Straight Talk: A Discussion with Eric Powell, Part 1

Straight Talk: A Discussion with Eric Powell, Part 1

We were fortunate to sit down with Eric Powell, founder of RightPlan Financial and the Future Mill, to discuss what registered investment adviser (RIA) firms can do for their clients, what it means to build trust, how to leverage technology to manage compliance, and other fun stuff like what roles firefighters and personal trainers play in the financial services industry.

What originally made you want to be a financial adviser? At 21, I had an interest in investments and started trading a little bit myself on the side. It was before Robinhood or any of these fancy digital platforms were out. I used E-Trade. That was 13 years ago. I never had any intentions to work in the financial arena. I was a fireman with a small business that I did on the side. While doing that, I used a financial adviser, and honestly it wasn't a positive experience.

Fast-forward quite a few years—I left the fire service, and my wife and I moved out to Los Angeles. I was really trying to find myself, figure out what my next step was. When I left the fire service, I had met with a couple financial advisers, which didn’t go well. I didn't have the money they wanted and I got this vibe like, “Well, hey, we're gonna put you into a mutual fund, you know, just let it sit, that's the best thing to do,” and I was like, “What should I be doing in general?” Another adviser tried to sell me an annuity, and in my 20s I had learned enough that I didn't think an annuity was the right fit for me.

While in Los Angeles, my wife and I developed a friendship with a doctor that had an addiction to Amazon. She was continuously spending money. She was a great friend of ours, and one day I told her, “You know, you really need to talk to somebody and find out what you should be doing with your money and start putting it away.” She was like, “You know, I just wish there was somebody like you I could trust.” Bells and whistles went off, and at that moment in time I started forming a plan to join the financial services industry. My hope and goal with doing that was to be the type of adviser that my friend wanted.

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That's a great story. I love how you focus on the word “trust,” like it really sparked something for you, and you knew you could provide that to others. So, at one point, you moved into an independent adviser role. Could you talk a little bit about that shift?

When I started, I worked for an insurance company that offered other financial products. I then started managing money, but I wasn't client-facing; I had to get to a certain level to do that. It was almost like a reward. The business model wasn't a good fit for me. I felt like what I was doing was exactly what I didn’t like about the advisers that I had met, who were kind of guiding me on things that didn't seem in my best interest.

*It just didn't sit well with me, and after a while I stepped out and had a great opportunity to work for a local independent firm. And it was there that I learned about asset management, though the firm’s focus was primarily high-net-worth individuals. I would put myself in that older millennial generation, I guess you could say. So high-net-worth individuals really weren’t the people I knew. And I knew I could try to chat with them, but I wanted to help my friends, people I grew up with. And so I stepped away from there, and that's where RightPlan Financial and the Future Mill came from. * Eric Powell interview pull-quote 2 web

Tell me more about that and how you transitioned into founding RightPlan Financial first and the Future Mill second, and how they differ from each other. RightPlan Financial was my original financial firm when I went out on my own. When I did that, I had some clients I brought with me, and some of them were retirees and people close to retirement, or pre-retirees. So the idea was to create something within RightPlan Financial to help younger people as well.

What I ran into is that, as much as money management and financial planning are similar for everybody, they’re also a lot different for everybody. I found that younger people were looking for a different take, a different viewpoint. People close to retirement looked at money one way, and younger people looked at money in a completely different way.

I found the need to develop something from RightPlan that was more appealing to younger people and that could be monetized from a business standpoint. There must be buy-in from young people, but there also must be buy-in from advisers. When the only options for young people are to either get low fees but no service, or go talk to somebody but potentially get sold a lot of products, neither of those are always the best fit. Sometimes they need coaching instead; they need to bounce ideas off someone. And so that's how the Future Mill developed.

It's really interesting that you met that very specific need in the market. So describe a little bit what you do specifically and what a typical workday looks like for you. A primary goal is always to make sure that clients are getting what we’ve offered from the beginning. My biggest thing is if I tell somebody I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it. Some of those requirements are a little different for pre-retirees and retirees. On the flip side of that, the young professionals are a bit different because it's not as much a matter of checking in with them. I found a lot of young professionals don't want that as much. I usually say something like, “You don’t have to talk to us, but we're here when you need us.” At prior firms, I would call people and could hear them think, “Oh, gosh, what are they wanting to talk to me about this time?”

