BAMSouth.com Publisher Jack Criss recently spoke with Scot Thigpen of The Thigpen Group about his new name, new direction and a myriad of other topics dealing with the financial world.
BAMSouth.com: Why the name change? And why now? What prompted it?
Thigpen: This year marks my 25th anniversary in the investment management industry. I started Solomon Financial Advisors in 2009, and we have been blessed with significant client growth through the years. This growth has come primarily through referrals, as we really have not done any advertising or marketing in the past.
We feel there are many individuals in this market who have become increasingly fed up with the status quo and want more out of their advisory relationship.
This rebranding effort gives us the opportunity, to clearly communicate with these individuals-and tell them who we are, what we do, and most importantly why we do it. We think we have a compelling story to tell and desire to help make a difference in the lives of others.
BAMSouth.com: Along with the name change did the company’s modus operandi change, as well? What other corporate or company missions changed or were newly originated?
Thigpen: The Thigpen Group is a Wealth Management practice. That means that we offer comprehensive financial services. We believe Financial Management is Life Management. Clients come to us because they have financial needs, concerns, dreams, and aspirations. Each of these impact what kind of life they will have.
Our new company tagline, “Live Your Life,” captures the essence of our mission. We are here to help you “Live Your Life”. It goes much deeper than common financial planning and investment management. We really get to know our clients. Our valued clients are more than an account number to us.Our clients don’t want to be sold products. They want to be listened to, to be understood, and ultimately to be given advice that is exclusively in their best interest. It’s a long-term partnership with clients whereby we continually advise them along their financial and life journey.
BAMSouth.com: Scot, please describe your basic services, what kind of client/market you are primarily aiming for, etc.
Thigpen: Our wealth management services are tailored for affluent clients who are looking for a goals-based, consultative planning approach. Our clients choose to partner with an advisor because generally, they don’t have the time, knowledge, information, or inclination to effectively do it themselves. Our ideal client is the person who is fortunate enough to accumulate enough savings that it becomes very important to get professional advice on an ongoing basis. They want and need solutions, based on the best alternative from many possible strategies.
BAMSouth.com: What differentiates The Thigpen Group from other similar financial companies currently in the market?
Thigpen: We do a “Value Proposition” presentation for prospective clients where we address those differentiators. To be perfectly honest, the primary thing that differentiates The Thigpen Group from other choices just might be that it is where Scot Thigpen works. We are honored when a client reaches a decision that we are the best fit for them. I know that a client is going to end up with the advisor they trust and where their needs can be met. We spend a lot of time upfront with prospective clients explaining our process, and letting them get to know us. Ultimately, I always want a client to go where they feel the most comfortable.
Philosophies, methods and expertise aside, we believe our long retention rates with our clients best tells the story in terms of how we stack up with other providers in our target market.
Certainly we strive to serve clients better – but we do soas a Registered Investment Advisor – and not affiliated with a broker dealer. We operate in a conflict-free. Our only compensation comes from advisory fees rather than commissions because we want to be on the same side of the table as our clients.
We base investment recommendations on a well conceived, goals-based, customized financial plan. We monitor progress toward these goals on a regular basis, making any changes that are neededalong the way. We work with clients’other trusted advisors, CPAs, attorneys, etc., in a team based approach.
Our financial designations CFP, CPA/PFS are evidence that we take ongoing professionalism seriously. Ongoing continuing education is designed to make sure we stay informed to best help clients reach decisions.
BAMSouth.com: What are the most common mistakes most professionals in your industry make? Have YOU made them yourself? If so, how were they corrected?
Thigpen: Great question, Jack. I think it is important to acknowledge that there is a distinction between product pushers and professionals. Unwary consumers may be challenged indifferentiating the two. There are lots of true professionals in our industry. More of the common issues arise from advisors that are not acting professionally.
When we have our initial consultation with prospective clients, they often share that they don’t feel truly understood. They feel like there was an agenda that didn’t necessarily focus on their unique needs and goals. Some say that they were talked at rather than talked with. Clients will share a wealth of important information with you if you’ll just give them the opportunity. That’s why we invest so much time in our discovery meetings.
Sometimes clients are unsure exactly what to say or what questions to ask. However, it is possible to really understand a client if an advisor is willing to spend the time to listen and get to know them. I think that mistakes are made when recommendations are made before a client and their total financial situation is truly known. Pushing an advisor agenda, following the herd mentality, not doing independent thinking and research, are other common mistakes.
BAMSouth.com: What are the most common misconceptions about what you do among the general public and how do you educate them and/or assuage their concerns?
Thigpen: Another great question! Generally speaking, I find that our industry has confused consumers. We should make it much easier for a consumer to be able to differentiate among those in the financial service industry. At the end of the day, clients are looking for the advisor that they can trust to provide the high level of service that they deserve. We make it too difficult for consumers to understand what to expect from the different types of financial services providers out there. They need to know the differences across the channels such as banks, brokerage firms, broker dealers, Registered Investment Advisors, and insurance companies. Most consumers don’t understand the meanings of the different credentials, much less what it takes to earn them and maintain them on an annual basis.
