If you ask most financial advisors about their career aspirations, you would hear talk of big books, high net-worth clients and a reputation for helping people get into that privileged category.
Not so with Dan Dillard. An advisor who caters to clients at the eight branches of the Amplify Federal Credit Union in Austin, Texas, Dillard hopes to eventually become the executive of a media firm that offers training videos for tellers and computer-based video communications for advisors to use with clients. Not that becoming a media tycoon has always been Dillard’s dream. It’s something that just kind of developed out of a perceived need, he says.
Dillard started out well over a decade ago working as a broker with Merrill Lynch in his hometown of Midland, Texas. “I was fascinated with finance and growing up, I had always wanted to know about it,” he says. “In 2001, I decided I needed a new start, so I left Merrill Lynch and moved to Austin.” There, in a state capital known for its diverse music, its high-tech industries, and a certain ineffable quality the locals fondly call “weirdness,” Dillard went to work as a financial advisor with a small broker-dealer that served small credit unions. He later moved to LPL and the Amplify Credit Union.
Amplify had once been the local credit union for employees of the big IBM operation in Austin, but “as IBM began moving jobs overseas, the credit union opted to expand outward, opening its membership up to the community,” Dillard says. Even today, though, he says most of Amplify’s members—and most of his clients at Amplify Financial, the credit union’s investment arm—are engineers who work for IBM or one of the many other high-tech firms in the metro area.
What’s it like having engineers as clients? Dillard laughs. “Back in Midland, we just hated it whenever an engineer walked in the door. They would make you work! They read the prospectuses and they made you answer all kinds of questions. But what I discovered since coming to Amplify is that once you’ve read the prospectuses and answered their questions, they are really good clients, because they own the decisions you help them to make. They tend to make their own decisions along with you, so there’s no, ‘You did this!’ or ‘You didn’t do that!’”
He adds, “I’ve never before worked in a place where the clients come in with their own hard drives. These guys come in with spread sheets about their whole lives. I have to tell them that three years’ worth is just fine. And they’re typically really good savers too. For most of them, the question now is how to spend down their savings and not outlive their money.”
His approach is “pretty conservative.” He explains, “Engineers tend to be conservative by nature, and I am too. Most of my clients are 45-70, and especially heading into retirement, we look at annuities, REITs and bonds so they have some liquidity and some security.”
The interest in video production came as a result of Dillard’s approach to building up his client base. “When I got here to Amplify, my core plan for developing my book was education,” he says. “In dealing with a group of highly intelligent individuals, I deliberately decided not to use a sales approach. Instead, I began with classes—first on a once-a-quarter basis and then more frequently.” He took on the self-assigned role of “key educator” at the credit union, both for members and for staff. Soon he was also being invited to IBM and other companies to give classes. “So I developed a five-part series on how to work with a financial planner,” he recalls.
Later, he developed a half-day series called “Financial Boot Camp.” He says, “It is A-Z: putting your documents together, having an emergency fund, asset allocation, challenges of retirement, estate planning, etc.” (A $25 door fee is charged, which is then donated to charity.
With the success of this approach, which saw his assets under management grow from an inherited $10 million book to over $75 million today, he started formalizing the process, planning programs a year in advance. “Most of my clients—probably about 90%–have come from these classes.” He added that it’s a good thing, too, because until recently, with the arrival of a new vice president at the credit union, referrals had been “challenging” because of management turnover.