Growing a financial planning business for the future means developing strong talent across generations and providing holistic planning that goes beyond just investment management, according to the advisors at Dallas-based Lee Financial Corp.

What makes the firm unique is the “comprehensive nature” of how they look at a client’s financial picture, said capital strategist and president, Dana Pingenot, which includes how a client earns income through employment and businesses.

One feature of this process is Lee Financial’s full-time business consultant, Bill Luckey.  Called a human capital strategist at the firm, his job is to work with clients who are interested developing businesses.

“Usually if someone is a business owner, their personal finances are closely tied to what’s going on in their business,” said Christie Williams, capital strategist. For example, the firm has worked with clients who wish to buy companies or sell commercial real estate, and Luckey is able to guide clients with these pursuits.

Lee Financial also provides opportunities for clients to become involved in alternative investments, such as hedge funds, distressed debt, real estate, oil and gas.

Chief Executive Officer Richard Lee founded the firm in 1974 and Pingenot was named president in September.  She’s worked at the company for nearly 20 years and knows first-hand how important it is to let people develop and grow within the firm. “It’s been kind of a gradual process,” she said, of the process of transitioning her focus to managing more of the day-to-day operations of the company. But developing leaders in-house is a key component to the firm’s growth strategy.  

Dusty Wallace, capital strategist, said, “We really want individuals here that have an aspiration to grow, so we do try to develop a path for them to do that.”

Pingenot says that she believes that finding employees who are a good fit can start at the college intern level.   But to be successful with interns, she said, a firm has to “give them meaty projects – don’t just stick them in a file room.”

Starting with students who are still in college means Lee Financial has a pipeline of people coming into the firm, Pingenot noted.

Also, unlike other financial advisory firms, Lee Financial has a well-established career path for aspiring advisors to follow. The first step on the ladder is the “capital analyst” – similar to a paraplanner. Young financial planning graduates receive training in the systems of the company and then work doing data entry and developing the plans. But they are also given some opportunity to interact with clients on the phone and by email, and each has a mentor who will give them the chance to come up with their own suggestions on plans.

A few years after joining the company, Pingenot said, these capital analysts may be promoted to capital strategist associate, which is an intermediary role between the paraplanner position and a full-fledged financial planner.

As a capital strategist associate the employee continues to do some paraplanning tasks but also take on more planning jobs, such as writing agendas for client meetings and reviewing all of the preparation for those meetings. All of this work is done with the guidance of their mentor. This level employee will sit in client meetings and be invited to participate, and will eventually graduate to the point where he or she can take the lead in conducting a meeting, with the more experienced planner sitting in to help out.

After four or five years the employees may be promoted to capital strategist, which is a lead planner position, and take on their own clients. And all the members of the planning team work closely with the investment team, which handles the investment portion of any plan.

There is consistency across the board on how these young advisors are learning, Pingenot said. And even at the capital strategist level, employees are still getting guidance from Pingenot and their mentors.

“If you want them to grow into that lead planner position you have to give them the opportunity to stretch,” said Wallace, who, like others at the firm, worked her way through the ranks.

Keeping all these growing planners busy means that everyone in the firm has to be committed to business development, Pingenot said. This includes networking with people in other professions.  

“We are here to grow and be here for the next generation of employees and clients,” Williams said.

Pingenot also says that employees at the firm are invited to comment on issues in a variety of ways, to keep communication lines open – including through her own internal blog.

Being able to train and grow from within “speaks volumes to your team members,” Pingenot said. Knowing there is an opportunity to advance makes employees more excited about their jobs, she said.

The atmosphere at Lee Financial is one that keeps employees at the firm, Wallace said. To successfully grow a financial planning firm from within, she said, “you’ve got to create an environment that challenges [employees] and one that they want to be in.”