What It’s Like to Work with a High-Touch Financial Advisor

by Kristin Hoppe

Certified Financial Planner Michal Skowronski doesn’t run his business like your average financial advisor.

While many advisors will check in with their clients once or twice a year, he likes to take a high-touch approach with monthly check-ins.

“This model helps me to focus my business and scale on certain topics and really, really dig in there,” he said. “It also helps develop the plan over the course of the year, versus before each and every meeting.”

His analytical and detail-oriented approach is ideal for clients who want to make sure they leave no stone unturned and have an accountability partner for their goals.

Michal’s annual service calendar isn’t the only thing that makes his services unique. He actually makes part of the 10% of the financial advisors in the US who are fee-only. In other words, he decides not to sell products and only focuses on quality financial advice instead.

Even better, his services are available to people in a wide variety of financial positions. Like other advisors My Financial Counsel works with, Michal delivers the same high-touch services previously reserved only for high net worth individuals.

Below, we discuss Michal’s long-term experience in fiduciary advising, common financial mistakes, and why some people are so reluctant to get a financial advisor.

You are one of the rare financial advisors who has exclusively worked in fee-only (zero-commission) advising since the beginning. What got you interested in that?

“I came up in a company that has that feel of the fiduciary independent model. When I started my business, I [had] a very similar structure.”

I was fortunate to get an opportunity [to work in fee-only advising] that allowed me to make a profession out of it back in 2006. That’s a really important question because I think depending on where you start, it can expose you to all different parts of the industry.

And for better or worse, you could end up being exposed to a certain business model or fee structure that just changes your perception of how the industry works and how you help people.

I came up in a company that has that feel of the fiduciary independent model. When I started my business, I [had] a very similar structure. I’m glad I came up in the way that I did because I didn’t have to go in a different direction, or think about things differently. I just had to continue from where I left off essentially.

A lot of your work is centered around major life changes. Could you speak to the areas that you help with?

[I often focus on] the accumulation phase and then decumulation phase – helping to automate cash flows in a way that is working towards shorter and longer term goals.

[The accumulation phase includes things like] sudden wealth, like inheritances, gifts, stock option related wealth, concentrated stock, or real estate sales.

Essentially, someone’s family member died, they have now a trust or inherited IRA or inherited 401k, or they just sold their house, and they’re trying to convert it into income or the proceeds into income or concentrated stock position.

Another category would be the decumulation phase, where suddenly there’s no paycheck and we’re having to essentially recreate a sustainable livable income off of portfolio assets. In particular, whether someone’s taking sabbatical or living abroad for a while, or traveling the world before they move on to a next job and just need a little bit of a cashflow, a sustainable cashflow.

Or you’re actually going into retirement and all of a sudden, [you have no] paycheck, or only social security and you need to supplement that with a sustainable income off your portfolio.

A very common concern is what to do with all the moving parts. Helping to automate those cash flows that works towards their shorter and longer term goals.

What is included in the scope of a sample annual service calendar?

  1. January – Previous year snapshot and risk tolerance review
  2. February – Tax preparation and planning/contribution opportunities
  3. March – Shoring up documents, like 1099s
  4. April – Taxes
  5. May – Estate planning, account types and filings
  6. June – Risk (insurance, property casualty, life, etc.)
  7. July – Education planning or credit card, credit report review
  8. August – Retirement planning, financial goal status assessment
  9. September – Cash flow and debt analysis, business planning opportunities, etc.
  10. October – EOY tax planning (Roth conversion, tax incentivized liquidations, bracket arbitrage, small business tax planning, etc.)
  11. November – Employee benefits optimization, open enrollment, stock options
  12. December – Strength/weakness opportunity, cleanup

What would you say are some of the most common financial mistakes you see your clients make?

“It’s a process to educate people in the public about what is out there, the models that exist and what it means to have a CFP.”

So I think the biggest ones are emotional and behavioral related. By far. Because those are the most impactful. You can be doing everything right… and all of a sudden you get a trigger and you suddenly do something that just has major impacts. And that throws everything, all the little things you did right into disarray.

One of the more dramatic examples would be a lot of people panicked in 2008, 2009 [and they never] got back into the market, they sold. And have been waiting for an opportunity to get back in the market ever since. And that’s no matter how good you were before, for the longest time an action like that really set you back significantly.

Keeping up with the Joneses I think is another massive one. You have this expectation to live this certain lifestyle, you have to have these things, because it’s just everyone around you has them.

And also not asking for help, not listening to help, not being willing to listen. You know, you might hear it but you’re not actually listening. You’re not open to [advice] because you have your biases or your preconceptions.

Many people lump all advisors, including fee-only advisors, together with bank and insurance company advisors. Why do you think this misconception is so pervasive?

The way that it’s been depicted historically in media and otherwise is powerful. And I don’t think the new industry landscape has been depicted as powerfully. It’s a process to educate people in the public about what is out there, the models that exist and what it means to have a CFP.

The biggest misconceptions revolve around that, just the movies and anecdotes. And unfortunately, the regulators are having a hard time helping because they’re allowing the full spectrum of the industry to exist almost without distinction.

What would you say to someone who is reluctant or skeptical about getting a financial advisor?

If I had a conversation with someone that’s reluctant and skeptical, it would be a two part conversation where I’m first trying to identify what they’re really reluctant and skeptical about (sometimes the honest truth and reason behind it is difficult to share with a stranger and doesn’t come out until later) before attempting to respond to it.

I typically also try to share context around the industry itself. The industry itself is a lot different than it was. And every day it’s evolving from there. It used to be a lot simpler [because] it was focused on buying and selling securities. It was really a stockbroker mentality. The amount of advisors that are focused more on financial planning and proactively offering many more services than merely buying and selling securities is switching [places].

I think there are a number of different personalities, even within couples and families, around finances. Not all of them are well suited to working with a financial advisor. 

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