The Adviser's Consultant

Adviser builds a niche practice around a cause dear to his heart

Mar 12, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

To some financial advisers, the idea of a niche practice focused on families affected by autism might never come to mind.

For Charles Massimo, the idea was so obvious he tried for years to not make it a major part of his independent financial advisory firm, CJM Wealth Management, based in Deer Park, N.Y.

Mr. Massimo, 55, has twin 18-year-old sons who are on the autism spectrum, "but I didn't want to focus on that area because I never wanted anyone to think I was using my boys to grow my practice."

"It took me a long time to focus on that as part of my practice," he added.

Mr. Massimo, whose $400 million asset firm recently joined the Dynasty Financial Partners network, found his footing in the autism niche about eight years ago after writing a white paper on how families should look at financial planning if they have a child with autism.

"The first thing to do is help families realize the impact it will have both short- and long-term, and it's also important to realize you have to plan for that child very differently," he said. "For example, I have to plan for college for my daughter, who does not have autism, I have to plan for my retirement, and I have to have a plan for my boys. That's incredibly important, because my boys will need financial support for not only my entire life, but their entire lives."

As niche practice strategies go, Mr. Massimo is on the right path, according to Megan Carpenter, chief executive and co-founder FiComm Partners, a public relations and practice management consulting firm.

"There are ways to define your focus that don't have to be a niche market, but if you have an authentic area of interest or expertise then it's a tremendous marketing tool," she said. "You will be able to develop influences in that market because you know it so well."

Despite the potential appeal of concentrating on a particular niche, Ms. Carpenter warns that it cannot be faked.

"If there's not a sincere connection to the market you're more likely to fail," she said. "Don't push yourself into a niche if you don't have a specific interest in it."

Mr. Massimo estimates that about 30% of his practice is currently focused on helping families affected by autism, but he expects that percentage to get much larger.

"I'm having different kinds of conversations with clients, and the conversations are much deeper and we truly become intertwined in so many different ways," he said. "If I read an article or hear something related to autism, I will connect with them, and vice versa. With these clients, I'm spending much less time talking financials and much more time talking about housing and community and things for children with autism."

The focus on autism is not Mr. Massimo's first or only niche area.

The firm's original specialty, which still makes up about a third of the planning business, is helping doctors manage their succession plans.

"It started with a lot of cash-flow planning," he said. "The individual doctors needed our help, because as they monetized their equity, they needed to make up the income gap."

As Mr. Massimo became more proficient in cash flow analysis and learning how mergers and acquisitions work in the medical space, he realized another benefit.

"Doctors like to talk between themselves, which could work for you or against you," Mr. Massimo said. "In our case, it meant we were getting a lot of referrals."

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