For a financial planner, Carl Richards isn't much of a planner: His career trajectory took him by surprise. Take his Behavior Gap blog, for example. What started out as sharing research to foster client interest in his fee-only planning firm, Presada (previously called Clearwater Asset Management), Behavior Gap has rapidly grown into a community of planners (and fans) across the nation. Maybe it was the T-shirts, which have appeared on the Wall Street Journal blog, or his sketches, which have become something of a trademark.
What is the behavior gap, exactly? Numerically, it's the 7% gap that a 2004 Dalbar study identified between the returns of the average mutual fund in a given time period (12%) and what the average mutual fund investor earns during that same period (5%). But Richards likes to steer clear of the numbers. Simply put, it's the idea that well-intentioned searching for the best investment was leading to subpar results for investors, Richards says.
Richards is doing what he can to close the gap. "The original concept was that difference, but now we're trying to help people admit that it exists and realize that their job is not to find the best investment, but the best investor."
One way he's spreading the word is through his Secret Society of Real Financial Planners. Comedic as the name may sound, Richards is quite serious about this metaphorical group of "real" planners, as he calls them. "I kept hearing these horrible stories about financial planners, but there are real planners out there who are professionals, who are honest and who truly put clients' interest first. I know them and their impact on people's lives are enormous," he says.
The Secret Society has taken on a life of its own recently; there is even talk about launching a CFP search board called Real Financial Planners. For now though, Richards only expects some SSORFP T-shirts in the future.
Richards has also become a staunch believer in the power of social media. From his blog (www.behaviorgap.com) to his Twitter account (@behaviorgap), he equates social media to "going to lunch with 1,000 people any time you want." One such "lunch date"-New York Times columnist Ron Lieber-took an immediate liking to Richards' tweets and blog, and asked him to be a guest expert on the papers "Bucks" blog, answering readers' questions for one week.
"I asked a PR firm what it would cost to get mentioned in the New York Times. They said at least a $20,000 retainer," Richards recalls. "The way to do this is to start saying stuff you're passionate about and people will listen."
In 2010, Richards plans to continue his efforts to close the behavior gap, armed with his social media experience, an open invitation to post in the NewYork Times, his weekly blog on Morningstar.com, myriad speaking engagements and a new book in the works. Not too shabby for a guy without a plan.
Founder, Presada Capital Management
Salt Lake City and Las Vegas
Years in industry: More than 12
Designations: CFP, dropped his CIMA designation.
First job: I'm sure I had a job mowing lawns or doing landscaping.
Best career decision: To start sharing my opinions with anyone who would listen.
Fantasy career: Coming up with creative solutions. that have a massive impact on people's lives. Oh wait, I'm doing that.
Favorite way to relax: Mountain biking.
Most important thing I learned this year: To question all my assumptions.
Your wish for the year ahead: For the last year, you could go to almost any restaurant and you'd hear normal people talking about how worried they were about money. My biggest wish is that the general anxiety level of our communities regarding money would go down and that people would find peace in their relationship with money. I'm glad people are asking those questions, but I hope they can find the answers.
Your worst fear for the year ahead: That the anxiety level is going to get worse, that the turmoil won't go away, which is actually what I think will happen.