Student creates business to aid “pre-planning” clients

Finding a way out of the need-experience-to-get-experience Catch-22

Nov 18, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Financial planning student Leah Manderson wanted to start helping clients and wasn’t willing to waste her financial intelligence answering the phones and doing back office work for advisers.

She interviewed with three or four firms that offered her internships or jobs that involved setting up meetings and other tasks that amounted to a “glorified secretarial role.”

“There's the huge Catch-22, that you can't get experience until you have experience,” said Ms. Manderson, who is 26.

Around the same time, one of her planner friends complained that she wanted to help Gen Y with their finances, but found that most of them weren’t ready for an adviser because they needed to get a grip on their debt first.

That led Ms. Manderson to start her own “pre-planning” firm to help couples and women with cutting their debt and organizing their finances. Clients can sign up at LeahManderson.com for a $199 hour-long planning session that results in a six- to 12-month written plan to get their finances in order, including help with paying down debt, cutting expenses, creating an emergency fund and jumpstarting savings, she said. She doesn’t make any investment recommendations.

She charges $99 to clients who are referred by two of her financial planning friends and she agrees to send them back after she helps them straighten out their debt.

“People are sometimes surprised how little they have to change to make meaningful progress,” Ms. Manderson said.

She started seeing clients in September and now has about a dozen. Some of her clients are high earners, but with some having $40,000 or more in student loan and other debts, they have to focus on that before they can worry about investing.

In addition, Ms. Manderson works in investor relations for an institutional asset manager and writes stories for LearnVest Inc.’s website. She also writes a free weekly newsletter that goes out to about 1,200 people.

She plans to take the certified financial planner exam next year after she finishes financial planning coursework at the University of Georgia. She earned her undergraduate degree in international affairs, but has always been interested in financial planning, thanks to a grandmother and parents who taught her early on about the importance of fiscal management.

Ms. Manderson, who has been married for a year and a half, is now thinking about starting her own comprehensive advisory firm after she has her CFP. She’d like to focus on family financial planning for young couples.

But even then, she’ll continue to offer cash flow and debt services because that market is underserved and she considers it a great opportunity to create a relationship with women and couples who eventually might become full-service clients.

She expects advisers will continue to send her pre-planning clients even after she is a competitor of theirs because planners “genuinely don’t want to turn people away,” but at the same time, few want to offer these services.

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