Becoming a financial planner was a conscious decision for Lloyd Lowe Sr., a NAIFA-Dallas member. He had been working in administrative management in the food service industry, but as he researched the financial-planning profession as a possible new direction in his life, he came to realize that a golden opportunity was awaiting him. In 1995, there were few financial planners and a whole lot of Baby Boomers who were going to need help in the coming years. So, he completed a master’s degree in financial planning from the University of Dallas and opened up his business, LD Lowe Sr. Financial Advisory, LLC, in Frisco, Texas.
Advisor Today sat down with this MDRT Court of the Table member and asked him how he built such a successful, fee-only practice—with 638 clients—over the last decade.
Advisor Today: You’re a registered investment advisor who does comprehensive financial planning. Where does insurance fit in your clients’ plans?
Lowe: Insurance is a tool you use to offset or transfer risk, whether it’s long-term care insurance or life insurance, and it’s something we examine and use as needed in each plan. Unlike a lot of offices out there, we write a plan for every client we accept, instead of charging for that plan and making it a tertiary type of thing. It’s an included part of our service. So we do a full analysis.
Advisor Today: How did you decide on a fee-only practice?
Lowe: [It happened] as we grew and began to take on larger clients, and to work with attorneys and CPAs. … First of all, they seem very comfortable with that type of practice—all three of those people: investment savvy clients, attorneys and CPAs. Secondly, fees provide a stream of income that’s renewable, so that I can spend more of my time working with my current clients and less on trying to source new clients.
Advisor Today: What does your typical day look like?
Lowe: I don’t have a typical day and that’s what I enjoy. But in some ways my days are very structured … I work on my business, not in my business. My time is split between investment management and meeting with clients. I’ve been lucky to develop an incredible staff. My success is directly tied to my clients and my staff.
Advisor Today: Who makes up your staff?
Lowe: I have eight full-time people—no salespeople. They’re all support staff for my clients, more than for me. … I have a full-time tax professional. I have two people fully licensed as planners—one who functions as a planner and one who works as a paraplanner. The rest of the staff functions in linear jobs—one doing all the front-end preparation for paperwork, one handling all the signed paperwork and the other handling all the long-term care and life insurance issues. …
Advisor Today: How did you come up with this structure?
Lowe: Linear processing has been around for a long time. Each person does his job from beginning to end. At a point where it’s very intuitive, that job is passed along to the next person—instead of pieces of those jobs being scattered out to different staff members.
Advisor Today: How do you stay on top of what everyone’s doing?
Lowe: We have a meeting every day at 4:30 that’s a changing of the guard, if you will. All the staff work within one large room. They also share a database that’s very intuitive, in which all phone calls are logged—content, not just the call—all emails and all letters. So, when one person gets [a client] on the phone, he already has that person’s log, and is reviewing it while he’s saying good morning.
Advisor Today: Which database is that?
Lowe: Advisors Assistant. I’ve used it for 12 years, and I would attribute a large part of my success as far as office organization to that one piece of software. I have looked at a lot of tools … and the use of a database that can be mined and used constantly so that everyone understands all communication not only makes us look like we know each client individually, and that we treat each one individually; it also covers many, many compliance bases.
Advisor Today: What’s the secret to holding on to a good employee?
Lowe: The environment is very important. I don’t have an employee manual; I have parameters that people work within, so they are encouraged to think and use their own abilities. That’s extremely important. There are some standard operating procedures that are inviolate, but they’re encouraged to come to me, negotiate and suggest change.
But [when hiring an employee] I will not change everyone else’s jobs to make that person fit; they have to fit that job. I see this happen a lot in businesses—a new employee gets hired and everyone gets shuffled to accommodate them, and it’s mass chaos.
I also reward my people well. My average employee makes $65,000 to $68,000 a year.
Also, I bonus directly from my profit on a standardized basis, with a very simple formula that does not change. No sliding scale; you simply get a percentage of the profit.
Advisor Today: Many, perhaps most, people starting out in this field have a rough time in the beginning. Was that true for you?
Lowe: The year I became fully involved in this profession, I lost about $18,000. The year after that I made twice as much as I had been making as a regional manager for a large firm.
Advisor Today: What was the turning point?
Lowe: I just worked hard and kept my overhead down. I actually started in my home, and then I leveraged myself with an assistant as soon as I could—painfully—employ one. I couldn’t really afford to hire the assistant at the time, but you can’t do this without having someone setting appointments for you and answering the phones, because you’re supposed to be in front of clients.
Advisor Today: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Lowe: Coming to work, working with the clients and the friends I’ve made over the years—both clients and my staff.
Advisor Today: Do you have anything else to add that you think our readers should know?
Lowe: I don’t think that anyone can be successful in this or any other industry if he does not truly care about and have a relationship with his clients and staff.
For tips on moving to a fee-based practice, get more of Lowe's tips on making the transition in this month's podcast, "Transitioning to a fee-based practice."