BERLIN — The most striking aspect upon entering Creative Wealth Management’s offices in the Pavilions of Ocean Pines is that the waiting room doesn’t seem designed for the long haul. It isn’t a place to get comfortable with a magazine because of the understanding that visitors are more guests than clients. You don’t go into the office to wait. In fact, most people who visit are there precisely because they’re no longer interested in waiting.
When financial advisor Hal Carmean elected to strike out on his own, he did it for a particular reason. He believes the primary difficulty in dealing with finances generally and personal finance particularly is that planning for your financial future isn’t about short bursts of business transactions; it is about establishing and constantly reevaluating goals.
There is too often a difference between someone you might call your advisor and a person who is your financial advisor. An advisor is a person of trust, someone who understands your best interests as you do and provides guidance in that vein. Financial advisors tend to think in terms of general financial goals, algorithms that have been proven trustworthy and trends absent from individual concerns.
This break between the advisor and the financial advisor in terms of the relationship, is something that distressed Carmean as well. From his point of view, good financial advice is only a small part of his charge. The most important aspect of an advisory role for him is a personal notion. He wants to develop the kind of relationship where he can provide advice based on the context of each client’s best interest as the client understands it.
“We usually have four or five meetings with a person before they become a client,” he said.
It is during these meetings that Carmean or another member of his team, discusses clients’ financial goals in terms of their current financial position. Developing an understanding of the level of a client’s acceptable risk — and many times acceptable risk is zero — and their personality as it relates to their financial life is the first step in a process that’s geared to a long-term relationship.
One of the barriers that Carmean avoided in an effort to be able to establish this kind of relationship was his decision not to align himself and by extension his clients, with a particular financial instrument or set of instruments. Client’s choices are therefore limited only to their own decisions, not to a menu of options being pushed upon them as part of a company policy.
“If you want to buy a CD from a bank in Texas, we can do that,” Carmean said.
The point for him, as always, is that a client makes the decisions based on Creative Wealth Management’s advice, which of course is based on a client’s goals.
Establishing a plan to reach those goals is the first step and after a meeting or two, the Creative Wealth Management team will usually provide clients with several different plans of action to the client for whom they’re specifically designed.
It is from these initial proposals that the work begins in earnest. Clients review the plans, sometimes accepting one plan completely and sometimes combining different aspects of different plans.
Occasionally Carmean and his team will be asked to return to the drawing board to completely revamp the ideas using the initial plans as if they were the results of a brainstorming process and mapping out a new one based on the client’s response to the early drafts.
“We don’t just focus on helping you reach retirement,” Carmean said. “We want to make sure you can stay retired.”
While they offer plans for every stage of life, Carmean said a significant portion of Creative Wealth Management’s clients are those people who are retired already or approaching retirement and need to ensure they don’t outlive their money.
While these can be the trickiest cases, they’re the kinds of instances in which Carmean and his team excel. Balancing the risk people are willing to take with the lifestyle they wish to achieve and maintain, especially given the potential dicey markets, Creative Wealth Management finds the necessary instruments — from insurance to bonds, mutual funds, or even individual stocks — to do the job.
“If you don’t want to be in the stock market, that’s fine,” he said. “If the amount of risk is making you lose sleep, then it’s not worth it.”
After the initial plan is laid out, Carmean remains in touch with his clients, keeping them appraised of their financial progress at least quarterly but often more regularly. He said one of the things he hears too often is that the only time people speak with their financial advisors is when they’re buying or selling things.
For the staff at Creative aWealth Management, this isn’t often enough to keep abreast of a client’s circumstances. Carmean said it’s important that the relationship be about more than just buying or selling because when it comes time to make a transaction, an advisor has to be aware of the circumstances.
For example, he recently held one of his regular client dinners, during which hard business talk is banned. It provides him and his staff an opportunity to meet his clients’ families, but more importantly, it gives the clients a chance to meet his and his staff’s families.
Establishing a bond of trust is the most important thing an advisor does. It is the only way, really, to understand the kind of advice a person needs.