January 2, 2008
Geleg Kyarsip, Certified Financial Planner
The job: Certified Financial Planner Geleg Kyarsip has spent the past two decades helping people from all walks of life work toward their financial and retirement goals. In March of 2000, he founded Kyarsip Financial Advisors in downtown Seattle, a financial planning firm that charges clients by the hour rather than getting paid through commissions.
Q. What exactly does a financial planner do?
A. Financial planning can cover anything from budgeting to investments to taxes to estate planning to life insurance to long-term care. But most clients want an assessment of their investments. With the majority of people that I see, it's centered on that question of "When can I retire?" or "When can I have the option to work less?"
A lot of younger people coming in, when they look at the word "retirement," they're thinking of doing something else [as a vocation] that they enjoy more but that pays a lot less, or working a couple days a week instead of five or six days. So it's trying to find out what options they have given their financial situation. It's like I'm helping them steer the car, but they've got their foot on their accelerator.
Q. How did you choose finance as a field?
A. Like a lot of people, I wasn't 100 percent sure what I wanted to do. The college I went to, Cal State Fullerton, had just started a financial planning curriculum when I was there, and I was interning for the professor who started the program. He was a Certified Financial Planner. I actually got to work on a lot of cases that he had, just doing research, so that's what got me interested in the field. And that's all I've been doing since.
Q. Where did you work before opening your own business?
A. When I first got out of school in 1987 I actually went into business for myself in California. I was doing fee- and commission-based financial planning, but it was mostly commission.
When I moved up to Seattle in 1990, I didn't really have any contacts. So I went to work for a couple of banks that are no longer around -- they were swallowed up by larger banks. Then I worked for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) for about seven years, basically doing financial planning for their members. But having worked for myself once before, I always had the yearning to go back and do it a different way.
Tips for picking a CFP:
"You have to click with them, but you also have to look for background and how they get compensated. A very blunt question to ask is, 'What percentage of your income is from commission and what percent is from fees?' I'm not saying that people who work on commission give bad advice. It's just much clearer [with fee-only planning] -- there's no reason to question any motive."
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Q. Why did you decide to open a fee-only business the second time?
A. My employer is my client now, and I have a fiduciary responsibility to them. I don't sell any products, so I don't have any influence in terms of "I need to sell this product" or "That product pays more than this one." I'm always doing what I think is best for the client. I think that's really the best way for a client to get financial advice.
Q. What's a typical workweek like for you?
A. It's a combination of e-mailing clients or talking to them on the phone, meeting with potential new clients, and reviewing existing clients' financial situations. Then monitoring what's happening in the [investment] markets. Then doing the actual financial planning for my clients -- I probably spend about 20 hours or so a week drafting financial plans for clients. My reports will contain an analysis of what they have and recommendations on what they need to do to reach their objectives.
Q. What hours do you keep?
A. I try to keep the workweek to four and a half days, so I have an afternoon off each week. It doesn't always go that way, but it's what I shoot for. Sometimes I work longer than 40 hours a week, sometimes I work a little bit less. That's what I like: Working for myself gives me the flexibility of time.
Q. What training do you recommend for hopeful financial planners?
A. Going through the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) curriculum is a must. The best place to get information on the requirements is the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Web site. A lot of colleges have adjunct programs [in financial planning]. And if you can get an internship at a financial planning firm while you're in school, it will give you a much better idea of what a planner actually does.
Q. What unique skills does the job require?
A. While you don't you have be a whiz at math, you need to have a fundamental understanding of how the calculations work. You need to know how tax returns are calculated and how to problem-solve in terms of questions clients have. Technology makes everything easier. I use the HP 12c Financial Calculator in combination with financial planning software, tax software and Morningstar software for mutual funds and stocks. So you don't have to do the calculations by hand, but knowing how it works on paper is important.
But that is just one part of it. The other part is working with people. You have to want to help people because a good portion of your time is spent doing so. Being able to empathize helps a lot. It's inevitable that you will see some people who are headed down a dangerous financial path. You have to be diplomatic, but you also have to lay it out in black and white so that they understand clearly what end result they're headed toward. The main thing is helping somebody realize what their options are, whether it's cutting back on their expenses or working longer to save more before they can retire.
Q. What resources do you recommend for staying on top of financial trends?
A. There's the Journal of Financial Planning and Morningstar, as well as Standard & Poor's. And daily things, like The Wall Street Journal. It's kind of mind-boggling how much information is available these days. But it's a matter of how you interpret it. And that's where the training and education is going to come in.
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