Your Life Simplified

Why Working With a Wealth Advisor Is Important

April 4, 2024

It’s not just about the numbers. There is value beyond the data that a wealth advisor can offer. They work to solve complex challenges and guide people during transitions. Hosts Michael MacKelvie and Valerie Escobar share their perspectives on the field before getting into wealth management and what they’ve learned since.


Michael MacKelvie: What has surprised us from our time being advisors, working with people, helping them with their money problems? What has surprised us being financial advisors—that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

So Valerie, we have obviously benefited from just having a lot of experience. It’s not necessarily that we maybe are just financial gurus or anything like that. It’s just we’ve had this repetition, seen so many different events, and I certainly have had things surprise me that I just didn’t anticipate once I got into this and I think might be helpful to share with people. But I’d like to maybe start with you as far as what has surprised you about this career, just being a financial advisor?

Valerie Escobar: Yeah. I think the biggest thing was that I came in here thinking it was about money.

Michael: Yeah.

Valerie: It’s very much not about … I mean it’s sort of about money, but it’s much more an emotional career. It’s about understanding where people are coming from, what it is that motivates them, that drives them. Because you can always say the solution to all of your problems is a bigger return, but it’s really not. It’s about how you’re going to feel about the risk that comes with it, what you need that for, when you need it for and really what it is that you’re trying to use it for.

So having a ton of money actually has, I’ve seen, hurt people in my career. So maybe that would be one of the other surprises is that there is a point when having a huge amount of wealth without having direction and guidance can be detrimental.

Michael: Yeah. I guess when did that shift occur? So you obviously had some frame when you entered the business and that shifted over time. What caused that shift? Was it just the experience of it? I mean, what was your expectation, I guess, when you got … You mentioned not thinking it would be about money, but how did that start to shift over time for you?

Valerie: I think there was definitely an experience when I started working with people that were going through a transition. So a widow or a divorcée that I was noticing that they had a large amount of money perhaps, but that wasn’t helping them to figure out their life. They just were so confused. It wasn’t bringing happiness. They couldn’t tell which way was up.

So, as I started talking with them and helping them realize that what they’re actually looking for is direction. Once we got to that, then the money started making more sense and figuring out how do I actually implicate or involve that. So yeah, that was, for me, the biggest thing was once I started working with people that were really facing more emotional trauma regarding money, as opposed to someone just coming in with a transaction and saying, “I want to buy a house in a year. How do I do that?”

Michael: How do I do that.

Valerie: Yeah. How about for you, Mike? What experiences have you had that kind of shifted your focus?

Michael: Yeah, I would say it is really quick. You learn pretty quick your expectations don’t line up with reality for any job, for most part usually isn’t how you expect it to be. The first surprise to me was I set all these meetings my first week in the business and nobody showed up.

Valerie: Ouch.

Michael: I just kind of expected, well, hey, I’ve set aside this time to speak with people about their money and they’ll come in and we’ll go through everything. I’m not charging. I just want to learn more about their situation. I’m obviously heavily relying on a senior advisor for these meetings, and it didn’t help that I didn’t send Outlook reminders. But I just assumed that adults would show up to meetings. You don’t realize …

Valerie: That it just happened to matter to everybody.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah. You don’t realize how busy people are, and if there isn’t a pressing desire, a pain or a pleasure they’re going to be getting out of that meeting and you haven’t set that stage, then it’s going to be very difficult for people to be willing to allocate some type of time. I think that’s representative of this massive barrier that exists in financial planning of just being willing to, I think, sit down and think through these concepts.

So the challenge I had thought in getting into this was like, okay, figuring out what investments are going to be savvy, what’s going to really make the most sense. But in reality, the biggest barrier for most people is just getting them to care about this. Because we’re all so busy, we have so many competing narratives and slices for our attention. So, that was very surprising as far as that barrier being much more psychological and behavioral barrier than an actual analytical one or just choosing investments for someone. Because you can’t choose investments for someone that’s not there. It’s going to be very difficult to plan for somebody that isn’t at the table. So that was surprising.

