Wendy Brookhouse has an audacious goal: to change a million lives through financial health.
Brookhouse, a financial advisor in Halifax, has spent the past 18 months exploring exactly how she and her team can achieve this goal. The result is a new service she calls the One Number Solution.
Brookhouse, founder and chief strategist with Black Star Group Inc., believes that to help clients make and manage money means paying attention to more than dollars and cents.
Black Star’s new service boils down to a single amount allocated for discretionary spending. This strategy reflects Brookhouse’s approach to building and maintaining her business. She believes the key to financial success for her clients lies in understanding her clients’ goals and addressing the comprehensive range of issues they face.
Brookhouse, who earned a master’s of business administration from Saint Mary’s University in 2002, began her financial services business approximately 13 years ago while working as a consultant preparing business and strategic plans. She realized that her master’s degree, along with her planning experience, made for a solid foundation on which to build a financial advisory career, especially for business-owner clients.
“That perspective has been very helpful with business clients. I’ve been there, done that,” says Brookhouse, who holds mutual fund and insurance licences.
Brookhouse’s personality also made financial planning appealing to her. “I’m very right-brained and I’m also very good with concepts,” she says.
Slow, steady and silent were the tenets of her early years. “I wanted to figure things out as I went,” Brookhouse says. Initially, she launched her business part-time, building up a clientele while winding down her consulting company.
“I grew 90% of my business by going out and talking to people,” she says. “I’d already done a ton of networking. I knew a lot of people. I wanted to make sure I had the right skill set – and the right tool box.”
Building her business one small step at a time as an independent advisor – what Brookhouse calls a “slow burn” – ultimately worked well. Being on her own for those first few years was a struggle, but that also meant she could learn and grow in her own way. “No one told me to do things a certain way,” she says. “That was a blessing.”
Today, the majority of Brookhouse’s new clients arrive in her office via referrals. Brookhouse has bought only one small book of business, which she took over about five years ago. She has approximately $25 million in assets under management, but this is not a number that drives her.
“I’m not actively out looking for assets,” she says. “I’m looking to see how I can help [clients] with their finances.”
That helpfulness extends beyond investment advice and charts on mutual fund trends.
“I understand where my clients are at,” Brookhouse says. “I show them what they need to do, and I’m going to be there with them every step of the way.”
The comprehensive understanding inherent in Brookhouse’s approach to client service has evolved as her business has grown.
“I began as a financial advisor, then I became a stress-reduction advisor. Now, I’m a ‘friction-point remover’,” she says. “[My approach] is ‘What can I do to help you get where you need to go?'”
Building a financial road map for clients requires an ability to connect and to probe, Brookhouse says: “I’ve learned [that helping clients] is less about knowing the answers and more about knowing what questions to ask and where to find the answers.”
Difficult conversations often are part of Brookhouse’s client initiation process, which can involve up to three meetings. Sometimes, clients are asked to keep a spending diary, and the results can be eye-opening for clients who haven’t looked at their financial picture from both a “30,000-foot view” and up close.
“We’re so constrained by regulations and compliance, but the focus is on helping clients get where they’re going,” Brookhouse says. “We put their goals and priorities into context. And you have to be there for clients. We’ve helped clients to buy cars.”
Many of Brookhouse’s clients are business owners and professionals. She has identified a need to provide members of these cohorts with information and support that goes beyond return on investment to encompass spending plans, debt-reduction plans and financial plans. She even expanded her company to include a performance division, with expertise in business evolution.
This division helps businesses to use deliberate and appropriate pricing strategies to grow, using cash flow to build a foundation for growth and scalability and, eventually, to sell the business itself.
For Brookhouse, who has written a book entitled Burn Your Budget: How to Spend Your Way to Financial Freedom, working with clients is akin to solving a puzzle. “We put the pieces together,” she says. “Every piece is important.”
As an advisor, Brookhouse adds, her success has come from understanding how she can best help clients put those pieces together.
“Once I could define what I wanted to be as a financial advisor and the process I wanted to put people through, I was much more efficient and effective,” she says. “My [goal] isn’t selling a plan; it’s in clients following a plan and their life being better.”
For Brookhouse, spare time is a rare commodity, as it is for many business owners. In her off-hours, she devotes her time to what she knows best: finance. She recently completed a two-year term as chairwoman of Junior Achievement of Nova Scotia and now is serving on the national parent organization’s board.
Junior Achievement (JA), Canada’s largest youth business education organization, offers numerous financial literacy programs to help young people learn how to create and manage wealth. Participants develop skills in budgeting, investing and creating financial plans. “Financial literacy is a big component of what they do and what I do,” Brookhouse says. “[JA] is a natural fit.”
Brookhouse’s next undertaking – another audacious goal, perhaps – is to get people talking about money and getting past the feelings of shame that often accompany poor saving and spending habits.
“There is something systemic,” she says, “about why we are more comfortable talking about our sex lives than about how we manage money.”
A HOLISTIC, TEAM-BASED APPROACH
As a financial advisor, you should focus on the totality of your clients, says Wendy Brookhouse, founder and chief strategist at Black Star Group Inc. in Halifax. Advisors need to move beyond portfolios’ rates of return and understand their clients’ needs at a holistic level, she says.
“You cannot earn enough rate of return to outwit a spending problem,” she says.
What you can do is help your clients identify ways of managing money that align with their priorities – a strategy that is likely to be successful.
Brookhouse also advocates taking a team approach to meeting your clients’ needs.
You can’t be all things to all clients, but you can point your clients toward professionals who can help them, says Brookhouse: “Find professionals who can help you provide a full range of services.”
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