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Education Season/Thought Leadership

By: Austin B. Colby, CFP®, MBA

The team and I began our yearly conference, seminar, and education travel schedule in April and have been full-tilt into the summer.  All of us believe in the importance of ongoing education and improvement in our profession.  Being independently owned and operated allows us the opportunity to take advantage of many industry-wide learning events. 

Mike and I tend to do the majority of the conference tours which lead to some excellent discussions (on occasion even some debates…) on our plane rides to and from, and in the conference room upon our return. 

I have one simple goal for each conference: learn something new and apply it to our business in order to better serve and educate our clients.  The entire team at The Wealth Group brings that same mandate to each learning opportunity and we all share our thoughts, focusing primarily on what it means to the client. 

A theme, or at least a common phrase, that has permeated the educational atmosphere this year is “thought leadership”.  I have been thinking on that phrase in some detail, because since it has been used everywhere I have traveled, from Nashville to San Francisco, it must be worth some reflection. 

Here is what I’ve come up with: “thought leadership” does not necessarily make a thought worthy to be followed.  Many of the ideas that have come out of Congress and out of my profession have not been good for my clients.  In fact, I would argue that more often than not “thought leaders” are making things more complex than needed. 

I listened to a session that went into great detail on how to handle cash-flow issues, focusing on rising college costs, and lifestyle expenses.  It was informative and very statistically sound.  However, after listening for 45 minutes about all of the complexities (perceived or in reality) involved, and looking around at all of the heads nodding, I came up with some questions.

Are parents having discussions with their children about money from ages 8, 9, or 10? When children are 12-14 years old, are parents talking about college costs, potential degrees, expected return on their educational investment?  Is there a clear understanding of whose responsibility future college costs will be?  

I feel extremely fortunate in this area because my parents sat me down in 8th grade and basically told me that college was going to be my responsibility.  They assured me that I would always have $20 in my pocket and never have to worry about food, etc.  But, if I chose to go to a university that would ultimately saddle me with $100,000 of debt, that was my choice and future responsibility.  Perhaps the advice my father gave me at the time doesn’t sound practical today, but he essentially told me to get a full-ride scholarship so I wouldn’t have to worry about it.  Because of how it was framed to me: attainable, not crazy, and extremely sensible, I did it.  I graduated college debt-free with degrees in the finance profession, which afforded me the opportunity to pick what job I wanted to take. As many of you have heard from me previously, my parents had actually saved some money for me so being 100% debt-free and having a few thousand dollars in the bank was a huge blessing for a 22-year old.

In this same break-out session, lifestyle expenses were discussed in detail.  Because the cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is unbelievably high, I can appreciate the time spent on this topic.  However, my simple thought that came out of that discussion was this: stop spending money you don’t have, to buy stuff you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like.  Problem solved. 

I highlight these two examples, perhaps, as a caution to all of us when we think of “thought leadership” as immediately a positive thing. Or when we feel that our financial situation is too complex to solve.  Not true.  One of the biggest pitfalls with family financial planning that we come across is inaction.  Oftentimes we have clients that so desperately want to make the “perfect” decision or have the “perfect” plan and in the meantime do nothing.  It doesn’t have to be that difficult.

We may not always know the absolute best plan for the rest of your financial life, but, we do know some right things we can be doing now, versus waiting until the entire picture is crystal clear. 

If you ever are wrestling with an area of your personal finances, please let us know so we can help walk you through it and unwind the complexity. 

I may not be considered a “thought leader” by some, but I can promise you that I won’t ever be a “thought follower” unless I know that thought adds value to my clients.  


Austin Colby