Empower your PARTICIPANTS with comprehensive financial education

Interview with SmartPath Director of Coaching, Ryan McPherson, CFP®, EA

comprehensive financial education

We recently sat down with Ryan, leader of our dedicated coaching team. We admire his empathetic approach to helping clients understand the fundamentals of finances and wanted to give folks a little insight into what makes Ryan tick.

Ryan, could you get started by sharing a little about yourself and your financial upbringing?

“What does he do? What does she do?” As far back as I can remember, I posed those questions to my mom and dad about the occupations of adults we knew. Normal questions for a kid, right? I was trying to understand why certain families we knew seemed to live “better” (larger/nicer homes, newer cars, more frequent vacations, etc) than others.

Why was this interesting to me? Stark contrast. My parents were not wealthy, and at times, financially challenged, but sent me to private schools for grades K-12. I interacted with many affluent people, or rather their children. Seeing how financially successful people lived/operated and contrasting that with my own home life/upbringing emphasized the impact of varying financial decisions. In the mind of a young person, I thought the financial differences between other families and my own were due to career choices, hence the questions - “What does he do? What does she do?”

My personal finance curiosity morphed into a focus on wealth creation. This sparked an interest in investing leading to my majoring in finance in college and subsequently a job on a large investment team at global wealth management company. After years of complex financial planning and allocating money during the financial crisis, I moved to corporate finance at a healthcare company, and then back to financial advising at an Atlanta, GA-based firm. Along the way, I even tried to buy the businesses of a few retiring advisors...a story for another time.

What prompted you to join SmartPath?

Impact: Most financial planners, advisors, and wealth managers generally serve those with a minimum of $1 million dollars of investable assets or at least a high and growing income. And that’s fine, if you happen to have a few million dollars or a mid-six figure income. However, 95%-97% of all Americans don’t qualify for this service and are left with no advice, limited advice from retirement plan representatives, or bad advice from product sales people.

A physician for pro athletes:
 That’s sort of how most traditional financial planners operate. Much like a doctor treating those who are already in stellar shape, most advisors focus on people who are already financially successful. This has always struck me as odd. SmartPath focuses on “big lever” items in people’s financial lives. Establishing and sticking to a budget or demolishing your credit card will have a material and lasting impact on your financial health. Surprisingly, this degree of impact is not felt when allocating millions of dollars for someone.

Scale: When you focus on middle class Americans and aren’t limited by geography, you can potentially reach tens of millions of people. Contrast that to a normal advisory firm – a lead advisor may have between 80 – 120 clients, mostly in her or his local area. That’s it. SmartPath’s ability to help a large swath of people is as exciting as it is fascinating. The reach we already have is equivalent to multiple lifetimes as a planner in a typical financial firm. And we’re not slowing down.

When working with clients, what’s the most common misstep that you see people make financially?

  • Dining out too frequently
  • Amazon. Amazon. Amazon.
  • Generally not aligning spending with income

These are all spending-related because overspending is the gateway - it leads to nearly all other money woes.

What is one thing you would suggest that everyone could do immediately to better their financial position?

Sorry, can’t limit myself to one thing...

  • Get a handle on your numbers now. Start with how much you make and how much you spend. You don’t need an app or an Excel sheet for this. Grab some paper and write your numbers down. Don’t let exact numbers stop you; estimates will work. If your income exceeds your expenses, congrats you have FUEL; that’s a good thing. If it’s the other way around, your FUEL is negative. Cut spending and/or find a way to boost your income.
  • If you have a spouse, partner, are engaged, share your life with someone or hope to, talk with them about money. Have an uncomfortably open conversation about what you want to achieve (where money is involved), your money worries, your feelings on debt, etc. Do this on repeat. Yes, it’ll get easier.

I see you are an Enrolled Agent (EA), authorized by the United States government to represent taxpayers in matters regarding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Can you tell us a little more about that?

Yes, so a few years back I wanted to deepen my financial planning knowledge. Enhancing my tax skillset seemed logical since taxes will impact every working adult in some capacity.I first looked into becoming a CPA, but that would have required me to return to college for a few accounting-specific classes. Also, the CPA exam includes areas that wouldn’t have been relevant to me, like auditing. So, I went down the Enrolled Agent (EA) path. You have to pass three exams: one focused on individual taxes, another focused on business taxation, and a final one on representation, practices, and procedures. I’ve definitely bolstered my tax knowledge, which has been great. While technically, I’m licensed to file taxes and represent taxpayers before the IRS, I don’t do either of these things.

In your role at SmartPath, what core values do you strive to instill in a growing coaching team?

Curiosity: Every single time a coach begins a first call with a client, the coach needs to unpack a client’s financial situation thoroughly and efficiently. After working with hundreds of clients, each coach will have great instincts on where a call may go. She or he needs to be inquisitive when trying to understand what’s occurring in a client’s financial life. Clients can “feel” this through this phone. They know when you’re really interested in what’s going on, verus just taking down data.

Structured Problem Solving:
Clients come to us with unique, nuanced money challenges. Often, clients are overwhelmed by the seemly endless array of potential decisions. Given a client’s situation, coaches have to present 2-3 mathematically sound clear paths forward. This helps to focus a client’s thinking and energies, driving better outcomes.

Money is one of the last true taboo topics in American culture. Clients are often embarrassed by financial blunders or even just a lack of money knowledge. Coaches need to understand and respect this, while simultaneously helping a client move forward.