Stephanie Mackara of Charleston Investment Advisors: 5 Things to Look For When Hiring a Financial Planner or Financial Adviser
At home, many parents avoid discussing and teaching their children about money; this must change. Our children are facing a real challenge, one that is new to many of us. Many of the resources we and our parents count on for financial support will most likely be severely diminished or nonexistent for our children.
As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or adviser, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Mackara.
Stephanie W. Mackara, JD, CDFA™, is President & Principal Wealth Advisor of Charleston Investment Advisors, LLC. A financial socialization expert, Stephanie is a wife, mother, financial advisor, and author of the new book “Money Minded Families.” She teaches people that financial wellness begins with your mindset, not your bank account.
Stephanie is a 20+ year veteran in the field of Investment Advisory Services. Helping people, whether it’s planning for retirement or saving for college, is Stephanie’s passion. In addition to developing a custom investment allocation and financial plan for each client, she conducts regular meetings with clients to reconfirm financial goals and make adjustments as economic or lifestyle conditions warrant.
Stephanie is committed to acting as a fiduciary and helping individuals achieve a more secure financial future as they navigate through life’s transitions. She began her career at Merrill Lynch and then joined Lockwood Advisors, an independent registered investment advisory firm. She spent more than 14 years with Lockwood as an associate partner and a member of the executive committee. Before joining Charleston Investment Advisors, LLC, Stephanie was a founding member of a boutique Investment Management firm in Philadelphia, PA.
Ms. Mackara is very involved in the community and serves on two local boards. She is the Vice President of the Executive Committee for Bridges for End of Life, a local nonprofit whose mission is to help individuals experience living fully and dying well. She also serves at the Treasurer for the South Carolina Lowcountry Business Leadership Network, a non-profit that serves to empower businesses and our community through disability inclusion and empowerment in the workplace.
Stephanie holds a degree in Psychology from West Chester University, in Pennsylvania and a Juris Doctorate from Widener Law School, in Wilmington DE. Stephanie also earned her Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA™) designation in order to help her clients navigate the financial complexities and challenges associated with divorce.
She lives with her husband Bernie and son Jacob on Daniel Island, SC where she is actively involved with the community. In her free time she enjoys running, writing, cooking, traveling and spending time with friends and family.
Learn more at www.moneymindedfamilies.org and www.charlestoninvestmentadvisors.com.
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?
Thank you! It certainly wasn’t a direct route; that is for sure! My academic background is in psychology and the law. Soon after graduating from college, one of the patrons at the restaurant I worked at in college asked me if I would like to interview for a position as a sales assistant at the Merrill Lynch just down the street. I said sure, and after a few quick months, I went from not knowing what a mutual fund was to taking the Series 7 exam. With my all my licenses under my belt as I was learning the business, I was ready for more but I felt pigeonholed into the sales assistant position — and I didn’t much like that. I also didn’t like the brokerage side of the business: constantly trading and pushing products. I decided that selling wasn’t for me; however, I loved the investment and client-facing side of the business. After about 2 years I left and went to a start-up firm called Lockwood Advisors, where I say I grew up in the business. I found amazing mentors and learned the ins and outs of money management, and more specifically about the Registered Investment Advisors side of the business and what it truly means to be a fiduciary instead of a broker. During my time at Lockwood, I decided I wanted more schooling; an MBA wasn’t of interest to me, so when a mentor of mine suggested I go to law school, I jumped at the chance. I continued to work and went to school at night. I attended Widener Law School in Delaware, where I was fortunate enough to have Joe Biden as my Constitutional Law professor! Upon graduating and after spending several more years on the institutional side of the business, I felt like I wanted to get back to working directly with clients and investors. My family and I made a move from Philadelphia, PA to Daniel Island, SC where I found an opportunity to buy an existing RIA practice and the rest is history! I know it is a non-traditional path, but I firmly believe that my academic training in psychology and the law, coupled with my investment and advisory training, make a powerful combination when working to help manage clients’ investments and goals, while also running and building a business.
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?
Well, there were definitely times early on in my career that I honestly had no idea what I was talking about! Since I didn’t major in finance, economics, or even business, I often had to fake it until I made it! But I didn’t just fake it; I took notes and then looked up terms or products that I didn’t understand, and I studied them. I often felt inadequate because there was seemingly so much that I didn’t know. What I learned from this is that no one knows everything, and it’s okay to say “I don’t know” as long as you are willing to learn and grow; that’s all you can really ask of yourself.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! I have a new book out this month called “Money Minded Families: How to Raise Financially Well Children.” The book explores how we can align our individual values with our finances, while planning for a more secure financial future for our families. It looks at how we can save, spend, share, and invest with a purpose. In it, I supply financial basics for families and direction on creating a family mission statement, in order to help drive mindful financial choices.
I offer holistic financial guidance, including how families can financially socialize and can take steps to live their best financial lives, rather than simply getting by. Today’s financial environment sets up unique challenges, including concerns over Social Security, sky-high college costs, and debt. It’s important that children’s knowledge about money begins in the home. When parents actively teach their kids about money through positive financial socialization and good habits, it can significantly contribute to their chances of future financial success.
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?
