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Howard Lutz of Intercontinental Wealth Advisors: 5 Things To Look For When Hiring a Financial Planner or Financial Adviser

An Interview With Tyler Gallagher

First things first, thankfully my wife did hire me to be her financial advisor! I don’t want to oversimplify things, but let’s acknowledge the first piece of advice as the importance of an advisor having both the technical skills and experience required for this role. These two attributes are incredibly important but sometimes overlooked. Early on in a relationship, I had a client once say he was impressed with our presentation and that we even appeared to know what we were talking about. Thanks for the compliment, I guess! The point was made though: financial advisors should be more than just good salespeople and should be able to walk their talk.

As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or advisor, I had the pleasure of interviewing… Howard Lutz, Senior Vice President of Intercontinental Wealth Advisors.

Howard Lutz is Senior Vice President of Intercontinental Wealth Advisors, a comprehensive wealth management and financial advisory firm based in San Antonio, Texas. Howard brought over 20 years of diverse banking experience to the firm, including leadership roles in the international and domestic sectors. Early in his career, Howard managed Bank of America’s Military Banking operations in England and Iceland. Before joining Intercontinental, he spent the previous 10 years of his career leading the Private Banking division in prominent Texas banks, giving him enhanced insight into the needs of high-net-worth individuals and families. He now manages numerous client relationships as a Financial Advisor, helping Intercontinental clients manage their financial life and reach their financial and life goals, focusing on multigenerational planning, legacy planning, estate planning, retirement planning, and more. Howard holds an MBA in International Business from The University of the Incarnate Word and an undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Texas at Austin. He was recognized as a 2011 San Antonio Business Journal “40 under 40” award winner and is a member of Leadership San Antonio Class 35. He has been quoted in Barron’s, The Associated Press, Financial Advisor Magazine, MSN, GOBankingRates, International Business Times, ThinkAdvisor, and more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While winding down my undergrad years and contemplating what graduate school might look like or what professional opportunities might lie ahead, I couldn’t help but start with the familiar. As both the son and brother of a banker, it’s natural to think I might have received strong encouragement to pursue a similar course. But the advice was far from it. “There’s no money in banking” were the simple yet powerful words of advice. Granted, I was far too young and naive to fully grasp the wisdom of that statement, yet I quickly recognized the guidance being offered. Whether or not the statement was factually accurate was not the point. As with any good guidance, the message was much deeper, and was a wonderful piece of advice for an early career professional. Don’t just choose a path in search of money — follow your passions, go after your dreams, and do it for all the right reasons. And so, my banking career began.

After twenty years of increasing experience and responsibility on the traditional banking side, I made the natural transition to wealth management. Having worked in Private Banking for so long, the transition was fairly seamless. The best part is I’m still working with the same type of clientele. So while now I get to focus more on financial planning and investment management, these important components are still part of the same overall financial conversations I have been having for years with high-net-worth individuals and their families.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

One of my favorite coaches growing up used to always say that if we aren’t messing up and making mistakes, then we aren’t playing hard enough. So let me use that mindset to set the stage for the many mistakes I’ve made over the years.

I’m not sure it’s the most extreme example, but I can certainly share a humorous mistake. Early on in my career, I had the fortunate opportunity to lead a team of some of the funniest financial professionals you will ever meet. I know what you’re thinking, was that the punchline already? A bunch of financial experts having a sense of humor? Well, I should have known better than to try to match wits with this group, but like a fearless leader would do, I thought I should lead by example. So for whatever misguided reason, I decided to try my best as a stand-up comedian for a presentation I was giving to new employees. Let’s just say they were nice enough not to walk out, but not so generous as to give me a courtesy laugh. Awkward to say the least, but I accepted the challenge to develop my comedic timing and to use that elusive skill to help create more robust presentations. Ironically, my humorous mistake — and believe me, my team got a huge laugh at my expense — helped me to better communicate complicated and “dry” material by sprinkling in some well-timed laughs.

For me, the lesson is simple: If mistakes are really learning opportunities at their core, then humorous mistakes would have to be interpreted as the best kind. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then who can we laugh at?!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

To say I’m a Zoom master is probably a bit of an overstatement, but I would definitely put myself in that group of people that absolutely had their world transformed by technology as we all tried to figure out how to navigate working through a pandemic. So as we optimistically, yet cautiously inch our way out of these pandemic times, I am intent on leveraging that same technology that enabled us to stay close to our clients through it all.

