping clients achieve their dreams. Their firm needed someone on staff whose role would speak directly to this goal: a life coach.

Joe: Our clients' performance is helped and aided by coaching. Coaching could be around, "I'm not communicating with my spouse. I'm not communicating what my kids." And I think that's a really amazing value add. 

Jerry: Launching their plan to go independent would take a little over two years. After all, they were all still working full-time at the wirehouse, so the work of planning a new business was done during evenings and weekends.

Joe: It was just an awakening, I guess, or a realization how many pieces to the pie there are in creating a firm. Like, I had no idea what a "custodian" meant. I had no idea what a reporting system is, you know, a UMA platform. I knew what a UMA was. But like, what is the difference between a UMA and a trading system? It was a lot of learning and, at times, it was very overwhelming. 

Jerry: But they were committed.

They did what all advisors do when taking those first steps towards independence; they built a plan.

Lee: Every Saturday for four or five months, we would get together with our respective teams, and we would all put ourselves in a room and we said, "If we were going to do this, what would it look like? Let's build it." We have a white piece of paper. How would we manage our investments? How would we do the planning? How would our, what would our service model look like? You know, how would we charge? And on and on and on. And, after five months, we kind of looked at it and said, "Wow, this looks pretty great. We've built something that's amazing. It's in service to the client." And we said, "Let's do it."

Jerry: But the decision wasn't free of anxiety.

They had all the typical worries that advisors have when going independent: Will my clients follow me? How will I find the right vendors? Will the firm be successful?

They started to feel the gravity of their decision when they were about to sign the lease for their new office space.

Jesse: We were signing up for rent for $18,000 a month, and this was real, the real point. And then Joe, Lee, and myself, and we're arguing whether we're going to sign the lease agreement and every fear came up. Like, is this the right idea? Should we make any changes? Am I getting a bad deal on this thing?

Lee: And I think that heated conversation was probably fueled by nerves, anxiety, fear. This was the moment where, you know, you always hear about the business owner who is getting ready to sell his business, and he's at the table and his hand is shaking and the pen is shaking.

Joe: That was the moment I was like, "I'm getting on the roller coaster right now, and this is it."

Jerry: They all signed the lease. Things were moving forward. Soon resignation day arrived.

Jesse: I'm sitting in the office and it's 3:58 pm on the day that we're resigning. Lee says, "All right, guys. Let's do it."

And I walk into his office like, "Oh, don't you think we should wait a little bit? I don't know about some of these advisors here. There's a lot of advisors in the office. They're going to be calling our clients. Maybe we should wait to four o' five, maybe we should wait to four o' 10. And then Lee goes:

Lee: "Someone has to be there to accept your resignation, right? So, what happens if the manager's not there? How does it play out?"

Jesse: And then Joe walks in: "All right, let's just do it." 

Joe: I was nervous. But I was like, "We got this." I was ready. 

Jesse: And we take our cards out for the lock, that unlock the doors. We throw them on the table and we walk down to our manager's office and we peek in the window. And he's on the phone and he goes, "Okay." He just turns to the person on his phone and he goes, "I gotta call you back."

Lee: It was scary.

Joe: He was disappointed, and he said the funniest comment. He was like, "I hope you're going independent."

Jesse: Then we shake his hand and we say "thank you" for everything. And we walk out the door.

Lee: And it was the biggest relief. It's like a thousand-pound weight had been lifted off my shoulders because I wasn't thinking about, "Oh, I have to resign." I was thinking about, "All right, now what do we need to do to be successful? What do we need to do to launch Opal? What do we need to do to make this a success?"

Joe: I felt excited. I was actually excited that we left on our terms. I was relieved and I was ready to get to work. 

Jesse: I walk outside my building and I think to myself, "Oh my god, I just quit my job at 42 years old. I've taken on a big rent with all this payroll, and I don't know if clients are going to come."

Jerry: But the clients did come.

90 percent of them followed Jesse, Lee and Joe to Opal Wealth Advisors.

In 2019, the company opened its doors in Jericho, New York.

And, Jesse didn't forget what started him on this journey. He wanted to be sure his clients had access to the same kind of insight that helped him redefine his approach to money. So, the firm has a full-time life coach on staff for its clients—and employees.

Jesse: So to have, not just an experienced life coach, but someone who is really exceptional on staff, to work with clients and work with our advisors, to help us uncover what people really want and what's going to make the biggest difference for them.

Jerry: Going independent allowed Jesse and his partners to build the kind of firm they wanted to build, and that has transformed their experience of coming to work.

Jesse: It's just a real inspiring, fulfilling reason to get up in the morning. Like, I get up every day proud that the work that I'm doing as an advisor and as a business owner is actually making an impact that's profound in people's lives. So, it's more than just the money; it's about people.

Joe: When I wake up in the morning, I'm excited to come to work. I've never felt like, "Oh, I have to go to the office." I'm proud of what we've built. I feel accomplished. I'm excited for what's to come.

