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. Had you told me that job would mark the beginning of a career in financial services that would span forty years, 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 escape 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 simple and wonderful. I began to look for a new banking job and landed a position with Mt. Baker Bank working out of their Mount Vernon branch.
A small bank is a good place to gain experience because an employee is required to wear multiple hats. In addition to 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 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 was 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 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 advisor, becoming a principal shareholder in 2004. When the time was right, we began bringing on the next generation of advisors who eventually became principal shareholders: Devin began his financial career with us in 2010, Nathan in 2011, and Gabriel in 2013. Each new advisor contributed greatly; enhancing our income tax strategies, estate planning knowledge, and securities research as well as providing fresh insight in regard to technology, operational processes, and client service.
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.
In November of 2014 we moved to our current office on Barkley Boulevard. The new location is easier to access, has more convenient parking as well as the space to accommodate our growing business. Meanwhile, our employee roster has continued to grow to better serve the needs of our growing client base. As of this writing, we have nine advisors who deliver un-biased, top-shelf, and comprehensive advice, and five employees in our operations department who provide world-class service.
Our local community and larger society are entering rough, uncharted waters. Free enterprise and our economy are in existential crisis. We are determined to be a positive influence and a steady hand for all who rely upon us as we navigate the storms that are surely coming. Let the story continue!