Sometimes, this professional information is important to a potential client – but most often they simply want to have someone they know personally advising them. I often wonder how much thought goes into choosing an advisor. I wish people would do more research, but that takes time. And time is a precious commodity for successful people. We love referrals and word of mouth advertising- but nothing beats being chosen based on a thorough comparison.
BAMSouth.com: Please discuss your background: career pinnacles (and lows) and who your mentors were and are.
Thigpen: I will share both my professional background, and some relevant aspects of my personality. I graduated from Mississippi State University with an accounting degree. My first job was with KPMG Peat Marwick, during which I obtained my CPA license. My time there exposed me to many different types of industries and businesses. In 1991, I joined a Wall Street firm, Merrill Lynch, where I spent the next seven years.
I like to say that I learned about investing at Merrill Lynch, but learned about life from my grandmother, Dee. “Chasing Solomon” is the book that I wrote as a tribute to Dee’s life. The book came about as I personally wrestled with the question, ‘what is life all about?’ Those conclusions helped shape my future career in the financial services industry. I am a ‘helper’. I have also been accused of being an empathetic listener, and would say I am guilty as charged. Both bode well in this business because a person’s unique financial planning decisions are actually all about the values and purposes of their life.
I found that people wanted somebody to understand them and give them objective advice rather than to be sold something that somebody in New York said was good for them. In 1999, I joined an independent RIA ensemble firm, EFP. We sold our practice to Stanford Financial in 2006. Had it not been for the wise advice of a mentor, that decision could have ended my career. However, it is actually what forced me to start my own company. Two years after joining Stanford Financial, I made the decision to start Solomon Financial Advisors.
BAMSouth.com: Why base your office in Jackson, MS? Could you not work in a bigger market and possibly be more successful? Conversely. are the majority of your clients in state or do you deal with out-of-state clients as well?
Thigpen: Probably so. I have gone to conferences all over this country and have met advisors from others states who say how easy it is to make a ton of money. So it probably boils down to how you measure success. Mississippi is home. It is family. Mississippians are the greatest people on earth. These are the people I want to help.
I was born and raised here. I was educated here, both academically and in life. I am married to my high school sweetheart. We had our babies here and raised them with lots of friends who shared those same experiences with us. I enjoyed coaching our boys and lots of their friends over the years. I have sat in the same bleachers for years with these same friends and watched this group of kids grow up to be outstanding leaders. I have shared pews in church with many of these same friends. I have had the privilege of sharing spiritual journeys together. And when disasters have occurred, I have had once in a lifetime opportunities to try to help them recover.
If you would have told me 25 years ago that this is where I would be in life, I would have thought it impossible. I may be biased, but I would tell you that I have the greatest clients in the world. I will be there for them through thick and thin, just as they have been there for me. So for me, I can’t imagine a more successful career. If I had a choice of moving away and making more money or staying “home”and trying to make a difference in the lives of these people, I would make the same decision I00 percent of the time.
BAMSouth.com: The best business advice you ever got was…?
Thigpen: Far and away, the best advice was “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is”. A mentor of mine shared that sage advice with me literally in my first week of work. That timeless advice ended up saving my career.
BAMSouth.com: How has your business and industry changed since ’08? How has the mindset of your clients changed and how have you had to “re-educated” them about any fears they may have acquired?
Thigpen: Jack, we have witnessed two major shifts since 2008. The Great Recession of 2008 was second only to the Great Depression in terms of the worst economic downturn in American history. The Quantitative Easing programs designed by the Feds artificially forced low interest rates which have been punitive for savers. Yields on deposits and guaranteed money market funds are not adequate to keep up with the cost of living. There are many reluctant investors that have had to make a difficult choice to stay in these guaranteed funds or risk their principal by investing.
The second shift pertains to how and where Millennials are seeking investment advice. People are not institutions. They have real life goals, real feelings, real concerns, and real fears. Computer trading, robo-advisors, algorithms, are all fairly new. However, they will never be able to feel what a client is feeling. Computer models will never be able to care whether a client meets their goals or not. That’s where an advisory relationship comes in. Millennials want to invest with purpose and consistency with their life’s purposes and values. Our philosophy is a great fit for them.
BAMSouth.com: The most fun part of your job is? The most challenging part?
Thigpen: Partnering with a client who is willing to entrust us to help them “live their life” on their terms. We know we have done our job well when a client feels a complete peace of mind.The greatest compliment I have ever received from a client is when they told us they would “never make a life-impacting financial decision without first consulting Scot Thigpen.”
The most challenging part of my job is when a client has done all that they can do with their part, but is not able to meet their goals. We remind clients all the time that there are a few things that they can control and most that they can’t. They know we are trying our best and I know they are doing their best. That’s why we call it a life journey.
BAMSouth.com: Best book on finance that you have ever read is…?
Thigpen: There are thousands of great books on finance, and I’ll never be ab le to read them all. Even if I could, however, I would still know that the Bible is the best book there is on finance, as well as life. I believe it reveals the reality of why we exist, what our purpose is, how to live, why we live, etc. Our company’s guiding mission to help others “Live Your Life” ultimately rests in the eternal truths found there.
BAMSouth.com: Thank you so much for your time, Scot.