For advisers serving clients and country, the balancing act is tough

Nov 10, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Texas financial adviser David Hollands jokes about losing “one client and one wife” while serving with the U.S. Army Reserves in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005.

His poignant punch line is, “I got the client back.”

Mr. Hollands, like hundreds of other advisers, knows the business challenges of having responsibilities to both his clients and his country during periods of military deployment.

“Serving is a big distraction in your practice, but I felt compelled to leave,” he said about having been called up to serve in Afghanistan for six months beginning in November 2004.

Mr. Hollands, 53, was in the U.S. Army full time for a decade, including periods in Panama and in the first Gulf War, before becoming an adviser in 1992. A recipient of the Bronze Star medal, he joined Transamerica Financial Advisors Inc. in 2001 and does business as Eagle Wealth Solutions in Plano, Texas.

When the call came to serve as the chief financial officer for the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and for the U.S. forces commander, Mr. Hollands had the support of his Transamerica office of supervisory jurisdiction, and nearly all his 100 clients backed him in his military commitment. But one didn't.

“I imagine someone else pitched that client, and they were already worried about what would happen if I didn't come back,” Mr. Hollands said. “It stung a bit.”

Mr. Hollands said he called that ex-client soon after returning from Afghanistan and he “was pretty quick to come back” after knowing Mr. Hollands had safely returned to financial advising full time.

The stress of being away also damaged Mr. Hollands' relationship with his then-wife, with whom he has three daughters. He is now married again, and his wife, Karina, is vice president of Eagle Wealth, focusing on client services and marketing.

Serving dual roles of soldier and adviser made Mr. Hollands keenly aware of the importance of having a contingency plan that details what happens to clients if something should happen to their adviser. He has an agreement with his OSJ to carry on each other's practice.

“We do quite a bit of joint work, which has helped us develop the confidence that both our families and our clients will be taken care of if something happens to either of us,” he said.

Transamerica also has developed tools and checklists to help its advisers prepare for planned and unplanned succession.

“All advisers need a backup plan,” Mr. Hollands said.

He retired in June from the Army Reserves at the rank of colonel.

STUNTED GROWTH

Jeff Rose, chief executive of Alliance Wealth Management, was just gaining momentum in his advisory career when his National Guard unit was called up to join Operation Iraqi Freedom in January 2005.

“I was in the growth phase of my career, and things were finally starting to come together,” he said. “There's a lot of uncertainty deploying to a war zone, and it stunted my growth.”

Mr. Rose, 35, a staff sergeant, served as a squad leader in central Baghdad, conducting military police maneuvers for about 16 months.

In his practice back home, he had left about 45 client households in the care of a senior adviser with his firm, A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc.

Most clients were supportive and proud. Some even sent care packages to Iraq. But Mr. Rose did lose one client and, of course, he wasn't around to look for new clients.

“A lot of good came out of my service then, but not from a production standpoint,” he said.

Even when he was safely back, Mr. Rose “felt like a fish out of water” in his first client meeting during the week that he returned home.

He then took another 90 days off “to readjust to being a civilian,” he said.

Mr. Rose credits a program that A.G. Edwards had that allowed him to attain the certified financial planner mark within a year for helping him regain his career focus.

In December 2007, he and three others formed an investment advisory firm, and two years ago, he created his own firm, Alliance Wealth Management, which has about 125 clients.

In his book “Soldier of Finance” (Amacom), published in September, Mr. Rose used his military background and financial acumen to create a “financial boot camp” for people who have made financial mistakes.

WORKING DAY AND NIGHT

Chris Pollard, a Regent Wealth Management Group adviser, also knows the difficulties of military activation. He spent a year as a budget analyst for the National Guard by day while serving his 100 advisory clients at night and on the weekends.

The former Army infantry platoon leader in Iraq and West Point graduate also was pursuing a master's degree in business administration between mid-2011 and mid-2012. Mr. Pollard and his wife have two sons, who were 3 and 5 at the time.

“It was one of the crazier times in my life,” said Mr. Pollard, 32. “I wouldn't recommend it.”

Despite the long hours and time away from his practice, he didn't lose any clients, Mr. Pollard said.

He was an adviser with First Command Financial Services at that time, and he had assistants who could help with paperwork and other tasks that were difficult to do remotely.

Those assistants — and technology — allowed him to work from anywhere, making it possible for him to maintain his practice, Mr. Pollard said.

Although the rest of his unit was in Afghanistan, he spent most of the time in either Atlanta or at Fort Benning, Ga. Mr. Pollard ended his time in the National Guard after his yearlong activation.

He joined Regent Wealth late last year because he wanted to be part of a fee-only firm, and he moved his family from Georgia to Connecticut, where Regent Wealth is based.

Mr. Pollard doesn't ever plan to rejoin the National Guard, but he said that any adviser who knows that they could be deployed should prepare their practice for such an event.

“Make it a priority to have someone who works with you maintain a relationship with clients in case you get called up for a year, or even a month or two,” he advised.

SUPPORTIVE FIRMS, CLIENTS

Financial adviser Michael Martin, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Reserves, put developing his advisory business on hold during two deployments over the past decade. He spent a year in Iraq beginning in February 2003 when he worked for Merrill Lynch and 15 months in Afghanistan starting in July 2009 with his current firm, UBS Financial Services Inc.

Both firms were supportive during his time away, and all but one client was waiting for him after his periods of active duty, he said.

Mr. Martin, 45, was with the U.S. Marine Corp. full time for eight years before becoming an adviser.

About 20% of his clients are ex-military and 95% are “pro-military,” he said.

Mr. Martin made it a habit to familiarize his clients with another adviser in the office in case he was deployed, so that clients would feel comfortable asking someone else at the firm for help.

Not only were clients understanding, they sent care packages to him and to all the other marines in his unit, he said.

And Mr. Martin kept in contact with many clients about his activities overseas.

“I e-mailed with clients who wished to stay in touch, but there was no expectation of communication about investments,” he said.

The second deployment was especially hard given the tough economic climate in 2009, Mr. Martin said from his Springfield, Mass., office.

Although he doesn't complain , he knows he forfeited business growth and earnings by serving his country.

“That's one of the sacrifices that military service men and women make,” Mr. Martin said. “The opportunity cost is significant, but that tells you what most men and women in the military are all about.”

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