Why Level Up Financial Planning?
If you found this post, you are probably wondering to yourself what is up with the fun name for a financial planning firm? That is not normal. You may also be thinking why would I choose such a non-conventional company to navigate my important financial planning decisions? Well, I do not expect to be a fit for everyone. However, those who have found me to be a great fit, really benefit from not only the traditional value a financial planner provides, but the features that I would consider make Level Up Financial Planning unique.
Why the name?
There are many reasons why I chose the name Level Up Financial Planning. The financial planning aspect speaks for itself, but the Level Up name is very intentional. I want my clients to be excited. Talking about finances is not always easy and I hope that Level Up Financial Planning can be thought of as a fun experience to take control over your financial situation. It is not going to be easy, but it is possible and it is worth it.
Leveling Up means that you are growing. Not just financially in dollars and cents, but in terms of knowledge and confidence too! Learning and the growth that comes with Leveling Up is not easily lost. A bad day, week, month or year can rarely wipe out a strong foundation of knowledge and strategic decision making that you have accumulated over your life. As you continue to make progress and achieve different milestones, it makes identifying the right moves to make easier and adjusting to the inevitable challenges easier too!
What Makes Level Up Financial Planning Different
I adhere to the core concepts and processes of traditional financial planning, which are tried and true. However, I put my own touch and bring unique features that my clients can benefit from.
Unlike many financial planners. I consider the value of strategic planning, in the form of Level Up Strategy Guides, to be leaps and bounds more valuable than investment management. I am aware that managing investments is a scary and emotional aspect of one’s financial planning, but many planners fail to properly guide investment only clients in times of turmoil. They fail their clients because they are either too busy to counsel their clients, they simply do not care about them, or they are just as freaked out by the turmoil as their clients. Financial planning grounds in reality what the impacts of market volatility have on a client’s’ financial future. Not to mention, all of the other additional benefits that a comprehensive financial plan provides. Financial planning also has a way of providing focus on what really matters, which is the actions and decisions you can control.
Many firms that attempt to provide financial planning to their clients to justify the high cost of their investment management fees, do so on a very cookie cutter basis. Some pieces of a financial planning recommendation can actually be pretty standard: assign beneficiaries to all of your accounts and obtain estate planning documents. The other areas all operate in a gray zone, where rules of thumb may be okay, but they can also be very detrimental to a plan.
Instead of having a packet for my clients to complete and return, I do this interactively with them using a MindMap. This helps me better capture the qualitative type questions
- What keeps you up at night?
- If you only had five years to live, what would you want to do and what would you not do with the time you have left?
When I propose recommendations in my clients’ Strategy Guide, they are very specific to what actions need to occur. It is also important to weave in their qualitative goals, history, and knowledge about their financial situation. Additionally, a lot of thought goes into not just what makes the most financial sense, but what is realistic for my clients to actually implement. At the end of the day, providing a plan that will actually be understood and implemented is way more important than quickly cranking out a report that has no context.
Have you ever been around someone and felt like their sliminess could be contagious? Although it is not even close to being a reflection on the majority, I have encountered many financial advisors who cared solely about the money and could care less about the lives of their clients. There was a period shortly before launching Level Up Financial Planning when I had too many run-ins with advisors of that nature and thought maybe this line of work is too lucrative and actually changed people into Golem from Lord of the Rings. I have since reconsidered that position, but you definitely want to ask a lot of questions when you are first interviewing a planner.
I am not looking to become rich. Like you, I plan to enjoy my life and steadily build up wealth. I am not looking for a lottery ticket or 20 rich clients to serve so I barely have to work. I also do not want to grow recklessly and fail to provide an amazing experience to my clients. Many traditional advisors that I spoke with prior to launching Level Up Financial Planning thought I was goofy in wanting to provide services to young professionals. They told me that it is easier to work with traditional baby-boomers and there is a lot more money in it. I told them that I already knew that, but I do not mind working hard and I do not need to be the highest paid advisor. I genuinely care about my clients. Not only about their financial well-being, but their overall well-being.
