TCI Denver: The Path Less Traveled, the Path to Success
My career has always been a little about taking the path less traveled. That path led me to TCI and the opening of the Denver office.
To understand what led up to opening the doors of our office in 2010, we have to do a little time traveling, back to 1984. After graduating college, instead of following the crowd and jumping into 65-hour work weeks at some big East Coast investment banking house, I went the public accounting route.
After realizing I enjoyed giving advice, rather than conducting audits, I moved into the tax department. That’s where I was introduced to the CFP® (CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER) program, and soon I had both CPA and CFP after my name.
Following stints at several firms, and time in Australia and L.A., I landed in Denver, working for a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA). After a couple of years, the RIA’s merger with a big bank started a culture shift that eventually reached a tipping point for me. I knew it was time for a change.
I didn’t want to start my own firm from scratch, so I started exploring options: looking first at small local shops with older owners who didn’t have succession plans, then larger firms that were potentially interested in opening a Denver office. That’s when I connected with Bob Swift, a co-founder of TCI.
I remember calling Bob on an hour-long drive from Denver to see a client in Colorado Springs. We talked for the entire hour. Two days later, I was on a plane to Arizona, where I met with Bob and his team. Soon after, we made the decision that TCI was where I was going to land.
Checking All the Boxes
When I was at the bank, considering my next move, I worked with a career coach who encouraged me to write down all the ways I thought an investment business should ideally be run. She then directed me to put a checkmark next to each item I thought I could accomplish at my current job.
I was only able to put a mark next to two of them.
After my initial conversations with Bob, I revisited my list and realized that, with TCI, I could check every single box. TCI aligned with everything I believed in, everything I wanted to accomplish: Emphasize planning. De-emphasize the salesman. Make investing simple. Put clients first.
It was an easy decision and I was ready to get started. Yet, I wasn’t going it alone.
“You’re taking me with you”
I met Dana Sandoval (now a project manager in our Denver office) in 1998, when I first joined the RIA. At the time, the RIA didn’t offer personal financial planning, and I headed up that part of the business, which was placed under the retirement plan division. As the head of that division, Dana was my boss – until she decided she wanted to pursue her CFP®. She accomplished that goal, then came to work in my department. Needless to say, we worked closely together for many years.
When I let Dana know I was leaving the bank, she told me in no uncertain terms: “If you don’t take me with you, I will hunt you down.”
Dana felt the same stress I did about the way our clients were being treated at the bank. Our values and goals were the same – we wanted something more, something better, for ourselves and our clients. Plus, she was my right-hand person; she could do anything.
So that was another easy decision: We were leaving, and we were going as team.
Growing, One Person at a Time
With the support of the TCI team, we opened the Denver office in October 2010 in Larimer Square and, for the first three years, it was just Dana and me.
Then, we started to grow, one person at a time.
Going into the office opening, it was important to me that we not have strict growth metrics to live up to. Growing, to me, was something that was going to happen organically because we did all the right things: meet with partners, make sure people knew us, and – most importantly – take care of our clients. It sounds like a pretty simple business model – but it works. In my 40-year career, the vast majority of my business growth has come from client referrals.
TCI was supportive of our approach. When we opened the office, Bob estimated that Denver would grow 5 – 10 percent a year for the first couple of years, but he didn’t pressure us to attain that. He also correctly predicted that Denver would be one of TCI’s largest markets in the future. Denver is currently TCI’s third largest office in terms of staff and second largest overall market behind Scottsdale.
Today, we have a growth initiative, but it has never been “growth at any cost.” We want the right clients and we want the right growth trajectory so it doesn’t put stress on people. We want our employees to live a balanced life, and we want our clients to feel like they can get our time when they need it. I believe that’s a goal we’ve accomplished, and we’ll continue to find that balance as we grow.
It’s All About the Fit
A list came out several years ago, ranking the number of financial advisors per millionaire households. Denver was number two.
In other words, Denver is a very competitive market – from solo proprietors to boutique firms to all the big dogs. When we opened, we were a two-person shop with very little local name recognition. Yet, while we didn’t have the size or the household name, I never felt like we were at a disadvantage.
I’ve always believed that we’ll earn the business if the client is right for us, and vice versa. I encourage clients to take the time to get to know us, understand what their experience will look like at our firm, and what their relationship with us will be like, then make a decision.
It’s all about the fit. Some clients will decide they want the flashy name and the fancy investment programs – and I’m good with that. Other clients will decide to go with firms that look a lot like ours. That’s fine, too. As long as those firms are doing the right thing by clients, and the client is taken care of, that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
TCI is in the Relationship Business
We’re in the financial industry, which equates to investments. Wealth management. Returns. Dollars and cents. Cold, hard cash. Right?
Wrong. We’re in the relationship business. At least, that’s what we believe. And that’s the way we’ve built TCI Denver.
It starts with doing the right thing – every time. A smart advisor understands that a decision might not maximize their income today, but if it’s the right decision, it’s going to help build a solid business and a solid relationship with clients. You don’t need to get paid today – it’s all about building a business for tomorrow. So if I feel like I can help, I’m going to do it.
Being in the relationship business also means you make things right – right away. We’re not perfect; things happen from time to time. The difference is in how you handle it. Imagine you go to a restaurant and they make a mistake with your order. If you have to ask them to take it off the bill, it’s a whole different experience than if they offer to do it. Why not just do the right thing up front?
These are some of the key beliefs I wrote down a couple decades ago, and I still believe it’s the right way to do this business.
Growing the Client Tree
Dana and I had a client who passed away recently at the age of 95. We talked to him a couple days before he died, and he asked if he could afford to continue living where he was. We joked with him, “you can only stay there for 13 more years. So, at age 108, we’re drawing the line. ”
After he passed away, we spoke with his heirs – a niece and nephew – and they shared how much their uncle appreciated the relationship he had with our firm. Now, we may have the opportunity to help them with their finances, too.
Referrals from happy clients are the primary driver of our success. In fact, the other day, a client realized that she was the third “branch” of a tree from a single client. I started thinking about how many other clients came from that one person and calculated that they have a “tree” of 12 – 15 clients connected to them. There are so many examples like that in the Denver office.
We have clients who are now retired, and other clients who have passed away, and now we are working with their children and grandchildren or other descendants.
It’s just so rewarding to help these people set their goals and then watch those goals come to fruition and hear those clients say, “It worked! You said it was going to work, and it worked!”
“This is my home now”
The Denver office opened in 2010, and I became a partner the very next year. I remember driving home one day soon after when the realization hit me: “I am now part-owner of a firm that I would’ve liked to build myself. This is my home now.”
I was so overcome with emotion, I had to pull over on the side of the road. It is just so amazing to be partnered with people that believe the same things I do and see the business the same way I see it.
Over the past 13 years, we’ve continued to build TCI and the Denver office with more of those same kinds of people. TCI Denver is not just me and Dana anymore – it’s a team. It’s an approach. It’s a promise. A new or existing client can step in the door today and expect the same high level of service, care and expertise that they received on day one.