We talked with Julie Schatz, CFP® and Jennifer Cray, CFP® about their approach to financial planning, their relationships with clients and why they chose to join a larger firm. They shared with us that they were looking for a win-win situation for their clients and their business when they considered Forum Financial Management via the Wealth Advisor Alliance. Julie and Jennifer joined Forum in August 2023. In this Q&A, they share their insights into how joining Forum will benefit their business going forward.

Was there something about Forum that made it feel like the right fit? Culture? People? Resources?

We were looking for a firm that was big enough to offload the things we didn’t love. And Forum is just the right size. They’re not so big that we would get lost, but they’re big enough to have specialists to do the back-office and portfolio management functions that we would like to delegate to people who love it more than we do and are better at it than we are.

Forum was the first company we met with. We started by meeting with Jonathan Rogers and Brian Shapiro about two years ago. We saw the potential fit from the start. They introduced us to Chris Lamia in Thousand Oaks, and we liked him right away. His practice and emphasis on comprehensive financial planning is so much like ours.

We had to do a lot of looking at other options to rule things out. We figured out early on that we didn’t want to become W-2 employees. We’ve been our own bosses for 20 years and running our practice the way we think is best for our clients was non-negotiable. We also weren’t looking to cash out or to retire anytime soon.

In addition, we didn’t want to be part of a firm with private equity, and we didn’t want to work for a publicly traded firm. We wanted an advisor-owned firm. The way that Forum structures its partnership is exactly the way we’ve always structured ours. So, it was a great fit. It is rare to find firms that do that.

What role did Forum’s investment philosophy play in your decision-making?

The only firms we would consider had to have a solid foundation in Dimensional Fund Advisors and factor-based investing. That part had to be there for us even to consider them.

What appealed to you about the support Forum and Forum’s back-office team would provide?

Jennifer answered this question and noted, “Julie was looking to delegate the portfolio management and trading. I was not in the beginning, but tax management is one thing we do to add a lot of value. We do a lot of tax planning work with our clients. Most of our clients are from California, and taxes are absolutely an issue here.

Hands-on management of after-tax investment returns was something that I was reluctant to let go of. But in 2022 alone, we spent so many hours and days doing tax-loss harvesting that it became its own part-time job. That started me thinking about what it would be like to have a team of people there every market day, and it’s their job to do this.

“I know enough about trading to know that specialists who do it all day will be better at it than I am. And then there is the responsibility of building portfolios and regularly revisiting what we’re doing and why. We’ve had an investment committee of two, and now Forum’s investment committee will be an invaluable resource. It’s another way we can add value to our clients.

And technology. Forum has prioritized that; we’re excited about the portal and the app. That’s something we could not have provided to our clients. And from a compliance point of view, I think cybersecurity is going to become equal to compliance in terms of not just importance but also the regulatory burden. If so, that’s just something that the two of us could not handle. Forum takes this very seriously. I’m so excited about their approach toward technology and cybersecurity.”

How will the move to Forum benefit your Menlo Park team?

One thing we’re looking forward to is having a better work-life balance. We’ve assured our clients we’re not looking to stop working. This is not our first step into retirement. It’s the opposite.

We’re also looking forward to learning best practices for working with the younger generation, especially doing it in a way that’s relevant to them and efficient.

How would you each describe your relationship?

Right from the beginning, we said our partnership is like a marriage. Even though we don’t share clients, we absolutely share a business. We know we each have our own way of doing things. But those differences are small. They’re more based on our personalities than anything else. From the start, we made a commitment: If we had issues with each other, we would talk about it, we would work it out, and we have. You know it’s not always pretty, but we have always been committed. We are in this for the long haul.

We’re different from other practices in that we each have always had our own clients. We’re not on salaries; we don’t share revenue, we share common expenses, and then we pay our individual expenses. You see other partnerships that run into trouble because they’re arguing about compensation. They’re arguing about who carries the load. Julie and I have never had that. When we found out that Forum was structured similarly, we knew we wouldn’t have to change.

What is your vision for you and your team post-transition?

Julie and Jennifer agreed, “We’re looking at how we grow if we decide to grow our client base. We’ve always felt there’s a limit to how many relationships we maintain. We don’t ever want to forget the names of our clients’ family members or whether they’re dog people or cat people. So we don’t want 200 clients. That’s not sustainable for us. We both keep a relatively small client base, and I can see that client list expanding somewhat. It has to be a good fit for both them and for us. We want to keep it fun with high-energy clients.”

Why did you decide to make this change for Investor’s Capital Management to join Forum?

We wanted to be able to work longer and be happier. There’s so much work in running a business: taking care of your payroll, accounting, tax filings, and so much back-office work. We’ll be able to offload some of the things we don’t love. We weren’t looking to cash out. On the contrary, we wanted to continue to be owners. We owned our firm [Investor’s Capital Management], and we were looking for an opportunity where we would have the same role, with seats at the table. We knew our clients would really like that. We’re looking to work fewer hours and spend more time with clients. Everybody wins.

Learn more about what makes WAA different from standard TAMPs and how we help advisors forge their path.

Interested in exploring options to amplify your life’s work as a financial advisor? Contact us at team@waalliance.com to learn how we help advisors grow their wealth management practices.

We help advisors establish and grow successful wealth management practices. To learn more about how we can help you amplify your life’s work, contact us at team@waalliance.com. You can follow us on Twitter@theWAAlliance and on LinkedIn.

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