Entrepreneurial zeal applied to financial advising
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Curtis Lum
Q. What led you to the financial planning field?
A. It was a combination of my entrepreneurial childhood, and also my finance degree and real estate minor. I decided that the industry would allow me to provide all those skills and work with people on collecting what's important to them, collecting information on their assets and helping them design a financial plan and financial road map. Being a small business owner pretty much all of my life, I had a strong passion to want to make a difference in the life of others. Financial services, this field, continues to grow every day and people are searching for more guidance today than I think they ever were.
Q. Your father owned a business; did that have an impact on you growing up?
A. (My parents) always encouraged us to seek opportunities, and what I realized is it was never really a discussion of, "What is your career or job going to be?" It was always about, "What opportunities are you going to pursue?" From a very young age my mom said I didn't take no for an answer and I still don't. I'm determined, persistent and don't necessarily know all of the answers, but I want to create and develop a significance in all those people's lives around me. That's the true entrepreneurial spirit that my dad had, but he had on a tangible basis, meaning he was into heavy equipment. What my passion is is on a nontangible basis because it's people's lives. You're dealing with assets and documents that you're collecting, but you're also dealing with getting them to think about the unknown because none of us really know what's going to happen tomorrow. We can plan for it and make sure we protect, provide and we plan, but we need to be prepared for a "wig and a wag" in the road and what do we do.
Q. How do you adjust for those "wigs and wags?"
A. It's about asking the tough questions, and I'm very good at doing that. People have asked me how I do it. I'm a real passionate person. It's not about memorizing the questions, it's truly coming from the heart and asking the tough questions and listening to what they want to do. And if you really want to do this, these are the steps we need to do. Let's say compensation changes, like Aloha Airlines where somebody's laid off, that's a big wig and wag in the road and how does one adjust? You need to bring them back in. You need to have those hard discussions, reassess what options they have. I have a very creative knack of problem-solving right on the spot. If I don't have the answer, I go back to the specialists I work with and figure out what are some creative answers that we can bring to this couple, bring to this business owner, bring to the professional to help them through these ebbs and flows of life.
Q. How large is your company? Are you able to provide this one-on-one kind of service?
A. Yes. Our office is a four-member team. I want to stay a very niche-sized, value-added company. We are aligned with a San Francisco firm. Also, we have contacts in New York and Boston. We have sources, so all of the answers don't come from my office directly because in this industry things change every single day so we must align ourselves with the people who could fill in the missing pieces that we need for our clients. We do provide the one-on-one services. We have two platforms in our firm. If a couple, business owner or anybody is just looking for a product-based solution and they want to just know how much life insurance they need, we have team members who would work more directly with them. If they're looking for a true advisory relationship, then they would work directly with me and that is on a fee-advisory basis. At the end of that process, if they want implementation, I kind of switch hats and we bring in other appropriate people to help implement their plan. We have over 400 households and at least 50 business-owner clients.
Q. When you moved back to Hawai'i, did you have a business venture lined up?
A. Not necessarily. When I came back I did connect with some people in Arizona who dealt with business owners and they sold seminars. I did that for a period of time. I could still be independent, yet it took me a little while to get refocused. Like any business owner, you can get so many ideas and go off in different directions, but you don't stay grounded and stay focused and work through the roadblocks that are going to occur along the way. I had a passion for health as well so I was a sales manager in opening a Kane'ohe NutriSystem store, but then that was an employee mentality and I wasn't happy. Somebody suggested that I go meet with this person and I got led into a financial services opportunity because what they said to me was they meet people, gather information and design a plan. What came to me was, "I could help people once again," and that's what led me in 1990 to develop my financial advisory services business.
Q. What inspired you to write a book?
A. My business developed and grew — I was having 20-25 percent revenue increases each year. People started to ask me, "How do you do it?" I would share with them, but what I found was either they would take the idea and make it theirs, or they wouldn't do anything with it so I would feel disappointed. I decided it wasn't worth the time and then one of my staff members said, "Heather, why don't you document these ideas because maybe what you need is you need to develop a book in which somebody could read it and pull from the book what would work for them and how to make it work for them?"
Q. What's your business philosophy?
A. I focus on my goals, not my objectives. I really strive to stay positive in everything that I think, say and do. I do map out every year that's ahead of me and I have a three- and a five-year (plan), and I have what I call my "first 25-year lifetime goal." It's not perfect, so obviously when the year ends you look back and you might have to adjust the next three or five years, yet I do have goals, personal and business. My philosophy is as long as I can stay aligned in a life purpose that allows me to utilize the gifts that I've been given, stay positive in all that I think and say and do, then I know I will persevere through the obstacles.
Reach Curtis Lum at email@example.com.