Karen Schaeffer

Managing member, co-founder, Schaeffer Financial

Karen Schaeffer has not only experienced the full evolution of financial planning, she has been an integral part in shaping and guiding that evolution.

Karen Schaeffer has not only experienced the full evolution of financial planning, she has been an integral part in shaping and guiding that evolution.

As the co-founder of Schaeffer Financial in Rockville, Md., Ms. Schaeffer recalls the early days of the business in the late 1970s "when there were no models for advisory firms."

In 1979, three years after graduating from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, Ms. Schaeffer was recruited away from her job as a paralegal to help increase the business at American Financial Consultants in Gaithersburg, MD.

"There was nobody doing financial planning back then," she said. "If you needed investments, you went to a broker; if you needed help with taxes, you went to a CPA; and if you needed insurance, you went to somebody who sold insurance."

Ms. Schaeffer said she was offered her salary as a paralegal, plus a 25% year-end bonus if she could increase the income of the fledgling advisory firm.

The seed was planted, and Ms. Schaeffer never looked back.

"We were just a bunch of like-minded people who figured it out," she said.

Ms. Schaeffer, 64, is the 2018 recipient of the Alexandra Armstrong Award for Lifetime Achievement in Financial Planning, an annual award from InvestmentNews that recognizes a woman for her career-long contributions to the industry.

In addition to running a financial planning firm, Schaeffer Financial in Rockville, Md., which she launched with her husband, Richard, in 1985, Ms. Schaeffer built a reputation as somebody who doesn't leave things undone and will push herself to the limit if she believes in the cause.

"Karen has been one of those stalwarts who has stuck to doing financial planning," said Noel Maye, chief executive officer of the Financial Planning Standards Board.

"She always cared about practically engaging her clients," he added. "She is solutions oriented and down to earth. And she doesn't only see the future, she rolls up her sleeves and gets into shaping the future as well."

Describing an example of Ms. Schaeffer's generosity, Mr. Maye recalled a time when she invited more than 60 attendees of an FPSB meeting in DC to her home for a barbeque.

"She is generous with her time and her money, but also with her spirit and how she approaches finding solutions and working with people," Mr. Maye said. "She always sees the pie as big enough for everyone, and if it's not she's the one who will go and bake a bigger pie."

Ms. Schaeffer has served as chair of the Financial Planning Standards Board, as well as chair of the CFP Board, where she played a key role in moving the organization headquarters from Denver to Washington, DC in 2007.

She has held adjunct faculty positions with the College for Financial Planning in Denver and George Washington University in Washington, DC.

She designs and teaches continuing education courses for CFP certificants.

And her public speaking circuit includes such notable audiences as The World Bank, the Department of Treasury, the International Monetary Fund, and the Department of State.

She currently chairs the developmental committee for the Center for Financial Planning. She is a past chair and current member of the board at The Academy of Holy Cross, and she is a life director for the board of Montgomery Hospice.

She is a member and past national board member of the Financial Planning Association, a member of the Estate Planning Council of Washington, DC, and a member of the International Women's Forum.

Kevin Keller, CEO of the CFP Board, credits Ms. Schaeffer with convincing him to join the organization at a time of internal unrest.

He recalls initially not wanting to meet with the CFP Board about taking over as CEO.

"I would ultimately become the seventh person in less than seven years to sit in the CEO chair at the CFP Board," Mr. Keller said. "I knew in the association community, and the word on the street was that the CFP Board was burning through chief executives. I told the search consultant, thanks but no thanks, and that I couldn't even refer anyone."

That wasn't the end of the conversation from Ms. Schaeffer's perspective, who managed to sweeten the offer to Mr. Keller by helping to orchestrate the relocation of the CFP Board from Denver to Washington, DC, where Mr. Keller was already living.

Mr. Keller took over as CEO of the CFP Board in May 2007, and said Ms. Schaeffer offered every support she could while the organization scrambled to hire 55 people in eight months as part of the relocation, and was open for business in DC in November of 2007.

"You can imagine the kind of support a new CEO would need in the middle of that move," Mr. Keller said. "I remember in the final interview, Karen said that she couldn't come to Denver and answer the phones, but that if I needed her she would be there. She really did help us get our feet on the ground and get established in DC."

In 2009, Ms. Schaeffer was the founding chair of the CFP Board's public policy council that helped launch the CFP Board's entry into the public policy arena in Washington.

And in 2015, the CFP Board launched the Center for Financial Planning with the objective of increasing diversity and sustainability in the financial planning profession.

Ms. Schaeffer is still serving as chair of the campaign development committee, which has so far raised nearly $11 million.

"There are a lot of people who are successful in life who don't think it's important to give back, Karen is somebody who wants to give back to make sure the next generation gets even better," said Alexandra Armstrong, founder of Armstrong Fleming & Moore, and the woman after whom the InvestmentNews lifetime achievement award is named.

"One of things Karen always does is if she is leaving a board, she tried to get somebody she knows will be able to carry on the effort," Ms. Armstrong said. "Karen is a giver."

Even with everything Ms. Schaeffer has accomplished, it would be wrong to assume her pattern of achieving is winding down.

While there is a succession plan in place for her financial planning firm, Ms. Schaeffer said retirement is not even part of the conversation yet.

Most of the clients at Schaeffer Financial pay hourly fees, but the firm also has $166 million in assets under management.

"We purposely kept the business small," she said. "it was a quality-of-life issue for me, and my little company is really easy for me to run."

In addition to her husband, Rick, their daughter Kaitlin Schaeffer Yardley also works at the family business as a financial adviser.

Kaitlin's sister, Megan Schaeffer, is an estate planning attorney.

"Our daughters know enough about the business that if there's a shock event they'll know what to do," Ms. Schaeffer said. "We talk about it in terms of who would you call, and where do you think our vulnerabilities are. But this is not a physically demanding job, so I could do it for a long time. If you hear I'm retiring, say a little prayer for me because it means I have a health issue."

—Jeff Benjamin

2018 Winners
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