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The Ready.Set.Retire! Blog


The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast Ep 096: The Guidance Point Advisors Culture Code

Benjamin Smith, CFA

Executive Summary

Episode 96

We are back! After taking a little bit of a break here in 2024 we are excited to have a new episode to share. Our firm has been growing and as businesses grow, you resource up, and we've been just working on that a lot. Thank you to those who have just stayed with us and are tuning in again today after our little hiatus. We promise we're back. We’ve got some really great guests that we're lining up here.

For today’s show, seeing as it's been a bit, one of the things that we want to talk about is that as we've been hiring people and as people hire us, we've been getting these questions of, "Okay, well who is this Guidance Point, and what do you guys stand for? Aren't all investment advisors the same?" We've been thinking about that a little bit internally, so much so that we put together a little bit of a thing that we call our Culture Code. The Culture Code is really who we are, what makes us different, and then why, so we want to walk you through that today by just spending a little bit of time on our firm and what makes us different, so today that’s exactly what this episode is about!


What You'll Learn In This Podcast Episode:


What is The Culture Code? [2:50]

Rule #1 Make it Simple. [9:12]

Rule #2 Earn Your Business. [11:50]

Rule #3 Solve for My Success. [12:35]

Rule #4 Treating People Like a Person, not a Persona. [13:45]

Rule #5 Owning Your Screw Ups. [16:19]

Rule #6 Don’t Block the Exit. [19:39]

Rule #7 I Don’t Mind Paying, But I Do Mind Being Played. [21:36]

Rule #8 Do the Right Thing, Even When It’s Hard. [22:54]


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Ben Smith:

Welcome everyone to the Retirement Success in Maine podcast. My name is Ben Smith, and I'm one of the co-hosts here on the show. Listeners, hope you're all doing well today. The phone number is (207) 358-3099 extension 302 if you want to be part of the show, or you can email us at BenSmith@GuidancePointRS.com or CurtisWorcester@GuidancePointRS.com. You can find us on YouTube, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Just search Retirement Success in Maine podcast to find some additional content. At this time, allow me to introduce my co-host, the Pedro Martinez to my Johnny Damon, Curtis Worcester. Curtis, how are you doing, buddy?

Curtis Worcester:

All right, I'm Pedro. I'm doing well. I'm Pedro. This is great. It's a great way to start a show.

Ben Smith:

Throwing gasoline, right?

Curtis Worcester:

I know. Great.

Ben Smith:

It's baseball season, right? You got to throw in some Red Sox.

Curtis Worcester:


Ben Smith:

I think it is the 20th anniversary of the 2004 team, so I wanted to do a little shout-out to our Red Sox curse-breaking team of 2004. We have been a little incognito to all of you out there. Our apologies.

Curtis Worcester:

Just like the Red Sox.

Ben Smith:

Just like the ... It's been a while since we've put a team on the field. We, of course, have taken a little bit of a break here in 2024. All good things. Our firm has been growing. We've been adding a lot of really great clients, clients that have been telling us they've listened to our show, which is really awesome. I think as businesses grow, you get a resource up, and I think we've been just working on that a lot. Thank you for those that have just stayed with us and are tuning in again today after our little hiatus. We promise we're back. We got some really great guests that we're lining up here.

But seeing as it's been a bit, one of the things that we want to talk about is, obviously, we've been hiring people, so we've got some new staff members that we're bringing along in training and getting up to speed. But even from these new customers, we've been getting these questions of, "Okay, well who is this Guidance Point, and what do you guys stand for? Aren't all investment advisors the same?" We've been thinking about that a little bit internally, so much so that we put together a little bit of a thing that we call our Culture Code.

The Culture Code is really who we are, what makes us different, and then why, so we want to walk you through that today of just spend a little bit of time on our firm and what makes us different, so Curtis and I wanted to spend a little time on that. Sound good?

Curtis Worcester:

Absolutely. Sounds great.

