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From gas station manager to financial advisor

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In the fall of 1997, I was 26 years old and unsure of what I wanted to do in life. I had already earned a B.S. in mathematics, student-taught eighth-grade math, partly owned a three-employee disc jockey business and was working as an assistant manager at a gas station.

I then read in the local newspaper of a free retirement planning seminar sponsored by a local planning firm. I decided to attend. The scene might have looked quite funny: a room full of 50- and 60-year-olds and me. The planner talked about the benefits of investing and the stock market. For over two hours, I was glued to his every word.

When I left that meeting, my first thought was not about investing. Rather, it was about whether being a financial advisor was what I was called to do. Reviewing my qualifications, I honestly felt as though all the pieces of my experience were coming together: I was strong in math, I had practiced customer service at the gas station, I had learned how to run my own company as a DJ, I had teaching skills, and I was good at managing my own money.

After the seminar, I enrolled in college for the second time: to get my B.S. in business administration. Once I got out, I was hired as an administrative assistant at a local planning office. I was very eager to learn the ins and outs of the industry from the ground up.

For the next nine years, I did administrative work, sat in on meetings, went to educational seminars and passed my Pennsylvania insurance exam and the Series 7, 63 and 66 exams. As I acquired my licenses, I started to work in the evenings and on weekends with friends, family members and some of the smaller clients my boss was not actively working with. We split anything I brought in 50/50.

For nine years, I did administrative work at a local planning office and gradually learned the essentials of the profession.

The best part was that I was earning a regular salary for doing administrative work for his clients. With a regular paycheck (and extra commission on the side), I could afford to meet people and not be a pushy salesman. I was respectful, sincere and let the individual have a say in the process. I think most people appreciated, and my book of business quickly grew to the point where I couldn’t do both the administrative work for my boss and all the work for my clients.

Some years later, I passed the CFP exam, bought out my boss’s 50% share, and went out on my own. Today, I serve over 225 individual clients and small businesses, and I write a quarterly newsletter, “Save with Dave,” in which I share my life experiences and wisdom on money.

I’ve always felt this model of bringing people into the business is much more effective than the old way of pressuring new recruits to quickly pass their tests and sell. In an industry where there is going to be a severe advisor shortage in a few years, I hope others can follow my approach. In a few years, when I begin to look for my successor, I plan on looking for someone with similar work skills and bringing them along in a similar fashion.

Did my path into the business take longer than most? I’m sure it did. But, in an industry where we try to get people to focus on the long term, my life’s journey is a perfect complement to that philosophy. In the end, I forged my own path into the business. I couldn’t be happier with my life, my career and my future.

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