In May 2020, just a couple months into quarantine, I wrote in my Reflections on 4 Years of Flow:
The pandemic and the associated economic chaos might well be the defining feature of Year 5. One client has already left Flow as a result of it. Other clients have had their incomes significantly reduced. And yet others are having a much harder time finding new jobs.
I was right in the general, and wrong in the specific. The year ended up being a great boon for Flow’s growth and for our clients’ finances. (Our clients definitely occupy the upper arm of the “K-shaped recovery.”)
But as vaguely predicted, the quarantine and the pandemic—and the godawful political volatility and stress and horror—was definitely the defining feature of the 5th year of Flow, for me, for the rest of the Flow team, and for our clients. I can’t tell you how many meetings were cancelled or spent processing some pretty hard emotions during the last year.
The other defining feature of this last year was that of racial (in)justice. This was most obvious in the police killings of unarmed Black men (sometimes boys).
It was also widely evident in other systemic ways, like how the government’s Paycheck Protection Program supported faaaaar fewer minority-owned businesses than white-owned ones or how Covid-19 afflicted minority communities at a (really) disproportionate rate.
If nothing else, it reinforced a moral imperative to start learning more about others’ experiences. I can attest to the immediate benefits of simply expanding my professional network—podcasts I listen to, people I follow on Twitter, people I reach out to—to intentionally include people who “don’t look like me” (either literally or figuratively).
Money is a profoundly emotional concept, and our identities, histories, and families dramatically inform how we feel about it and how we use it. My perspective on all of that has been so enriched by listening to colleagues and others who are Black and Brown, immigrants or children of immigrants, LGBTQ+, and so on.
One of the biggest accomplishments for me personally during Year 5 was that I finished my training to become a Registered Life Planner™ in the fall of 2020. I couldn’t have asked for a better year to strengthen my skills of listening, empathy, and helping clients make financial choices that support the values they hold dear.
Facts About Flow
Flow is a virtual, fee-only financial-planning firm that specializes in women in their early-to-mid-career in tech.
- We’re (still) a team of three: Janice (Client Services Associate), Maddie (Associate Planner), and me (Lead Planner and everything else).
- We have 51 ongoing clients. Two more are slated to start in June.
As the firm has grown, and as we get ever clearer on our service and on the kind of people we work best with, our group of clients continues to be “distilled” to people who are the essence of “a good fit.” That feels good.
- We’re currently not taking on any new clients.
Between the fact that close to 20 clients are going through IPOs (Airbnb! DoorDash! Procore! SquareSpace! Sprinklr!), the crazy tax situation, a truly unbelievable number of Big Life Events in our clients’ lives (if I have to look at one more new home that puts mine to shame, I’m gonna cry), and our team’s decision to focus on Time not Growth in 2021, we decided to say an unequivocal “No” to prospective clients. We refer out anyone who contacts us. Yes, we have a waitlist, but I’ve made Very Clear that I have no idea when we’ll reach out to people on the waitlist.
I’m Grateful for…
- My people and I are healthy, definitely physically (and now fully vaccinated! whoop!) and even psychologically (not to say there haven’t been many times I burst into angry or scared tears during marriage counseling).
- Having a stay-at-home spouse. I am exquisitely aware of how my work life was not all that impacted during quarantine with my kids at home…because my husband took care of them.
- Marriage counseling. 75 minutes a month, dedicated to me and my relationship with my husband, forcing us to talk about stuff that it’s easy—but dangerous—to ignore. We’ve been doing it for years. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.
- My husband. This past year has proven to me how complementary my husband and I are. I am a planner (duh). He’s a take-it-as-it-comes kind of guy. You can see how his approach to life was a waaaay better fit for the last year than mine was, and boy did I struggle with mine.
- Maddie and Janice. We have really cared for one another over the last year. Our emphasis on—and frankly our skills in—good communication was so obvious and so needed this past year, both within our team and with our clients.
- My study groups. I have two study groups: one based on our shared focus on clients in the tech industry and equity compensation (Aaron, Chloe, Jane, and Sam), and one founded on our shared values as people and planners (Brian and Zach). Again, the compassion, humor, and support that these people showed me and each other over the last year was essential to me holding it all together and even thriving in some ways.
- My business coach, Elizabeth Jetton. I’ve worked with her since Month 7 of my firm. To be glib about it, she helps me “keep it real.”
She cares so much about the financial planning profession, and wants me and every financial planner to live up to the promise of this role in our clients’ lives. It can be, to get a little exalted about it, sacred. She also, on occasion, calls my a** to the floor when I’ve clearly not adequately embodied this role.
- Our clients. Seems almost silly to include this, as without clients I literally wouldn’t have a business. But when I think about the fact that currently 75 people rely on us to help them make some of their biggest life decisions, I cannot avoid a wave of gratitude, amazement, and honestly, some imposter syndrome. I personally never got this sort of satisfaction when I worked in the tech industry.
Here’s what I see for the 6th year of Flow:
Continue to learn
This is a technical term that was turned into a book and a training institute, but really it just boils down to “You just got a lot of money more or less overnight. What are you supposed to do?” In this world of IPOs, direct listings, and generally a very hot market for tech stocks, you can imagine how Very Relevant this is for our clients. It is So Much More than figuring out how to invest the money.
While I’m still getting a better handle on all the confusing lingo in this space, here are the categories I’m learning more about:
- Investing in the public markets (i.e., the “usual” way to invest) for moral reasons (SRI)
- Investing in the public markets because you believe companies that do the right thing will in fact perform better (ESG)
- Investing in the private markets or holding your money at certain institutions like CDFIs (impact investing)
I see that cryptocurrencies are increasingly influencing the larger financial industry. So, I am trying Real Hard Like to tamp down my knee-jerk cynicism and irritation with the most vocal (read: blowhard) parts of the crypto/bitcoin community so that I can understand what role crypto can and should play in our clients’ lives.
Provide opportunities in the profession
Later this year, the Flow team will discuss whether or not we want to expand our firm with either an intern or another employee. One of my goals is to provide more opportunities in this profession. It’s hard to get opportunities in the fee-only financial planning world, especially if it’s entry-level, especially if you want to work with people who aren’t Rich and Retired, and especially if you aren’t a white man.
The “Return to Normal”
I anticipate this upcoming year will continue to shaped by the pandemic. Maybe not so much because of quarantine, but by our “return to normal.” We all have some heavy sh*t to deal with over the next few years, even if or once the physical threat is gone (as this great episode of the Ten Percent Happier podcast discusses; the guest describes the pandemic stage we’re in now as “the end of the beginning”).
And many of us have changed our lives in ways that we want to continue even when we’re allowed to return to the beforetime. (For me, it’s the new tradition of taking a solo weekend away from husband and kids, in a nearby Airbnb, under the trees.)
I started this firm from scratch, and we serve a clientele that wasn’t being served well, if at all. That means we have had to figure out and build ourselves a service that was most valuable to those women. Most of the industry works with wealthy retirees; that institutional knowledge has been of limited use.
For five years now, we have constantly evaluated how we run the business, how we serve our clients, how we communicate internally and with clients and to the outside world. Does the iteration ever end? To radically paraphrase my indispensable coach: “Uh, no.”
And I guess that’s part of why I love this job.
Where would you be in another year, if you could spend this next year working with a financial planner you trust to guide you through this insanity called Life and Money? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to put you on our waitlist or give you referrals to other, wonderful planners.
Sign up for Flow’s weekly-ish blog email to stay on top of my blog posts and videos.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.