As president and CEO of Clarity Wealth Management Inc. in Irvine, California, Gina Chironis, CPA/PFS, manages her clients’ retirement planning and investments through an integrated approach of what she refers to as “assessing goals, dreams, and resources.” Since 2009, she has been a member of the California Society of CPAs’ PFP Committee and will chair the committee in 2014. Planner recently visited with Gina to find out more about her services, what motivated her to open up her own practice, her service work, and even a bit about her favorite New Orleans recipe.
Planner: On your LinkedIn profile, you talk about focusing your practice on a “small group of individuals and businesses.” Why do you limit the size of your practice and how do you think this focus helps you better serve your clients?
Gina Chironis: Client relationships are so important to us and taking the time to get to know our clients’ personal financial goals is key to our approach. We invest in each client relationship to learn where they are now and where they want to go, then develop the roadmap to get them there. Limiting the number of clients we serve keeps our services personal and meaningful.
Planner: What do you think is the largest mistake clients make when planning for retirement?
Gina Chronis: They wait to start saving until later in life. Due to the incredible power of compounding interest, the individual who begins saving early will outpace the late starter. It’s amazingly simple, but so many people still fail to do it unless they have support and encouragement. I enjoy working with 401k plan participants, too, so that we can teach them this concept and work with them to start saving earlier.
Planner: What is your investment philosophy?
Gina Chironis: It’s impossible to time the market’s ups and downs successfully over the long term. World capital markets are extremely efficient and diversification is the only free lunch in the investment world, so I do not recommend investing in individual stocks. I recommend broadly diversified, low-cost mutual funds using a structured asset allocation strategy that is customized to my clients’ willingness, ability, and their need to take risk. I pay attention to taxes and trading costs, and most importantly, I believe my clients “win” once I design their investment portfolio to help them achieve their goals.
Planner: You’re very involved in the California Society of CPAs’ PFP Committee. How does your work with the committee benefit other planners in California?
Gina Chironis: As vice chair of the committee, I am joined by a team of 30 CPA financial planners across California who also have the CPA Personal Financial Specialist (CPA/PFS) credential. As many of your readers know, the CPA/PFS is awarded only to CPAs who have demonstrated experience and accomplishment in personal financial planning. As a group, we are focused on promoting financial planning as a core CPA service that is in the best interest of our clients. Our clients want, and desperately need, holistic financial guidance from us. As fiduciaries, the CPA/PFS community is uniquely suited to fill a gap in the financial services industry where few of the non-CPA financial advisers act in a fiduciary capacity.
We are also committed to enabling California CPAs to provide preeminent financial planning services profitably. After 4 years of guiding California CPA firms in this area, I have developed an in-depth understanding of the specific state licensing and regulatory issues we face in order to provide financial planning. To further our objectives, we are working with the AICPA to develop a mentoring program for CPAs who would like to provide financial planning for their clients, along with a roadmap to help navigate the specific California licensing and regulatory issues.
Planner: Your firm is affiliated with THE BAM ALLIANCE. How does your membership help you with your work?
Gina Chironis: As a fee-only boutique firm, we are a small but mighty team. Our relationship with THE BAM ALLIANCE allows us to keep our full focus on helping our clients achieve their goals. Beyond access to their technology platforms and other core “back office” services, being part of BAM means that we’re connected to some of our industry’s most-published thought leaders and experts in every conceivable area of finance. This means we are always able to provide answers to our clients’ questions no matter how complex or unusual those questions may be.
Planner: We know that customer relationship management (CRM) systems are helpful for CPA financial planners, so tell us several ways you think CRMs could be used more efficiently to help planners manage their practices.
Gina Chironis: Embedded workflows add big efficiencies. Rather than manually assigning tasks through an email, each person on the team is able to log on first thing in the morning and know exactly what needs to be done for a client. It’s so much easier to prioritize and focus on important client service issues. I like to think of it in the context of a pilot’s checklist just prior to takeoff—sometimes, it’s the little things that really can matter and you don’t want them to slip through the cracks. The time we save in using workflows allows us to spend more time with our clients, which is where we really want to be.
Planner: You are very involved in community work, serving at The Friendship Shelter in Laguna Beach, the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, and the Dana Point Historical Society. What kinds of personal rewards do you get from your community service work?
Gina Chironis: It can be hard to find the time, but the rewards to me are well worth it. The Friendship Shelter, for example, has helped more than 6,000 homeless individuals achieve self-sufficiency and become more productive members of our community. Knowing that I’ve been a part of that gives me peace. My advice to anyone who is interested in volunteering is to find a cause you are passionate about. If you feel that your volunteer work is vital and important, it becomes much easier to find the time.
Planner: Our favorite authors tend to influence the way we live our lives and philosophies or mantras we try to achieve. Who is your favorite author and how has this person influenced you?
Gina Chironis: Harper Lee, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a story about human compassion and courage. Ultimately the story is about how our actions define us, sometimes at surprising moments. We all have those moments in life when the easy choice is not necessarily the right one. I ask myself: Will this matter in 5 years? 10 years? What’s the downside of this decision? What would Atticus Finch do?
Planner: You are originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, where it seems everyone loves to eat and cook lots of great ethnic food. What is your favorite New Orleans’ recipe?
Gina Chironis: Bourbon Pecan Pie! I love it at the holidays. We make the crust from scratch, and the filling has a caramel consistency that’s absolutely decadent. It reminds me of all the wonderful things about New Orleans I love: the art, the music, the people, and their ability to find joy in the present moment.
Photo credit: Richard Morgenstein for CalCPA