Finding the Path Forward: The History of TCI in Reno

Justin Thomas, CFP®

Dec 1, 2023

My wife and I moved to Reno in 2004, and we quickly realized that it was an ideal new community for us. At the time, I was a triathlete and athletic coach, and we were both outdoorsy people, Reno perfectly fit our lifestyle.

One day, during a meeting with my financial advisor, he recognized my interest in our meetings and my burgeoning knowledge of investments. He suggested that I explore becoming an advisor myself given this new interest and a desire to help people.

Initially, I wasn’t interested because my primary focus was on my athletic goals and helping others achieve theirs. At the time, I couldn’t envision myself doing anything else. Nonetheless, I was intrigued enough by the suggestion and kept thinking about it. After more thinking and talking things over with my wife, I decided to jump into brokerage.

After only a few years in finance, I began seeing cracks in the facade. The brokerage industry was full of endless cold calls and hitting quotas. It didn’t matter if what I sold was “good” for my clients’ financial journeys. All that mattered was that we had more clients and sold them something. The thrill of helping others that I got from coaching was gone.

A Fortunate Encounter

I was near the lowest point of my professional career when I received a call from Douglas L Nelson, CPA, PFS, who ran TCI Wealth Advisors, a relatively new investment advising firm. Doug had heard about me through a mutual friend and thought I’d make a good addition to the TCI team. He asked me to lunch but at first, I was reluctant to take him up on it, I thought that I’d simply be jumping from one fire into another if I stayed in the financial industry. I met with him nonetheless.

When the day of our lunch arrived, I expected to hear the same old sales pitch, “Make more money, retire at 40 and sail off into the sunset on your new yacht.” He didn’t mention any of that. Instead, Doug told me that his firm’s goal was to help people, not sell to them. He explained how a small but successful CPA firm, Ashley, Quinn, Nelson CPAs & Consultants, had grown into TCI Wealth Advisors.

The Birth of TCI Wealth Advisors

Doug had been through a similar struggle of purpose before TCI, when he founded a successful CPA firm in Incline Village. While he was a skilled CPA, Doug found that his clients increasingly wanted to talk about investments. So, as only Doug could, he took this on headfirst, dividing his time between CPA work and investment counseling. Doug found the work rewarding because he was able to make genuine connections with his clients while solving some of their trickiest financial problems.

Transition to Full Time Advising

In 1994, Doug started AQN Advisors, a small advising firm servicing the Lake Tahoe area, finding quick success by leveraging the relationships formed from his CPA days. By 2007, AQN was ready to grow. Michael Grosso, CFP®, who worked at Schwab at the time, suggested Doug should meet with Bob Swift. Michael facilitated an introduction, and after some back and forth, the two men agreed to merge firms to make a bigger impact on the industry together. Thus, the modern formulation of TCI was born.

Like myself, Doug had been at a crossroads in his career but found a new direction to help his clients and fuel his passion. His fateful meeting with Michael Grosso, CFP® and Bob Swift changed the trajectory of his career and his life. After hearing Doug tell this story the first time, I realized how similar our paths were.

A Change of Perspective

Almost instantly, I realized I had made the right choice. Serving as a financial advisor at TCI was a fresh perspective in finance. For the first time in my career, I was engaging in meaningful partnerships with clients. I quickly noticed that the client relationships were more trustful, allowing me to provide a much deeper level of service. It was new and exciting, opening my mind to what a financial advisor’s role could be. I wasn’t just advising people on investing. In fact, I was surprised with how infrequently discussions centered around money.

Often, I was advising clients on emotional, interpersonal matters, where clients placed tremendous trust in my ability to listen and provide solutions. Doug often says that TCI specializes in the gray areas of finance, the issues that don’t have simple answers, but require personalized solutions that only advisors can provide. These weren’t answers you could find on Google, but rather the type that required long-term consistent guidance.

Every day presented a new problem to solve and new opportunities to deepen the relationships with clients. They came from all walks of life and shared fascinating stories about their lives, teaching me as much, or more, than I was teaching them. I took pride in getting to know them better, feeling as though we were on this journey together. I didn’t have to pretend to be some market oracle here to make them rich. Instead, I was able to give them something much more valuable: Peace of mind.

20 Years Later: New Reno, Same Approach

It has been 13 years since my life changed. There have been many changes for TCI and the city of Reno, as well. Once the city was a desert gambling oasis where cattle roamed free, but now Reno has transformed considerably into a modern, vibrant city.

The casino industry isn’t as prominent. New logistics and light manufacturing plants dot the highways, and a younger generation fills the streets, embracing nightlife and culture. The University of Nevada, Reno, continues to grow, remaking Reno into a hip college town.

The arrival of Tesla introduced a whole new element to the area, which locals call “the Tesla effect.” The influx of out-of-state workers now look to Reno to be part of one of the most innovative companies of our era. This also brought a tangle of tax incentives in some counties, spurring more business investment and jobs.

Yet, with all of Reno’s changes, the complexities surrounding financial issues remain the same. While cultures change, human emotions do not. New questions will arise as the area evolves, but team TCI sees these challenges as opportunities to solve problems and build new relationships. No matter what the city looks like in 10, 50, or 100 years, we’ll still be here to guide “Renoites” toward the most sensible plans that allow peace of mind in retirement.

Finding Your Path Forward

In the end, it took meeting one person to help me find my path to purpose, just as it took one person to help Doug find the right path for TCI. This story exemplifies how powerful relationships can be in finding your purpose and accomplishing your goals, how one meeting can change the course of one’s life.

From the beginning, Doug established a high standard of client care that TCI carries on to this day. While our team has certainly grown, we take pride when we are the first call when something unexpected happens in our clients’ lives, being there to guide them through life’s curveballs, no matter how complex.

TCI is committed to being a 100-year firm. We will be around not only for our clients today, but also for their children and grandchildren. To those for whom we’ve been there in Reno for all these years and to our new neighbors, we will be by your side, helping to guide you toward your purpose and ensuring that you’re never alone in your financial journey.

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