Finding Long-Term Success as an Independent Financial Advisor: How XYPN Helps Advisors Beyond Launch

11 min read
November 21, 2019

If you’re at least a little bit familiar with XY Planning Network, then you know we provide resources for fee-for-service financial planners who deliver comprehensive financial advice to their Gen X and Gen Y clients—and it’s quite possible you think XYPN is designed exclusively for those advisors making the transition to new firm owner.

That’s not the case.

XYPN provides resources for firms long after the initial launch phase. We’ve worked to deepen our relationships with established advisors and to support financial planners well beyond their startup years.

Rather than give you a laundry list of the many ways we support established advisors, I thought my time would be better spent sharing the stories of two established advisors who joined XYPN within the past six months.

If you’re an established advisor wondering what XYPN has to offer, read on.

The Journey to XYPN as an Established Business Owner

Tara Unverzagt

Tara Unverzagt with South Bay Financial Advisors knew she wanted to join XYPN when she realized members were a group of “real financial planners, not just salesmen in disguise.”  

“I was part of a family business for over 25 years. When my mother decided to retire, I tried to take over the business. I looked around to see what the ‘competition’ was doing and how I could differentiate. I quickly realized what we did was completely different than anyone I could find. My mother had started her business as a financial planner helping people with budgeting, investing, taxes, estate planning, insurance planning, goal setting and monitoring at the core. Investing wasn’t our main focus, but rather a service we provided as part of a bigger package. BUT, the industry was being disrupted right as I was starting my own business. Investments were becoming table stakes and people were looking for a 'deeper relationship', aka good old-fashioned financial planning.

I like to say we were either ahead of our time or behind the times. I choose to believe we were ahead of our time,” says Tara. 

XYPN is a community of advisors who believe financial planning is core to the advisor-client relationship. As you can see in XYPN’s membership standards, a commitment to providing financial planning is required, whereas investment management is not. In fact, many XYPN members don’t even offer investment management to their clients.

William Carrington

Being part of a community of business owners who have made the commitment to put ongoing financial planning first was an intentional decision for members like William Carrington with Carrington Financial Planning.

“The subscription model is intriguing. I would like to offer ongoing financial planning for those who cannot support an AUM model,” says William.

The Like-Minded Community

A like-minded community is a draw for many established advisors. William explains that the lack of community was one of his main drivers to join the Network.

“As a solo practitioner running a 99% remote practice, I deal with a lot of isolation. XYPN is a friendly group of 'partners' who help me feel more connected to the profession. I am NAPFA-Registered, DFA approved, and use Loring Ward/BAM as my investment/back office partner (I don't like the term TAMP). However, I can still feel isolated. The welcome I got from XYPN was really special.”

As Tara explains:

“Seeing how different our business was from everyone around us was really lonely. I remember joining the FPA over 25 years ago and realizing I was in a room full of salespeople. This wasn’t my tribe. Now 25 years later, there still didn’t seem to be anyone like us. Until I found XYPN. When I discovered XYPN, I realized this was my people! I wasn’t alone. Nobody told me I was silly for wanting to take the financial planning path for young adults!”

Collaborating with fellow members who serve similar niches is one of the most valuable parts of membership. Tara reaps that benefit by remaining engaged in the XYPN community through her study group:

“I’m part of the Student Loan Study Group which has connected me to a wealth of information and people. We’ve not only learned about student loans from studying and experts, we’ve shared real-life case studies. It’s a great way to increase your experience without having to actually work with all those cases yourself. It’s like speed learning. And the people in the group are great advisors to have in my network.”

Staying Relevant to Gen X and Gen Y

The need to remain relevant to Gen X and Gen Y is a popular conversation among many in our industry. Tara explains it was the draw to market her business to this generation that made XYPN membership so important:

“When I realized that XYPN also focused on Gen X and Y advisors and clients, I was hooked. That was my market and I’m one of the first Gen Xers. Perfect! The fact that my target market was 25–35-year-old couples with low assets, maybe in debt, with one person who is a freelancer and income of $75+, was further confirmation that I was in the right place.”

