15 transformational advisers: Harold Evensky and Deena Katz

'Dynamic duo' wields industrywide clout

Jun 20, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

When Harold Evensky published his 1997 book, “Wealth Management: The Financial Advisor's Guide to Investing and Managing Client Assets,” the term “wealth management” still was relatively unfamiliar to the planning industry.

“I probably should have patented that phrase,” he said.

Although the founder and president of Evensky & Katz Wealth Management never got around to copyrighting the label, there is little doubt about the indelible impact he has made on the financial advice industry. Mr. Evensky's book, originally published by McGraw-Hill and updated in 2011 by John Wiley & Sons Inc., remains a kind of bible for the planning industry.

“That was one of the first books that I made everyone who works for me read,” said Mark Hurley, chief executive of Fiduciary Network LLC.

“Harold literally wrote the book on financial planning. He is the most influential person in the industry, bar none,” Mr. Hurley said.

Mr. Evensky might have written the book on financial planning, but the other half of the Evensky-Katz team, his wife, Deena Katz, is widely credited with paving the way for formal education in the field.

“We have fun thinking about ourselves as the dynamic duo,” Mr. Evensky said.

PHOTO GALLERY 15 transformational advisers

Ms. Katz, who said she will never leave the financial planning business, has been educating the next generation of planners at Texas Tech University since 2005.

She now is a full-time and tenured professor who is also in charge of the school's internship program for fledgling planners.

“When I started teaching, everyone thought I was crazy,” Ms. Katz said. “Now everyone realizes we need more educated people to serve the growing market, instead of more people with hot Rolodexes and a few gray hairs.”

Despite their years of experience, Mr. Evensky, 70, and Ms. Katz, 63, are still known throughout the planning industry for the potential that they represent in terms of continued positive effect.

“What a powerhouse the combination of the two of them make,” said Kathleen Rehl, a professional speaker, author and owner of Rehl Financial Advisors.

Paul Auslander, co-founder and chief executive of American Financial Advisors Inc. and chairman of the Financial Planning Association, described the couple as “selfless enough to continue giving back to the profession.”

“When I first got into the industry in the late 1980s, Harold was the guy we all looked up to, and he's still the standard by which we all measure ourselves,” Mr. Auslander said.

“We affectionately refer to him as the standard; if he were Jewish, we'd call him the rabbi. And I'm in love with his wife,” Mr. Auslander said.

Mr. Evensky started his career in the brokerage industry more than 30 years ago, when he decided that he wasn't a salesman but had a knack for financial planning.

“I started off in the wirehouses, but after the first cold call when a little old lady hung up on me, I figured that wasn't for me,” he said.

After a short stint in that channel, Mr. Evensky partnered with Peter Brown to form a registered investment adviser that also operated as a broker-dealer. Robert Levitt, now owner of Levitt Capital Management LLC, also was part of the original team.

The broker-dealer part of the business lasted only a few years. It closed when Ms. Katz joined the team in 1989 from her own Chicago-based advisory firm.

The couple married in 1991.

“Deena came in as president, looked at our business and restructured it to get rid of the B-D,” Mr. Evensky said. “That's when we became fee-only planners and finally became profitable for the first time.”

The evolution went from macro planning concepts to specific investment-planning strategies for individuals, Mr. Evensky said.

“Like most planners back then, we were focused on the concept of comprehensive planning, but that wasn't practical,” he said. “Back in those days, a comprehensive plan meant big reports that overwhelmed people, but that wasn't a viable business model because that's not what people wanted.”

All the while, the industry was paying attention, even if from a distance.

“I've never met Harold or Deena, but I view them as trendsetters and visionaries,” Ms. Rehl said. “I greatly respect what he does, and I pay attention whenever anything new comes out from them.”


Their Miami-based advisory firm manages $900 million, and Mr. Evensky now spends most of his time in Lubbock, Texas, where Ms. Katz is teaching at Texas Tech.

“My goal is to be out of the daily business but not out of the business,” Mr. Evensky said.

Or as Mr. Auslander put it: “The day Harold Evensky stops thinking about financial planning is the day we're all singing a hymn at his funeral.”

Even with half a step toward retirement, Mr. Evensky is pondering and pushing his own business enthusiastically along with the planning industry.

“A lot of firms like ours that have been around a long time have a client base that's getting older, which means they're not only not adding money but they are withdrawing money,” he said. “That's a major threat to a lot of practices out there, and that's why it's important to be part of something larger.”

Mr. Evensky doesn't think that his firm, at nearly $1 billion under management, is large enough for an environment that includes increasing costs associated with compliance, technology and personnel.

“We're looking at modular comprehensive planning and adding more support infrastructure so our senior people have more time to work with clients and develop more clients,” he said. “We're going to have to be much larger and deliver far more services for the same fee.”

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