Should You Work With Flow?
I know other financial advisors. Why should I work with you?
It’s not a slam dunk that you should, to be honest. You should interview several planners before you choose one. You need to understand their philosophy, process, and personality. And you need to like each one of those. I have built my firm to address the needs, concerns, opportunities, and constraints inherent in the tech industry, especially if you’re a woman. So, if you work in the tech industry, I’m a good place to start. I have thought long and hard about my philosophies of planning and investing, and I’ve codified it in my firm’s processes. Also, occasionally, I let an unprofessional word fall from my lips.
I spend my time focused on issues that you face: stock options, paying off debt, high home values, prioritizing savings goals, and many others. Most financial planners (me, included) operate as your financial “quarterback” (I am not a huge football fan, but this analogy seems most effective): directing you to specialized players (insurance agent, accountant, estate planning lawyer) when I see a need. Women in tech need an additional set of professionals, this one to help further their career: recruiters, career coaches, leadership coaches, patent lawyers, etc. I consider one of my most important roles to be putting you in touch with these other professionals.
We here at Flow welcome clients of all races, ethnicities, and sexual identities and orientations. If you can check the “I’m not a jerk” box, we’re good.
Lastly, I am a fee-only planner who abides by the fiduciary standard.
Are you a fiduciary?
Yes. We abide by the fiduciary standard 100% of the time. It’s part and parcel of being a Registered Investment Advisor (which Flow is), and both Maddie and Meg have also signed an explicit Fiduciary Oath. (Via e-sign, so excuse the utterly illegible signature.)
I don’t live near Bellingham, WA. Can I still work with you?
Of course! In fact, I was somewhat shocked the first time someone in my town became my client. Flow is a location-independent firm, so I can easily work with anyone with an internet connection. You might miss out on free coffee, but instead you get a very flexible working relationship with me.
I’m not a woman in tech. Can I still work with you?
I believe that there’s “the right planner” for everyone. It’s my (extremely lame) motto. I spend my time and effort regularly learning how to better serve women who in are their early-to-mid career in tech. If you are not such a person, I probably won’t be a good fit for you. But I probably know a planner who is! I would be happy to refer you on to a few planners, one of whom might be the right planner for you.
Do you support the lgbtq community and people of color?
At Flow, we respect and try to effectively serve all of our clients, whatever their needs and backgrounds. We hope to help people who have historically been underrepresented and underserved in tech (and financial services!). “Women in tech” is just a pithy marketing slogan; we aim to be inclusive.
Do I need to have a certain amount of money to work with you?
Nope! We want to be able to help you at any stage in your early to mid career, and we know you won’t necessarily have buckets of money lying around at that point. Too many other big life things going on: buying a new home, travelling, saving to your 401(k), everything that goes along with having a baby, buying life insurance, switching jobs, moving.
We charge a flat fee per year. See the details.
So long as your monthly income can cover the fee, you’re golden.
Can’t I just do all this financial planning business myself?
Intellectually speaking, there’s no question. If you work in high tech, chances are you’re organized, sharp, and detail-oriented. All qualities that make for good financial planning. The more relevant question is: do you want to do it yourself? Do you possess the knowledge, time, discipline and follow-through to craft a holistic picture and then keep yourself accountable to your plan?
Emotionally speaking, there is tremendous merit to having a disinterested third party to help you look more dispassionately and rationally at your situation, and to help hold you accountable to your goals and decisions.
What Is It Like to Work with Flow?
How do you get paid?
Flow Financial Planning is a fee-only firm, which means I get paid only by you, the client, not by selling any products or making any referrals to other providers.
I am also a fiduciary, which simply means I put your interests first. Investopedia explains it like this: “A fiduciary’s responsibilities are both ethical and legal. When a party knowingly accepts a fiduciary duty on behalf of another party, they are required to act in the best interest of the party whose assets they are managing.”
Put together, this means that If I recommend an insurance policy or a mutual fund to you or suggest you take some action, you know I’ve done so because i think it serves your needs the best, not because I am making money off of it.
Can I cancel my ongoing planning relationship?
Yes, of course. You can cancel the relationship at any time. My clients typically pay their annual fee on a monthly basis. If you cancel, I will refund you for whatever portion of the month remains.
What does financial planning cover?
Financial planning sound good, but you’re not sure what it covers? Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of topics we will talk about. Though the fun always comes when you bring something unusual to the table!
- Identifying Goals. This is the raison d’etre of financial planning. Whether your goal is “Get my child through college with no debt” or “Retire early” or “Take an annual family vacation.” Knowing where you are now is the necessary first step to reaching your goals.
- Risk Management. This term is often used simply as a synonym for “insurance,” but it is so much more: ample cash reserves, adequate savings rate, estate planning documents to care for your family, an appropriate investment portfolio..
- Real Estate Planning Strategies. You might have a lot of your net worth tied up in real estate, especially your primary residence, and especially if you live in a high-cost-of-living area. We look at the role that real estate plays in your total financial picture and how to best balance the risks and potential rewards of real estate ownership with those of your investment portfolio and the rest of your financial picture.
- College Preparation. No matter how old your child is, there’s something we could be doing to prepare for the cost of his or her education, either savings or ways to lower the cost. I can help you figure this out your best strategy at every strategy, and can even help review your financial picture as it relates to eligibility for financial aid.
- Employee Benefits Optimization. October and November of every year is usually a stressful time: Open Enrollment. 401(k) contributions, life insurance, employee stock purchase plans, legal services…the list is long. We review your benefits and determine whether you are taking full advantage of the benefits available to you.