But I guess I’m kind of curious then for you, you mentioned that shift occurring, but how did you even think to get into the business? I guess pre-shift, how did you think about even getting into the business? What kind of led you to even consider being a financial planner?

Valerie: So that, I really have a pretty deep emotional connection to it. My family’s from El Salvador. We immigrated as refugees during the Salvadoran Civil War and as a result, my parents did not finish college. The Berlin surgeon actually took over the university where they were studying, and so they left. There were two little kids at the time, came to the United States. English was not their first language and so trying to navigate a career when there’s little kids involved, when you don’t have a degree, when you can’t speak the language, it’s really hard. So I watched as they tried to provide for us when minimum wage was the best that they could do.

Later on, my mom was … my parents split, and so it was my mom with three little kids, and it was just around the clock working and working. I started to perceive that something about the lack of money was making determinations for us, that we had to decide how we were going to live our lives based on the fact that there was no money. So for us, it actually became a situation where she ended up living with a man who … she put on a brave face, but I knew that there was bad things happening behind the scenes. And I decided, I want to understand why there is no money here. How do we get money? What do we do with the money once we get it? How do I make myself empowered and independent and not have this cycle exist for me?

So that’s really where I didn’t even understand where to start. My first job was a bank teller because I was, like, I know that they have money in banks. So again, it was really like, I’m just going to learn the transactional side of this, the ins and outs of it. I got a business degree, same thing. It was pretty general and throughout my career, I worked in a back office at an RIA, or I’m sorry, at a 401(k) office, like custodial type of work. Shoot, I sold annuities. I sold whatever kind of life insurance I could. It was that transactional.

Then when I finally found my first RIA registered investment advisory firm, I realized, oh, I get it now. I can help a client in the same way that a doctor helps a patient. You look at them holistically and you don’t just say, “This random medicine is the best for you.” Maybe it is helpful, but maybe it’s hurtful. So that was really, for me, what it was that inspired me.

Michael: That’s really cool. Yeah, I mean, that’s obviously a very special story, and it sounds like eventually there it shifted from a sales job to an advising job.

Valerie: Absolutely. Yeah. Did you have to cut your teeth on some transactional sales or were you able to see the light all at once?

Michael: We didn’t say that we were transactional sales. We said we were advising, but you learn pretty quickly that everybody kind of says they do financial planning. The depth of that and the meaning of that varies significantly from firm to firm, though. So that firm that I started with was very heavily insurance-based, and I’d love to have some grandiose story as to why I got into financial planning, but I just majored in finance. It was like, okay, you can go into a role where there’s more analytic space and you’re just looking more into the numbers and more of a role where you’re maybe with people and helping explain the numbers. Planning seemed to be more of that second one that fit who I was.

The company, though, that I went to said, “Well, hey, you get to sell insurance and you get to manage money, you can make money two ways.” I was like, well, that sounds better than just one. So I learned, though, that there was a parent company involved with that situation where there was a very heavy insurance focus. And all of a sudden, the same product and company kept showing up, and I started getting a paycheck from that one company. It was like, okay, feels like I work for just an insurance company now. Okay, it’s getting very clear, I do work for an insurance company. So it was very much a sales role for an insurance company where we all called ourselves advisors.

But you don’t really know what is out there until you get into it sometimes, right, and the public is the same way. They couldn’t differentiate between that type of firm as easily as we might think compared to, let’s just say, a Mariner. So I think for me, what more has stood out is the reinforcement of like, oh, wow, it’s super important for us to be there for people because there’s a difference between simple and easy. There’s complexity to what we do, but the biggest barrier, the biggest thing that we help people out with is not terribly complex. Those behavioral aspects, in a lot of ways, are just not easy to accomplish, to get over.

So, for me, it’s kind of been a continuous, hey, I really love when I find these opportunities within the complexity to really help solve problems for people and get technical and all that. But the reinforcement and kind of the why has been if I am not there for somebody, even for six months to a year, something because of entropy can just easily get out of whack in their plan. They got so much going on that that will likely continue for years.