I am a firm believer that nothing compares to the value created through a face-to-face meeting with a client. The intimacy, the ability to read body language, and the opportunity to truly lean in and listen will never be replaced. But what if technology and digital meetings could be used to enhance client interactions, not replacing face-to-face meetings, but providing for deeper, more robust time together? That’s my project now. That’s my quest. We’re going to take client relationships at Intercontinental to a whole new level as we continue to refine the ultimate client experience that incorporates the best of pre-pandemic times with the lessons learned during the Covid years.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

That’s an easy question for me, and one that reminds me how fortunate I was to start my career with a boss who genuinely cared. He believed in me and encouraged me to keep taking that next step. Like many early career professionals, I was able to find success and promotion simply through hard work and putting in the extra hours. Those attributes are learned early in life and come in many forms, whether it be through success in school, sports, or any number of other things. We learned early on that the harder you work, the more likely you are to achieve success. That being said, many people reach a point in their career where things just seem to plateau. And therein lies the ”tipping point”.

Thankfully, before I even got to that point, I had a boss who armed me with that next key to success: He believed in me. Simple. Genuine. Authentic. My wise, brilliant, grizzled veteran of the financial services industry believed in me, so shouldn’t I have that same level of confidence in myself? So the lesson to share here is to never underestimate the impact you can have on people. For leaders, managers, co-workers, whatever the professional relationship, the lesson is to genuinely believe in people and be sure to let them know. Belief is contagious.

What three pieces of advice would you give to your colleagues in the finance field to thrive and avoid burnout? Can you give a story or example?

Run fast, listen up, and turn it off…

I’ve been an avid runner for as long as I can remember. That’s how I clear my head, but it’s also an invaluable escape for me that gives me time to think and to learn. So while I try to “run fast”, I also take the opportunity to “listen up”. With all the technological advances over the recent years, a game changer for this runner is the ability to listen to a podcast or music simply by connecting my earbuds to my smart watch. I don’t even have to carry anything with me anymore when I run. I just connect and go. So my miles and miles of beating the pavement have turned into a much needed escape, and at times, a classroom or even a church pew. I love being able to combine two passions: running and learning. Whether growing spiritually, listening to the latest Harvard Business Review case study, keeping a pulse on market activity, or just outright jamming to some good old ‘Eye of the Tiger’ while finishing that last mile, it’s important to recharge to avoid burnout.

My third piece of advice is to “turn it off” from time to time. This is even more true, yet harder to accomplish in this new world of working from anywhere. Those same technological advances and adoption of the power of Zoom can also be detrimental if we are not careful. Be intentional, unplug, and turn it off from time to time. I’m as guilty as they come, but I’m trying to get better. Reflecting back on these pandemic years, there are countless examples of me connecting into a video meeting or dialing into a conference call when that never would have happened in the good old days. Just because we have the ability and newly found affirmation that we can indeed connect from anywhere, do we really need to hide in the hotel bathroom to dial into that conference call or sneak away to Zoom in a parked car so as not to wake your family while on vacation? Staying connected is good, burnout is bad, so just make sure to be intentional about turning it off from time to time.

Ok. Thank you for all of that. Let’s now move to the core focus of our interview. As an “finance insider”, you know much more about the finance industry than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to hire a financial advisor (not you :-)), which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing? Can you give an example or story for each?

Beyond the technical expertise, make sure it’s a good fit. This intentionally broad statement is meant to be vague because everyone should and does place differing priorities in what makes a good fit to them. Is availability your most important criteria in an advisor? Responsiveness? Proactive nature? Thoughtful? Good listener? Good teacher? You get the idea, and the list goes on and on. So spend some time defining what’s important to you in a relationship with a financial advisor, and then find someone that fits the bill.

Beyond the technical expertise, make sure it’s a good fit. This intentionally broad statement is meant to be vague because everyone should and does place differing priorities in what makes a good fit to them. Is availability your most important criteria in an advisor? Responsiveness? Proactive nature? Thoughtful? Good listener? Good teacher? You get the idea, and the list goes on and on. So spend some time defining what’s important to you in a relationship with a financial advisor, and then find someone that fits the bill.

Ask for referrals. As financial advisors, the overwhelming majority of our clients started their relationship with us as a referral. While this is an incredible compliment that advisors take seriously and rely upon for the long-term viability of their practice, it should be said that everyone should ask for referrals. It goes both ways. If you are looking for a financial advisor, ask your friends, family members, and people you trust. Just like you would ask for referrals for a doctor or other professionals, find a friend that loves their financial advisor, and ask them to share. There is a reason they love that advisor. Ask questions. People love sharing success stories and a good client/financial advisor relationship should be just that: a success story.

