FSM Wealth has its headquarters on Wall Street. That’s Wall Street in Nashville, Ill., a town of 3,200 people in the southwestern part of the state. Brian Heckert, the firm’s founder, not only knows everyone in town, but is related to almost all of them.
Despite its location in a rural corner of the Midwest, FSM Wealth has expanded through acquisition and through its use of virtual technology to create a planning powerhouse. Many of FSM’s team work remotely. But whether they are working in California or in Kentucky, their goal is to give every client the best service and experience possible.
FSM Wealth also stands out for the makeup of its team. At a time when many advisors worry about who will continue their practice after they retire, three of Heckert’s four children are active in his business. Sons Michael and Brandon are advisors, and daughter Erin Soria is director of marketing. But although the family members are close, they don’t spend their workdays tripping over each other. Michael works remotely from FSM’s office in Lexington, Ky., and Brandon works remotely from San Jose, Calif. FSM Wealth also has physical offices in Springfield, Ill., and Janesville, Wis. The company has five advisors and more than $400 million in assets under management.
“We do business across 34 states. We have a national footprint,” Brian said. “Some of that is from acquisitions. A lot of it is by design.”
Before FSM Wealth made the move to virtual client meetings, Brian would drive 60,000-65,000 miles a year to go on appointments. “So I always had worked a wide area. I used to spend more time traveling than I did in front of clients. Now it’s the opposite.”
Brian, 56, has spent most of his career in a multigenerational practice. He started in the life insurance business in 1985 at age 21, working for an advisor whose son and daughter also were in business with him. “They did life insurance, they did financial planning, they did 401(k)s and retirement plan administration.”
In those early years, Brian worked mostly with older clients and with business clients “because I didn’t want to work a lot of evenings.”
Relating to older clients was easy, Brian said.
“You just have to show up and care,” he said. “I think a lot of younger advisors feel intimidated dealing with older clients. But most of the older generation simply want honest answers, and they want someone who will be around when they need them. They always want a younger doctor and a younger advisor. I never looked at my age as a disadvantage. I always looked at it as an advantage because I had time to work with them, to build a clientele and do what they needed, where a lot of the older advisors didn’t have the patience or time to work with them.”
In 2001, Brian bought out the firm’s partners and acquired a third-party administrator. He eventually went on to acquire 12 other companies. The growth continued even as Brian spent six years on the Million Dollar Round Table’s executive committee and was the organization’s 2016 president. “Even though I spent about 60% of my time running the organization, our firm still came within a couple of percentage points of doubling our business during that time,” he said.
Brian said that in 2011, about 60%-65% of his firm’s business was in 401(k) administration and 30%-40% was in insurance and investments. Today, the 401(k) business makes up about 30% of the firm’s activity, with the rest driven by investments.
FSM Wealth offers financial planning, retirement planning, investment management, risk management, estate planning, succession planning and higher education planning.
The 401(k) business “drives a lot of our rollover opportunities, and a lot of our planning opportunities,” Brian said. All of his company’s 401(k) plans offer their participants what he called “full financial planning.”
“It’s not a gap analysis, where they sit down to figure out how much they should put into their 401(k) plan,” he explained. “They’re offered a virtual meeting, whether they’re a $30,000-a-year employee or a $3-million-a-year employee. What this allows us to do is help more people. Not everybody becomes an investment client, but everybody builds a reputation base and a referral base for the firm.”
Brian said his firm’s leadership decided several years ago to become more of a fee-based, full financial planning firm. They began using financial planning software that could take clients from problems to solutions. “We have a presentation that we use to show people, you have an issue? Here’s how we help you solve your issue.”
In 2010, FSM Wealth began making the move to virtual meetings with clients. “We’ve been an early adopter of technology and we’re paperless, but what we’re most proud of is that whether a client comes into the office or is having a virtual meeting, the meetings are identical,” Brian said. “You sit down with a live advisor and a screen. What we’ve done is eliminate the inefficiencies of travel and paper preparation. Our presentation is digital. We can give our clients instantaneous service because we don’t have to schedule a trip to see them.”
Brian said his firm’s model includes using support staff to free up advisors to spend more time with clients. “It’s similar to a surgeon’s office, where they do surgeries all day long. But the preparation, making sure the tools are in the right spot, are all handled by other professionals. In our model, the advisor can advise and not have to worry about the things that take time away from seeing clients. We’ve been able to add value for clients, even if they’re half a country away.”
