If it hadn’t been for that pesky biochemistry course that Katie Brewer had to take as a Texas A&M University undergrad, she might have been a physician today.
Brewer discovered her desire to go into the medical field ebbing away as she struggled with biochemistry. But a financial literacy course lit a spark in her. She tried to figure out a way to combine her longtime interest in biology with her new interest in finance. The financial profession won out.
Today, Brewer is president of Your Richest Life, a financial planning firm she founded in 2014.
She also is a founding member of the XY Planning Network. Her Rockwall, Texas, firm provides fee-only planning with an emphasis on coaching clients through the financial ups and downs of life.
After graduating from Texas A&M with a biology degree, Brewer got a foot in the door of a large regional broker-dealer in Dallas. That led to her literally “knocking on a lot of doors” trying to drum up business.
“My parents had very safe jobs working for the state of Texas. And I remember my mom saying at one point, ‘I don’t know why we got a college degree for you when you’re just wandering around in neighborhoods,’” Brewer recalled.
But she knew her mother didn’t understand the big picture of what she was trying to accomplish. Although her early years in the business were challenging, Brewer developed an entrepreneurial mindset that led her to where she is today.
After her first two years in the business, Brewer moved to a wealth management firm, where she was an associate planner. It was a welcome change to work in an environment where she did not have to pound the pavement to bring in clients. But although she was growing in her knowledge of the planning profession, something was missing.
“As an associate planner, I didn’t have a say in who I served,” she said. “I served the team I was assigned to. That team mostly worked with the traditional clients, mainly male breadwinners who were between the ages of 55 and 75. Which I thought was interesting and challenging as well, because I was young enough to be their daughter.”
Over time, Brewer realized something about the planning industry. “A lot of financial professionals work with people who are nearing retirement or who are in retirement, and there are a lot of companies who want to work with people who are either millionaires or who are five years away from retirement. There is almost nobody out there who works with people who don’t have a million dollars and are a long way from retirement.”
She switched firms again, working for a startup firm based in New York with planners all over the country.
“What excited me was that they were focused on working with younger clients,” she said. “That was a cool experience. And working for a startup gave me a taste of what it would be like to work for myself. Because when you’re working for a startup firm, you don’t just do financial planning or sales — it’s like you’re doing beta testing. You’re involved in figuring out what people want, and you’re involved in financial planning and actually talking to people. So I thought that was really cool, just being able to wear all of those different hats.”
The startup firm was on the verge of being sold when Brewer got the urge to start her own firm. But she had some misgivings about it at first.
“It seemed like a whole lot of work,” she said. “And I didn’t have a formal plan, so that worried me.”
Taking The Leap
Brewer soon put her fears aside and took the leap to start her own registered independent advisory firm. “I talked through it with my husband, and we discussed things like how much capital would we be willing to put toward this as kind of a loan to the business? And what we were willing to do as far as rearranging our household expenses, cutting cable, doing all the stuff that financial planners tell everybody else to do but never do themselves.”
After 10 years in the business, Brewer opened the door to her own firm and started to serve the clients she wanted to serve in the way she wanted to serve them. She developed a fee-for-service model but wasn’t sure at first whether it would work.
“I didn’t really know what the market was, so I told myself I’m going to put it out there and test it,” she said.
In the beginning, Brewer found support and clients from those she knew in the industry who weren’t serving the clients she wanted to serve.
“A lot of the folks I’ve networked with over the years told me they were relieved to know what I was doing because they feel bad when they have someone reaching out to them for help but they feel it’s someone they aren’t able to serve — someone such as a client’s child or family member, or someone who doesn’t have the firm’s minimum amount to invest. So it was funny because I started off by taking outcasts from other financial advisors.”
Brewer knew she wanted to target those who weren’t being served by larger advisory firms, so when an advisor asked her whether she wanted to talk with a prospect they weren’t able to serve, “I would always say, whether you think they’re qualified for me or not, just send them on over. And I’ll figure it out.”
That attitude remains true today, she said.