While the next piece of advice does not necessarily apply to everyone, an often overlooked, yet powerful component of selection criteria is to think about the next generation. A good financial advisor will be a conduit to your children and grandchildren. Family values, philanthropic desires, charitable inclinations, and financial preferences in general can and should be reinforced and nurtured with future generations through your financial advisor. As a father/son team at Intercontinental with my father, Charlie Lutz, I’m certainly biased, but the ability for a financial advisor (or team of advisors) to connect with family members spanning multiple generations can be incredibly powerful and impactful.

As human beings, we are naturally attracted to people with similar backgrounds or who are going through similar phases in life. Some of my best friends these days are fellow field hockey parents. They are wonderful people whom I likely never would have met had we not shared that similar connection of our daughters chasing the field hockey dream. This concept holds true in the financial world as well. Finding a financial advisor that can provide advice and better yet, real world experience, to guide you through the various stages of your financial lifecycle can make all the difference in the world. And don’t forget to think about the next generation and challenge yourself to find an advisor that can add value and guidance spanning all aspects of your family’s needs. These could range anywhere from saving for that first house, setting aside money for college, selling the family business, or wrapping up a corporate career, eventually transitioning into retirement and ultimately transferring wealth and leaving a legacy. The financial lifecycle is complex and so are your family’s needs. Finding the right advisor who is going through similar phases in life or has a similar background to partner with your family along your path can be transformational.

I think most people think that financial advisors are for very wealthy people. This is likely not actually true. Can you explain who would most benefit from hiring a financial advisor and why? Can you give an example?

Having worked in the high-net-worth space for the majority of my career, I often get the question about minimums. New prospective clients tend to ask questions from an overly modest standpoint, wanting to know what the minimum account size is in order to establish a relationship. Acknowledging that most investment firms do require some level of minimums simply to achieve needed efficiencies and stay in the ”for-profit” business world, my typical response is that we want to work with people that want to work with us. To me, that is the core of a financial advisor relationship.

So for anyone looking to actively work towards a certain goal, or an idea, or even a dream, hiring a financial advisor can be beneficial. A relationship with a financial advisor should mirror the same attributes you enjoy with other relationships, comprising key components like open communication, thoughtfulness, appreciation, and joy. To put simply, you should look forward to getting together with your financial advisor on a regular basis.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I couldn’t possibly agree more, and I am incredibly thankful for the support and help I have received over the years. I have been blessed throughout my career to have had the opportunity to work with some of the most thoughtful, motivational, and encouraging professionals, and I credit all of them for helping to mold and steer me in their own positive ways.

Naming one particular person though is easy. I have had the unique opportunity to work side by side with my father as part of a multi-generational team at our firm. Beginning this journey together in 2018, it has been a wonderful experience, but the impact he has had on my life and career goes back decades before that. In fact, my value system, work ethic, and sheer desire to always exceed people’s expectations was formed and molded by my father on a daily basis growing up.

Having followed my father’s footsteps into banking, there wasn’t a week that would go by when I didn’t get the question about whether I was related to the well-respected banker and community leader, Charlie Lutz. So you can probably imagine the level of excitement when the opportunity to work together materialized.

At our firm, and certainly within our practice, we often talk about the importance of values and how that transcends into every aspect of working with our clients. I will always be appreciative of my father (and mother) for instilling these values in me at a young age. There is no doubt that this guidance and endless support from my father over the years continues to contribute to my success. For that, I am forever grateful to my father, and in our collective belief that the same values that make a strong family also make a strong business.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I have always been inspired by that old story about saving a starfish on the beach. The premise is simple: there are so many starfish washed up and stranded on the sand that there is no way to save them all. Saving all of them is simply too hard for one person. The beachgoer picks up one of the starfish and throws it back into the ocean anyway. Why? Because saving even one starfish can make a difference, especially to that particular starfish.

Within all our communities, there are so many worthy causes, yet many people often have that feeling of their inability to make a difference. Where to start? How to not spread yourself too thin? Can one person really make a difference? My answer to this last question is a resounding “yes”.

What if we really could inspire a movement along these lines? If each and every one of us has the determination and resolve to save even one starfish, or devote themselves to one cause, collectively as a society, we could save them all. It may not seem like it, but we all have the power to make a difference. Go save that starfish!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn and follow Intercontinental Wealth Advisors on LinkedIn and Instagram. Also, be sure to visit our website (www.IntercontinentalWealthAdvisors.com) to learn more about Intercontinental and access all kinds of resources, including educational blog posts and videos, webinars, special reports, and more.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Thank you for having me!

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