Why I started Hill-Top
Updated: Oct 2, 2019
Do you ever wonder how financial advisors get started?
This isn't your typical story. Most advisors get started with the big name financial institutions as an entry level advisor. They have to pound the pavement finding new clients. They’re trying to land clients that already have money because that’s how they get paid. It’s a sales job. After several years, they might jump ship to another firm and bring their book of business with them. An alternate option, they might take their book of business and start their own firm. This is the typical (normal) path for an advisor, in the financial advisor world.
You might be asking, “Why would someone go off on their own and start a firm from scratch, with no clients?"
Candidly, normal sucks and it’s not helping my generation! So I wanted to be weird and do things different. I wanted to do something that helps people like you.
So where did the idea for Hill-Top come from?
I’d have to go back to when I was growing up. My grandparents owned a small insurance business, in a small Kansas town, that they helped build from the ground up. Now they weren’t worth tens of millions of dollars… at least not that I’m aware of, but given where they started, they were a success in my book. With that said, they never walked around like they were better than anyone else. They were humble, and kind people. They served their clients well. Most, they cared about the people in their community, and they served them well with their kindness and generosity. I think that’s because they were humbled by their experiences growing up.
They weren’t rich.
As a matter of a fact, my grandfather use to say he didn’t have two nickels to rub together when he was growing up. As for my grandmother, she would often tell us stories about picking cotton in the fields until her fingers bled. They came from humble beginnings and their success never went to their head. They were the millionaire next door that author Tom Stanley wrote about in his book The Millionaire Next Door (a great book I might add). They were the American Dream, and looking back on it, inspiration to me on the type of person I want to be.
I’ll be honest, I never knew I wanted to be a financial planner or financial advisor until a few years ago. All I could think about growing up were sports. Like many young boys, I wanted to be a professional athlete. More specifically, I wanted to be a quarterback. When it came to neighborhood street football (#GloryDays), I felt I had the golden arm, but unfortunately that didn’t exactly translate to the actual playing field, or so I was told. I didn’t have the prototypical build of a quarterback: either tall, dark and handsome with a strong arm, or fast and shifty. I was missing the "tall" and/or "fast and shifty". More bluntly as my high school football coach said, “you’re too short, fat and slow to play quarterback.” True story. He really said that. Maybe factually correct... but I guess we’ll never know. Fortunately, it hasn't scarred me too bad!
How did I get into financial planning?
Dumb luck really, which I will admit, is not the best planning option.
After I graduated college, I chased my dream of working in sports. I found myself working for a minor league hockey team in Wichita.
While working for the hockey team, I met a financial advisor, at a networking event. She helped me realize I needed to start saving for retirement. Since my employer didn’t offer any sort of a retirement plan, I decided to meet with her. At the time, what she was talking about was all over may head. However, I knew I needed to start saving for retirement, so I trusted her advice and I opened up an account, putting in the minimum amount I could each month.
Fast forward a little bit, I was coming up on the end of the second season with the hockey team. I didn’t feel it was a culture fit for me, and they weren’t exactly impressed with my sales numbers. I was actively looking for a better opportunity, and the writing was probably on the wall.
Fortunately, something wonderful happened to me, I got engaged to my now wife! She was just starting her masters program in Kansas City, so I decided to make the move with no job. Again, not the best planning on my part, but I had some money saved.
My step into the financial industry
After about a month of searching and interviews, I landed a job as a personal banker for a local regional bank. I had no clue about banking, but my buddy Brad made it sound like something I could see myself doing. I was always pretty good at math and it seemed like a way to really help people advance in their lives. He talked about helping clients get a mortgage to buy a house, and he helped me refinance my car to a lower interest rate. (Thanks, Brad!) I’ve always had a heart for helping people, so it seemed like a good fit.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly the experience I had.
I was in a bank branch that was located in an impoverished area of Kansas City, KS. Many of the customers were on social security or disability as their only source of income. Most were living pay check to pay check, if that. They were dependent on that monthly income. That’s also were I got to know about pay day lenders, and the ongoing cycle people that use those services get themselves into. It was disheartening and sad to see all these individuals struggling. No one had ever taught them how to handle money.
Despite the financial circumstance of our customers, I was still expected to make sales quotas. My score card was never up to snuff with my manger, which left me conflicted because I wanted to be a high performer, but I didn’t feel good about what I was being asked to sell people (credit cards anyone?).
Have you ever felt stuck?
I have. Feeling stuck in my banking role, about a year and a half in, two things happened.
First, my wife talked me into going back to school for my masters. The rational was “a masters is the new bachelors,” and the bank did tuition reimbursement, so it was a win.
Second, I started applying for any job I could find within the bank to get a transfer. I had to get out of the job I was in. After working with an internal recruiter, she recommend a Financial Analyst position to me, with a company I had never heard of.
“That sounds great,” I remember telling her, even though I had no clue about the position... or the company.
