Abacus Wealth Partners is a fee-only financial advisory firm and a fellow member of the Certified B Corporation community, recognized as a Best for the World Honoree. Their vision as a firm is “to expand what is possible with money.” They work with their clients to simplify life with a plan that connects money to what matters most.
In celebration of Pride month, we had the opportunity to have a conversation with three financial advisors that are part of the LGBTQ+ team at Abacus: Jana Davis, Christopher Stroup and Scott Swanson.
Q: Each of you came to the financial advisory world from a unique path. What do you think is the most transformative thing you’ve learned in your journey so far?
Jana (photo left): I can also equate it to the gay journey for myself. One of the biggest eyeopeners for me was that I wasn’t alone…and that parallels how I got into this industry. I was looking for someone to help me with my finances and it was difficult to find someone, and I felt very alone. What I’ve seen in my 18+ years in the industry, is that everyone has an issue with money and everyone has their own hang-ups…so finding each person’s relationship with money and how they deal with it, that’s where you start. It’s powerful to simply let people know that they are not alone.
Christopher: It also aligns with my story and who I am. For me, it’s been a journey of my knowing that my authenticity is no longer negotiable. Once I came out, that was the flag in the sand that was unshakable, and from there that has led me to Abacus and the work we do. Doing a lot of work with the LGBTQ community and just having that as a core value…that’s one of things that led me to Abacus because my authenticity was celebrated here. I remember seeing Jana and Scott’s faces on the LGBTQ team page when I was looking for a job. That was reaffirming that once I made the decision that my authenticity was no longer negotiable, it opened up doors that I never could have imagined before. Now, my happiness is through the roof by just leading a life as I am, and I think there’s power to showing that and in sharing that story to inspire others who haven’t made that leap yet.
Scott: One thing I’ve learned is that there’s no place for assumptions. Every time I’ve met a client, regardless of their financial situation, and was thinking in the back of my head, ‘I bet I know how you got here or how you earned that;’ I’m wrong almost every time. Every time you meet a client, you never know how they got there or their understanding of money and sometimes you meet people who have very little and understand that and chose that, and then you’ll meet people with large amounts of wealth who have no idea what they’re doing and everything in between. So, I’ve learned never to make assumptions and to approach things with an open mind and make sure to get on the same page with your client and who they truly are.
Q: From climate change to social and economic justice, the last year was pivotal in many ways. From your perspective, are there trends or shifts that you’re seeing in your work and/or your community?
Jana: I have clients reaching out more proactively about how to be charitable and how to do it ‘right.’ It’s been great to be able to provide them resources like Charity Navigator and our own research about how they can make a difference. I haven’t experienced this before with so many clients focused on the impact of what their money is doing. This is a trend that I’m loving and happy to be at Abacus where I have the tools and resources to help them.
Christopher (photo right): There’s a huge push happening especially with the younger clients who are coming in about being a ‘conscious consumer’ and what does that look like for them in terms of how their money aligns with their values around social justice or environmental impact. They want to make sure the dollars are aligned with their values and we’re having more and more of those discussions. I see it with my clients and I feel it myself…we now want to step back and think before making an investment or spending money, about the impact. It’s not about wealth creation for wealth creation sakes…there’s more to it now. I’m happy to see that coming through and hope it continues.
Scott: I’ve noticed a mindset shift in many of my clients who are making decisions to enjoy things now and be happy now. Because you don’t know how much time you have and some people experienced some scary health risks during the last 14-16 months. I have clients who have said we want to go on this trip or buy a house in this state or do that thing they’ve been talking about for years…because people are feeling like there’s no time like the present. It’s inspiring to me because it’s like it was a push that many of us needed to be in the present and not wait to be happy.
Q: Abacus is a firm that really translates your values into impact. Want to talk about that and how it connects to you personally and professionally?
Jana: I’m in Michigan right now because Abacus said that I needed to get away and help my Mom. Everything we do feeds into our values. We want our money to grow for us and make an impact. We care about our community as a whole and the greater good. We care about our employees and their well-being and mental health and then translating that into serving our clients and taking care of them to be happy and healthy. Expand what’s possible with money…it’s our vision and that is really what we do.
Christopher: The fact that you can meet with an LGBTQ advisory team…that’s just one example of Abacus celebrating everyone and creating a community where everyone is heard equally and valued equally. Happy employees are better at what they do and that leads to us being better at working with our clients.
Scott (photo below): The education we provide the clients…a lot of clients come with very deep-rooted values about things they really care about and they sometimes don’t know how to express them in words or actions. I think we’re different in that we have the tools, resources and know-how to tease out what a client wants to do with their money, how they want to align their money with their values and make a difference. We can put together a plan for them that really resonates and has meaning for them.
Q: You each hold the CFP® designation. What would you tell people out there who are looking for financial advisors? What are the questions they should be asking so they find the best advisor who meets their needs?
Jana: I think the one thing that people are afraid to ask is about the fees and how the advisor is getting paid. We’re a fee-only firm and we’re really proud of the fiduciary standard that we hold. Don’t be afraid to ask. Follow the money. I’m biased because I do believe the CFP® lets people know that we have to continue to be educated and to uphold the fiduciary standard. You want to know where the advice is really coming from.
Christopher: Ask the question of what does the first year look like together because then you’re going to see a huge range of what that looks like depending on how that firm defines financial planning and that’s an important thing to understand. Does that framework make sense for what you’re looking for and what you would value in a relationship? Does the advisor acknowledge you and how you see yourself and I think that’s especially important for the LGBTQ community. Are they going to call you your pronouns or your chosen name…do they understand you and where you’re coming from?