I mean, there’s things that are hidden in plain sight. One of the things that I’ve thought about late at night, it was probably kind of embarrassing to admit, is how many people have these inefficiencies in their plan and will never know it? They could live 80 to 90 years and have no idea that they could have had 20% to 30% more wealth by just minimizing some tax inefficiency or by maybe their portfolio being allocated a little bit more correctly for their situation, their goals, than somebody else’s.

I’m sure you’ve experienced that, too, as far as just seeing how out of whack people’s plans can get the more assets they have. But for me, that’s been kind of the reinforcing part of staying into it more of my why than just the initial getting into the business.

Valerie: For sure. Yeah, and I think I want to plug that April is Financial Literacy Month.

Michael: Nice.

Valerie: And so,I think I speak for both of us that sharing our knowledge on financial literacy is hugely important. Like you said, it’s really just the basics that I think are fundamentally the most important, and just encouraging everybody to decide to take a seat at the table because there is nobody that’s beneath it. Or should I say, it feels like I often here I’m not smart enough, I just don’t know or so-and-so does it for me. I encourage everyone to just not have those excuses and to step up and get engaged.

Michael: I guess on that reinforcing note, for you, what has maybe made you want to stay in the business, given the alternatives that are out there in the financial sphere? You get into the financial sphere, you get your CFP, you can go work for a lot of different companies. Once you have that credential, you show that you had experience working, you can work for a lot of different companies. You can do a lot of things in finance. What has maybe made you want to stay with Mariner and made you want to stay a certified financial planner just in general?

Valerie: Yeah. So I have a phenomenal team. I work with five other women, and … four other women and one phenomenal man. Very supportive.

Michael: Nice.

Valerie: But having that team is vastly important. Then also just being able to … I always say that we’re a little boutique firm inside of a very large firm with lots of resources. So, being able to kind of plug and play and say what we need is a really deep insurance analysis, and so we can go and get the experts to do that, or tax analysis or estate planning or whatever it is. So, just having the confidence to be able to say, yes, I can really meet any client’s goals that are out there.

Michael: Yeah, I mean, obviously, you get that group, and you get comfortable, and you’ve had experience, from what it sounds like, working with different other firms. So, you have a barometer of, okay, this is pretty great compared to maybe previous experiences and seeing how other firms maybe handle this.

I would say that I am similar in that way, just having seen how other firms handle it. One of the things I say and share is, and I think a lot of people share this as well that have come to Mariner, when we built up our RIA before we eventually joined Mariner, we could have gone to essentially any RIA. Once you’ve built up a practice, and again, you have that credential any firm is going to say, “Yeah, you can come work here. We’ll figure it out.”

For us, a big part of it was certainly the depth of what Mariner offers, the tax planning, the estate planning, everything else that is a part of Mariner, the ability to get that holistic approach. And the ability to just have, I think, a higher level of investment management internally in comparison to what I experienced before, where it’s like I would have a very simple, basic investment question. If it wasn’t related to the mothership product, then it was very difficult to get an answer. At Mariner, though, I really feel like it’s like, okay, I have resources in essentially every category of financial planning to where I can go find that. So, kind of that reinforcement as to the why. Why stay at Mariner, why being a financial advisor, I really feel like this is the best place to do that, certainly in comparison to the previous experiences that I’ve had that have helped me get here, I guess.

So anything else, I guess, that’s maybe stood out to you as far as why you became an advisor? Or maybe if you were to think of your past self, your expectation and looking back at that past self, how did that expectation line up with your experience?

Valerie: I think that it’s just a really unique way to help people. I think in my past life, I really wanted to be a doctor, and then I found o chem and it didn’t work out. But this is able to …

Michael: That’s the barrier for a lot of people.

Valerie: I think it’s a common experience, yeah. But for me, numbers made more sense, and it’s just a really nice way to be able to help everybody. So that is what I love most about the career.

Michael: Yeah, I think so. I think a lot would agree with that. Well, wherever you might be listening, whether it’s Spotify, YouTube, make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any industry insights from industry professionals here at Mariner. Thanks for joining Valerie and I today. You guys take care.

Valerie: Thanks.

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