Most good stories have an unexpected plot twist, and 2023 has definitely been that for us. A year of change, it shifted us into a new chapter that we still haven’t quite reached the end of.
Sitting down to write my year in review, as I did in 2022 and 2021, has always been a satisfying process. Taking stock and evaluating what we did well, and where there might be room for improvement has always felt worthy of sharing in the spirit of authenticity and connection.
Learning to Embrace Change
I strive to always be as thoughtful, intentional and analytical as possible with my planning. But as it happens when you are a business owner, you sometimes experience unexpected staffing changes, which caught me off guard and unprepared. Searching for, hiring and training new candidates has been a process of trial and error, and I’ve learned that finding the right people takes time. I’ve had to give myself some grace.
Stacey joined our team just over a year ago as our Client Service Associate and is definitely a bright spot in 2023. Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, she is the first point of contact when you reach out to us.
Earlier in her career, Stacey spent time in Lazard’s Investment Banking division as an executive assistant in New York. She’s also got oodles of Human Resources experience working for a number of years with a startup whiskey distillery in Virginia. Her HR experience has definitely come in handy this year!
I’m still getting used to working with a remote team member, but since more than half of our private clients live somewhere else, this remote connection has certainly become the new norm. And while Stacey and I are on and off our Slack Channel and Zoom all day long, some days I miss having someone in the office in Minnesota with me. It seems strange to have such a beautiful space and no one here to share it.
I love to serve in my capacity as a personal financial advisor working one on one with clients. And at 42, 2024 will usher in my 25th year in finance. I remain as passionate about my work as ever; I’m certainly not going anywhere.
Reviews and Growth
We adopted a business management framework called Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), marking the next phase for Align Financial. This helps provide a meeting cadence for business owners and their teams, and agendas for meetings to help remote teams collaborate better and work through issues and opportunities as they arise.
We also completed our bi-annual advisory fee analysis and will not be making changes to our fee schedule for existing clients.
As a reminder, we conduct a fee review every other year taking into consideration average fees in the industry for various levels of service provided. We started this in 2019 at which time some clients received a fee increase. In 2021, we reduced client fees for every client as a result of our cost savings stemming from our partnership with Fidelity.
Staying True to Who We Are
We worked with an EOS consultant to establish our Core Values. These are by no means new; they are the spirit in which Align Financial was born in 2017. But they are now formalized and documented and will serve as the guiding light of who we bring on the team and how we collaborate. They are:
- We know your story. We have personal, transparent and genuine relationships. We are there for our clients when they need us.
- We get things done. We are resourceful, connected problem solvers who relentlessly follow through on every commitment. We take personal accountability very seriously.
- We embrace change. We cultivate a growth mindset through curiosity, constant improvement, and an attitude of abundance.
- We are aligned. We strive to strike a balance with our commitment to serving clients and our personal lives. We believe taking care of us first helps us take care of others better.
Asking Who, Not How
I have continued to embrace the art of delegation. The wider circle of the Align team is made up of many wonderful and dedicated people doing small parts of our work every day. Ella comes in to clean the office, and Natalia does the office chores like stocking supplies, scanning, and keeping the plants alive. Lauren and Hannah help make the newsletter, website and blogs like this look and sound beautiful.
We use Jenny and Naomi at a local CPA firm for our bookkeeping and payroll, we have specialized tech support that handles cyber security, and even a business consultant that provides operations and human resources advice as needed.
We will continue to consider ways we can outsource to technology or companies who specialize in key activities, such as accounting or marketing. And for years we’ve used the expertise of professional money managers like Fidelity and Vanguard when it comes to investment management, research and trading. This year Fidelity is enhancing some of their offerings that should allow us to use technology to complete some manual parts of the investment management process.
Leveraging technology and specialized expertise allows me to spend more time focusing on the work only I can do – being there for our clients to provide financial advice and support when they need us.
We Welcomed a New Intern
Grace Hennen is a student at the University of Minnesota, Duluth’s Financial Planning Program and came on as our first Financial Planning Intern in February 2023. She has been instrumental in a few of our key projects this year.
Grace loves to learn and solve problems, and it has been of great value to have her fresh perspective when thinking about how to improve our delivery of financial advice and service. She gets a kick out of evaluating a tax return, a will or a trust (yes – that’s all true, just ask her) and she is excited to graduate in the spring. Grace plans to move to Minneapolis next year and we are working hard to get her connected to some great firms as she considers her next move.
A Few Other Highlights
I spent time with our friends from the Rock Retirement Club at Roger Whitney’s Retirement Roundup in Fort Worth, Texas. I am certain this group is just about the most thoughtful, interesting group of retirees you could find on the planet.
A few more of you completed your estate plans or considered a Roth IRA conversion or RETIRED! And I’ve loved hearing about your trips to interesting places like Peru, Alaska and Costa Rica.
Playing the Long Game
Over the last 10 years, I’ve had multiple opportunities to merge or partner with or get acquired by other firms to leverage our expertise into bigger or better firms, that might benefit clients and stakeholders through economies of scale and more brains working together on their cases.
As of now, I still find the intimacy of our one to one client connection with a handful of select clients, solving issues related to retirement to be where we do our best work. I’ve learned the hard way that I likely wasn’t meant to share the agenda, so staying small intentionally and continuing to outsource responsibly until we’re ready for a protege seems the right path.
So while hiring another advisor, or staying small and outsourcing are both options we’re considering, there’s also an endless opportunity for experienced advisors like me to merge or partner with other firms.
At this time in my professional and personal life, I can’t quite imagine enveloping myself, my team or our clients into a bigger firm. But I know every good story always has room for more than one plot twist.
And the good news is that 2023 has been a year of turnover, which leads to growth and an openness to new ideas. So until things become more obvious, I’ll continue my obsession with improving client experience and process efficiencies in areas of the business where the latter doesn’t come at the cost of the former.
Throughout all this change, one thing remains certain: I will do my best to create a team that will always be there when you need us.