21 Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor: 20. What is your professional background?
This is my question. Not one of Jason’s questions.
I didn’t come from a “traditional” background working as an advisor for my entire career though I’ve always worked in finance.
I’ve worked as both analyst in valuation and product development, and traditional wealth managment role at a Private Bank as an advisor.
Yin and Yang
Being an analyst and advisor require skill sets that contrast each other. Once is very technical, and one is deeply personal. It’s a harmony of those skills, and getting just the right blend in each situation that is key.
Working in valuation
My training as an analyst began in healthcare valuation. Valuing physician practices, ambulatory surgical centers, and valuing joint ventures.
I learned to be (extremely) paranoid of everything—including my own work. Mistakes. Errors. Footnotes. God, I’m getting cold sweats typing this. Every number is sensitive. Some variables drive a valuation more than others. You are constantly asking yourself which ones are important? Adjusting a working capital assumption. A discount rate. A growth rate of revenue. What has the most impact? Sometimes you start feeling like a God. But then quickly learn you just don’t know. Your work, ya, it’s inheritably going to be wrong. So, it just needs to be reasonable. Plus, it won’t transact at your price either. Take it easy, put away the Oscar speech.
The most important thing I learned is that you need to know ALL the assumptions. All of ’em. Where they came from, and why you believe them. Especially when you let a physician, attorney, and a hospital executive tear your analysis a part trying to get the value they want. In front of a board room, if you don’t have an explanation, you’re dead, and so is your valuation.
“You guys better sharpen your pencils.”
Ultimately, being tied to a desk, and using excel shortcuts to build financial models for 50+ hours a week was not something that was highest best use for me. I wasn’t the best at it. I longed for deal making. People. Humans. Not spreadsheets. I need some of that, but not all day every day. It was amazing discipline though, and I learned an immense amount of both practical and conceptional information on the how’s and why’s of a companies value. Seeing cash move through a discounted cash flow model changes you. It’s a religions experience building one from scratch. Amen, I never will never have to do that again.
Working in product development
I’m not sure how or why, but at Transamerica in my late twenties I helped start conversations, and lay the groundwork with all department for them to launch ETFs. Within three months, I knew the heads of every department in Denver. Ask people I worked with, I was always getting into trouble.
“Eric is too proactive, please tell him to stop meeting with people.”
So they prompted me fast to work in a team right under the CFO. I was in way over my head over day. Great white shark water. Everyday. Every conversation. You learn what everyone sees. Trying not to get eaten. Strategy doesn’t begin to explain it. Decades of depth and expertise in all departments where I got to ask dumb questions.
Lens for all the stakeholders: sales, marketing, accounting, compliance, actuaries, investor relations, and the executives. Everyone has a lens. Then you have the external stakeholders: competitors, investors, other executives, and the media. It’s constantly understanding who sees what, whether it is important or not. When I worked in competitive research, everyday was like a stand up comedian getting boed, and just hoping for one laugh. It was rough. Ego bruising, it was breaking. A humbling tour. I was in awe of people who got the laughs though.
Utimatley, I learned how to synthesize and distil knowledge for c-level folks. Most importantly, I started to learn how to write. I was god-awful terrible, and thankfully was forced to go to 4-grade writing lessons. I loved products, but missed clients. I also felt so far removed from the real action. Add in a company that was in every conceivable market and highly political. Like I said I was always in trouble.
Working in private banking
I did two tours at U.S. Bank. My time there helped me bring back my technical knowledge to earth. Almost every day I was putting clients to sleep in meetings. I’d look up and they’d be in a four-month coma. We know he is smart they would say, but nobody knows what the hell he is talking about. I was terrible at explaining things, and had zero patience. After the first year, I was bored. Stiff. Getting into trouble again.
“What the hell is he talking about?” “Please tell him to talk like a normal person.”
My clients would secretly ask me questions outside of e-mail, or over drinks on things I really was curious about, or strategies forboden. You know all the stuff clients ask me about now. Ultimately, I missed intelligent people. Trouble makers. Intelligent clients, and the action I got as an analyst. One day my manager, said I want to fire you so you’ll go do what you’re meant to do. You don’t belong here. You need to spread your wings.
He handed me a write-up for giving “tax advice,” and the rest is history.
On Building MARGIN after two years
Nothing prepares you for entrepreneurship. My level of overconfidence was/is laughable. You have to be (a little) crazy to try.
Painfully I still get schooled in so many categories. Many I continue to learn: Building the back-end of website in WordPress. Branding. Pitching and revising. Idea generation, storage, and prioritization. Triggering emotional states. Niche. Pricing. Negotiating. Setting expectations. Tuning the experience and what makes people feel. Realizing perfection is the imperfection. Letting some fires burn. Letting little mistakes go. Having good humor to laugh at bad things. Decision making. Deal making. Constant uncertainty. Energy management. Patience. Being flexible. Understanding you are wrong most the time in things you never learned. No they are not all as easy as YouTube. Library. More library. Finding your people. Finding your voice. Standing up for yourself. Having grace. Admitting you suck at a lot of things. Outsourcing and hiring. Legal. Compliance. Read contracts. Reading people. Dialing in on what clients really want. Not what you think they want. What is the most painful thing nobody wants to build? What and who everyone else knows is not worth knowing. What is the most important thing? And again. And Again. What is everyone’s superpower I work with? What is not? Dealing with the emotional rollocoster of massive successes and crippling I am the dumbest person in the world losses.
Running a firm. It’s humbling. But, It’s by far what I’m most passionate about, and best suited at. It’s in my blood. It always has been. I need to do this a long time ago, but I’m so grateful for all the failures and learning along the way.
At least now I know in my bones it’s an art of doing not just the technical stuff, but also adding in what was muted my entire career, seen as a negative: creativity.