As I mentioned, I was fortunate to have several mentors during my time at Lockwood. We were a young company, growing fast and extremely dynamic. What I learned early on was to ask for opportunity — don’t wait for it to come to you, don’t be intimidated, and get yourself a seat at the table. The company was growing so fast and people were working incredibly long hours; some saw their position as a job, while others, like me, felt part of something special. Some expected to be given raises and bonuses, while others sought out new opportunities, and often created new opportunities in order to make the company grow even faster and better. I saw the leaders of the company as the people I aspired to be — people who took a chance on something and grew a successful business out of it. I learned from that experience that anything is possible with hard work, dedication, and persistence. I encourage people to keep learning, keep looking for opportunities, and never be intimidated by another’s success — instead, let it inspire you.
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?
We are dealing with an extreme pandemic now, which is creating a great deal of anxiety for many clients and professionals. Between health and economic concerns, it is difficult not to burn out. As financial advisors, we have a great deal of responsibility to our clients and we can often feel that weight of that responsibility, especially in tough times. I try to remind myself how fortunate we are to be in this profession that truly helps people live the life they desire. I believe that if you run your practice with an intent to help people and their families live their purpose, and align their resources to meet their purpose, and if you are fortunate enough to share that journey with them, what could be better or more rewarding? Yes, we are tested when the markets are volatile or when a life event happens that throws a wrench in your clients’ plans, but never lose sight of the impact you have on people’s lives. If you are honest, empathetic, and fair, your clients will not burn you out — they will lift you up.
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?
- Do you like this person? A good financial advisor will learn more about you than even some of your closest friends. You want to make sure your financial advisor is someone that you genuinely like and feel comfortable sharing your hopes, concerns, fears, and dreams with. It can be vulnerable to open up about your finances and even more about your dreams, so make sure you work with someone you’re comfortable being vulnerable with.
- What type of services do they provide? Some advisors are “full service,” meaning they will work with you and plan for you across all of your resources, not just those that they are managing. For example, will they offer advice on your 401(k) account allocation? Will they coordinate tax strategy with your accountant? Will they opine on debt reduction or income generation for rental properties? Will they act as your quarterback for all things financial? Make sure their services will meet your family’s specific needs; one size does not fit all.
- How are they compensated and what are the fees?
- What is their investment philosophy? Are they active traders? Are they index or passive traders? What academic research supports their investment strategy? How will the investment strategy they design for you align with your goals?
- Are they both a Registered Investment Advisor and a Fiduciary? This is confusing for a great many clients and many professionals. In an effort to simplify the concept, I offer the following analogy:
You find yourself at the doctor’s office. You have self-diagnosed and asked for a prescription. Dr. Suitable asks you a few questions:
How old are you?
Have you ever taken this prescription before?
Why do you need the prescription?
Doctor Suitable checks the box and writes you a prescription. You never see him again.
Now, Dr. Fiduciary enters the room and reviews your chart:
Tell me why you requested this medication?
Tell me about your symptoms.
I see that you are 45; how long have you been experiencing these issues?
Tell me about your family history. Do you exercise? What other medications do you take?
Doctor Fiduciary performs a full physical and determines that, though the requested medication may not harm you, you will have much better results with another medication; she also asks that you return annually so that she may evaluate your progress and modify the dosage as your symptoms improve.
The difference here is not the level of education of the physician, the fancy office space, or even the intellect. The difference is the level of care you receive.
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?
The sooner an individual has clarity around their goals and a plan for how they will achieve those goals, the better. Many financial advisors offer Financial Planning services coupled with Investment Management or offer those services separately. So someone starting out, who may not have an investment portfolio that needs to be managed (yet!), can hire a financial advisor to help them build out a plan to help make sure they are spending, saving, and investing properly. A year of financial focus can change someone’s life, no matter their level of wealth.
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 mentioned earlier that I was fortunate enough to have several; believe it or not, they were all male, which was wonderful, but I do wish there were more women in the industry to mentor females coming up. Things have changed, but not enough. Many girls shy away from this field because they “don’t like math or working with numbers.” When I hear this, I explain that being a financial advisor is so much more than numbers. Yes, you need a handle on math, but beyond that you need empathy and a listening ear; you need to understand people and their behaviors; and, finally, you can run your own business and make any type of impact you desire on their lives and yours.
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 would love to see the concept of financial socialization become a movement at home to create money-minded families. Research shows that children who receive positive financial socialization at home have better life outcomes.
Financial socialization is a learned process of acquiring knowledge about money and money management and developing skills in financial practices such as banking, budgeting, saving, and credit card use. This learned process, if done in a positive manner, can make the difference between our children living financially and personally rewarding lives — or struggling to make ends meet.
As a society, we tend to forgo financial lessons until it is too late and bad habits are already formed; what we forget is that our financial wellness is inescapably intertwined with our physical, emotional, and social wellness. We emphasize subjects in our schools that have little impact on our children’s success in life, while minimizing or even excluding basic financial literacy. At home, many parents avoid discussing and teaching their children about money; this must change. Our children are facing a real challenge, one that is new to many of us. Many of the resources we and our parents count on for financial support will most likely be severely diminished or nonexistent for our children. Everything’s going to be on their shoulders, so it’s critical we learn how we teach them early and often about personal finance. I hope my book can be the start of a global conversation, giving parents the tools they need to financially socialize with their children in order to create money-minded families everywhere!
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