In founding her own wealth management firm, BespokenWealth.com, Laurel wanted to share accessible financial strategy that would otherwise only be available to the wealthy. She believes you can build wealth in this country with solid planning and investment strategy, regardless of your family's background.
1. What inspired you to take up a career in finance?
I never liked finance in school. It just wasn't something that interested me. I liked sciences and earned my degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Towards the end of my education, though, I realized that every scientist needed to find funding for their experiments. That meant seeking grant money or money from individual investors. There happened to be a lot of politics involved in that process, and often times the best experiments were blocked from being conducted due to lack of funding, not lack of importance. I wanted to make a difference in science by funding experiments that were not funded elsewhere. To do so, I set out to see how money worked.
I looked for an internship at an investment firm, but ended up with an opportunity to work alongside my father as long as I passed my licensing tests. I passed my series 7 and series 66 on my first try, and was sent for further training in St. Louis. By the time I was done, I realized how important money and savings are to every single household out there. I saw that there was a massive need for trustworthy, knowledgeable, and sound individuals to provide advice on investments.
Unfortunately, most individuals don't realize that they aren't getting good financial advice, but are either being sold a product or are being short-changed. 401(k) providers at work usually do little or nothing to educate people on how to invest. They don't want the liability, so they tell people to pick for themselves. They just give them a bunch of choices and say, "You pick." People often chose randomly because they're so overwhelmed. Others go online and think they're getting good advice. They don't realize the biases involved and the products being sold to them through the advice they're reading. Even accountants fall victim to savvy investment salesmen who convince them that selling investments is something anyone can do to get them to sell their mutual funds. It's disgusting, and I could see that I could really make a difference for individuals by giving sound advice and knowing what was going on out there and who was pushing what. It's too much information for the hobby investor or average person to expect to understand since they have to spend their time working. My work is this, and that's why a good investment advisor is so important for individuals to have.
2. Why did you decide to start your own personal investment firm?
I was frustrated by how expensive the large firms were for my clients. There has been a push towards banking and away from investing as well. Banking is different from investing in that it involves loans, lines of credit, and checking accounts. Investments are a completely different specialty. I did not think it was in my clients' best interests to be sold mortgages and lines of credit when they were just trying to allocate their 401(K). I left the firm and worked briefly with another individual who ran her own firm from her house. I then started mine.
Unfortunately, most independent advisors do not have much education in investing. They usually have accounting knowledge, then sell investments on the side. To give people good investment advice without having to sell the products a large firm wanted me to push and without having to charge people an arm and a leg, I needed to start my own firm.
3. How do you customize your wealth-building strategies to meet the individual needs of your clients?
I listen to my clients. I mean really listen. People tell me what they're concerned about, what they're feeling, and what they want to do with their money. Then, I do my work to find the type of account, type of investment, and type of platform on which they can hold their investment before making a recommendation on all of these. Some people prefer to do their own investing and just want someone to bounce ideas off of for now. Others need a whole financial plan and want a trusted advisor to handle their accounts so that they don't have to. Either way, I choose each investment and product with my clients, based on their needs and wants. I do not choose one way to do things and then make all of my clients invest that way. That's why I'm different, but that's also what makes my way of doing things efficient. It takes skill, knowledge, experience, and an ability to understand what individuals are experiencing to be able to run my investment firm the way that I do. I know that I'm delivering the best quality advice a person can get because I'm not swayed by corporate interests or manipulated by mutual fund companies. My clients get my full attention, and that's why my firm is unique and personalized.
4. I think a lot of people feel that they can't afford to hire an investment adviser. What would you say to people who feel that way?
Can anybody afford NOT to hire one? The difference between 25 years of good investing and 25 years of guessing on your own is large. Either way, everybody will pay someone to manage their money. It's best that you make a judgement call about who you want to pay and how they'll manage it instead of just going with the flow and telling yourself you're saving money. Unless you are the one waving a ticket on the trading floor of a stock exchange, you are paying someone to invest. Even people using discount online trading that they do themselves are paying someone to invest for them. They just don't realize it, and that's part of the marketing that the trading platforms propagate. It's often hidden and complicated, but that's the truth. So if you think you can't afford to pay an investment advisor, you're wrong. You already are paying someone; you just might not be getting advice.
5. For people who are new to investing their money and working toward building wealth, what is your advice on getting started?
My advice is to save your money. Investing can be overwhelming, especially with so much bad information out there, but don't panic. Slow and steady wins the race. Friends and relatives may mean well, but they are often our worst enemies when it comes to the investment advice they give. If you're not comfortable investing your savings, you don't have to. When you're ready to invest, you'll know. Then, realize that slow and steady wins the race.
Finances are EXTREMELY personal to people. Every single person has a different speed at which they want to go. Unfortunately, everybody also thinks that they're a professional at finance and wants to tell you what to do with your money. It's difficult to stand your ground, but my advice is do your best to save as much as you can, then be true to your instincts about how to grow your money once you've saved it.
The worst thing a person can do is nothing. Time is the most important thing an investor has to work with, and the longer people wait before investing their savings, the less time they have. Doing nothing is actually hurting you, so get serious about saving some money for investing. It's the best way to take control of your future.