Mark Hudon calls himself a “financial fitness coach.” The three-time Ironman triathlete serves about 100 families in his financial planning practice under the GP Wealth Management Corp. banner in Toronto.
A financial advisor since 1994, Hudon has found that successful financial planning has much in common with endurance sports. Both, for example, require discipline and a focus on goals. Hudon urges his clients to apply the personal performance principles he uses in his endurance races to their financial plans.
For example, Hudon starts his “know your client” process with what he calls “a financial fitness checkup.” A central part of this procedure is completing a “core conditioning scorecard,” in which the new client rates statements such as “I know what I want in life and have clear goals to help me get there” and “I have a plan to achieve what I want in life.”
Discussing goals is critical to the financial planning process, according to Hudon: “If the goal is not important enough, the client won’t do the work it takes to achieve it.
“I find it rewarding to sit down with clients and make connections with them that go beyond investing, Hudon continues. “Money is so tied up with emotion – what clients fear could happen to it and what they fear could happen if they don’t have enough of it.”
Sports have always been a part of Hudon’s life, so it is not surprising that they play a significant role in his business. He played basketball in high school and took up weight training and body building while a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics.
“It wasn’t until I was in my late 30s, after watching Simon Whitfield win a gold medal for Canada at the 2000 Summer Olympics,” Hudon says, “that I became seriously interested in triathlons. ‘Why not?’ I thought.”
The following year, Hudon entered the Peterborough (Ont.) Sprint Triathlon, an event that consists of swimming for 750 metres, biking for 20 kilometres and running for five kilometres. Hudon clocked in at one hour and 19 minutes, which put him in the top 40% of participants. He had done well, but knew there was room for improvement.
“When I got to the running part, my legs had begun to cramp because I’d pushed myself too hard on the bike,” Hudon says. “I realized I needed a coach to help me with pacing.”
He immediately drew a parallel between that realization and his financial planning practice.
At the time, Hudon had been a financial advisor for seven years. He began thinking like a triathlete in order to take his practice to a new level. He focused on empowering his clients to enhance their performance and break through their perceived limitations to reach their financial and life goals. That is when Hudon began to call himself a “financial fitness coach.”
Meanwhile, Hudon was progressing as an endurance athlete. He had started training with triathletes he’d met in Peterborough. In 2003, he was one of 21 athletes from the Greater Toronto Area to participate in the Ironman triathlon in Klagenfurt, Austria. One of the world’s most difficult races, an Ironman triathlon consists of a 3.86-km swim, a 180.25-km bike ride and a 42.2-km run – completed in that order within 17 hours without breaks. Hudon crossed the finish line in Klagenfurt in 11 hours, eight minutes and 57 seconds.
“It felt great to cross that line,” he says with a sparkle in his eyes. “It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. And the icing on the cake was when Mark Allen [legendary American six-time Ironman winner] stepped up and placed the finisher’s medal around my neck.”
After an event such as an Ironman, Hudon says, “your legs are pretty sore. You do the ‘Ironman shuffle’ for the next few days because you have trouble lifting your feet. But the pain wears off and, once again, you think, ‘Why not?'”
A few months after the 2003 Klagenfurt triathlon, Hudon telephoned Allen, who told Hudon how he had broken through to the No. 1 position in the Ironman Hawaii triathlon in 1989 after six previous attempts. “He changed his training strategy in order to push himself harder,” Hudon says. “Instead of running in the early morning when it was cool, he ran in the heat of the day. Whenever he could, he cycled against the wind.”
Hudon adapts Allen’s tip about adjusting strategies when providing financial advice to his clients. “Following a financial plan isn’t always easy,” he says. “It may mean cutting down on vacations and on dinners in restaurants, and deferring major purchases for another year.
“And whether the goal is to complete a marathon or be financially independent,” he adds, “the deciding factor is usually when you make the decision to face your fears head on.”
Training for a triathlon and sticking to a financial plan require persistence to follow through with the work required. Hudon learned all about persistence when he was developing his career as a financial planner.
“All my financial-planning credentials and designations, including the Canadian Securities Course, the certified financial planner and my current studies toward the certified cash-flow specialist designation, have involved self-study courses that I completed on my own time. I had to develop persistence because nobody was telling me that I had to finish these courses – or finish a race. Slow and steady wins the race.”
Hudon has competed in two more Ironman triathlons: in Frankfurt in 2005, and in Klagenfurt again in 2011.
Today, at the age of 50, Hudon hopes to continue to enter triathlons, perhaps into his 70s. “Health permitting, of course,” he says. “And as I get older, I’ll have to limit my expectations about completion times.”
Persistence is something he teaches his two young sons, Jacob and Noah, and the youth on the hockey and baseball teams Hudon coaches. An offshoot of persistence, he adds, is avoiding procrastination: “When I delay tasks that I should complete, it can be very emotionally draining. When I take action, I feel much better; in fact, it tends to energize me.”
Hudon says there are many reason why we procrastinate. What is most important is knowing when we are procrastinating, then asking ourselves what we can do about it.
Every three to six months, Hudon provides his clients with regular progress reports so they can see whether they are actually doing what they committed to do. “This may mean putting away a certain amount of money every month or year,” Hudon says, “taking steps to pay off the mortgage or looking after their insurance needs. It’s basic stuff, but what good is having a plan if it sits, neglected, in a desk drawer?”
Hudon’s ideal client is a “coachable” client, one who is willing to be mentored: “Someone who says, ‘I want you to manage my money but not all that other stuff,’ is telling me that we won’t be a good fit.”
Many of Hudon’s clients are people he met while training for races or at competitions. But he has found that a “coaching” approach to financial planning also works with clients without sports backgrounds.
“Most people have an inherent desire to get themselves into better shape,” says Hudon, “whether it’s physical, mental or financial shape, or advancing their careers. Mark Allen told me he wanted to have the best race that he could.”
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS
Mark Hudon, a financial advisor with GP Wealth Management Corp. in Toronto and a six-time Ironman champion, learned three key training tools from legendary triathlete Mark Allen. You can use these tips to help you build your business or to help your clients achieve their financial goals:
1. Clarify your goals, your values and your objectives.
2. Adjust your strategy as you go. The “best strategy in the world” may not work well for you.
3. Commit to completing your work toward your goal. This commitment will carry you past the challenges that will come up. It also will help you to stand back up and keep going.
© 2014 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.