William also wants to remain relevant for succession planning purposes. He’s spent ample time considering where his firm will be in 10 or 15 years and sees XYPN membership playing a big role: 

“I want to be part of a group that is on the leading edge of things and try to be proactive in case I need to adapt my firm to industry/market changes. Also, the new approach and fresh look of the entire organization appealed to me.

My college-aged son who is pre-law recently expressed an interest in possibly joining my firm. This was a complete surprise and I would like my firm to be very streamlined and organized so it would be easy to step into. I am already streamlined, but there is always room for improvement. Also, the youth culture (can I say that?) of XYPN should be appealing and welcoming to him. He is far from making a decision, but I want to be prepared.”

Real Continuing Education

Running a business requires you to always learn and evolve. Your to-do list never seems to shorten. Many advanced advisors who join XYPN are nearing capacity and need to make changes now so they can be successful long term.

Tara explains, “I had so many challenges going on in my business when I first found out about XYPN. One problem identified is that we have too much work and too many clients for our current team. We continue to market but we’ve put onboarding new clients on hold for now.”

William struggled with something similar:

“I am fortunate that I receive a healthy stream of prospective clients and I want to improve my conversion rate. I may need to change a number of aspects of my firm to do that.”

Tara and William are great examples of the statistic we know about advanced members: operations remain a challenge for advisors in years 5+ of running their businesses.

“I joined XYPN as I was preparing to move out of shared office space, was nearing the end of my hiring journey, was going deeper in creating robust processes, while maintaining our full client load. I suspect I could have gotten to that point at least a year or two earlier if I had had the resources XYPN offers.

After getting my team in place, we went to work on becoming more efficient. 2019 was the year to improve efficiency. We started in January with a company retreat (in our office—since no one actually works there anymore, that was “getting out” for them). We talked about how we could improve efficiency and came up with a couple of areas to focus on. We’ve been doing great and are finally getting into a good groove.” 

Whether it’s the new processes and workflows created by XYPN’s Financial Planning and Process Coach, Emily Purdon, or reviewing the discourse between members on the forums, learning about how others survived these business inflection points has been extra meaningful for Tara and other advanced advisors. Her and others been able to make real changes in their firms since joining the network and seeking support from the community.

Front Line Industry Advocacy

After XYPN announced its lawsuit against the SEC, we heard from a number of experienced advisors that “this is exactly the kind of member benefit” they were looking for.

It’s not every day a company like XYPN advocates for the profession by suing the SEC. Whether it’s a letter to regulators in Washington, or on behalf of a bill supporting the fiduciary standard, XYPN has always looked for ways to move the profession forward.

Although advocacy doesn’t provide explicit “value” to a member the way a technology discount does, the alignment with our leadership is often what makes members stay. As William says, “I am concerned about the future of financial planning. I've been a follower of Michael Kitces for years, so I like to keep tabs on things he is involved in.”

XYPN offers opportunities for members to get involved with advocacy work at the ground level. Last year, member Kevin Mahoney led the charge to offer pro bono services to clients impacted by the federal shutdown. Within four days, 60 additional XYPN advisors took a pledge to offer their services free of charge to those impacted—we even built out a specific niche for that group on our Find an Advisor portal so furloughed workers could easily connect with one of these advisors.

XYPN also has a very active Diversity Committee that has made a meaningful impact on our industry. The Diversity Committee initiated the anti-harassment Code of Conduct at our national conference, #XYPNLIVE, which has gained national attention. They host “Quarterly Conversations” for members on topics ranging from intersectionality to diversity in the workplace. They’ve also awarded more than 20 individuals the CFP® Exam Scholarship, and publicly push for a more equitable industry.

“After a lifetime of learning about diversity and doing what I could to improve integration, I’ve been knocked on my head with a completely new way of addressing diversity since I joined XYPN. I will be forever grateful to XYPN for the opportunity to grow in this area,” shares one member. 

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Advanced Member Compliance Support

Compliance continues to be a major selling point for XYPN’s advanced advisors. As Tara says:

“I wish I had known XYPN has an awesome compliance service. We sit in almost every compliance “office hours”. Not necessarily listening to every word though. It’s like listening to the radio and when you hear your favorite song, you stop and pay attention. If we have a question, which is often, “office hours” is our go-to for an answer. As an SEC-registered firm, much of what is said is state-oriented so we do need to weed through what applies to us and what doesn’t. In the end, most information does ultimately apply to us. 

