Aspart of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Braun-Bostich.
Amy Braun-Bostich, MSFP, CFP®, CFS®, APMA®, CLTC®, is the Founder and CEO of Braun-Bostich & Associates, a comprehensive financial planning and wealth management firm based in the Pittsburgh area. She spends much of her day trying to bring more value to the table for her clients, employees, and family members.
Amy has over 30 years of experience in the Financial Services industry and has invested the time and discipline toward ongoing education to bring her clients the best advice possible. She has a BA in Psychology, a MSFP (Master of Science in Financial Planning), a CFP® (Certified Financial Planner), and an APMA® (Accredited Portfolio Manager Advisor) from the College for Financial Planning. She also has a CFS® (Certified Fund Specialist) from the Institute of Business & Finance and a CLTC® (Certification in Long-Term Care) from the Corporation for Long Term Care.
When trying to separate herself from the business, Amy enjoys reading, walking, traveling, and gardening, but mostly just hanging out with her family. Amy has two children, two dogs, and one husband.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was always interested in finance and human behavior. At the time, early in my career, I worked in equipment leasing on the fourth floor of a large building. Every night around 7pm I would walk down the stairs past a large glass office on the second floor. It was the office of the American Express Financial Advisors Pittsburgh District Manager. He started waving at me and then one day he gestured for me to come over. Long story short, I ended up going to work with them.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take away’ you learned from that?
I was trained to charge a one-time fee of $350 for a financial plan and not to leave the house until I received it. Some nights I was at people’s homes very late — I guess I wore people down. One time I was at a client’s home and the husband got up and went to bed. Later, when I tried to get clients into an ongoing fixed fee arrangement they said, “Hey, I thought this was a one-time deal.” Most of the funny stuff was not really mistakes but rather incidents that happened when I was first starting out. I will not go into all of those incidents here, but I learned that I should think about the future when thinking about being a part of any client’s life and that transactional arrangements were not for me.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I first started out, I had a manager that would push me so hard that I wanted to punch him. But in those days, there was education almost every day, so I learned more in that year than other advisors did in several years, especially about estate taxes. He actually made me hand calculate them! He also wanted me calling prospects at 8am on a Saturday. When I was growing up, my mom used to tell us not to call anyone before 10am on a Saturday or after 10pm any day. The manager would call me every Saturday and say, “Car 54, where are you?”
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
It really has not changed much since the beginning: provide a high level of value and care that helps people achieve their goals and live their lives on their terms with peace of mind. Our principles are integrity, knowledge, stewardship, creativity, and transparency.
Thank you for all that. Let us now turn to the focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Two events stand out in my mind: 9/11 and the financial crash of 2008. I do not think I have been as concerned about anything as I was then. The events of 9/11 were very scary. My son was very young, and I remember closing the office and rushing home to get him from day care. It is okay to show that you’re scared in those circumstances, but as a leader you also must show strength and certainty that things will get better. We doubled down on client calls and used history to help everyone remain calm about the future.
During the 2008 financial crisis, I remember pacing the floors. I was having trouble sleeping and I was secretly scared that the wheels were coming off the financial institutions that we depend on. Talking to clients, doing research, and having client web conferences helped people feel more secure that the future would be brighter. I’m not sure that my staff really knew how concerned I was, but we kept plugging away and things turned out fine.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I thought of giving up once or twice, but mostly in the beginning. It is very hard to build a firm from scratch, especially if you are unwilling to give up your basic principles on what you would like to deliver to the clients and how you would like to charge. What I mean by that is to not push product for the sake of a commission. It is easy to convince yourself that a client needs this or that if there is a big pay day at the end of the sale. I have never been comfortable with that and converted to fees early on in my career even though my broker-dealer punished me for it. If you employ perseverance, you get the results in time. Knowing that people depend on us makes what we do meaningful and motivates us to do more.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
To remain calm and to provide a shoulder for the anxieties of others. To lead with guidance and compassion, and to remain steadfast in the direction of your strategy. Also, accountability is really important.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
To explain the future in context of the past. To show how periods of uncertainty provide the best springboard for opportunity. As the Chinese saying goes: Crisis is opportunity riding on a dangerous wind. