Practice Management

Advisers who specialize in a profession are invaluable

Specializing in a certain profession makes firm marketing much more targeted and effective.

By Liz Skinner

Dec 15, 2013 @ 12:01 am (Updated 1:51 pm) EST

Bruno Mallart

Mackenzie Martin loves animals and majored in animal sciences at Oregon State University, but she doesn't like the blood or needles that are a necessary part of life for veterinarians. So instead, Ms. Martin has carved out a niche for herself helping veterinarians with their financial planning.

She began as an adviser with North Star Resource Group's division focused on dental and medical professionals, including animal doctors. In 2010, Ms. Martin was recruited by accounting firm McCoy Foat & Co., which saw value in becoming a one-stop financial advice shop for vets.

“Veterinarians are not quite as lucrative as doctors and dentists, but they are fantastic to work with and they listen to you,” said Ms. Martin, 30, now an adviser with McCoy Foat Wealth Management Group in West Linn, Ore.

Financial advisers such as Ms. Martin have found that by focusing on professionals in a particular industry, they become specialists in what those professionals need in terms of financial planning — and learn to speak their language. Marketing, in turn, becomes much more targeted and effective.

“Homing in on a niche market is a good thing for advisers,” said Dan Inveen, principal and director of research at FA Insight. “You are able to better insulate yourself from competitors in terms of your market positioning and differentiation, and there are huge efficiencies and economies if you serve a more homogeneous client base.”

When clients have similar demands — such as those related to working in a particular field — it can reduce the exceptions or outliers when serving clients, and communications with clients and prospects don't have to be as individually tailored, he said. Mr. Inveen's research shows that firms maintaining a niche year in and year out tend to perform better overall.

For Ms. Martin, focusing on the financial advice needs of veterinarians has resulted in the creation of two additional entities. One is a growth and development organization for female veterinarians. The other is a group purchasing plan that can save vets 10% to 20% a year on items such as needles and drugs. Profits from this enterprise help make advising veterinarians a viable business.

On average, vets in the U.S. earn $91,250, while the lowest 10% of the profession earns about $50,000 and the highest 10% earns about $142,000, according to Health Care Salary Online. In comparison, the average dentist earns $161,750 and general medical practitioner earns $177,330, the website reported.

“When serving lower-asset investors, it's key to have formal business processes and a good work flow in place to allow you to work efficiently,” said Valerie Porter, director of practitioner services for the Financial Planning Association. “A higher number of clients is probably part of the game.”

Ms. Martin, who serves about 300 clients, has become entrenched with local animal clinics and veterinary medical associations. She sometimes writes financial articles for them and speaks at their conferences. And she volunteers at vet schools.

Ms. Martin knows her target audience well, including how to communicate — or, more importantly, not communicate — with them. For example, she does not tweet or post to a Facebook page.

“Vets are about 10 years behind the rest of the world on many things, including social media,” she said.

In contrast, for Dave Grant, an adviser who focuses on financial planning for teachers, regular blog posts are an important way he communicates with clients and prospects.

He writes and posts videos about issues such as retirement benefits from the Teachers' Retirement System pension and partial Social Security. Married to a math teacher, Mr. Grant, 31, also writes about teacher-specific lifestyle issues, like whether happy teachers are more successful.

He said teachers have special financial planning needs because of their limited earnings and a retirement savings structure that's based on a pension that is 75% of their salary. Their jobs also are funded by states and local governments, some of which have fiscal concerns that can lead to teacher layoffs.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

“I do the work that I do with teachers, and it makes such a difference in their lives,” said Mr. Grant, founder of Finance for Teachers Inc. in Cary, Ill. “With an executive making seven figures, it just doesn't matter that much.”

Nationally, a public schoolteacher earns an average of $51,645, according to Salary.com.

Mr. Grant has been an adviser since 2007. He began to focus on teachers and their families in 2011 after helping his mother-in-law, also a teacher, with certain financial issues. At the time, he was with Vantage Financial Partners. He started Finance for Teachers about six months ago and has six clients so far.

Mr. Grant talks to school district heads, addresses local retirement meetings of state pension systems and attends teacher conferences to get his name out and expand his business.

Matthew Teetor, a financial adviser with LJPR in Troy, Mich., focuses on police officers and firefighters — a group whose attention it was initially a challenge to attract.

“It took about two to three years of hard marketing before it really caught hold,” Mr. Teetor, 32, said. “Now we're doing really well in it.”

About 60% to 65% of the assets he manages are from these professionals, and this is the greatest area of growth for him, he said.

One of the biggest challenges was learning their pension and retirement systems, and unique tax aspects. And each time the city and unions renegotiate contracts, which can be every two or three years, the numbers can change and require replanning, Mr. Teetor said.

Important changes can apply to defined-benefit plan contributions or health insurance copays.

“In some cases, it may make sense for potential retirees to decide to leave earlier than expected just to avoid the risk of going into another contract that may not be as good as the current one,” he said.

Firefighters in the U.S. earn an average of $42,586 a year, and police officers earn $51,000, according to Salary.com. They typically retire after about 25 to 30 years of service, and many go on to second careers.

He speaks at police and firefighter conferences, writes books and papers specific to the finances of these public officials, and hosts seminars for local departments.

“I like working with the guys from the departments,” Mr. Teetor said. “They don't necessarily have the asset size pushing into the seven figures, but we have clients who are fun to work with and make my job fun.”