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My Journey From Tax to Financial Planning

by David Stolz, CPA/PFS, CFP | Nov 01, 2019
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It’s been more than 20 years now as I reflect on my journey from a CPA doing traditional tax work to now focusing on providing personal financial planning services. Previously, as a partner in a CPA firm, I enjoyed the tax work as well as my clients and the people that I worked with, but something pushed me to another path—one which has been immensely satisfying. This path has included becoming involved in my state society’s Personal Financial Planning Committee and later becoming involved with the AICPA Personal Financial Planning Committees and activities.

You would think my decision to add personal financial planning services to my tax firm would have been a well-analyzed decision. After all, I am a CPA. But the truth is, I would be embarrassed to show anyone the small amount of analysis that I did. My move into financial planning started due to a completely unrelated event. More than 20 years ago, my Mom called me and asked me if I had talked with my Dad that day. He had recently had some health issues, but he was doing fine and since he was only 64 I didn’t really expect anything bad to happen. I told my Mom I was sure he was fine and was just having coffee with some friends or something. The truth is, I knew something was wrong. That wasn’t like him.

Keeping the story short, that day didn’t end well. Some of his medications had been recently adjusted, which caused him to pass out while driving, and he died in a one-car accident. After dealing with all the immediate things from a situation like this, over time I began to realize that something was different about the way I was talking to people. My Dad had passed away at the age when most people start to retire and think about what they want to do with their new freedom. He had certainly talked about some of his plans, and I became more curious about the balance of living for today and planning for tomorrow. I found myself asking clients and friends what their plans for retirement were and how much they thought they needed to save, etc. I was beginning to think and talk like a financial planner without realizing it.

After a while, I thought I should find out how to “do” real financial planning, so I signed up for a one-day class sponsored by the WSCPA, on adding financial planning services to your firm. It was a small class, maybe 15-20 CPAs. The instructors were a CPA with a large investment firm and a CPA that worked with compliance issues. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I faked it pretty well.

For some reason this didn’t deter me. My next plan was to get the PFS credential. The AICPA Personal Financial Specialist credential may not be well known among the general public, but to me, obtaining financial planning education and a credential that aligned with my CPA ethics and thought process was the perfect way to go. The study materials were nothing like they are now where we have well-organized course materials and various pathways to get the credential. Back then it was a loose 3-ring binder with various subject matter materials. Going through the process of studying for the PFS credential was when real financial planning started to make sense. And, as a bonus, somehow, I passed the examination and earned the credential.

Initially, I wanted nothing to do with investments. I didn’t want the extra work and I thought my clients wouldn’t be interested in my investment advice. After having done some initial financial planning work for some clients (which I did gratis to get the experience), I was excited about how well it went. I loved having forward-thinking conversations with people. I liked listening to them talk about the things that were important to them. It all felt right. I ultimately decided to manage investments along with providing financial planning and tax compliance. This was the right decision for me, but certainly something that other CPAs may decide not to pursue.

Today when I talk to CPAs about adding personal financial planning services to their practices, I typically hear things like “I’m busy enough now” or “my clients will think it’s a conflict of interest.” First, I would not suggest that a CPA add financial planning services if they don’t have a passion for it. But I think some of the concerns CPAs have about adding financial planning services miss the question a little. It’s more a question about how best to provide services to individuals. Clients want a single point of contact. They don’t want multiple advisors. If you don’t ask them questions about their retirement when you meet with them for their taxes, they probably won’t have a retirement plan at all. Without you nudging them to update their estate plan, they won’t do it. CPAs have the skills to be awesome financial planners, we are process oriented, analytical, and we know how to talk with people about money (something not many other people do).

So, my journey has taken me to where I now find myself, a partner in a financial planning firm, and I love what I do. When people ask what I do, I say, “I am a CPA Financial Planner.” I try to tell my story to other CPAs whenever I have the chance. With all the resources available, they don’t have to stumble their way to figure out how to provide personal financial planning services like I did – and it certainly won’t take them 20 years to figure it out.

David Stolz headshotDavid Stolz, CPA/PFS, CFP is President of Stolz & Associates, PS, a financial planning firm in Tacoma, Washington. You can contact him at dave@stolzassoc.com.

Curious about financial planning? Already offering financial planning services? Join the WSCPA Personal Financial Planning Resource Group. Contact Katie Berry, WSCPA Volunteer Relations Coordinator, at kberry@wscpa.org.

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