Where we’ve been; where we’re going

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Nick Foy, CFP®

Every so often I plan to use this format to spend some time talking about me. Or, more specifically, about us, as in Greenway, our employees and our clients. And our (hopefully) future clients.

In some ways, I got into this business accidentally (hence the name of the blog). I never had any intention of going into finance; it was far too stuffy for me. I knew I wanted the focus of my career to be about doing something that I found meaningful, but I’m sure I could’ve made anything seem meaningful somehow.

Where I’ve been

I majored in communication in college, but knew fairly early on that I didn’t want to go into broadcasting. The idea of moving to Topeka or Des Moines to get a start didn’t appeal to me (no offense to the lovely people who I’m sure live in those towns).

Instead, my story with personal finance starts after my older sister Lindsey died suddenly late in my junior year of high school when she was in her early 20’s. She had been severely disabled since getting sick at a young age, and my parents, doing the best they could with what they knew, saved and invested aggressively expecting that the care throughout her lifetime would be expensive.

After her premature death, my other sister and I inherited some money from her trust. It wasn’t life-changing money, but it was certainly more than a high school junior who had a love for automobiles could be trusted with.

My parents set us up with a guy they knew, an “independent advisor” affiliated with a big name firm who was to help us do a better job of managing our money than we would. After all, he knew what he was doing.

I’ve since found out that trusting a “guy you (or someone else) know(s)” is often a major mistake.

Looking back, all the signs were there. Either he had no idea at all what he was doing, or he knew exactly and made every effort to blow snow in our faces, obscuring the reality of the situation with misleading, irrelevant information.

I remember him telling us things like this: “Our research shows that in election years, the market…”

Stop right there.

If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve LOL’d and told him to go sell shoes or handbags or something. Sell a product that won’t ultimately negatively impact someone’s life forever (and potentially that of their kids and grandkids). A bad pair of shoes, you’re out $100 and back to the drawing board a couple of months later. A terrible annuity is harder to recover from.

Plus, I was a 17 year old. Why the hell did I care what the market was going to do during the election cycle in 1999? I (hopefully) had a 65+ year time horizon.

He took a handsome commission putting money in terrible things: high cost, tech-heavy mutual funds (well-timed in 1999). The aforementioned variable annuities. The sort of stuff that now makes me shudder.

After losing a significant amount to sales fees, management fees, and a tech bubble bursting, I decided that, with what remained, I would try to learn something about investing and start allocating what was left of the money on my own.

A neighbor suggested I look at Vanguard, which was starting to turn into a serious competitor, though it was nowhere close to the $5.1 trillion behemoth it is today.

So I did, and after determining that Vanguard was generally a good thing, without knowing much else about how to invest, in 2002-ish I moved the money into accounts in my own name.

I made most of the mistakes that individual investors make: I looked at past returns to determine what funds I’d choose, I didn’t focus a whole lot on asset allocation, and I paid almost no attention to fees, although Vanguard’s are generally rock bottom, so at least I got that somewhat right.

I graduated from college and moved to Charlotte to be close to my lady friend (now wife of almost 12 years) who was headed down south to take a job in banking. I started working in ministry at a church north of town, but after a couple of years I decided that wasn’t the best fit for me.

I still wanted to make an impact on people, but figured I’d try to get a real job and do it that way instead, so in 2007 I applied for a job at Vanguard which has three offices in the U.S. One of them happens to be in Charlotte, and I got hired.

From 2007-2011, I soaked up everything I could learn from anyone who knew anything at all, and by the time I left there I had been awarded the CFP® designation, and had the knowledge and the comma I needed to go with the desire to help.

In 2011 I opened up an office in Charlotte for the firm my father-in-law had started in California. He gave me a great opportunity to learn and build a viable business, and in the fall of 2017, we both decided it was time to separate out our firms. Our niches are just different enough that we were probably hindering each other’s growth, and we were too small to get much benefit out of being a national firm.

So, in 2018, I officially opened Greenway and invited my clients to join me in the new venture. I’m happy to say they accepted the invitation!

Where we’re going

I’m crystal clear on the type of person we want to serve, and what our mission is: We aim to help people use money as a tool to maximize their impact on their families, their communities, and the world.

Chasing a bigger paycheck, or more household income probably won’t bring any additional satisfaction, unless you’ve got a purpose and a plan for how to allocate those new dollars.

Our clients tend to value:

  • Experiences over things
  • Opportunities to be generous
  • Total transparency
  • The accountability that comes from working with a professional

Our business model is entirely client-centric. Unlike the guy I worked with back in high school, we won’t ever get paid by anyone but our clients.

We’ve even expanded our offering from the traditional model of charging a percentage of assets under management. I started meeting too many high income earners who had a ton of debt and little or no assets, and needed a financial advisor who wasn’t going to sell them permanent life insurance and high-cost annuities. Someone who would help them make better financial decisions, and avoid costly mistakes. So, we started a subscription model, and charge a monthly fee for the investment advice and financial planning that people need. So far, it’s working great.

I hope both of those offerings grow over time as we strive to make a legitimate difference in people’s lives.

What we think we know, what we definitely don’t

I’m fairly confident that if we hire high-character people, put clients’ interests first, and strive to be a generous firm, good things will happen. I have no idea how large we’ll grow or how quickly, but I do know that I want our impact to be significant.

Just like with investing, there are certain things we can control, and many that we know we can’t. I hope we do a great job of recognizing the two, and working hard to focus on the former.

We can show up each day excited about our mission and vision, and work to improve the lives of those that we come in contact with. We can put the interests of others first.

Our team has grown from one to two, and we’ll probably add a third member by the end of the year. On the job descriptions, I added our core values. I probably lifted some of these from Zappos or something, but I think they encapsulate what I want our culture to be about:

Here are our five core values:

  • Transparency. With our team, our clients, and ourselves.
  • Creativity. Yes, we’re a financial services firm that values creativity. Finding creative solutions to client issues makes us stand out.
  • Humility. We’re not afraid to ask for help.
  • Adventure. Work shouldn’t be boring. Take smart risks, and don’t be afraid to make some mistakes. You’ll be forgiven.
  • Generosity. Generous people are healthier and happier than their stingy counterparts. We’re generous with our time, talent, and treasure, and we want to inspire our clients to be generous too.

My long-term goal would be to build something that we can someday give away. National Christian Foundation makes it possible to give away business interests so that, someday, many decades in the future, if there’s ever a liquidity event, some or all of the proceeds can go to directly to help others. I can’t imagine anything that would make me more excited about going to work each day than knowing that any business growth that occurs is going to benefit someone else entirely.

So, that’s the long-winded plan. I might look back at this in 5 or 10 years and realize how idiotic the whole idea was, but for now we press on. I’m hopeful that many more will decide to join us on the journey.

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