What jobs did you hold before Waller Financial?
- I worked as a busboy for Adornetto’s Pizza in Zanesville, then after that I delivered for Johnston’s Pharmacy in Frazeysburg. When I started at Ohio State University, I worked in the office staff in Taylor Tower, the honors dorm at the time. Into my second year at OSU, I obtained a position as an office manager for Morrill Tower and had a staff of twelve people that I managed. I kept that job the rest of my time at OSU, which paid for all of my room and board. During the entire time at OSU, I also served in the Ohio Army National Guard, which paid my tuition. During a couple of my summer breaks, I worked at AK Steel (it paid well, but it also taught me I didn’t want to do that work as a career!) Finally, in 1990, I worked as an intern with Waller Financial, and then accepted a full-time position just before I graduated. I was fortunate to leave OSU with no debt, but I also didn’t have a lot of fun. Between being a full-time student, in the Army National Guard, office manager, my internship position at Waller Financial, it pretty much took all my time.
Tell us about your beginning days at Waller Financial.
- One summer during my time at OSU, I really wanted to stay in Columbus; however, I needed to find a full-time job so that I could keep paying for school, and an apartment. My hall director, at Morrill Tower, suggested I talk with a friend of hers who was hiring. It turned out to be Larry Waller. I had no idea what financial planning was, but knew that it would be good experience for my degree. Larry interviewed me, gave me a short math test, and hired me. I remember him telling me at the time that he could only pay me for 20 hours a week. I initially panicked, knowing I needed to work full time. Fortunately, I was able to secure a summer job with Residence and Dining Halls helping assign rooms for the dormitories. During winter breaks, Larry hired me full time. I really enjoyed the work and the learning experience.
What do you remember about your first day at Waller Financial?
- There were huge piles of Flex Funds statements that had to be input. There was only one computer. I was in the back office. Debbie Fisher, para planner, sat in the back with me and explained how everything worked. It was simple data input for a while. I worked only 20 hours a week then, so I was only doing basic stuff. A lot of filing was needed because there were a lot of hard copy files – financial planning files, security files, insurance files, so I had to learn how to file all of those things.
- I remember delivering my first financial plan to a client. Larry and Mark, both had meetings and were unable to deliver the plan. Larry explained that I would need to deliver the plan, and that I was ready to do so. I thought in my mind “holy cow!” I walked into the meeting, sat down, and it turned out to be much easier than I thought. Since I’d written the plan, I knew it inside and out. It was a great experience.
- At one point, in the early days, Larry Waller had me do some of the training and deal with the human resources aspect. In hindsight, I wasn’t very good in that role. It taught me the parts I enjoy most: client and advisor interactions, charitable giving, income tax and estate planning.
What has changed since your first days at Waller Financial?
- I would say, “What hasn’t changed?” Everything, it has all changed, there are now networks and the internet, we are fee-only now, we refer all insurance to outside partners, everything is stored electronically- we don’t really keep hard files anymore. We have multiple planners meeting with clients rather than one or two.
- From an industry standpoint, many advisory firms are becoming fee-only practices, and we are starting to see second generation firms, as many founders step down.
- The computers and softwares have changed. Larry deserves a lot of this credit, he was always ahead of the curve with softwares like dbCAMS, which we’ve had since ’87. We’ve also had ProPlan and NaviPlan. Now, EMX is beyond that and it’s close to the silver bullet we’ve been looking for. As long as I’ve worked here, Larry said there should be a way to put together a plan less manually. We weren’t able to do that back then, but it’s happening now. It’s taken that long because, if you think about it, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERS™ were relatively unknown. Before I came into the industry I had never even heard of it. When I received my finance degree, I thought I would work for a bank or work on Wall Street. My view of the world of what finance could be was so limited. The CFP® designation has been around 45-50 years; nothing like the legal, medical or accounting professions. The CFP® designation is still relatively young, but its importance is becoming more prevalent. The biggest thing is awareness of what a CFP® is and how they can help people financially.
What is one task in the office you hope you never have to do again?
- I don’t want to input another stack of Flex Fund statements…ever.
What have you learned from rising through the ranks of Waller Financial?
- It was a great opportunity to grow with the firm “organically.” By starting out at the lowest level, as an intern, I learned this business inside and out – I’ve done everything here, in one form or another. When I first joined, there were only a handful of us. I have made a lot of mistakes over the years, but I’ve grown from them. I have learned that you don’t have to know everything – you just have to hire people that know things you don’t, and hire people that are smarter than you are. By doing this, we have built a great team that complements one another. The team approach, is what I feel, best serves our clients.
- I have learned it’s important to find something you are passionate about. By doing so, you find that it is not just a job, but rather a life’s work. My parents taught me two big lessons: (1) Find something you love to do, then do it; It doesn’t matter how much money you make, if you despise what you do, you won’t live a rewarding life, and (2) do the right thing by other people, and making a profit is something you can’t avoid. Those lessons really resonated with me.