Ben Smith:

All right. We're going to walk you through some of this here and a little bit of the introduction to our firm. I know in way back episode one, we did an interview with our firm founder, West Del Col, who is in the Boston area, and that was in 2009 that Guidance Point Advisors we started. We've learned a few things over the last, I think, 15 years at this point, namely that growing a company in the first years is almost exactly like growing a human. Think about growing a human versus growing a business. Both involve a moment of passion followed by years of hard work. Neither one will make money for the first couple of years, which is sadly true on both sides. People will find you insufferable because it's all you talk about. It's really not as easy as your friends make it look on Instagram. I think on Instagram, nowadays, everybody is a successful business owner or kiddo.

Around year two, you decide never ever to want to start another one, company or baby. All the wrong people are eager to give you advice, and there will also be days when you want to sell them. But those are the fun parts of growing a human versus growing a business. But one thing we learned about you as customers out there and needing financial advice, one thing we learned and we're surprised by is that really it's hard for us as financial advisors to stand apart from the crowd, because financial advisors really can have a bad reputation as a group. A lot of studies that we've seen out there that there's just not a good connotation to being a financial advisor, and unfortunately, I think there's limited amount of titles that you can use to be registered as a financial advisor.

I think when you have a group that there's a lot of good apples out there, there's a lot of great advisors, especially in the State of Maine and New England, lots of great professionals out there that do fabulous work, but there are always some in any field that are not as good, and sometimes, that can lead the rest of us to have a bad name. Is it really because that financial advisor applies to many different types of roles in money advice industry but also includes sales, as you have financial advisors that are selling things, and they're on commission, and they're looking to make money that way.

It's really difficult for the end client and user, someone that's seeking financial advice to understand when you're getting sold something, just the salesperson can make a commission, or does the advice have to be in my best interest? Unfortunately, financial advice doesn't always have to be in your best interest. It sometimes can put the financial advisor's interest above your own, and that can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. I think those are things that we're trying to fight against here. The question that we always get there is we put ourselves in your shoes, financial advisor is putting as the customer perspective in play is because the financial advisors have the ability to treat you like they currently do, is that the right way you want to be treated?

The question is how do you want to be helped? That's really the question we've struggled with is what sort of services do you as a customer need, and how do we fulfill them? Which is a lot I think why we have this podcast. So our question is what if hiring a financial advisor wasn't only about managing my money? What if they could help me achieve my life goals, attain a peace of mind, and leave my life more fulfilled?

Curtis Worcester:

Yeah. That's absolutely right, Ben, and we hear that question a lot. We want to address that question a lot. One thing that we use a lot with our clients, so we try to think about this pyramid structure, if you will, to the advice and the work we do with our clients. Really, step one is building that foundation, if you will, the first layer. You have the money manager selection, we have the asset allocation, the security selection, insurance, income generation, taxes, debt, cash flow. Really, that just foundation of the financial advice - advisor relationship, the decision points, to really build that layer. Then we take it another level. We go up this ladder, if you will. We start thinking about things like college, saving for college, healthcare costs, as we retire from the workplace, retirement in general. We have our estate planning, we have maybe charity is really important to us. We're starting to kind of build these goals.

We keep going, another layer here we add on with our clients here is taking care of loved ones. This is part of that picture of that relationship with a financial advisor. Are we organized? Are we in control of everything? Maybe who's going to help control everything if we're not able to? As we age, maybe we just don't have the time. Again, health is a big piece here, so more discretionary time on our hands. Freedom from worry is a huge thing that we help solve. It's that third layer here of the financial advisory role that we like to serve.

Then we really get to the peak here. We have accomplishing our life's purpose, and I know that sounds like just this big statement, and it's the flag at the top of the mountain, and we've made it, but it's really important, and we think here at Guidance Point that is something that we can really help our clients achieve. Then ultimately leaving a legacy is all kind of the cherry on top here of this building this layer of the advisory role.

Again, client goals here for us. By focusing more on our client goals, peace of mind, fulfillment, we've grown our firm by adding clients over the past 10, I know it's been more than 10 years now, but really how do you the client want to be helped? Again, that's that question we're trying to help answer. We've learned that we're a little bit different than other financial advisors, I know Ben was talking about that a couple slides ago so much that our clients have told us the rules they live by. In working with an advisor. Since our firm is a compilation of our clients, we decided to make it a formal piece of our company culture.