Scott: Feel comfortable interviewing more than one advisor. We never take offense to that and it’s even more gratifying when someone does choose you after they’ve done some homework. I always want a client to feel comfortable with me and know that I have their back and that they have a connection to me because this is a relationship that’s going to last a long time. If you think about the fact that you’re going to get in the weeds with all of your personal information, that’s a great lens to look at the relationship through when you’re interviewing advisors.
Q: You’re members of the Abacus LGBTQ+ team. What would you like people to know about your approach in serving the community…what is unique and what remains the same?
Jana: Scott talked about this earlier, and it’s so important. We don’t make assumptions. The LGTBQ community is so diverse and even me being a lesbian doesn’t mean I know anything about your journey or your financial needs, so that’s the big one for me.
Christopher: There’s the emotional piece of it too and being able to relate to that story of coming to recognize, appreciate, and love your identity. There’s a lot of power there in being members of the community. There are certain aspects of financial planning that are fundamental like we’re going to want them to have an estate plan or insurance or a retirement plan…but how we navigate the intricacies of those conversations could look very different.
Scott: The planning is similar, but the way we approach it with an open mind and also an understanding that there tends to be a lot of chosen or alternative family structures which are more prevalent in the LGBTQ community.
Q: When you think about your backgrounds, what has prepared you the most for your success and how you define that for yourself?
Jana: I feel that I’m an empathetic advisor and that I always try to understand where the client is coming from no matter where they start. We do a lot of behavioral finance to understand where a client is coming from with money and that’s where the empathy comes in. It’s what I learned from my father: how to be an empathetic being that always tries to understand where someone else is coming from.
Christopher: For me, I think about collecting experiences along the way and using different skillsets as I progress. Having been an engineer before and just bringing that mindset to what we do in a financial planning capacity. Fundamentally, I also look back to my parents who were educators and that focus on lifelong learning and that drive and hunger to learn carries me forward.
Scott: First thing that I learned early on was that I wanted to work with people. My father was self-taught and successful so that gave me the confidence to self-teach myself anything I wanted to do. I Google everything and I don’t have any qualms about not knowing something and trying to figure it out. I also like filling out forms!
Q: Do you have any advice for people who feel overwhelmed or afraid or (pick an emotion!) when they think about their finances?
Jana: You’re not alone. I’ve met people with 10K and 10M and they all have issues with money. My biggest gripe with our society is that we make it a taboo to talk about money, yet if we were able to talk about money and how we relate to money, we’d be so much better off. And when it comes to the fear, I just say: ‘You’re not alone. Face the fear. We’re here to help.’
Christopher: You’ve got to face it and hire a partner. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to help you and guide you through the journey to make you feel more comfortable about money. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help and there’s a lot of expertise to help you turn the tide with your finances and be in a stronger place and living the life you love. That’s what we do and why we’re doing it.
Scott: Remember that experts didn’t become experts overnight. We had to learn too and the reason that we’re good at this is because we do it a lot. You don’t have to deal with all of it at once. So, you can start small and get comfortable with something in your comfort zone: budgeting, investments, an IRA contribution and then work outward from there.
Q: What are you reflecting on as you look to the future?
Jana: Sitting here is proof that if it weren’t for a pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have thought that I could come here and work and care for my Mom in Michigan. I’m also trying to reflect on how my clients can be more selfish with their personal time and be confident about how they’re doing it. Expanding what’s possible with money – that’s what we strive for and I want to have more of those conversions with my clients.
Christopher: The past year feels like it took forever and was also in the blink of the eye. It really made us focus on what matters in life…like our health and how critical it is. This COVID year hit people across many communities. The other important reflection for me is the value we place on relationships…we have only so much time in the day. So who was your inner unit to spend your time with and did you hone in on what relationships really mattered? I don’t want to lose that focus again when the ‘normal’ distractions are back.
Scott: I was using ‘reflection’ to look back at successes. I had the support system of Abacus to give me the time and space that I needed to help my clients. I was also struck by the number of difficult conversations that we had with clients who were on their way to making very rash decisions. That was eye-opening and impactful for me to see how our clients relied on us for the advice and guidance that they needed to make sure they were doing what was best for them. I look forward to that in the future: being that resource for people when they need it most.
Q: Do you have a mantra or quote that you live by or that inspires you?
Jana: I was on a meditation retreat and this mantra really resonated with me: “It is this now.” Saying this phrase really brings me back to center and brings me back to the present. “It is this now.”
Christopher: The doors will open to those bold enough to knock. That’s been both a life and career mantra for me. Being bold and not being afraid of people saying no…because you’re just going to learn and retool and be better. That has powered me…having a bold mindset to see what the possibilities are and what can happen.
Scott: I wrote down ‘Google it!’ My Dad used to say: ‘It’s only money. You can always make more of it.’ I used to laugh and think it was flippant, and I don’t think I really got it until something like the pandemic happened. The real takeaway is to focus on what matters…everything else follows.
Join us for a #PrideMonth Action Party - a chance for changemakers to come together in support and celebration of the #LGBTQI community.
Like Abacus, Bluestone Life is a Certified B Corp. We work with fee-only advisors like Abacus because they are offering their clients unbiased advice and holistic financial planning. Bluestone Life is also a member of 1% for the Planet and our life insurance policies benefit nonprofits within the 1% for the Planet network. We encourage the Practical Activist in all of us to work for a socially just, equitable and healthy planet. Learn more about companies who are doing business as a force for good.
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