Funny how things work. It happened to be a wealth management firm that was owned by the bank. They specialized in working with, high net worth (HNW), and ultra high net worth (UHNW) clients (in addition to institutional clients). Basically, really wealthy people, and I’d be dealing with lots of money. I went from rags to riches in the client demographic spectrum.
A whole new world
Starting at the wealth management firm, I knew next to nothing about the investing world. Sure, I studied some of this stuff in college, but I didn’t have real world experience with it.
So I found myself working in the back office doing performance reporting for our clients. We were dealing with the usual stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs that get talked about... but then there were these exotic things called hedge funds and private equity funds. It was like seeing Sasquatch, or a UFO, or something! I’d heard of these things, but only thought they existed in New York, on that thing they called Wall Street. It was an eye opening experience, and at first, I felt fancy and sophisticated when I told people what we did.
It was about that same time that my wife and I started Financial Peace University (FPU) by Dave Ramsey. I worked for a wealth management firm, but my wife and I were still trying to figure out this whole personal finance thing. We never had anyone sit down and teach it to us, so we followed the rest of the heard, you know, the standard advice to a 20-something:
build your credit,
get the reward points with your credit card,
you’ll always have a car payment,
buy a house with little or nothing down, etc.
Something seemed wrong with all this advice, but everyone was out there preaching it… that is except for Dave Ramsey.
FPU shook my world right side up. It forever changed my perspective on personal finance and how we handle money. It empowered us and gave us confidence to take control of our financial future. It unlocked the feelings that deep down I already had, but society was telling me was wrong and not sophisticated (like what rich people do... which turns out to be mythology).
So we began the Baby Steps journey towards financial freedom by working to pay off all our consumer debt. It took us four years and pressing pause for a year while we waited for our second child to be born, but we did it. In January of 2018, we paid off the last of our consumer debt and had saved up our fully funded emergency fund. We even went on the Dave Ramsey Show to do our Debt Free Scream!
What I want to be when I grow up
During this process, after a few years at the wealth management firm, I earned my masters in finance. At this point I really felt I wanted to become a financial advisor, but I didn’t want to work with retirees or pre-retirees. I wanted to work with my generation, people that look and acted like me, people I could relate to. I wanted to help my generation understand this personal finance stuff that was never taught to me. Growing up, we were always told to start saving early and often, but when we say we’re ready, no one wants to work with us unless it’s someone that can sell us their products (their funds, whole life insurance, annuities, etc.).
I remember telling my finance professor that I wanted to work with the younger generations and why is no one working with this underserved population? He responded by saying, "you can’t make money working with that group.”
Basically he was saying these are unwanted clients to the typical independent firm because advisors needs clients that already have money, to make any money (if they’re operating an AUM compensation model)… advisors have to pay bills too.
I recall saying to myself that’s a fair point, but there has to be a way to make it work. My generation needs help with this personal finance stuff to be able to retire someday!
My Yoda (and inspiration) enters the picture
Everyone has a Yoda in their story.
During this time, I thought to myself, if I wanted to get into an advisory role someday, I would have to make a job move. I started looking around for financial advisory firms that were doing what I wanted to do (working with younger clients in an independent, non-commission capacity) or that were just independent and objective.
What I found is that no one was working with the younger clients, unless they met their asset minimum.
Also, if I wanted to get a job as an advisor, I was told I would have to “sell my soul for a year at a wire-house and prove myself” (i.e. go sell product like Vince Vaughn in The Internship).
I knew the latter was not an option, so I kept looking. That’s when I found Tyler.
I was on the local chapter of Financial Planning Association’s (FPA) website, looking at the board members and the companies they worked for when I saw Tandem Financial Guidance.
I had never heard of this firm!
So like most people now days, I googled the firm and up popped Tyler. He is the owner and founder of the firm and he works with the younger population… like I want to do.
BOOM! It went off like a grenade in my head. This guy is doing exactly what I want to do! I had to meet him.
I reached out to Tyler, and he graciously accepted my invitation to coffee (probably not knowing what he was getting himself into). Over coffee, he opened my eyes to the possibility of starting my own firm, and the membership group he was a part of, XY Planning Network.
The Plan for Starting my Firm / The CFP® Certification
The idea of launching my own firm had always seemed financially burdensome and overwhelming, but now the wheels were turning and I started to lay out a plan to launch my own firm.
Part of that plan was achieving the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (or CFP®) certification.
In the advisory world, anyone can become a financial advisor if they pass an exam and pay some fees. The CFP® certification, though, is a sign of credibility, and displays that you have the experience, education and have taken an ethical oath to act as a fiduciary at all times… not to mention passed a grueling 6 hour exam that most spend hundreds of hours studying for (the CFP® Board calls this the 4 E’s: Education, Experience, Exam, Ethics).
I felt by attaining the CFP® certification that it would show I’m one of the good guys, a fiduciary, and show that I know what I’m doing.
In the early part of 2017, I decided it was time to pull the trigger and sit for the CFP® Exam.