Another factor in FSM Wealth’s success is its team approach with clients. Advisors conduct joint meetings with clients, letting clients know there are multiple professionals looking out for them.
Brian described his firm’s clientele as mostly blue-collar or gray-collar workers. “We work with everyone from individual 401(k) participants who are just starting out to the employers who are putting those plans in place. Our average client has an average rollover balance somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000. And they’re mostly ignored by a lot of advisory firms because they have a big 401(k) balance and maybe $20,000 of investable assets, but they have no direction. So by helping those clients, all of a sudden a few years go by and now they have a half-million dollars in their plan, they retire, they may inherit some money, they’re looking for additional advice and they call us.
“I would rather take on ten $250,000 clients than one $2.5 million client who is high-demand. We have some very good clients on the upper end, but we found that most people in the $250,000 range need advice and have nowhere to go because everybody’s going after that million-dollar client.”
Brian’s children who joined him in the business are making their own mark on the firm, although some of them took different routes before ending up in financial services. The children’s entry into the firm didn’t occur haphazardly, though. It reflected Brian’s dedication to planning.
“In order for a firm to grow, it has to be built upon a team approach,” Brian said. “If everybody’s doing everything, then nobody has the time to do anything. So we developed areas of responsibility based upon strengths and based upon knowledge.”
Brandon, 26, began working for a financial company in 2014 and joined his father’s firm in 2017. He moved to San Jose two years ago and has been working virtually ever since. Moving from a town where everyone knew him to a large city and starting from scratch was a challenge at first.
“I was nervous that honestly that it wasn’t going to work out, and that I wasn’t going to be able to produce as much,” Brandon said. “We already had been doing a number of remote client meetings before I moved here, so that gave me a little bit of comfort. But the way I started to grow was that through our company’s acquisitions, we have a lot of different clients who weren’t aware of what we do on a larger scale. Maybe they had a life insurance policy with us or a 529 plan, but they weren’t getting the full experience. So I would ask them if they wanted to do a virtual review. That really took off.”
Brandon said he and the other advisors began reaching out to clients who hadn’t been contacted in a while or who had only one contract with the firm, let them know about the changes occurring in the company, and asked for a virtual meeting. “Now I’m doing 10 virtual meetings a week. I think my mind was the only boundary, with me thinking I couldn’t do it. Once I realized that doing these virtual meetings is not that hard and I can get the clients to agree to them, business is going on as usual.”
Michael, 31, was a civil engineer before joining FSM Wealth in 2018. He focuses on the firm’s 401(k) and planning divisions, and said his engineering background serves him well as he builds financial plans for clients.
“When I was in the civil engineering field, I worked as a project manager for a construction company on construction sites,” he said. “So my job was to keep track of the budget, keep track of the schedule and organize all the different subcontractors. And so, in general, what I do hasn’t changed. I still have a project. I still have a deadline, I still have a budget, and I’m still working with the different vendors to get the products that we need.”
Michael said a big part of his role is to oversee the planning software used by the firm. “I work on building the financial plans and coming up with different scenarios so we can stress-test all the different plans for clients.”
Erin, 34, became director of marketing in July 2019. She spent 13 years as an interior designer before joining the firm.
“I was ready for a bit of a life change and ready to slow down a bit,” she said. “So my brothers and my dad realized that they had a position for me with marketing. Since I started, I also became more involved in some of the overhead and administrative responsibilities and human resources responsibilities.”
A fourth Heckert child, Christopher, is a civil engineer and not involved in the financial services business.
Steven Plewes is a business coach who has worked with the Heckert family. He said that each family member has a different strength.
“Brian is a visionary. He isn’t afraid to take a risk, and he’s not afraid to fail. He’s OK with releasing control. Once he sets his vision, he allows people to rise to that vision. Michael is an implementer. He thrives on structure. Brandon is a natural salesperson. And Erin is the enforcer; she holds everyone accountable.”
Brian said that he may have opened some doors for Brandon, Michael and Erin, but “it’s their abilities that have taken them this far.
“They have a lot of strengths that I don’t have. And my goal is to free up their ability to do what they do best and get out of their way.”