Lee: How has it changed my life? I walk into this office with a smile on my face. It doesn't matter if I'm busy; it doesn't matter what happened the day before. When I look at my partners and my teammates, I am elated. I love the fact that Jesse, myself, and Joe, and all the team, are growing a firm that is going to get bigger and bigger and more successful, and we're going to hire more people.

Mindy:  I think what struck me most about Jesse's story is how similar it is to every other breakaway I've worked with.

Jerry: Mindy Diamond is the President and Founder of Diamond Consultants, a firm which helps advisors make the transition to independence.

Mindy: At the end of the day, it's almost always the story of an advisor who is successful enough. And there are a series of pain points and, almost kind of, a straw that breaks the camel's back, that brings them to the brink and makes them realize that either they had entrepreneurial DNA that they weren't getting to leverage, or because there was just so much pain that they were unable to service clients the way they wanted to and grow the way they had hoped to.

And that there were goals or visions or ideas to want to build something that they just couldn't where they currently are. And that was true in Jesse's case. And it's true in almost every breakaway scenario I've facilitated, and I've facilitated many.

Jerry: It's true that motivations for going independent come in all shapes and sizes. Some advisors, like Jesse, experience a grand awakening while, for others, it's more of a buildup of small frustrations. But, either way, you don't necessarily have to have a grand vision to be successful at starting your own firm.

Mindy: The ecosystem that's been born in the last number of years to support this breakaway movement makes it so that an advisor really doesn't have to be Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, in order to be entrepreneurial and go independent. He or she needs to have a desire. They need to have a strong client base and trust and belief, not only in the portability of those clients, but in the ability to continue to grow that business. There does have to be a certain amount of desire to be a business owner, but you don't have to be an ultimate entrepreneur, because there's so much scaffolding, or support, available in today's environment that there's lots of help to get there.

Jerry: According to Mindy, who has been working with advisors for over 20 years, a successful transition to independence really depends on the following factors:

Mindy: One, it's about being really self-aware and honest, brutally honest about what your strengths and weaknesses are. 

And secondly, super clear on the why you want to go independent and the what it is you want it to look like. There is no shortage of consultants, where an advisor can really create a war chest of education to really be aware of what the potential pitfalls are, the risks, and make a very well-educated, well-intentioned move.

And I think, third of all, it's about really making sure that you're willing to pull together the right band to support you. But if you go back to point number one about being self-aware, and you realize that you are not necessarily someone who is uber-organized or who has a ton of time to really spend on building a business. And that self-awareness might say, "I want to do this, but I need to bring in outside counsel, whether that be a service provider or a consultant." I mean there's no shortage of people you can pay in order to round out your knowledge.

Jerry: But either way, advisors all tend to have the same response when it comes to how they feel about having gone independent.

Mindy: The one common refrain we hear every single time without exception is, "I only wish I had done it sooner." I've never met anyone that regretted doing it. Advisors feel a renewed sense of energy; a renewed sense of passion and excitement for the business; a real enthusiasm about gaining freedom, flexibility, and control; a renewed sense of connection to their clients, because they feel more genuine, more authentic in connecting with clients. Because everyone's sitting on the same side of the table as opposed to feeling like they need to sell a certain product, or do certain things, just to meet the needs, the directives of the firm that they came from.

Jerry: Mindy Diamond is the President and Founder of Diamond Consultants, a firm based in Morristown, New Jersey and New York City.

Jerry: It hasn't been very long since Opal Wealth Advisors opened its doors, but I wanted to check in with Jesse and talk about his experience of starting an independent firm.

Jerry: What were some of the most important tasks that you had to go through to make that journey to independence?

Jesse: Hiring our marketing firm was a real critical component. To see the ideas come to life as expressed in the colors and the words and the website and, to see something that we felt internally and talked about be expressed in reality−that was an exciting part of the process.

So, selecting our marketing firm, but also, all the technology components and, "Who is going to be our reporting company? What are we going to use for our portal? What financial planning tools are we going to use?" At first, it was like, "We want everything," because everything was so exciting. But then, as we started to identify the tools and the pieces that really fit us best, it started to get clearer, you know, which were the ones that really expressed who we wanted to be.

Jerry: How did you go about setting up the leadership and governance structure for the firm? In other words, how did you decide who does what and the roles and responsibilities of your individual team members?

Jesse: We started to look at, between Joe, Lee, and myself as the partners of the firm, "Where are our passions? What are we really good at? What do we love to do? Where are we most productive?" And it started to reveal itself when we looked at technology, when we looked at marketing, or about the investment products and the insurance products, and the asset allocation, finances, HR issues. We took one by one and said, "Who on the team is best suited to manage these different pieces and, you know, do they want to?"

Jerry: What would you say you can do now in terms of serving clients? 

Jesse: So, there's just a lot of different components. I think the greatest value is the flexibility to explore those different pieces and to see if they're a fit. So, we get to create who we want to be for the clients that we want to serve.

Jerry: What does it mean for both your clients and advisors in the firm to have a life coach on staff?