Ben Smith:

So essentially what we wanted to do is codify all this and put it as really a Guidance Point Culture Code. That's really essentially the eight rules of our clients, that was, again, from your point of view is what we were trying to accomplish here. If we're looking at this and saying, "Hey, conventional wisdom suggests more is better," more bells, more whistles, but if a financial advisor makes your experience so complex with jargon and strategies that sound smart, but you don't understand them, is it really better for you? I think that's the first rule that we've experienced is rule number one, "Make everything simple for me, the customer, so I can understand it always." If I can't be taught what's happening with my own money and what I'm trying to accomplish, as Curtis read off this building of a ladder of all these things to get to life fulfillment, if I don't understand what's happening to help me get there, it's really difficult for me to then develop a layer of trust.

As customers, I think one of the things we're looking for is simplicity so we can understand it. Simplicity in our eyes, as an investment advisor, is a competitive advantage. If we can make things simple for you so you understand it, then you can really know if we're doing a good job or not. If you don't understand what we're doing and how we're doing it, you just trust and hope that it's okay. That's a very key piece is that we want you to learn what a financial advisor is doing for you in as simple and easy to explain manner, so that you can measure whether it's going in a direction that is leading your life to the proper place. That's something that we believe, our firm, we need to fight for simplicity for you, so that we want as customers, if we're out there, that if you hire a financial advisor, we think that financial advisors should be easy to hire, they should be easy to understand.

They should also be easy to decipher when I'm attaining my goals and fulfilling a better life, because if I'm not, then we need to know that so we can focus on ensuring that happens rather than waiting until it's too late. Also, the advisors need to be easy to love and talk about. It's tough when you go, "Hey, I don't really know what you did for me," to then be able to tell somebody, everyone goes, "I have a person that I work with." "I have a person as well." I think that's something where if hey, they help me achieve a lot of my life purpose is a really big fulfilling promise.

Curtis Worcester:

That's right, Ben, and I really want to keep going here. When we talk to our clients or we have clients seeking us out, it's really important that we earn their business and don't take it. If I am someone really looking for a financial advisor, so my nest egg is so precious to me, my family and I, we've worked our entire life to build up this awesome level of wealth, I should be continually given quality financial advice that I can use on how I should best use our money. Just taking my business with upfront promises that don't deliver and don't maximize my nest egg leaves my wealth potential unfulfilled. Leaving our wealth potential unfulfilled means we won't have that peace of mind or we won't attain those aspirations that we've talked about leading up to this point.

Again, I'm going to keep going here, so another item. I think we're at number three here. We want to solve for my success, not just for beating the market. Again, when I say my, I'm putting myself in our client's shoes here. What did you hear on CNBC? How did stock XYZ perform today? What does moderately aggressive mean anyways? Who cares? You may be listening to me, saying, "Curtis, you're supposed to care. You're a financial advisor." But that's exactly the point here. These types of discussions do nothing to give me, our client, a context of how I can be successful.

It really comes down to what are my goals with my money? How well-funded are those goals and aspirations? What are we going to do to track the progress of these goals, and how do we course correct if things aren't working? We really believe the latter, not the former. Conversational questions put me at the center of money conversations and doesn't leave my success to the whim of market movements.

Again, another item we really want to talk about, treating people like a person, not a persona. It's fine to work with different personas, but relationships are developed with a person. I need you to interact with us how, where and when I want. Again, I'm speaking as a client here or as an investor. I want you to know me, my fears, I wish I could do this, my history with money, and I also want to know about you as my advisor. It's important for us at Guidance Point here. Again, it's all about relationship building. That's really what we want to do at the end of the day here. After all, we hope to be together for a very long time here. Also, our needs of how we want you to interact with us will change as we age, so it's important that we're adaptive with communication, service needs, they'll all be a requirement to give appropriate and necessary level of service.

Ben Smith:

I'll just add on that is, especially as we age, is when I am 40, 50, 60, how I communicate is one way, or if we're talking in person is another thing, but if I'm 85 years old, and I have walking and balance issues, it might be difficult for me to hop in a car and come to downtown Portland or Bangor or one of our offices to go see us. I think that's important is that it's not just having the financial advisor be so rigid that it's like, "Well, no. You got to go park, and then you got to walk down to three blocks to an office. You got to go take two stair flights up, and then you got to go to the elevator up three more flights." That sort of stuff is just a barrier to personal success as we age, so having people understanding the aging process and being adaptable is, I think, a really important consideration.

