In the following Q&A, Julie Schatz, CFP® and Jennifer Cray, CFP® discuss what brought them to Forum Financial Management. One of the first things to note about Julie and Jennifer are their palpable energy when they talk about what they’ve accomplished in their careers — as financial planners and partners of Investor’s Capital Management, LLC, in Menlo Park, California, and their excitement now as they look toward their future.
Their philosophy of making sure that all aspects of clients’ financial lives are working in sync has an overarching sense of fun. They had much to share about their approach to financial planning and their relationships with clients.
What brought you to financial planning?
Julie related her story first and began by noting, “This is not the first career for either of us. When I was 18, I chose a career in engineering because math was always my favorite class. But I was self-aware enough to know that one career was not going to cut it. Mechanical engineering was a great start, and I figured that in time I’d find my next career. I was introduced to financial planning shortly after my husband and I got married. The way his family managed money really scared me — there seemed to be no managing and no planning. I knew that the two of us needed to be in sync, working together toward our goals, so I reached out to a financial planner. It wasn’t long before I realized I might like the other side of the table.”
In her late 30s, a career change looked feasible for Julie. “I took my financial planner out for lunch to ask him a bunch of questions. I said naively, ‘I bet you really like clients like me. You know, someone who is interested in personal financial matters.’ His answer was no. He really liked the widows who relied on him for everything, when they needed something, he was the first person they called. I knew that probably wasn’t going to be my clientele. And that’s truly how it turned out. Jennifer would agree that, overall, our clients are accomplished and capable: They choose to work with us because they don’t love working with financial matters as much as we do or they just do not have the time to focus on it. Some of our clients are widowed, some of our clients are overwhelmed, but none are helpless.”
Jennifer added, “My story is similar to Julie’s in that this is not my first career. When I was a kid, I always knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I worked as an editor at daily newspapers in Los Angeles, and I loved it until I didn’t. I just got the itch to do something different. I went back to school to get my MBA in 1994. That was right when the internet was starting to grow. I started working for internet startups in Silicon Valley, ending up at E-Trade. I was there from 2000 to 2004, and I had a front-row seat to the dot.com bubble, the implosion, watching all these online traders blow up, and I thought, there has to be a better way to do this. I started having coffee with local financial planners, including, as it turned out, Rich Chambers, who founded the firm that Julie and I eventually joined. In 2004, the day I learned I passed the CFP® exam, I gave notice at E-Trade and immediately joined Julie and Rich.
What is special about your team?
We have to be able to laugh with our clients. Financial independence planning, stock options and employee benefits planning, portfolio allocation, insurance reviews, tax planning and all other planning topics are not most people’s idea of a fun time. But we love it. And through the years we spend a lot of time with our clients, so it’s much more enjoyable when we all bring a sense of humor. Financial planning doesn’t have to be dull. While the nuts and bolts can be dull, we don’t drown our clients in the dull stuff. We want our clients to enjoy the process.
The people who choose us each walk in the door with unique situations, so the experience has to be unique to each client. We’re a small team, working in a more relaxed, informal setting that our clients prefer.
Before moving into our offices, the #1 rule was no mahogany. We told our designer to make the space fun and energetic. It couldn’t look anything like financial services.
When you meet with a prospective client, how do you explain the benefits of working with a financial professional?
First and foremost, this relationship has to work for everyone. Our clients must be people who can trust us and ultimately want to delegate because they’re busy or because investments and managing their finances are not their thing.
We work with clients who care about more than just investment performance and understand that we bring a comprehensive perspective to their financial lives. We look at the big picture and help fit all the pieces together: We listen to their wishes, wants and dreams and help plot the course to achieve them.
How do you build the optimal financial plan for your clients?
We talk with our clients about what’s going on at home because it’s not just about the money. Money is a means to an end, it’s in the service of their lives, and part of our job is to teach our clients to be good stewards of their money. It’s really about what’s important to the client. Those are the real conversations.