Scott D. Cole, CFP®, CDFA® is the founder, principal and president of Cole Financial Planning and Wealth Management, Inc. Scott grew up in the metro Birmingham, Alabama area, which is where his planning firm is located today. Scott has degrees from Samford University, Southwestern Theological Seminary and the University of Alabama. We recently interviewed Scott regarding his experiences as a financial planner and as a Garrett member since June 2004.
Why did you decide to become an hourly, Fee-Only financial planner? When did you know that’s what you wanted to do?
When I was accepting my first salaried job, I reached out to a former professor and mentor about getting some financial planning services. He was the one that introduced me to the Fee-Only concept. I didn’t know anything about the delivery of financial services at that time. It was an easy message to understand and embrace.
Later when I came into the financial planning business, it was with a genuine belief that everyone should have access to professional financial advice. I was turned off by the message of the financial service companies that if you weren’t High Net Worth (HNW), then you really didn’t matter. Hourly work seems to me to be a way to increase accessibility to professional financial advice while removing a lot of the conflicts of interest.
I recognize the business model still excludes a significant population because the hourly rate can still be a burden to many, but it opens up professional financial services to a whole host of people historically ignored by traditional asset management models. Commission driven advice of course can serve middle income, but there is no economic incentive to give advice, only to close a sale. From the minute I realized there was a workable hourly model, I knew that I wanted that to be a part of my offerings. I love telling people that the only thing they have to have to work with me is the ability to pay my hourly rate.
Why did you decide to join the Network?
I was introduced to the Network at a NAPFA study group by fellow Garrett member, Buz Livingston. I was a student member of NAPFA, studying to take my CFP® Certification Exam. I hadn’t started a business and was still weighing how I would work in this industry. At the time I was firmly committed to being Fee-Only but the career paths were pretty bleak in Alabama for that way of practicing financial services.
I was interviewing with a couple of firms but at Buz’s suggestion I looked into the Network and immediately the message and motivations of Sheryl Garrett and the Network resonated with me. Shortly after, I was commiserating with my own financial advisor about how I couldn’t figure out how I was going to make a living as a Fee-Only advisor. He told me to just start my own firm. I had no financial industry background and it had never occurred to me that I could do that. But that suggestion planted the seed that the Garrett Network would water and gave birth to Cole Financial Planning.
What are the top 3 reasons that you remain a member of the Garrett Planning Network today?
If you are known by the company you keep, then I can’t think of better company in the financial service industry than that association I have with Garrett. Other reasons are marketing and a professional network to learn from.
Do you have staff or outsource anything?
I currently have one full-time office manager who has been with me for several years. I hired her well before I could “afford” to and it is by far one of my best expenditures. I had a junior advisor for a couple of years but after he left I have not felt the need or had the capacity to replace him. I do envision a future with at least one other professional advisor and the necessary support staff to serve clients. I have a home office so working relationships will be primarily virtual arrangements.
What is your target market and why?
We have worked on ideal client profiles several times in the past and it has always been a difficult task. We like variety, but surveying our client profile there are some markets that appear. We serve many that work in higher education, single, divorced and widowed women, those right around retirement, Do-It-Yourselfers, and middle income people who have saved resources for a comfortable retirement but still need prudent wealth management advice. Niche marketing has not been a strong point in our efforts. We don’t have minimums so that sets us apart from many other Fee-Only options in our marketplace.
What are your current business challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Next year we will mark our 10th anniversary as a firm, but we still consider ourselves in the upside of the growth curve. While we are no longer in survival mode, we are far from a finished product. I anticipate at least another 15-25 years of involvement in the business, so finding great clients to work with on an ongoing basis is always a goal and challenge. We are seeking relationships. We tell folks we want to be the last financial advisor they have to hire.
I spend a lot time thinking about creating a valuable business that will attract the interests of others, be it an outside sale or an internal succession. If something were to happen to me, I want my business to be an asset that my family can monetize and will ensure continued care for our clients.
I don’t have a feel yet for the potential disruptive nature the so called “robo-advisor” will have on our industry and I do worry that things could change faster than I can adapt.
The only thing I know is to continue to provide high quality care and service for our clients, read, network, continue to learn how to market and be willing and open to adapt. Flexibility and openness to new approaches and ways of doing things from a business perspective is critical.
Scott loves to bass fish though his children acquired most of the time that he used to fish. He still has a boat and gets it out 4 or 5 times a year. He follows the Alabama Crimson Tide in American football and is a big supporter of Aston Villa (English football) and the national US soccer teams. Scott tries to knock out 12-20 books a year but it is getting harder to pull off. He does love ideas and stories and the books that house them. He also loves poker and is a gamer (Xbox One) and plays online with the gamertag, PlannersRevenge. Scott could fish all day and play cards all night if possible, but knows that he would go hungry and broke within a week. He has a pretty good grasp on his limitations.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Garrett Planning Network, Inc. or any other members.