Curtis Worcester:

You're exactly right, Ben. Again, to kind of wrap up this treating everyone like a person, not just a persona, instead of spending our time learning investments, wouldn't it be better if advisors spent time learning me? You can picture the husband and wife out to dinner, and they say, well, the husband looks at the wife and says, "So tell me about yourself." And the wife says, "Well, we've been married for seven years." That's the situation we don't want to find ourselves in. We want to know you. We want to get to know you, your goals, your plans, and that's really important to us.

Ben Smith:

Yeah. The fifth role we came up with that, again, we've heard from our customers over the years, is owning your screw-ups, and when I say owing, it's owning, so even just own that one, but everyone makes mistakes, everyone. Nobody's perfect. It's how you deal with them that sets you apart. Say you're sorry, be sorry, and make it better. The key to screw-ups and bad news is to communicate, not hide. When you discover a screw-up, please tell me as soon as it's discovered, let's create a plan on how to make it better together and communicate back to me when it's taken care of. Don't hide your mistakes or from your mistakes.

I don't know how much time in this industry I have heard someone come up to me or Curtis or any of our colleagues and they go, "Hey, during the financial crisis, I was calling my advisor and I was trying to talk to him. I didn't hear from him for three months." Or my father-in-Law tells me about he had an advisor in the crash of '87 and never call them back. Called them several times. "What's going on? What should I do?" No call back, right? That's the time when we as advisors need to be more responsive, we need to more on the phone, we need to be more proactive.

There's times we got to be reactive, because people are calling in and they have questions, but those are the times that you go, geez, we got to be over-communicative. Owning your screw-ups, and I know those are maybe two different realms there, but if something doesn't work out, like, "Oh, you asked for a thousand dollars, we accidentally sent you $500," those sorts of things. "Hey, we didn't send you enough. We got to fix this. Let's call, tell you what happened, why it happened, and how we're going to make it better," is I think a really important point.

That brings me to a story about KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and actually the story goes to in Greater London, this is I think in the late '90s. There's a chicken supply chain issue, so for days and days and days on end, all the KFC restaurants in greater London were out of chicken. Customers coming to the store, "Hey, can I have the Colonel's Original Recipe?" "No, we don't have any." They were having signs on the door. People are mad, and they're going, "I'm never going back there again." Well, to KFC, they actually took a full page ad out in the local newspapers, and on it, it was a full page ad, and they took the KFC Chicken Bucket, but they rearranged the KFC to actually be FCK.

Right below the bucket that had those mixed up letters on it, it said we're sorry, and it says, "A chicken restaurant should not be without any chicken. It's not ideal. We messed up our supply chain. We had a ton of issues. Here's when it's going to be fixed. We're so sorry that you didn't get to have your chicken this week, but we're going to do everything we can to make it better." I'm not saying that we're going to go take out full page ads when something goes wrong, but I think having that attitude is, I think, really important is that you really are very serious about owning that issue as you spot it.

The other, I think, point of that is, I think we see this with advisors that might use certain products or certain maybe insurance related products, is that some investments, they have difficulty leaving some of those investments, and I think that was the rule number six that we came up with is don't block the exit. It might be easy to hire a financial advisor, but why is leaving so hard if it's not working out? Sometimes, they don't work out. It's okay. It doesn't have to be awkward, but don't force someone to stay that if they don't want to. I think that was a big deal, and I think that's something that we come up with, too, is we're so serious about our clients fulfilling their goals, if it isn't with us, that is okay. If things just didn't work out, and again, relationships, everybody has relationships in life that just don't work, and that's fine, especially over our lifetimes. But don't block that exit.

You think about the examples of the, I won't throw out any company names, but maybe there's cable companies that might do this. To cancel service, you need to have a letter from your doctor notarized by the Dalai Lama and filed at the end of that rainbow, right? There's so many hurdles you have to go through and call four different call centers, and they transfer you from one place to the next, and sales got to talk to you. I just want to cancel. Why does that to have to be so hard? I think that's a really big important point, because statistically, 89% of customers are more likely to buy if a company makes it easy and simple to cancel, because no one wants to get into something they don't feel like they can get out of. That's a big barrier to hiring somebody, and I think that's something that we've heard loud and clear is that if it's not working, we want to make sure that someone can go to the place that leaves them fulfilled and successful.

