By James B. Twining, CFP®
One June morning in 1980, I walked into the Encinitas, California branch of Southwest Bank, hair cut short and wearing a suit and tie. Anyone who saw the quick transformation that morning from a long-haired surfer in swim trunks to a banker in a three piece suit would have laughed at me; and had you told me that the job interview would mark the beginning of a career in financial services that would span one third of a century, I would have laughed at you! But that is exactly what happened.
In December of 1982 after two years shuffling dollar bills at the bank, I moved my family to the Northwest to get away from the urban sprawl that was southern California. We found a wooded, six-acre property near Bellingham, Washington on the Lake Louise Road with a barn, meadow, creek, and a pond. It was wonderful. I began to look for a new banking job and landed a position with Mt. Baker Bank in their Mount Vernon branch.
A small bank is a good place to gain experience because an employee is required to wear multiple hats. Along with the typical banking duties, I was charged with launching a discount stock brokerage for the bank. The research involved in the project piqued my interest in the securities business.
A friend of mine named Ken Schacht had a relative who worked as an investment consultant for IDS Financial Services. Ken knew of my interest, and he also knew how little I was earning at the bank. He arranged an interview, and after a series of meetings and months of studying for various licenses, I was appointed as an IDS representative in February of 1984. IDS was subsequently purchased by American Express.
Over the next twelve years I sold securities on a commission basis. That is the norm in the investment business, and it still is to this day, regardless of the title that a broker uses. My title was “Financial Planner”, but in reality I was an investment salesman who was told what to sell by the firm I worked for. Over time I became more and more aware of the shortcomings of that business model: It was expensive for clients, and it created conflicts of interest that were difficult to live with.
In 1996, I resigned from American Express and founded Financial Plan, Inc., an independent Registered Investment Advisory firm. I also became registered with the independent broker dealer LPL Financial. We moved into an office on the fifth floor of the Bellingham National Bank building, which was our base of operations for eighteen years.
As an independent advisor I was able to deliver objective advice without interference from a firm that sells proprietary products. I was able to design and build a firm that is ideal for both clients and employees. Over time our numbers grew: My wife Jeanne had been working with me since my American Express days; then in March of 2000, David launched his career with us as a financial planner, becoming a full partner in 2004. In July of 2010, we brought on Devin as our third financial advisor; November of 2011 our son, Nathan joined us and in October of 2012, David’s wife, Bonnie came on to assist in Operations. My youngest son Gabriel came aboard in March of 2015, and Justin Gross joined us in September of 2016. Gabe is now a lead advisor, and Justin is excelling as an associate advisor.
As our firm’s capabilities grew, it became apparent that we had outgrown our relationship with LPL. We saw the limitations of relying upon the services of one company, and wanted the advantage of complete independence and the ability to select different providers for various aspects of our business. In March of 2012, we made the leap to complete independence, becoming a fee-only RIA (Registered Investment Advisor) regulated by the SEC, and subject to the fiduciary standard, which is the highest standard in the industry. We placed custody of our client’s accounts with TD Ameritrade Institutional; we rely on Morningstar for research and securities data, our compliance firm is Carr Butterfield, our primary investment managers are Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA) and Vanguard, and we utilize the services of a number of other partners.
In November of 2014 we moved to our current office on Barkley Blvd. The new location is more centrally located, has more convenient parking, and has the space to accommodate a growing business such as ours. Our employee roster continues to grow to meet the demands of an increasing number of clients. Within the last few years we hired Stephanie Wolf as our communications director, Karley Dejaeger as our receptionist, Drew Zender as an associate advisor, Lisa Culp as an operations director, and Kelsey Bouwman as our first female associate advisor.
We don’t know what the future holds for our clients, our community, or the economy. But we are determined to be a positive influence for all who rely upon us. We look forward to the future with curiosity and anticipation. It won’t be exactly what we envision, but it is going to be interesting. Let the story continue!