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So with the Future Mill, a typical day is working on content creation for young professionals along with the daily duties of talking to clients, looking at portfolios, and making sure all cash is invested. Beyond that though we've got to find the time to do the content creation, to really push out that content because that's the demographic the Future Mill is after, people on social media, whether it’s YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok, though I haven't gotten on TikTok yet, but there are quite a few people building a following there, so I'm considering it.

Based on the various tasks you do and the relationships you cultivate in your work, what would you say is your biggest daily challenge or frustration? *I think there are two things. Number one is people can’t do everything. I'm trying to find a way to convey this to young people as well. I'm just as guilty at times. Everybody wants to go to their regular full-time job. They want to be a dad or a mom, they want to be friends with everybody and be social, but they also want to be an expert trader on the side. I'm really learning to rely on others and their expertise. I'm talking with you right now because I cannot focus on all these other things and worry about the compliance side. I need something to help handle that on the back side. And I need outside experts telling me, “Hey, you should be doing this or that,” versus me just saying, “Well, I think this is okay.”

My second real challenge is marketing because I think that any business can be the best business, but it may not be the biggest business if it doesn't know how to market. And so that's something I'm really trying to find ways to strategize. I've talked to a lot of different social media experts and am trying to learn from them and also possibly outsource a lot of that.*

What a great message you’re sending to your clients that we all can't do it all and that they too should rely on advisers like you who can help them navigate their daily duties. This seems to go back to the trust issue you mentioned before, the trust people need to feel guided through that process. Yeah, I've actually got a gym analogy for this. If you’re going to work out at the gym but you've never picked up a weight before, do you hire a personal trainer and trust them or not? That's really what the Future Mill is all about: becoming that personal trainer. It's not that we don't want you to know how to lift weights, and if you go to the gym on the side and lift weights, there's nothing wrong with that. But we want to make sure you're doing everything the right way. And we want to make sure we're giving you the right advice to build your wealth, just as if you were in the gym building your strength.

It's almost like a guided DIY approach in some ways. So given all of that, how would you define success in your business, both for you as an adviser and for your clients? *From a business perspective, I think success is twofold. My ultimate goal is to grow something exponentially, not just for myself but to help others; the idea of the Future Mill when it comes to business is to help others. This includes advisers because I've seen so many great advisers, both friends and acquaintances, that have fallen out of the industry, not because they aren't great people, but oftentimes because they weren't willing to do things they didn't want to do, like sell certain products or market their services. And so my hope is to build something that can bring them on and offer them a fair chance to succeed, because there are a lot of advisers that do magnificent work and are great people, but it seems as though there are many who succeed by taking advantage of people. I want to make sure I find the right advisers who want to succeed for the right reasons, not fail because they weren't willing to compromise their ethics and their values. I want to promote that inclination to do good.

Looking at myself 15 years ago, working as a fireman and in a side job, I met with people who were giving me advice that was going to make them the most money, and I lost all trust in the system. I also lost time in the market because I didn't find a good person to help me. From a client perspective, I want to find young people and help guide them and build their trust in the Future Mill, myself, and anybody working with me. I want to help them build a plan for their future. It doesn't have to be this strict, stern advice, like you must do these certain things. Most people want to do some things on their own; they're interested in all these other things such as cryptocurrency, a hot topic right now. I had somebody message me and say, "I'm sure glad my financial adviser allowed me to take some other risks.” He put a few thousand in a crypto stock and got a healthy return. What I'm teaching him and others is to build your financial plan, and once it's met, take extra money and do something fun and interesting. And that's exactly what he's doing.

The idea is to help people do that and see that the financial services industry isn't bad. We need people. It goes back to that song that we all need people to lean on. We all need that. It's the personal trainer at the gym again. We all need a coach. And that’s my ultimate goal, to help as many people as possible. I really have a large idea and dream of where this will go. It's scaled so that there's going to be a team of advisers and an admin that will help only so many clients. So the whole idea is that one adviser doesn’t have 10,000 clients (about the seating capacity of Cameron basketball stadium at Duke University). That's not what we want. Our intention is to help people.*

In our Part 2 post, we'll continue the conversation with Eric Powell on various topics, including compliance technology, marketing, and social media.