After we graduated, many of my fellow students from Western Kentucky University’s personal financial planning program immediately sought jobs at financial planning firms and simultaneously commenced studying for the CFP exam.

I decided to take the road less traveled — the road to Orlando, Florida.

For five months after graduation, I worked at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom as a cast member. Essentially, I talked with park guests for six nights a week. I had suspected that working at Disney World would have many more parallels with financial planning than first meets the eye. In the end, I was right.

There is a perception that in Disney World, the customer is always right. I can tell you firsthand that this is not the case, as there were probably hundreds of times when I had to step in to correct a guest.

At Animal Kingdom, for instance, we had a loose policy that guests could not enter a show once it had started. One night, there were a few guests that asked me if they could see the show, which was nearly halfway over. I politely informed them that no more guests were allowed in the theater, to which they promptly cursed in my face and told me they were never coming to Animal Kingdom again.

Quote
“While I may not be telling clients to ‘have a magical day’ around the office, Disney’s core mission to make people happy is essentially what I do now, too.”
Elijah Essa at Disney World

It would have been easy to tell these people that I was glad I’d never see them again. Instead, I promptly apologized and told them of the second show later that night, and asked if there was any way I could make their experience better. This is not human nature, and I’ll admit, it is not always the way I reacted in these situations. But I tried my best to maintain integrity while wearing the Disney uniform, just like I now maintain a fiduciary duty when working with clients. Putting others’ needs above your own can be exceptionally difficult, but I know firsthand that it is the most rewarding way of doing business.

One of the other lessons I learned at Disney was about competency.

On my first day at Animal Kingdom, I was given a park map. I studied that map, read the park’s history and talked to other cast members about the attractions where they worked. By the end of my time there, I was well prepared to answer most guest questions and do fun things like ask them trivia questions about the park. No matter what job you have, having a high level of competence can dramatically increase your own confidence and enhance a customer’s experience. I am seeing the value of this lesson again as I work as a financial planning associate.

Financial advisors should treat every client as a Walt Disney World guest who is seeking guidance and answers. Yes, financial planning scenarios are vastly more complex than simple theme park questions, but the notion is the same.

While I may not be telling clients to “have a magical day” around the office, Disney’s core mission to make people happy is essentially what I do now, too.

In fact, it is my primary goal.

Elijah Essa

Elijah Essa

Elijah Essa is an investment advisor representative for Coats Financial Planning in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter at @ElijahEssa.