- One of the big things that Larry Waller taught me was the charitable aspect. He’s always been very charitably-inclined and he instilled that in me because my family wasn’t able to give money or volunteer much. Larry taught me it’s about making the world a better place. It’s not about what you keep, its about what you give away.
Why did you stay at Waller Financial for 25 years and not seek a new adventure?
- Because I was always growing; my growth at the firm has never been inhibited. Whenever I wanted to further my education, Larry and the company were willing to pay for it. Larry always recognized the value of education. If my growth path had ever been inhibited, I would have looked elsewhere. I’ve always wanted more responsibility, to give input on how the business is run and the ability to help more people. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a part of that. I always felt that I had a piece of the pie. I have always been in control of my growth and my future.
Who has been your mentor?
- When most people think of mentors, they assume they are older than you, but that’s not the case. They are people from whom you learn important lessons. I continue to learn, and I continue to have new mentors. Just because I’ve become a partner does not mean I have arrived – it means I’m different from who I was 25 years ago.
- My parents have been my biggest mentors, instilling in me a great work ethic, and immense integrity.
- Larry Waller was a great influence on me, educating me about financial planning, and instilling the importance of charitable giving and giving back to the community. He taught me how to dress professionally, and how to go out and meet other professionals. I’ve learned a lot from my partners, Jason Eliason, Jason Farris and Chris Olsgard, and I continue to learn from them.
What made you dedicate your life to helping others financially?
- Well, it didn’t start out that way. I’ve always loved math, so when I went to OSU I thought I was going to go into something involving Imaginary Numbers or Theoretical Math. Although I liked the thought of the challenge, my vision of being in a room, with a white coat, and all by myself didn’t really appeal to me. So, I went the business route, and took some entry finance courses. After I had the summer internship here Waller Financial I enjoyed helping others with their finances. What Larry taught me about helping people really appealed to me. It fit like a glove. I got to meet new people, be a knowledgeable professional, and provide important advice that will impact clients’ lives on a daily basis and through retirement.
Was there a defining moment you knew you made the right decision to be a financial planner?
- There were a few moments that I knew I had made the right decision because of feelings I experienced. Seeing the impact that I have made on clients by providing sound advice has been all worth it. There have been personal notes and phone calls where clients told me how much they appreciate my advice and help. I don’t know how much longer I am going to do this, but I know I want to do it with people I enjoy being around, and with people that appreciate and value what Waller Financial does. I never go to bed and think that I should have done something differently. The only regret I have each night is that there aren’t more hours in the day, and that I don’t have enough energy to do more.
What would you most like to see change in the financial planning industry in the next 25 years?
- I would like to see more awareness of the CFP® designation, awareness of the importance of financial planning, and more financial education in schools. I believe young adults need to have a better understanding of budgeting, saving and debt management. Fiscal responsibility is also very important. I think our nation would be in a much better position if more people were in control of their finances, rather than the other way around.
What do you love most about Waller Financial?
- The people, both the clients and the employees. My colleagues make it a fun environment to work in, and I love that we work together as a team. We have truly become a family. We value and respect one another, and have our clients’ best interest at heart. I get to work with clients who value and appreciate what we do. I get to work with other advisors who care about the clients as much as we do. At the end of the day, it’s the people, because without people I would not enjoy my job, my career, my life’s work; I just wouldn’t enjoy it.
What do you miss most about being at the Columbus office?
- Every morning, I would come in early and at about 8:15am, I would grab my cup of coffee and walk around to every office and give “Charlie Sunshine.” I got to see everyone and really connect with them. I knew that after that I would get swept away in meetings, phone calls, emails, and all the “stuff” that happens during the day. Those short daily conversations are what I miss most, by far.
What do you like about being in Florida?
- The weather…oh, and spreading all the good stuff we do in Columbus to Southwest Florida, because we want to help everyone. We think everyone should be able to experience the great stuff we do at Waller Financial. But you can only do it a little bit at a time. I like being able to create that foot print in Florida and spread the word, that’s my favorite thing to do, tell the Waller story.
Do you have any plans for retirement?
- I always say, “’retirement’ is an outdated term.” People don’t retire, they reprioritize their life. Their career is no longer a priority. For some people, those new priorities are grandkids, or golf, or for some people it’s traveling. I would say that as long as what I’m doing is fun and the people with whom I work with value what I bring to the table, I will continue.
- Ultimately, I think it would be really fun to be a Walmart greeter. Think of how many people are unhappy or really don’t like their jobs. If I could get one smile or chuckle out of the people that come and go, I think that would be gratifying. I think I could be the best greeter Walmart ever had…with my picture on the wall every month as “Employee of the Month!”
- When I’m not being a Walmart greeter, I’ll be doing more volunteer work with organizations like Junior Achievement.
To learn more about Charlie Kerwood, check out his biography.