Jesse: Well, Charles, he's here for the staff and he's here for clients. Each staff member sits with Charles once a week for a 45-minute session to work on things that are important to them. And that could be as it relates to our firm Opal Wealth Advisors, or it could be something that they're working on with life. So, we believe that if the staff here is living a life that they want to live and they're fulfilled and they're lit up and they're moving and growing in life, that that will show up in their performance as employees.

As for clients, at first clients were like, "Well, how does that fit? How does that work?" But they soon experienced the profound impact that it has. It's a coaching conversation to help clients discover what it is that they really want from their life. It's not just financial in nature, but rather, it's broad. It could be "a better relationship with my spouse." It could be "more time with my children." And as those various life goals started to take shape, what we started to see is that almost all of them at some level had some sort of relationship with money in some capacity. 

So, as we put, we got all the life goals out in front and center, and then we started to build a financial plan that helped them fulfill those various life goals. The clients started to see the connection between their life plan being fulfilled and their financial plan being fulfilled. We saw couples and spouses working together to accomplish their financial plan much better than had they not sat down to set those goals and create them together.

Jerry: So final question for you: How would you say your professional and personal life changed as a result of going independent?

Jesse: So, I get to wake up every morning feeling fulfilled and excited that I get to lead a life that aligns with my own personal values. I think what that provides for me at the end of the day is, like, the opportunity to really integrate my personal life and my professional life as one. Rather than something I just, at 5 o' clock, close the door on, and I go home and now I'm a spouse, a friend. You know, it's not like I have these different roles in life. I'm me and I get to be me everywhere.

Jerry: Jesse Giordano is a financial advisor and principle of Opal Wealth Advisors in Jericho, New York.

Today's episode explored the genesis story of Opal Wealth Advisors and what can be learned from their transition to independence.

If you're thinking of going independent but don't know if you have what it takes to launch a successful business, here's some pointers:

Even though Jesse's motivation for launching Opal Wealth Advisors was dramatic, yours doesn't need to be. Just wanting to have more freedom to better serve your clients is often enough. 
 
One of the keys to success is knowing your strengths and limitations, which point to the areas where you might need help launching your firm. There's an entire industry of consultants, custodians and service-providers whose job it is to help make the transition to independence smoother and fill in any gaps you might have in your knowledge. 

And although Jesse's firm decided to offer life coaching as a unique client-centered service, not every firm needs to offer the same thing. One of the many advantages of going independent is that it allows advisors to provide customized services that speak directly to the needs of their clients. 

Jerry: As you know, thousands of financial advisors across the country take the leap and become independent RIAs. 

Each story, and each transition, is unique. But the steps they take, and the support they need, is often the same. 

Learn more—lots more—about the RIA model, and how Schwab Advisor Services can help you forge your own path to independence. 

Find us online, at Schwab.com/RIA, or look for the link in the show description to this episode.

I'm Jerry Cobb and this is How I Became an Independent RIA. An original podcast from Schwab Advisor Services. 

DISCLAIMERS

Voice: Schwab Advisor Services serves independent investment advisors and includes the custody, trading, and support services of Schwab. The comments, views, and opinions expressed in the podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the views of Schwab. They are provided for informational purposes only. 

Experiences expressed by advisors may not be representative of the experience of other advisors and are not a guarantee of future success. 

The above-mentioned firms and their employees are not affiliated with or employees of Schwab unless otherwise noted. They should not be construed as a recommendation, endorsement of, or sponsorship by Schwab. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed. Copyright 2019 Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. All rights reserved. Member SIPC. 

Independent investment advisors are not owned by, affiliated with, or supervised by Schwab. 

COMPLIANCE CODE: (1219-96S1)

Key takeaways

Defining success for yourself

Does your firm's definition of success match your own? What goals are incentivized? Are they the same as your clients'? Jesse and his business partners wanted to redefine success for themselves and align their actions with their clients' needs. That's how they gained the motivation to start their own business.

Get the support to make your dream firm a reality >

Shifting from financial plan to life plan

After Jesse's hard realization that money and happiness are two very different things, he wanted to reflect that in his new firm. Financial strategies should fuel what matters most to clients. There should be clear goals tied to clients' finances. Jesse's firm has a life coach on staff who helps their clients realize their dreams. It's an important value-added service clients may find priceless.

Explore financial solutions for life planning >

Building a firm you're proud of

Jesse and his team spent months planning. They made a wish list of what their ideal firm would look like. Each piece of the firm came together with care—including their marketing, platform, custodian, and talent strategies. They discovered a vast network of consultants, third-party vendors, and support from Schwab to navigate it all.

Discover your next steps to independence >

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The above-mentioned firms and their employees are not affiliated with or employees of Schwab unless otherwise noted. They should not be construed as a recommendation, endorsement of, or sponsorship by Schwab. The views expressed are those of the third party and are provided for informational purposes only. Third-party firms and their employees are not affiliated with or an employee of Schwab. Experiences expressed by advisors may not be representative of the experience of other advisors and are not a guarantee of future success. The data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources; however, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

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