A few people might know this about me, but most don’t. I’ve been trying to break into the finance industry for a few years now to no avail. Well, sort of. I am now a professional tax accountant, with and Enrolled Agent license (you can read all about enrolled agents here). But I didn’t originally start out to become a tax professional. I wanted to help people with money professionally.
To be clear, I LOVE my day job, and have no plans of moving on, because it’s a great gig, a good team, and I don’t feel the desire to go anywhere. But I’ve always wanted to help people with money on the side, and it would be awesome if I could turn it into a sweet side-hustle. So I started inquiring around about the options I had, and ended up connecting with my for church small group lead, who owns the CPA firm that I currently work for.
Advice From A CFP
I was put in touch with a CFP (Certified Financial Planner), and he was kind enough to chat with me on the phone for a little while about how to get into financial planning. I told him that I wanted to help people with money, which led him to advise that if I did end up managing people’s money, that I should become a fee-only advisor, which would enable me to have a clear conscience about which fund I picked for my clients to invest in.
I thought that was the best route, as I could not fathom the idea of collection commissions by investing other people’s money in loaded funds. My conviction was this: If I had put together a financial plan for someone, and was able to pick between two funds that both worked for the client’s goals, I wanted to be able to pick the absolute best fund for that client. But because I had to make a living on commissions, I would end up picking the worse fund which paid a bigger commission to feed my family. I could not make that decision in good conscience. So fee-only was my goal.
I asked how I should go about getting training and licensing to become a part-time financial advisor. He suggested I start by selling insurance to get familiar with the industry from a protection standpoint, and I could learn about securities and investing on the job. He gave me a contact to reach out to start the process, but with one warning: “Keep your goal to get out of insurance and into financial planning. Pursue your securities licenses ASAP, and don’t get stuck.” Good advice, considering what happened next.
The Life Insurance Debacle
I reached out to the contact provided, and setup an initial meeting with the rep at [Company Name] Life Insurance. Now, this was a few years back, and I remember thinking how odd it was that they wanted to meet with me about potential employment, when I was just a newb with a budget who wanted to help people. I had no prior experience, no 4-year degree, and no accredited financial expertise. Oh well, I guess they knew that I was a BOSS, and wanted my awesomeness to rub off on their company.
Anyways, the first meeting was at his fancy pants office, with ridiculously expensive furnishings and a bunch of crystal trophy like things that people with lots of recognition collect. He was VERY good at his job, which I later found out was recruiting newb who had a decent sized network of personal contacts to sell insurance. He asked me all about my background, where I worked, where I went to school, etc. He asked about my money principals, and just coming off the Dave Ramsey high, I told him all about my sweet budget, how I hated debt and whole life insurance, and how I was going to pay off my mortgage by 40 (and I didn’t even have a mortgage at this point).
That’s when he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, gave me a peculiar look, and decided to educate me on the values of whole life insurance. He busted out his slick PowerPoint presentation and started to take me through “the complete investment portfolio” presentation. Most of it sounded pretty good, but he was very insistent on a whole life insurance policy as one of the foundational pieces. At this point, I hadn’t done a ton of reading on this type of insurance, except that it’s front loaded with massive fees, and is really expensive. I told him I wasn’t really interested in selling whole life, and he gently “corrected” me by saying that it was short-changing my clients by not having them use it for retirement purposes.
Now, without turning this into the “whole life vs term” debate, let’s just say I could tell from his office, his demeanor, his tone, and the whole atmosphere that he was more interested in collecting money from a whole life policy than helping clients build a solid portfolio. I told him I would think about it, but I started to get the feeling that this guy didn’t care about my budget, and that’s not cool. We had one more phone meeting, and he started to push more on getting me started, which included handing over a list of my contacts t get started.
So I did the smart thing and googled “[Company Name] Insurance Scam” and started to read TONS (hundreds) of horror from other unsuspecting newbs. They gave up their contact list, were pressured to sell insurance to their friends and family (therefore alienating them), and the company owned the list of contacts when they got fed up and left. The company would then cold call and high-pressure-sales pitch their friends and family. NOT COOL. Suffice to say, I told them I was not interested, and the rep. dropped his friendly tone and told me he was VERY disappointed in my decision. After I hung up, I was pretty bummed…..mostly that he didn’t want to talk about my budget….he just wanted me for my millions of friends. Oh well, lesson learned.
So I Became A Tax Guy
So, I realized I couldn’t get right into the industry right away unless I wanted to sell my soul. I didn’t want to rip people off, and I didn’t want to give them bad investment choices. So the only thing left was to help people with their income taxes. I asked my small group lead about it, and he said “sure, just go get your E.A. license and get back to me.” GREAT! No big deal. Just need to pass 3 IRS sanctioned tests that are RIDICULOUSLY HARD, apply for the license, and I’m in!
In reality, they were VERY hard tests, and it took me one year straight of studying on nights and weekends to pass the exams. Once I got my license, I started working for my boss (CPA firm owner) to prepare tax returns during tax season. I started season and prepared only 12 returns, but I put in a TON of hours riding along with the other accountants, learning the tricks of the trade, figuring out all the grey areas (there are millions of them), and most of all, saving people tons of money. Now, I’ve gone through 3 tax seasons and feel very comfortable helping individuals and small businesses keep all the money they deserve.
I Haven’t Given Up
Taxes are awesome, but I still don’t feel like I am helping people on the level that I could. I can help them make smart tax moves during the year, but I have not been able to strike up a good budgeting conversation yet. The closest I’ve gotten is suggesting investing in an IRA to lower their tax bill, but that’s about it. I still want to become a part-time financial advisor, whether people think I can or not. And though I’ve talked to a handful of people who say it’s probably not the best idea, I feel that I can provide a real service to those who maybe just need some direction. I can help them with their budget to free up the cash that they can then invest, and then be full service and help them put that money in a place that helps them reach their goals, and then some.
I’ve got some ideas in the works, but they are far to infant to reveal here just yet. We’ll see how it goes. Until then, I’ll just be over here in my corner of the internet, waving my big BUDGETING flag and trying to help open people’s eyes to the realities of handling money. Hope you stick around 🙂