Julie Lawrence first became interested in financial planning because of the lifestyle it could provide. At the time she was working for Aetna. Though she started in the marketing department with the company, she went on to run a claim and phone division before settling into a role leading a national process improvement team. With employees all over the country, Julie’s job was incredibly stressful. “You don’t know misery until you’ve worked a corporate job,” she says with some levity. Luckily, Julie was able to close that chapter in her life and start something new, thanks to ACP.
It was Julie’s own personal financial planner who helped inspire her to break into a new career. She was working with Kathleen Rehl, a long-time ACP member, and Julie was struck by how happy Kathleen was. “Here she was working from home, loving her job, and making good money while I was miserable in the corporate setting,” Julie recounts. Kathleen urged Julie to consider becoming a financial planner. She had a background that would lend itself to the job and she had the motivation to branch out into a new career path. In 2001, Julie decided to take the plunge. In her role with Aetna, she oversaw layoffs, so she laid herself off and used her year of severance to work on her CFPÒ.
Julie first opened her practice in 2003. She began as a Garrett planner, which meant she was being paid hourly. Though the Garrett model allowed her to be fee-only, it didn’t allow her to build the kind of practice she wanted. “The Garrett model meant really just scraping by,” she says. Knowing that she needed more experience in investment management, Julie joined a NAPFA firm. Her three years there were invaluable, but with the focus on bringing in assets, she found the experience somewhat hollow. “You couldn’t tell people what else they should be doing in their financial lives. It was all about investments,” she says.
In 2008, when the financial crisis hit, Julie realized that the pay structure she was using meant that her pay was cut 50% even though she was doing the same or even more work. Luckily, that’s also when she discovered ACP. She attended the conference that year and was struck by the group. “No one was the same,” she says. “It was an incredibly diverse group with one thing in common—the drive to take good care of their clients. It was so refreshing after working with investment advisors.”
A year later Julie attended the ACP training. She was impressed with the diverse backgrounds of other people in her class. There was an attorney, a marketing executive, and an office manager, among others, and everyone brought their own unique history. The week they spent together was a bonding experience. For a year after the training they met regularly as a group for support. Even today, Julie still reaches out to members of her training class.
Although right on the heels of a financial crisis might seem like a difficult time to open a practice, it worked out well for Julie. She was able to buy out her clients from the NAPFA firm at a great price. As she started her practice, ACP helped make everything easier. Clients were easier to sign and much more engaged in the process. Though Julie had been in the industry for over five years, ACP helped fill in the gaps in her understanding of what clients needed. One of the things that most surprised Julie in shifting to a comprehensive financial planning approach was the depth of the connections she formed with clients, particularly when it came to goal setting and visionary work. “No one warns you how emotional it can be,” she says. Luckily, years of being a manager had given Julie plenty of experience navigating emotionally charged situations.
After starting out, Julie’s practice grew quickly. The part-time assistant she hired became a full-time operations manager. Every three years she had to move to a bigger space. Around this time Kathleen Rehl retired and Julie purchased a portion of her clients. Julie connected with Forrest Baumhover, who had a firm down the street. He joined Julie’s practice and in May of this year, he officially became a partner. It was a challenging transition to make in the midst of a global pandemic, but they were able to pull it off successfully. “We haven’t even had time to celebrate,” Julie says. The practice continues to grow steadily, though they aim to grow slowly to provide the best service to their clients.
ACP has been an incredible community for Julie. “I appreciate the people and the ideas that come out of the group. Brainstorming with people who all have different perspectives makes the experience so rich,” she says. When asked what makes ACP so special, she compares an ACP meeting to another group. “If you go to an FPA meeting, it can feel like you walked into a foreign country and you don’t belong. ACP feels like home,” she says.
Over the years Julie has served as a mentor for ACP, helping new advisors get their practices going. She’s also worked on the Technology Committee and the Advanced Planners Retreat. Her willingness to give back is inspired by ACP members. “I’ve been amazed at the thoughtfulness, kindness, and brilliance of the group,” she says.