Celebrating new beginnings on April 1!

Jeff Bernier |
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By Jeff Bernier

Yesterday was April 1st. I love that it was also Easter this year—the day of new beginnings—and the anniversary of my start as a financial planner 33 years ago.

Looking back at my 22-year-old self when I first started this adventure, I was a “paper maché guy.” Because I wanted desperately to be respected, I drove a car that I couldn't afford and wore suits that put me into debt. And though I meant well, I was a chameleon, changing my colors to fit whatever the client needed. But I was lucky to have grown up with a good container of values, and one thing I did have right was that “doing right” was the key.

When I discovered the CFP Board, I knew immediately that their philosophy was completely aligned with my own. I became a Certified Financial Planner™—or CFP®—when few people even knew what it was. While most of my peers were focused on selling products, I loved the planning side of the work more than anything, and I knew that studying for my CFP exams would give me more tools to help my clients build more effective, long-term financial plans. I had found my niche, so I was bringing on new clients, planning my heart out, and loving every minute of it all.

When Black Monday hit in October of 1987, the Dow fell an incredible 22.6% and sent many advisors reeling. (Note that a 22.6% decline back then was just 508 points, sending the market to a low of 1,738.74. If that’s not a tip-of-the-hat to long-term investing, I don’t know what is!) But for me, it didn't matter all that much. I didn't have much money in the market yet (largely because I was a terrible salesperson who couldn't do a shallow financial plan to save my life) and I didn't have a lot of clients yet, so I was able to stay focused on my goal of becoming the best advisor I could be.

But my ideas continued to make me a bit of a weird duck at the office. My firm viewed comprehensive financial planning as a “low margin” business, and while everyone around me was busy talking about sales contests and recognition, all I wanted to do was learn more about objective, fee-based planning. I read Roger Gibson’s classic Asset Allocation: Balancing Financial Risk, and his clear explanation of Modern Portfolio Theory and his ideas on multiple asset class diversification opened my eyes to the importance of balancing risk and reward and of serving as a true fiduciary to my clients (his thinking is the backbone of the investment philosophy that we still employ today). A few years later, I joined a program called Strategic Coach, where I learned the nuts and bolts of creating a consistent, high-quality client experience. And the more I learned, the more I saw one thing very clearly: I had to be independent. I had to get out from under someone else’s agenda.

Then, on a single afternoon in 2002, everything I’d learned over the years and all I was passionate about suddenly came together to change my future. It was my turn to receive the big service award at the 2002 annual meeting (a rite of passage if you survived there long enough!). Just before the awards ceremony, one of the firm’s executives took me aside to tell me that the firm was dropping my preferred high-integrity investment solution because the firm had deemed it “not profitable enough.” It was a breaking point. As I stood on that stage accepting an award for my “achievements,” I felt like a fraud. I knew deep in my heart that it was time to break away and start my own firm—one that was free to truly focus on what was best for our clients. My entrepreneurial seed had sprouted.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 2003, I opened the doors to TandemGrowth Financial Advisors, bringing “the two Monas” with me from the old firm (which has since imploded). We began as fee-based planners, and transitioned to fee-only a year later.

Fast forward to today. 33 years from my start, I’m as passionate about helping people plan better, more fulfilling lives as I’ve ever been. Our team has grown to support our growing family of clients, and new processes and better technologies have improved everything we do. What hasn't changed is our focus on relationships, our mission of helping each client create the capacity to lead a more fulfilling life—and our dedication to holistic, values-based financial planning. While much of the hands-on planning is now in the hands of our amazing team, I’m proud to champion all that we do. I’m thrilled to be at the helm of an organization that helps so many clients in ways I never could have imagined all those years ago.

Thank you, as always, to our team and our loyal clients. I wish you all a joyful Easter and a happy spring. I hope it leads to great new beginnings for all.

Best,

Jeff

TandemGrowth Financial Advisors

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