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Michael J. Garry, CFP®, JD/MBA, owner of Yardley Wealth Management, LLC, is an independent Financial Advisor who provides Fee-Only financial planning services and investment management in Newtown, PA.
Michael Garry is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (TM) practitioner and applies his experience, financial industry knowledge, and legal background to provide a thoughtful seamless approach to wealth management.
MO: What were some of the key lessons you learned as you started your career as an intern with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General?
Michael: I learned that things weren’t always as they seemed at first glance and that “facts” were often open to interpretation. I also learned that operating within a bureaucracy was a skill set that I would need to learn.
It was the first time I experienced the power of networking and came to understand the fact that so many people have jobs based on personal relationships. I was in the Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions Section, and I liked the work, but I didn’t want to go into criminal law, so I wasn’t getting as much good experience as I could in a different section. I found out that one of the interns in the Torts section was going to be leaving. Torts covered civil litigation and so was something I was much more interested in.
My first inclination was to put my resume through human resources to try to make the transfer when the spot opened up. Instead, my boss gave me a better idea. He reminded me that I knew the person in charge of the Torts Section, who would be doing the hiring, and how busy he was, and how he wouldn’t want to have to take the time to review numerous resumes and to interview candidates. He told me to stop by the guy’s office, strike up a short conversation, and tell him that if an opening ever came up, I’d love to apply for it. Fortunately, my boss knew I wasn’t interested in staying in his section and wasn’t bothered by it and he gave me a good recommendation. The next week when the opening came up, I got the job.
MO: What inspired you to start Yardley Wealth Management instead of staying with a more established firm?
Michael: It’s something I had to do for both my clients and for myself. While there are numerous ways to effectively manage wealth, any good wealth manager is going to have some core beliefs and principles. The wealth manager will want to use strategies that accomplish their clients’ goals while operating within their belief system. If you work with an established firm, that’s not always possible. The firm has to answer to its owners, which dictate firm strategy, and sometimes wealth managers can’t do what they think is right for their clients while keeping their bosses happy. Ultimately, you need to choose to sacrifice your beliefs or your pay, or make the leap to strike out on your own. I made the leap.
The other thing is that I had always wanted to start and own a business. While working for my previous employers, I spent a lot of time reading about the challenges faced by owners of wealth management firms, and how they dealt with them, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would run my firm, when I eventually decided to start one.
MO: What are some strategies that you use to help your clients identify and meet their needs for the future?
Michael: Sometimes that is the hardest part of my job. I try to get clients to visualize how their lives will be different if they take my advice.
If somebody isn’t saving enough money for retirement, they only have a few options: save more, delay retirement, or live on less in retirement.
It’s hard because they have to spend less now for immediate needs and wants so that at some point in the indefinite future they will be more secure or can live on more money. If you don’t show it in concrete terms, and make that future real to them, it doesn’t mean anything. (Also, it doesn’t mean anything to most people in their 20s or 30s because it is just too far into the indefinite future.)
So I’ll show people that by saving a specific additional amount and investing it in a way that makes sense for them, it might enable them to retire at 65 instead of 70, or take vacations, or continue to support their charitable causes, or whatever is important to them.
MO: What are your top tips for successful estate planning?
Michael: The best thing to do to have a successful estate planning experience is to make sure that the clients discuss what they want to accomplish with their lawyer. It should be a freewheeling discussion. So many people just come into the office not really sure about the process and think that taxes are the only thing they need to worry about.
Many clients are in a position to make a real positive change in their beneficiaries’ lives, and they can do that by taking a little bit of time and putting some thought into how they will structure their Wills.
MO: What are some of the basics of putting together a good investment strategy? Can you share some good resources for people who are interested in starting to invest but uncertain of how or where to begin?
Michael: Starting a good investment strategy is easier than most people think. I’m a big believer in index funds and people can find out about them at Vanguard. www.vanguard.com Another good source of information on investing can be found on the website of the other mutual fund family I primarily use, Dimensional Fund Advisors, www.dfaus.com My own website also has some investing and wealth management information. www.yardleywealth.net
The first thing to think about in putting together an investment strategy is the appropriate amount of risk. As stocks go up and down every day, each individual needs to figure out how much of that ride makes sense for them to take. Yes, stocks have outperformed other asset classes, and if you believe in capitalism, they have to outperform them over the long run, but sometimes the returns from stocks are awful, and those are the worst times to get out of them.
So if you can handle all of the ups and downs, you can start by buying a single global stock index fund or two separate ones, one for U.S. stocks and one for foreign stocks. If you can’t handle, or don’t want, all of the ups and downs that come from investing in the stock market, then you should buy some bonds. The percentage you should buy depends on how risk averse you are. Most of our clients have between 20% and 50% in bonds. The more you have in bonds, the less risky on average is your portfolio.
As you accumulate more money, the decisions become more complex, and that is where a good wealth manager can help.
MO: Do you have any plans for expansion?
Michael: I know I want to expand, but I’m still in the process of figuring out the best way. I want to leverage my brand, but only if I find the right people, which is very difficult in my industry. Also, I don’t want to come full circle and create the established firm that good wealth managers need to leave!
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