What gives a CPA financial planner an edge over CPAs, and certainly non-CPA planners, who do not work directly with their clients to help them plan their futures? Quite a bit, according to Ryan Franklin, CPA/PFS, CFP, a senior financial advisor at Moss Adams Wealth Advisors in Yakima, Washington. For more than 16 years, Ryan has focused on estate planning and wealth management with a large, regional firm, giving him the knowledge and experience he needs to be able to guide younger CPAs who want to go into financial planning, as well as be a strong advocate for the profession.
The PFP Section recently sat down with Ryan to find out more about the CPA-client relationship, his investment philosophy, his motivation for volunteering and even the book that is on his nightstand.
PFP Section: It’s well known that CPA financial planners understand (and thrive) on the relationship side of the business. What kinds of strategies do you use to work on and maintain solid relationships that could lead to referrals and more business?
Ryan Franklin: I try to make time in all my interactions with clients to talk about the things that are going on in their lives. It’s not just that it’s important and helpful as a financial planner; people like to share what’s happening for them, so I try to give them a chance to talk about it. After meetings, I prepare summary notes that contain not only the business we discussed, but also, the details about a client’s vacation plans or upcoming family events, so that I’ll remember to ask them about it at our next meeting. Sometimes, I’ll pass along articles that I’ve read that relate to a client’s interests or business as another way to connect my world with theirs. I send a personal, handwritten note on clients’ birthdays and at Christmas to make sure that not all of my contact with them is about business. The most important thing is to be genuine in relationships with clients. I have a wide variety of relationships with my clients, but I never try to be something that isn’t naturally me, because I don’t think it would work.
PFP Section: What’s the ideal personality profile of someone engaged in personal financial planning?
Ryan Franklin: There are a wide variety of personalities among financial planning clients, and accordingly, there are many types of people who can be successful planners. Still, I think there are a few traits successful planners have in common:
- The ability to think creatively. Every client situation will be unique, and it’s important to be able to think of different ways to address concerns and solve problems.
- Honesty. This one seems obvious, but there are plenty of times strategic planners suggest investment portfolios that don’t work out quite like we had hoped. An advisor who can be candid and open in these situations is very important to clients.
- Humility. Financial planning is a service business, and we get into the industry because we want to help other people achieve their goals. The needs of the client are always the most important thing.
- Natural optimism. Some clients have issues that are harder to solve than others. It’s important to remain positive and give those clients confidence in the solutions we find. It’s just as important to be realistic and have the difficult conversations, always keeping in mind that a positive solution is the ultimate goal.
PFP Section: What is your investment philosophy?
Ryan Franklin: An investment portfolio is the tool we use to help clients achieve their financial planning goals. You can’t have a successful investment portfolio without knowing exactly what you want that portfolio to do for the client. Once you have a clear objective in mind, it’s important that the portfolio is built to provide the right mix of income, growth, tax efficiency, preservation of capital, liquidity and security that the client needs. I believe clients benefit from long-term investment plans that don’t require frequent trading or attempts at market timing. Portfolios should be adjusted when the client’s objectives or personal situation indicate a change is needed.
PFP Section: You worked for Moss Adams LLP from 1998 to 2010, and then moved to the firm’s wealth advisory practice, Moss Adams Wealth Advisors LLC. What motivated you to make this transition, and what’s your best piece of advice to someone who wants to make a similar transition?
Ryan Franklin: When I started with the firm in 1998, I already knew I wanted to work with clients on their financial planning needs. I thought a strong grasp of tax issues (both business and individual) would be helpful in making me an effective financial planner. I found, however, the practice areas are so specialized and the body of knowledge on which you need to stay current is constantly changing in both areas. I made the transition out of the traditional CPA world because I wanted to focus as much time as I could on the planning issues for clients. One of the biggest differences I found in moving from a tax world to a financial planning world is that in financial planning, projects are rarely black and white and rarely ever “completed.” The solutions we develop are constantly evolving along with the client’s situation, and typically, there isn’t a right or wrong way to solve any given problem. Anybody considering a move to financial planning needs to make sure they’re comfortable working in an environment where there are a lot of unknowns and there may not always be a best solution.
PFP Section: You’re still very young in your career, but you chose financial planning as your niche. How do you think other younger CPAs could be motivated to consider financial planning as a long-term career choice?
Ryan Franklin: I’ve really enjoyed working in the financial planning part of our practice. A client’s financial planning goals are among the most personal things you’ll ever discuss with them. It’s a really interesting area to practice and it allows you to form very close, trusted relationships with your clients. The work tends to be more evenly spread throughout the year, so you don’t need to face the peaks and valleys of a traditional tax practice. I find myself spending more time with my clients now, and there’s a real need in the industry for quality advisors that take the same approach to serving clients that CPA firms do. The wide variety of client experiences you’re exposed to in the financial planning world makes it an interesting and rewarding career path to consider.
PFP Section: What would you tell them about what you’ve been able to accomplish, and what are some tips to help them be successful in this part of the profession?
Ryan Franklin: I’ve been able to grow my practice from a point where my financial planning practice was supplementing my traditional tax practice to a point where my financial planning is now a fully sustainable career. I’ve had a tremendous amount of support from the other CPAs in my firm, who have helped me connect with new clients and grow our financial planning practice. To be successful, it’s important to align yourself with other service providers—like CPAs, attorneys and community leaders—to make sure they really understand how you work with clients and the value you bring to those relationships. I would also encourage you to try to take those colleagues through the financial planning process, because it is much easier to understand the value of financial planning if you’ve personally had the experience yourself.
PFP Section: You’ve been very involved over the years with a number of not-for-profits, including United Way, the American Red Cross and Junior Achievement. You’re also a volunteer for the AICPA’s Advanced Personal Financial Planning Conference Committee. How do you think your volunteer work has helped you be a better citizen to the community and, perhaps, a better planner to your clients?
Ryan Franklin: Community service and volunteering is something I personally believe in very strongly. I tend to get involved with things where I feel a personal connection and a genuine interest in making a difference. I believe that my background and training as a CPA and financial planner helps me to bring a different perspective to the volunteer work I do, and I enjoy helping to improve the community I work and live in. I think clients feel a closer connection to their professional advisors when they see them out and about in the community, and being involved also has allowed me to meet a lot of new people.
PFP Section: What book is currently on your nightstand, and why are you reading it?
Ryan Franklin: I am currently reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I tend to weave back and forth between fiction and nonfiction reading, and I suppose I’m in one of my nonfiction periods now. I was talking with somebody and they mentioned this book. It sounded like a remarkable story, so I thought I’d take a look. I’m always interested in hearing about other people’s perspectives on life, and this is definitely a unique view on an event in our history.
PFP Section: If you were stranded on a desert island with access to only one piece of technology, what would it be and why?
Ryan Franklin: Assuming that the obvious choice of a fully charged satellite phone is unavailable, I would probably go with my iPod. As long as I’m going to be stuck there for a while, I might as well have some decent tunes to listen to while I wait!