It’s offered three times per year, so I set my sights on the July testing period. I spent countless hours studying (thanks Ken Zahn CFP® Prep Course) on my own time, which when you have a one and a half year old, that’s basically non existent. I recall on our family vacation to Estes Park, about a month before the exam, I spent my son’s nap time sitting on the porch of our cabin studying (on the bright side, not a bad place to study).
The last part of my studying before the exam was a two and a half day live review.
On July 17, 2017 I sat for the CFP® Exam. At the end of the all day exam, I sat in front of the computer screen waiting for my preliminary pass or fail. My brain was mush and hurt by this point. It was probably only a few seconds but it felt like an eternity waiting on the computer to crunch the numbers….
"Congratulations! You Passed,” the screen read.
A tidal wave of emotional joy rushed over me, that I nearly broke down in tears and started crying in the middle of the testing facility. This moment could only to be topped by the time when I first saw my wife on our wedding day and the moment I saw my sons for the first time. This was the first time ever in my life that I had ever felt this amount of emotion rush over me about a stinking exam. I was literally choked up. This one truly meant something.
When I got into my car, I let out the loudest, “WAHOOOO! I DID IT!” I’m sure the car next to me thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care!
Fast forward to September 1, 2017. I had received my official notice that I passed the CFP® Exam the week or so prior. This day, I decided I was going to do something different and start a business… or at least establish my business entity, Hill-Top Financial Planning, LLC. By noon, I had my very own LLC!
All the pieces of the puzzle to realizing my dream of starting my own financial planning firm were coming together. I just had to get my firm registered with regulators so I could do business, and figure out how to have that discussion with my employer. I didn’t know how they were going to take it. I wanted to make sure I had everything for the business lined up, incase the day I informed them of my intentions would be my last. I didn’t want to be the guy that has that discussion with his boss and 30 minutes later is being escorted out of the building with his box of personal belongings.
Fortunately they were very receptive and accommodating to my situation, and we created the most win-win out of the situation we could. I was able to stay on staff for about three months while my firm went through the registration process. Meanwhile, they were able to hire my replacement and have me train her.
My last day was a bittersweet feeling. I was leaving my comfort zone; a steady paycheck and a place that I had been for the last six years. Yet, I was excited for this new opportunity to start my own business. I was excited to help people in my generation become financially free. I was excited to feel that I’m making a difference with the work that I do.
You are the “why” behind Hill-Top
We live in this great nation that is second to none. We have delivered more people out of poverty than any other nation ever has before. We are the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen. This is the land of freedom and opportunity. You get to choose what you’re going to do with your life. Sadly, for too many that vision ends up only being a dream, and not a reality. I’ve seen the dependency culture that has been created. We're told to put our faith in someone else to solve our problems, but they won’t.
Maybe you’re doing great financially, and don’t need any help. That’s great, and I hope you are! Keep on keepin' on!
But what if you’re not in that situation?
Maybe you don’t feel like you’re doing great financially or you feel you’re doing ok, but think you could use some help.
The truth is, you’re the secret recipe for your success, you just have to realize it and unlock your potential for greatness. It all starts with a plan.
I started Hill-Top to help younger generations take back control over their lives and financial future. I want you to become extremely wealthy, so that you can become financially independent, and have the ability to make a positive impact in the world, with your wealth. Money is a tool, and the more of it you have, the more good you can do with it.
Where we are now
As you can see, Hill-Top is up and running, and starting to grow.
During this journey, I have received wonderful support and encouragement from my family and friends. I could spend a whole blog post thanking them, but I’ll save that for a later date. If you’re one of them, just know, I couldn’t have done this without your support, so thank you.
Tyler and I still talk and we’ve actually become friends. He’s kinda my Yoda, and I’m his commissioner in fantasy football. I’m still trying to talk him into doing a podcast that tackles financial topics of interest for the younger crowd. I even have a name for it, “Brewing Financial Sense with Tyler and Kyle” (Tyler is a certified beer judge and avid home brewer hence the “Brewing” part)… and I even offered to put his name first! Pretty appealing if I do say so myself (wink, wink, I hope he’s reading this!).
Lastly, I have to (and want to) thank my wife. I truly wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing if I didn’t have the love and support that she gives me every day. She’s on this wild ride (of starting a business) with me. She could have told me to go get a job, but she didn’t. She believes in me and what I’m trying to do, and I am so very thankful for that.
At Hill-Top, we work with young professionals & young families, in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, to help sort out the confusion and chaos caused by personal finance. We work with you to build a custom, comprehensive financial plan that is focused on your goals and what you want to achieve in life.
So if you’re looking to make some changes in your personal finances, but don’t know where to start, give us a call. Maybe you’ve made some progress with your personal finances but you've reached a point where you need professional help, give us a call too. You can schedule a free introductory call today to see if we're a right fit to work together. We're here to serve you!
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out our future blog posts that address the financial questions that are on your mind.
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