I’ve been audited by the state of California a couple of times and by the SEC a few. I have to say, the XYPN people know answers to my questions better than any auditor has. That’s pretty remarkable.”

Just this year, XYPN began offering what so many have asked for: ongoing one-on-one compliance coaching. Advanced members can now sign up for an ongoing engagement with one of XYPN’s compliance experts to work through their compliance needs. Additionally, the team has added weekly “Compliance Office Hours” to help answer advanced members’ compliance questions live.

William shares that access to experts with whom he can discuss “nearly every aspect of running a financial planning firm” is a huge draw for him. “Sometimes I just need to ask someone a question or discuss a particular issue. The cost savings available through member discounts on a host of apps and services.”

Marketing Support

Tara highlights another great feature of membership: marketing support.

“I wish I had known that XYPN had so many marketing and sales resources. I could have saved myself a lot of time and money over the last several years had I joined XYPN and used their resources. When I started my business, I knew I was terrible at marketing. It just wasn’t in my wheelhouse. I started studying via blogs, webinars, workshops, etc. After a year, I felt comfortable with marketing (not great but ok). The real problem was I terrible at sales. I started studying that area. I finally hired a marketing person because I didn’t have time to do it all.” 

XYPN receives media requests weekly and shares those requests with XYPN advisors, which results in incredible media exposure for those who are featured.

“I love the media requests. At this point, I’m not looking for clients but I am looking for exposure. I want people to know about South Bay Financial Planners and getting into articles is a great way to get our name out and what our expertise is,” says Tara.

While client referrals are really important to most advisors, many advanced advisors recognize upon joining that they are actually at capacity: 

“We didn’t join XYPN until I thought we had our staff in place and were ready to start taking on new clients. After joining, I realized XYPN is so much more than a referral network. And after joining, I realized we don’t even want referrals right now,” says Tara.

You’re Not Just a Number

When you join XYPN, we make it a habit to really get to know you—your successes, pain points, goals, and vision. Through the Member Experience Program, XYPN staff make personal introductions between members themselves—introductions to local advisors in the same city, or similarly situated advisors across the country. Whenever the team sees a worthy introduction, they make it.  

Additionally, the MES team personalizes the member experience by regularly reviewing the most relevant and applicable member benefits available to every advisor. 

“I really appreciate the MES check-ins on a regular basis. I use it as a resync time. I think about “What is my current pain point? Where could I use help? What are my goals right now?” My meeting with Kassy (a member of XYPN's Member Experience Team) is more an opportunity to think out loud with a live body who can give feedback and let me know about resources that can help me take care of whatever the current projects are,” Tara shares.

From One Experienced Business Owner to Another

So, what do Tara and William say when asked, “What advice can you give an established RIA who is considering joining XYPN?”

William: “Make sure you look at the list of member benefits - as the list has really grown. The cost savings alone is worth serious consideration. Listen in on a weekly ‘Welcome to the Network Call’. That really made me feel very good about my decision to join.”

Tara: “If you are considering joining, you should just do it. I originally thought I’d join for one month to 'see what was inside.' If it wasn’t worth it, I could always drop the membership. I immediately got a prospect AND four reporters looking for input that I responded to. I decided XYPN had earned a few more months of 'trying it out.' Almost one year later, I don’t look for the month to month justifications.” 

Tara and William are great examples of the varying reasons advanced advisors join XYPN, and their stories demonstrate the unique benefits you can reap by being part of the community.

As we always say, membership is what you make of it. With the help of our Member Experience Team, you’ll feel right at home at XYPN.

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About the Author

Maddy Roche is the Director of Member Services at XYPN, and has been making moves and getting sh!t done since she joined the team in May of 2014 when the Network was made up of our first 30 founding members. Since then, Maddy has worked with and welcomed each of the Network’s members, and helps all of them take advantage of XYPN membership. Maddy is responsible for member benefits and services, including management of vendor partnerships and member rollouts and initiatives. She manages the XYPN Member Experience Program.

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