- Stock Compensation. Stock options, restricted stock units, employee stock purchase plans, and so on: these all have different tax consequences, different risks, and they all affect your financial picture differently. We review your available stock compensation and advise you on how it could best serve your goals.
- Estate Planning. For most people with young families, estate planning is first and foremost a way of protecting your children in case anything happens to you. I can help identify needs in your existing estate plan and coordinate with your attorney to ensure that your estate plan works well with your overall financial plan.
- Investment Analysis. Do you have investments spread all over the place–your 401(k), your spouse’s, an investment account, a savings account, a CD, a 529–and little idea how they all work together? I provide a high-level view of your entire portfolio as it exists today and recommend how to tailor it to better meet your goals. I can also explain how various investment vehicles and strategies work.
- Cash Flow Management. We review your income and expenses to determine how much or how little you are saving, how much you should be saving, and where. I can help you set up a system for saving that is automatic and makes it easy to stick to your plan. If you have debt, we can also advise you on how best to pay down debts.
- Retirement Planning. Though you are probably still years away from retirement, retirement planning cannot wait until you’re 60. I look at when you are likely to achieve financial independence given your current savings and spending goals, and we adjust your plan to get you back on track if necessary.
- Tax Planning Strategies. I want you to understand your taxes and how they interact with the rest of your finances. I also look for ways to minimize current and future income taxes as a part of your overall financial planning picture. A knowledge of your tax situation will help guide strategy for investing, income, philanthropy. I coordinate with your tax professional to make sure your tax decisions work well with the rest of your financial plan.
Where can i learn about personal finances and investing on my own?
Brava! Regardless of whether you work with a financial planner, I believe it’s imperative that you know at least the basics of how to manage your money. No one treasures it as much as you do, after all. Here are some resources I’ve gathered over the years:
- this free PDF from William Bernstein. The guy is a neurosurgeon, an investment advisor, and a finance theorist…yes, he’s crazy impressive. It’s a short read, targeted at “millennials” but applicable all up and down the age range, and covers a lot of ground.
- The One-Page Financial Plan Written by Carl Richards, best known for his Sharpie-on-napkins drawings in his New York Times column, this is a short, simple book whose title says it all. Really, anything by Richards is going to be entertaining, easy, and helpful.
- I Will Teach You to Be Rich An entertaining, snarky (at times, annoying, I must admit) book about personal finance, written by Ramit Sethi. Despite the title, it’s got tons of prudent advice.
- Personal Finance for Dummies Yes, really. I read it myself when I first transitioned from tech to financial planning.
Finances as a Couple:
- Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey Written by Manisha Thakor, who happens to be a fellow Wellesley alumna. Especially when you have very different financial backgrounds or current financial situations, it’s important to know how to communicate about money with your partner.
- How a Second Grader Beats Wall Street By one of my favorite curmudgeons of the financial advice world
- The Little Book of Common Sense Investing By Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard, creator of the first index fund, all around Dude To Be Reckoned With in the investment world.
Stock Compensation (Options, RSUs, etc.):
I feel stuck in my career. What are some resource for getting unstuck?
Although I am not a career coach or counselor, I recognize your career success is important to your financial success (in addition to being important to your ongoing happiness). Sometimes we can get a little stuck in our career and don’t really know where to go from here. I’ve assembled some resources over the years that might be helpful in un-sticking yourself:
- Designing Your Life. Written by the head of the design program at Stanford, it helps you find a new career path when you have little vision for what it could be.
- Working Identity Instead of being a how-to book, the book presents case studies of several people who made career changes and helps you understand what the process looks like. Here’s a short interview with the author, where she talks about why women have midlife crisis in their 30s.
- My favorite suggestion: Seek out a career coach and ask specifically about how they’d help you through this stuck-ness. Books are great, but they rarely translate into action.
What qualifications do you have?
I (Meg) am a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. I have a Masters in Financial Planning. And I’ve been listening to people’s stories since 2010.
Maddie Burton, Flow’s Associate Planner, also is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and has been working as a planner since 2016.
Janice Bakke, Flow’s Client Service Associate, is a Financial Paraplanner Qualified Professional™.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® and CFP®(with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.
You're a small firm. What happens to the firm and to me if something bad happens to you?
Flow Financial Planning is, indeed, a small firm. We take seriously, however, our obligation to our clients to make sure they are taken care of at all times. As such, we have a Business Continuity Plan, which we review annually and update as necessary.
How do you keep my information safe?
We think regularly about how to protect your data. It helps that Meg’s time in the tech industry was spent in software security…so it’s top of mind for her!
All Flow employees and contractors avoid sending sensitive information in emails and encourage clients to similarly abstain. We do not rely on encryption in emails because we believe that using an online portal to transmit and receive sensitive information and documents is more secure.
We operate almost exclusively with web-based software. The data we do store locally is temporary. We use dual-factor authentication when available and select app-based over SMS-based when available. Our hardware is protected with strong passwords.
The vast majority of business and client data is held by the following providers (click the name to go to their security policies):
- RightCapital (financial planning)
- DocuSign (digital signature)
- Wealthbox (client relationship management)
- LastPass (password security)
- Google’s G Suite (email, calendar, document storage, File Stream, etc.)
- AdvicePay (monthly payment processing)
- ScheduleOnce (meeting scheduling)
- MailChimp (all-client and other group emails)
- TD Ameritrade (client investment management)
- Capitect (investment performance reporting)
- Finametrica (measures your tolerance for risk)
- Quickbooks Online (bookkeeping)
- Holistiplan (tax-return analysis)