When Christopher Stroup looks out the window of his office at Abacus Wealth Partners, he can see the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Santa Monica, Calif., on one side. And he can see the Malibu mountains on the other.
The setting is a big change from the small town in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier where he grew up, and from the oil fields of Bakersfield, Calif., where he landed after college.
Stroup’s search for happiness and his quest to live an authentic life led him to a career change and a move to the Greater Los Angeles area, where he advises young professionals and startup founders, with a focus on the LGBTQ community. The 30-year-old advisor has been at Abacus for two years and is a Financial Planning Association NexGen ambassador.
A love of mathematics and an interest in geology inspired Stroup to study petroleum and natural gas engineering at Penn State University. After he graduated with honors, Chevron hired him to work as a reservoir engineer in the Cymric/McKittrick Oil Field near Bakersfield.
“When we were out in the field, we had to wear a fire-retardant jumpsuit, steel-toed boots, a hard hat and snake chaps — depending on the season,” he said. “My days were spent waking up at 5 a.m., catching the 5:45 a.m. van pool, riding 45 minutes to the Cymric Oil Field to catch a 6:30 a.m. operations meeting, working until 4 p.m., and then catching another 45-minute ride back to Bakersfield.”
Despite the long days and harsh working conditions, Stroup was making good money. But after three and a half years in the oil industry, he realized he wasn’t happy.
“The industry was going through downturns, the commodity price of oil was plummeting, people lost their jobs — although I was fortunate enough to keep mine. I realized I pigeonholed myself as a petroleum engineer and I couldn’t easily fit into another industry as I would if I were a mechanical or chemical engineer. So I felt a little bit trapped from a professional standpoint.”
Stroup also came out as a gay man during that time and decided to switch careers as he worked to live a more authentic life. He went back to Pennsylvania, where he earned an MBA from Drexel University in Philadelphia. But his heart was in California.
Seeing His Best Self
“After six months of living in Philadelphia, I realized that Los Angeles was actually my home … it’s where I saw my best self in the long run,” said Stroup, who grew up in Troy, Pa.
While studying for his MBA, Stroup considered the type of career that would make him happy. A career counselor steered him toward an internship at Goldman Sachs, and his interest in financial planning and wealth management took off from there.
“One of the core values that drew me to financial planning was having an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “Because even though I work for Abacus and I am part of the firm, I ultimately think of myself as being my own little business. I like the philosophy and mindset of owning my future.
And I want to have the responsibility of taking ownership of someone’s financial life and helping them navigate that journey. I want to help people live the life they love, and I believe as an advisor, you can do that.”
As the son of educators, Stroup said he values the emphasis the industry places on lifelong learning.
“I like the fact that our industry requires you to be a lifelong learner,” he said. “Because tax laws change, estate laws change, how we think about the market changes. All of this requires you to keep up to date to ultimately add value for your clients.”
A fellow member of the Penn State Alumni Association in Los Angeles worked for Abacus and suggested Stroup consider joining the firm. One look at the company’s website convinced him it was the right place.
“There was a dropdown on the website that said ‘LGBTQ,’ and when I clicked on it, there was a page with all the smiling faces of their advisors who identified as members of the LGBTQ community. I thought to myself, ‘This is my tribe. I see myself on this page.’”
Stroup said he was sure that Abacus “would embrace my authenticity. I knew I could be myself and that my uniqueness as an individual would be celebrated at Abacus.”
He was hired at Abacus in June 2019, about nine months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“As an up-and-coming advisor, I think the pandemic made for some challenges, but it also brought opportunities. It makes it harder to network to a certain extent. But it also changes how you ultimately reach your target audience,” he said.
Stroup said being tech-savvy helped during that time “because instead of meeting people in person, now you’re going to the airwaves, you’re going to webinars, you’re creating social media posts. You’re connecting people via those media that I think a younger advisor is more tuned into, and more senior advisors didn’t feel as comfortable in that environment.”
As an example of how pandemic restrictions helped him reach more prospects, Stroup pointed to his work with StartOut, a nonprofit organization that provides access to capital, mentorship and education to LGBTQ startup founders. A webinar series he conducted on financial planning for startup founders reached StartOut members across the country as opposed to his being able to make an in-person presentation to only one chapter.
“It was an opportunity to get out there from a marketing standpoint and show your worth to potential clients that might have not been available had there not been a remote environment,” he said.
Working With The C-Suite
Many of Stroup’s clients are senior leaders or C-suite executives in their companies. He also enjoys working with entrepreneurs in the startup space.
“I resonate with their mindset. They are changemakers, people willing to challenge the status quo. And I also want to overlay it with the LGBTQ lens because I find purpose in working with my community. That’s an area I want to build my practice around because I believe that narrowing your focus is ultimately broadening your appeal. And that’s where I want to hang my hat as an advisor and what I want to be known for.”
Stroup’s executive-level clients have a unique set of financial concerns.
“You have to get them thinking about their varying forms of compensation. Not just your normal income, but — do they have stock options? Are they nonqualified? Are they incentive stock options? Are they restricted stock? How are we planning for that? How are we planning around the taxes for that? I think there’s a lot that goes into understanding different forms of compensation for those kinds of individuals.”
Stroup also works with LGBTQ clients on their specific personal financial needs, with planning for a family one of those needs.
“More members of the LGBTQ community want to start families, and there are significant costs for them to make that happen. Adoption, surrogacy, artificial insemination — those things all cost money. So we help clients plan on how they want to start a family or whether they want to save money to buy a home.”
Brian Theis formerly worked in technology for a financial services firm and has been friends with Stroup for several years. Theis praised Stroup’s attention to detail as well as his commitment to serving his clients.
“Christopher has always impressed me with his focus on working toward the benefit of others,” Theis said. “He is very disciplined and studious and sets high goals for himself that he follows through on with hard work and commitment. He is absorbed in the details of his business, while at the same time seeing the bigger picture.”
Stroup may have hung up his oil field gear, but he considers himself an engineer of his clients’ financial futures.
“From my training as an engineer, I think about the process, about the end-to-end client journey,” he said. “And I think about bringing the efficiencies back around. I also think it comes out in attention to detail. I think, as an engineer, we sometimes are paralyzed by an external sense of how we focus on the details, but I think when that translates to someone’s financial life, it can be super helpful in ensuring that no stone is left unturned and that you can find elements or planning or recommendations that maybe someone else didn’t see because they’re not looking into the finer details.
“I also believe an engineer is inherently a problem solver. If you can solve a pain point in a client’s life, you could have that client for life. And if you can solve a pain point in their child’s life, you might have them for a second generation.”
When Stroup isn’t working with clients, he enjoys beach volleyball and being outdoors. He said he strives to lead a minimalist lifestyle, living in a small apartment and forgoing a car.
As Stroup seeks to understand his clients’ needs, he said having a better understanding of himself has led to success and happiness.
“What I do now has aligned with who I am as a human, and I can lead my life authentically. And that is the ultimate freedom. There’s so much happiness derived from that. And I think as a result, I work harder because I’m happier.”