Mark Squires was 42 years old when he decided what he wanted to do when he grew up. He found his calling — to make sure no one else has to deal with what he faced after he lost everyone in his family except his children over the course of seven years.
Today, Squires is president and CEO of Wise Choices Financial, an Independence, Mo., financial services firm he founded in 2002 that has grown to a team of seven professionals. But prior to becoming an advisor, he worked in the trucking industry and eventually became parts manager of a trailer dealership. His father’s death during that time left Squires with some jagged financial pieces to pick up.
“As the youngest child in the family, I was the person who had to deal with everything — Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits,” he recalled. “That was quite a challenge because my dad was a Merchant Marine during World War II, and the Merchant Marine benefits were completely different than they were for other World War II veterans. And then I had to deal with pension plan elections, 401(k) payout options, estate planning done horribly wrong.”
Settling his father’s estate took so much effort that Squires found he couldn’t continue working in his parts manager job and take care of his father’s estate at the same time. So he returned to his family’s trucking business for awhile.
During this period, Squires’ brother was killed in a car accident and Squires also became a single father of two while serving as caregiver to his former father-in-law during his last 13 months of life.
“When this period of my life was over, it occurred to me that maybe God put me through this experience for a little higher calling, because somehow he wired my brain to understand the complexities of all of this,” Squires said. “After everything was done, I decided that I wanted to help people navigate the waters that I navigated without any help at all.”
Squires studied for the appropriate licenses, passed the exams and decided he wanted to become an independent advisor.
“The reason I wanted to be independent? I’ll give you an example. If I want to sit down with an 86-year-old woman and spend an hour and a half talking with her about her garden and not try to sell her something, I don’t need a manager out of state yelling at me about that. And that 86-year-old woman just turned 101 this year. She has been my client for years and so have her children and grandchildren. And if you ever talk with her, she will tell you the reason she chose me is because I never asked her about her money.”
The Medicare Whisperer
Squires has a passion for serving the Medicare market, and Medicare makes up a big part of his practice. He trademarked the name The Medicare Whisperer, and he has become somewhat of a local celebrity, discussing Medicare on radio talk shows and in a series of YouTube videos.
“As The Medicare Whisperer, I have a fairly sizable presence in the Medicare market in the Kansas City area,” he said. “I have a team in my practice that is focused purely on educating and advising people in the world of Medicare and in selling Medicare. We solve problems. But whatever the need is, we’re here for more than just the sale. If we have a client who has a question or a problem, we don’t tell them to call the toll-free number on their Medicare plan card unless we have to. We will get involved, and we will educate our clients.”
Steve Kuker is the founder of Senior Care Consulting and is the host of a local radio show, “Senior Care Life.” Squires is a frequent guest on his show, and Kuker calls him “the most knowledgeable person about Medicare I’ve ever met.”
“I took my own mother to meet with him about her Medicare coverage, and he was able to get her in the right plan and save her money in the process,” Kuker said.
But Medicare is only one of three different divisions at Wise Choices Financial. Squires doesn’t want to serve only the 65-and-older crowd. He wants to serve clients of all age groups and help set them up for financial success.
“Our mission is to help people, change lives and simplify the complex,” he said. “And to be a lifetime advisor. We routinely tell clients when we onboard them, this is not a one-and-done for us. We have a responsibility to you, and we’re looking for a lifetime relationship. We’re not looking to make a quick sale and move on. We want to be a part of your life. We want to know about your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren.”
Walking A Tightrope
Squires takes aim at the 55-plus age demographic by advising them on what he calls “the pillars of your financial life.” Serving that age group is the focus of the second division of his practice.
“We educate people and help them set up their estate plans, their retirement income plans,” he said.
Squires likens investing and saving for retirement to walking a tightrope.
“Walking on a tightrope could be a thrilling and life-changing experience, or it could be a horrifying and deadly experience,” he said. “It depends on two variables. One is how high the tightrope is from the floor. That’s what we call your risk tolerance. The second variable is how good your coach is. If your coach is Nik Wallenda, the first person to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls, you’re going to have a little more confidence in what he’s telling you.
“Well, I function as the coach as a financial advisor. But I believe the most important variable is how big and how well-anchored your safety net is. That’s where we start talking about end-of-life planning.”
Although he said end-of-life planning is “kind of an odd thing to talk to a 55-year-old about,” Squires said he tries to inject some fun into the discussion as he knows it is one of the major concerns retirees have.
Debt Free Destination
Over the years, Squires’ older clients would refer their children and grandchildren to him. As he helped them sort through their financial goals — whether it was saving for their children’s education or saving for a house — he found most of these younger clients had one thing in common.
“The first thing we looked at was their overwhelming debt, most of which is student loans,” he said.
He began to research ways to help young adults get out of debt and found that although there are many ways to become debt-free, most of those methods call for severe financial sacrifices that few people are willing to make for very long.
“Most people aren’t willing to do anything draconian for more than three months,” he said. “So I tried to figure out how I could teach people and assist them in setting up a plan to get out of debt that doesn’t require them to eat beans for every meal or deliver pizza every evening after they work their regular job because people aren’t going to stick with that.”
The Debt Free Destination was born, and that is the third division of Squires’ practice.
The plan centers on helping the participants find their inefficient dollars and redirect those dollars into a monthly account, such as a whole life policy, and use the accumulated cash value to pay off their debt as efficiently as possible.
“What we’re able to do is take a 25-year-old client and show them how to relieve themselves of debt by just paying another bill. All they’re doing is paying another bill. And then we show them how to use that as their own bank, how to give every dollar four jobs to pay off their debt. For the average client who doesn’t have a mortgage, we have them out of debt — including credit cards, consumer loans, student loans and car loans — in about 2.9 years.
For those who have a mortgage, we can have most people completely debt-free in nine years or less, and we do it without significantly changing their spending habits.
“It’s quicker than they ever dreamed possible, and they save thousands of dollars of interest. Then we show them how to turn that around. We teach a lot about compound interest and how it works. We teach them how they can build assets that will serve them for life. And it’s the most wonderful part of our business that I enjoy.”
Squires also began hosting a podcast called “Adulting Done Right,” which is aimed at young adults. He is a fixture on YouTube, producing videos on a variety of financial topics with real-life applications.
“We’ve been talking about things such as what to do if you lose your job, how to write a resume,” he said of the podcast series. “We will have some of our friends who are in the real estate business and the mortgage business coming on to our video series to talk about how to prepare to buy a house. We’re constantly educating people on what resources are available.”
When he isn’t advising clients or preparing for his next video, Squires enjoys gardening and landscaping around his home. He and his wife are active in their church.
He believes his work is a mission to help people change their lives.
“I didn’t get into this business to make a million dollars,” he said. “I want to walk the journey of life with my clients and be there for them every step of the way.”