“Sometimes people are right where they should be in order to move forward with their planning,” she said. “Sometimes they’re kind of in need of what I call free financial planning. If they have struggled with credit card debt or they have been in some patterns that are disruptive to their financial health, then I might connect them with an accredited financial counselor who specializes in that kind of thing.”
Fun And Nonfun
Most of Brewer’s clients range in age from their mid-20s into their 40s, with a number of clients up into their mid-60s.
“A lot of them have a household income of more than $200,000 annually, and a lot of them have things they’re really worried about now,” she said. “I tell them my job is to make sure the fun things in their lives are addressed as well as the nonfun things.”
Many of Brewer’s clients are either new parents or about to be parents, and they are concerned about planning for new financial responsibilities.
“They need some advice on how to get to the next level of financial responsibility,” she said. “They might need advice on how to manage taking time off without having an income, or they may be ready to buy their first home or buy a bigger home.”
Brewer’s young clients also are looking at planning for the short term, she said, events that they anticipate occurring one to three years in the future.
“They have financial goals that they want to accomplish, but they are worried about making a mistake or ruining their financial future, so that’s where I come in to guide them,” she said. Brewer initially thought it would be difficult to market to young prospects “because there’s a lot of noise out there.”
“It’s funny because I thought I would be competing with a bunch of other advisors. But I find instead that I’m competing with people who think they can do it themselves or take the advice of an online guru or take the advice of their dad or some other family member,” she said. “The biggest obstacle that I found in working with younger professionals is whether they think it’s worth the money to pay someone to advise them on their finances.”
Advisors who want to serve younger clients “should quit guessing what they think younger clients want instead of simply hiring somebody who’s plus or minus 10 years of the target age that they want to attract,” Brewer said.
Generation X and Generation Y clients “want to know what you’re recommending, but they also want to know why you’re recommending it. If you don’t tell them why, they will sit on their heels and not take action on it.”
Younger clients “usually will challenge you with something they heard or read,” Brewer added. “They’ll say something like, ‘But my brother Joe said I should do this instead,’ or ‘I read this thing that said I should do this.’”
Some advisors may get aggravated over this, but Brewer said, “I like it when clients ask me questions, because it means that we have an open enough relationship, that they’re not just nodding and smiling and then leaving the meeting and not doing what we just talked about.”
Pam Horack of Clover, S.C., is founder of Pathfinder Planning and, along with Brewer, is also a founding member of the XY Planning Network. Although Horack and Brewer each has her own financial planning firm, Horack said she has known Brewer for so long she considers her a co-worker.
“She has good insights on things her clients are going through,” Horack said of Brewer. “She really knows her stuff, and she has a lot of expertise in what her clients need.”
Growing Into The Future
Brewer added another planner to her practice recently. He lives about eight hours away from her, and he sees clients virtually, as she does.
“Bringing him on board essentially doubled our capacity,” she said. “And it was a good thing because being the person who has to do the marketing and the sales and client service and financial planning, I was getting to where I didn’t think I could possibly do one more thing.”
Brewer also works closely with several independent insurance advisors and refers clients who need life insurance or homeowners coverage.
“I believe insurance is really important,” she said. “Because I know that death, destruction and the inability to work are not fun things to talk about. And even if we talk to clients about insurance and get them to agree to do something, often they are hesitant about the amount of coverage, or they end up freezing in their tracks on the way to implementing what we talked about. So I use several professionals as complements to our firm. If our clients want to get insurance online, they can. But I find that most of our clients are not super gung-ho about shopping online for insurance. They’d rather have a personal, professional touch.”
Brewer and her 11-year-old daughter are pet lovers, and they both volunteer with an animal rescue organization in their community. They enjoy family singalong sessions at home, led by her husband, who plays guitar.
Looking at her practice, Brewer said she originally wanted to have a 10-person firm. But now she isn’t so sure she wants her practice to grow that large.
“I don’t want to be solo. But I’m not sure if I love managing a lot of people. It’s kind of funny, because I’m a planner who plans everything. But now I’m thinking more like, OK, we’re on a sailboat, and we’re going to see where the wind takes us over the next five years.”