Curtis Worcester:

We've been hired now, right? We're at rule number seven, so very important here, I don't mind paying, but I do mind being played. You shouldn't need a master's degree in math to figure out what you're paying for something. It's important to us to keep our pricing open, clear and fair. Again, I'm not going to name any names here, but let's keep the cable company going here. So we've signed up and you just want to figure out what you're paying. You're sitting at the computer, you're on the phone, and they're just throwing super complex algebraic formulas, "Add here, go there, activation fees." It's just not the way it works. Again, today's day and age, it just doesn't fly with customers.

Again, Ben mentioned a couple of minutes ago, the statistic of people knowing it's easy to cancel. Part of that also is knowing exactly what you're paying. We're not charging these "We don't care about our customers" fee, or, "We're greedy and you can't do anything about it" fee, and, "We know you weren't going to refer friends anyway" fees, right? So again, here at Guidance Point, it's just so important to us to be, again, I think we touched on it earlier, simplicity. Why hide it? We're not hiding anything here. We offer you a price, we offer you a service, you're going to see it, straightforward.

Ben Smith:

Then the next rule, again, the eight rules is what we're talking about, this is the eighth one. This feels all kind of golden rules type thing and treat people how you want to be treated. The eighth rule is do the right thing, even when it's hard, and I'll add another part to that, especially when it's hard, because what you do defines your company's destiny. If I'm a customer, and I have extra money to either invest, save, or retire debt, it really does mean that I want the best advice possible on what to do that maximizes my future wealth. It's easy for you as an advisor to say, "We should invest our money with you since it pays you more in fees." It's hard to actually think about us, our situation and what is best for us, even if it includes not investing more money with you.

This is something where, just comedically, we kind of say is like, "Hey, with our clients right now, there's a lot of really great deals in cash and CDs. They're paying really good interest rates." There's nothing wrong with holding a little extra cash on the sidelines and preparing for rainy days, while you do that is having a higher interest rate paying account. It doesn't mean that all the money has to come to us so we can charge as much as we can. I think it goes back to the relationship point is that we're here for a relationship long-term. There's going to be money that comes in and works with us, and there's going to be money that comes out. Both are fine. I think that it's all about maximizing you as a person, not maximizing just wealth so we can charge more on it. That is the important part. Because at the end of the day, the financial advisor has the right to treat you like that doesn't mean that it makes it right, and I think that's really important too.

By the way, look, we have a podcast here about aging. Life is short, life really is short. It should be fulfilling and fun. The people around you is a big part of life, so shouldn't the people you hire, including your financial advisor, help your life be fulfilling and fun? Look, table stakes as advisors, you hope we all know what we're talking about. We have a certain level of expertise that we can give you good advice. It is really difficult for you to measure that. It's easier to measure people that are very serious about what they do, who they work with, who they work for, and that when someone comes in and they sit in front of you, they turn off the phone, they're not looking at their computer, they're not looking at other things, waiting for you to leave to get the next person in. It's really all about you, and they're asking really great questions of trying to help you wherever they can. I think that's a really important point.

I know I gave you our contact info at the beginning of the show. If there's something that we can help out with, we'd love to hear from you. Again, we have offices in Wellesley in Mass, Bangor in Portland, but also we work virtually throughout all of the country. We have clients all over. Feel free to reach out to us at our website, guidancepointllc.com. Again, my email address is BenSmith@GuidancePointRS.com, and Curtis's email is CurtisWorcester@GuidancePointRS.com. This is our 96th episode.

Curtis Worcester:


Ben Smith:

We're coming up on a really good number.

Curtis Worcester:

We are.

Ben Smith:

Again, we got some pretty good guests coming up, but thank you for coming back to us. Thanks for staying tuned to our show, again, being with us for this journey. We've grown so much. I hope you have as well, and we will catch you next time. Take care.

Topics: Pre-Retirement, In Retirement, Podcast