Financial Planning Doctors

As seen in… FW Business, July 9, 2012
By: Rick Farrant

Seven years ago, financial planner and recent college graduate Paul Larson was referred to a physician seeking help with his money affairs.

The physician was 47, wanted to retire at 55, and although he was making a significant amount of money, his net worth was less than $100,000. “There was no way he was going to retire at 55,” Larson said. “He had a high income but a lot of debt. He was going to have to make substantial changes in his lifestyle, and we were able to reorganize things and restructure his investments.

“But I thought, ‘This is crazy. How is it that you can have someone who’s giving professional advice but their financials are in horrible shape?’” That one encounter led Larson, a St. Louis native, to form Larson Financial Group, a financial planning firm solely devoted to helping physicians manage their money. And today, four years after the company’s start in Larson’s hometown, it has 70 employees in eight offices around the country serving more than 2,500 physicians in 42 states.

One of those offices is in Fort Wayne, and it was that satellite location, started at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, that convinced Larson and other company leaders the venture could go national, said Tom Martin, managing director of the firm’s Great Lakes region. Fort Wayne’s Martin, 29, and Larson, 30, who worked together early in their careers, share a faith-infused business philosophy that, while not foisted upon clients, offers a wide spectrum of features.

The company’s fees are relatively inexpensive, averaging between $2,500 and $3,500. Clients can opt out and have their money returned if they are not satisfied with the results. Company representatives have included in financial strategies attention to matters involving a family’s personal welfare. And Larson Financial Group schedules mission trips with physicians.

Teams of doctors assembled by Larson Financial Group system-wide have done dental work in Nicaragua, dug wells in Africa and built an eye clinic in the Republic of Moldova. “A big reason why we wanted to start Larson Financial Group, apart from the financial needs of doctors, is that many of them are seeking to find significance in life and direction,” Larson said. “And it’s easy for physicians to get burned out. So I think a big part of what we do is come alongside physicians. One of our jobs is to help them see that there’s more to life than making a lot of money.”

Said Martin: “Our advisers are pretty passionate about serving our clients in ways beyond their financial needs. If people are willing to open up about their money, there’s not a lot that they won’t share with advisers. Sometimes it’s how can we help strengthen their marriages and relationships with children.”

On the strictly financial end of things, the company helps physicians with debt management, contract negotiations, asset protection, tax planning, retirement planning and charitable giving. But Larson Financial Group also assists physicians in purchasing items such as cars and boats.

Physicians, said Larson and Martin, are often too busy to pay close attention to their finances or to plan long-term strategies for their money and legacies. “A lot of these physicians live in the moment, and they have to be in the moment when they’re in the operating room,” said Martin. “As a result, these physicians never get a chance to step back and think about what they are really trying to accomplish in their lives.”

Larson said studies show physicians rank poorly when it comes to replacing their incomes at retirement. “It’s easier and more efficient to rely on (financial services) so that you can focus on what you’re good at,” Larson said. “I think there’s been a cultural shift in our country from finding out what the cheapest thing is to do to finding out what’s going to bring the most value. You see more and more service-oriented companies that are popping up all over the place.”

Larson Financial Group’s approach has led to robust growth, national recognition and partnerships with other regional companies, including Ash Brokerage, MedOptima, Coldwell Banker, Axiom Services and Barrett & McNagny.

The company’s overall revenue has grown more than 70 percent in each of its first four years, Larson said. Revenue growth in the 650-client Great Lakes region, which encompasses Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, rose 155 percent in 2009 over 2008, Martin said.Larson Financial Group has been named one of the nation’s best 150 financial advisers for doctors by Medical Economics magazine and was recognized as one of America’s top financial advisers by Consumers’ Research Council of America.

Martin said one of Larson Financial Group’s key selling points, beyond its service philosophy, is its singular focus on physicians. “This,” he said, “is all we do all the time.”

Dr. Nancy Hockley, a former Fort Wayne urologist, can attest to Larson Financial Group’s caring, attentive and knowledgeable approach. In October 2007, a virus in her right arm led to arterial clotting that eventually forced an amputation at the mid-forearm. “Obviously, being a right-handed surgeon, losing your right arm is a life-altering event,” said Hockley, 52. “And it was around that time that we (she and husband Norman) got to know Tom (Martin).” Martin, she said, carefully worked with her and her husband to draft financial strategies that would take into account a significant drop in income.

“When we first talked to Tom, he was aware of the situation and the fact that I could not longer participate in my usual employment,” said Hockley, who is now working part time as a physician adviser at Lutheran Hospital and director of clinical clerkships at the Indiana University School of Medicine-Fort Wayne. “He helped us reassess our goals and how we were going to reach those goals,” she said. “He takes his time and explains things on a level I can understand. And that is important. As a physician, I would always try to do that for my patients”