Who goes to college to pursue a career as a research scientist, finishes with a degree in hospitality management, and eventually becomes one of the first ACP advisors? That circuitous route was taken by Kelly Adams, founder of Harbor Light Planning in Michigan. “Though the fields may seem unrelated, financial planning is really a marriage of the analytical side of my brain and the enjoyment of helping people,” Kelly explains. “I always had an affinity for numbers, but I had a passion for helping people. You don’t need a specific background to be a financial planner, you just need the right skill set.”
Kelly grew up in Michigan and attended Michigan State University. After a short stay in the hospitality industry, the birth of her daughter precipitated a change and she worked for H&R Block (the beginning of her tax focus) and Ernst and Young. While at E&Y a colleague suggested she consider financial planning as a career focus.
More than 20 years ago, Kelly stumbled upon NAPFA and attended an introduction to fee-only workshop in Chicago. She was drawn to the fee-only model and went on a search for NAPFA advisor firms. Landing coincidently at the source, Kelly spent 2 days sitting in on clients with Bert Whitehead at Cambridge Connection. Kelly recalls, “I thought I was going there for a job interview; Bert thought I was there to become and ACP (then ACA) member. In the end, I was offered a job, and the rest is history.”
Kelly began working for Bert in 1998. She learned the ACP system from its inventor as his senior advisor. “I loved the fact that we did not sell a product, but instead focused on a holistic view all the while helping people live better lives.” Five and a half years later, Kelly was ready to take the next step. She bought out her clients from Bert (about 30) and set out on her own. Harbor Light Planning opened its doors on January 1, 2004. Not long after that, Kelly bought out clients from another ACP practice, bringing her total clients to around 65. After a recession knocked her numbers down to a manageable size, she grew slowly until a recent third succession opportunity led her to buyout the clients of a retiring ACP advisor. Now an established and successful practice, Harbor Light Planning is poised for future expansion.
Through it all she stayed true to the ACP methodology. “ACP is the way I practice. I don’t know any other way to do this.” When ACP dues were raised during a recession, Kelly had considered leaving the organization. “I could not leave the ACP community. It is made up of a group of like-minded people who have your back no matter what.”
And the conferences? “I look forward to the conference every year. I get to hang out with my friends—that’s the best—and I get to learn from my peers. I learn how to make my practice better and I always come back feeling fulfilled.”
When Kelly is not working or hanging out with her ACP friends, you can find her wrangling cats, hiking in the woods, kayaking, and travelling.