As competitive intensity in the financial advice industry ratchets up, it's not enough for advisers to create a financial plan, hit benchmarks and steer their clients toward retirement. Firms must establish a unique element of their business that sets it apart from a growing field of competitors and robo-advisers. Identifying and nurturing that unique element – which we call “adviser alpha”– will be critical to the survival of firms in the next decade. Recently, InvestmentNews Content Strategy Studio explored how Amy Jensen Wolff, founder of AJW Financial, has created a unique niche catering to the financial needs of divorced women.
InvestmentNews Content Strategy Studio (INCSS): What led to you to specialize in advising divorced women?
AMY WOLFF: When I was 12, my family went through a very litigious divorce. There were so many financial bumps my mom had to go through. At that age there was nothing I could do to help. After I became an adviser, I felt a calling to help people like her navigate the decisions that come with divorce and reduce the speed bumps and detours along the way.
I also remembered what it felt like to be a kid in the middle of a litigious divorce. I wanted to help people do divorce outside of the court in a way that kept children at the center of the process, but not stuck in the middle. That's a subtle, but important, difference. I think Collaborative divorce provides an avenue for dealing with separation that is much easier on the family.
INCSS: Explain what the Collaborative divorce process is.
AMY WOLFF: Collaborative divorce is a respectful way to do divorce differently. Participants in a Collaborative divorce dissolve their marriage outside of the courts, with the help of trained legal, financial, and mental health professionals, that guide the clients as they problem-solve their financial issues and make informed decisions for themselves and children.
To make this difficult transition easier, I co-founded Collaborative Alliance Inc. in 2006. Through that alliance, we house 35 different businesses under one roof including lawyers, mediators, financial professionals, and child specialists to provide a one-stop shop for families going through divorce.
INCSS: What are some of the unique services AJW provides to clients going through divorce?
AMY WOLFF: For starters, our team includes certified divorce financial analysts who are trained to help in all the important financial decisions that come with the separation. That can include retitling assets, moving assets from a husband's employer plan to the wife's retirement plan, tax planning, setting up a new budget, or empowering women to go back into the workforce, if that's needed. We also provide concierge services where we're essentially the sounding board the client can go to for any decision related to money. We've helped make the final decision on home purchases, put a stamp of approval on the mortgage, and even helped pick out a new car.
INCSS: It's a unique niche. How did you get it off the ground?
AMY WOLFF: First I immersed myself in the legal community that worked with divorcées. I networked with the Minnesota Women Lawyers Association, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota. I spoke at a lot of seminars on topics related to women going through divorce. Another important step was working with Daisy Camp, a local nonprofit that does divorce education workshops for women. In the early days, I helped its founder turn it into a nonprofit.
INCSS: How has Cetera played a role in building out this niche?
AMY WOLFF: Cetera's flexibility has really helped. While many of our clients transition to working with us for their broader wealth management needs following their divorce, we offer divorce financial planning at an hourly rate, which has helped bring a lot of clients to our firm. I was very grateful Cetera approved the hourly plan because some of my colleagues who work with other broker-dealers say their firms wouldn't approve them for it. Cetera also took a flexible, hands-off approach when I wrote my book on divorce. Again, I had heard horror stories from other advisers who tried to publish a book and their broker-dealer tried to micromanage and reword everything. I didn't have that experience with Cetera.
Cetera also encourages networking and idea sharing with other advisers. My team and I have attended many Cetera-sponsored conferences where we've met with peers from firms similar to our own. This culture of collaboration has made us a better firm through the years. I always come away with at least one great idea that will have a significant and lasting impact on my business.
Go further with a partner who understands the importance of collaboration. For more information about Cetera's learning and developmentofferings and peer-to-peer culture, contact the Cetera Business Development team at 800.336.8842 or visit cetera.com.
This content is made possible by Cetera Financial Group; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of InvestmentNews' editorial staff.