I have never liked someone telling me what to do without providing the reasoning behind the action. I feel that providing enough information so that my clients understand the purpose of any recommendation I provide is a crucial part of the value I provide. This ties back into the financial confidence part of my mission statement. Understanding why you may need to make adjustments to your current habits or strategies makes you more confident that you will actually achieve your goals.
It is not enough to provide education though. Many clients may know subconsciously that they are on the wrong path and one of the probable fixes is to spend less money. My coaching aspect comes into play with the strategy and accountability I provide my clients to try and make any changes as smooth as possible and when bumps in the road do occur, navigate them through those challenges or opportunities.
I live and work out of my home in Fort Collins, Colorado. Colorado became my family’s home when we decided to move from Illinois to attend Colorado State University. You do not have to live in Fort Collins to work with me! That scared me a bit before I launched because my previous firm worked primarily with local families in the Northern Colorado area. However, I have found working virtually to be superior to working with clients in person.
There were a few reasons why I chose to work virtually out of my Fort Collins home:
- I deeply dislike driving.
- It allows me to have flexible meeting times in the evenings and Saturdays.
- I felt many clients like my wife and I are really busy and adding driving time to meeting requirements further limits their ability to work with a financial planner.
- Office space for a financial planner office in Fort Collins is expensive.
- Virtual meetings are becoming standard in the work-space and so it is not foreign to most of my clients.
- Many of my clients are mobile due to career opportunities and family.
Despite many local advisors being critical of my decision to not have a physical office, I tie my early success to having a flexible schedule and not requiring my clients to be local. As is stands today, 10% of my clients are in Fort Collins and 40% are in Northern Colorado within a 20 minute drive. I feel very strongly that being the right fit for a client is more important than being in the same zip code.
My background is really diverse in my exposure to personal finance over the last 13 years. I worked at a community bank in Illinois and a credit union in Fort Collins, CO where I was able to analyze the various uses of financial products. I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. Since both of these institutions where not salesy, I was able to learn the right way of how to treat customers and provide superior customer service.
Following graduation from Colorado State University, I worked for an established firm in Northern Colorado where I was responsible for the financial planning for 160 pre-retirees from large tech companies like Broadcom, HP (and the various spinoffs), and Intel. The asset minimum was $500,000 to work with us and this gave me the unique perspective of working with accomplished and financially savvy engineers and executives. I was able to identify their characteristics that led to their success and how significant tax planning is.
Personally, my wife and I moved across the country, worked our way through school, rented, purchased vehicles, bought a starter home, saved aggressively, maintained a budget, sold our home and purchased our current home, are paying student loans, had our son with our daughter on the way, and started a business. My comfort with financial matters is extremely high, but even I experienced stress throughout these major life events and that is why I enjoy helping my clients navigate the whirlwind of financial decisions that they will be making the rest of their lives.
Outside the box thinking
Doing the easy thing is boring. It is really easy to say this is the textbook answer or this is close enough to be a recommendation. Did you know that many advisors are not required to put your best interest first? Their recommendations are just required to be suitable, which is not remotely close to being the best for you.
What excites me is the question, what if??? I push back on assumptions and try to solve problems that do not have a simple or easy solution. Drawing on my Certified Financial Planning™ education and from my experience across other areas of personal finance. If the situation is outside of my knowledge base, I rely on input from experts in their respective fields.
Many advisors say they are different, but then have all of their boilerplate language explaining things in the same exact way as another advisor right down the road. I have been very intentional in trying to separate myself from the traditional financial advisor because a traditional advisor is not what my clients need. I value the fact that I am able to be myself and really enjoy putting my own spins on traditional financial planning concepts. Although it took me many years to graduate and become a Certified Financial Planner™, the journey was extremely valuable in allowing me to experience personal finance topics at a level that is not obtained through textbooks or traditional financial planning firms. If you think the Level Up Financial Planning experience sounds awesome, I would love to work with you.
Lucas Casarez is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional serving tech professionals virtually out of Fort Collins, CO
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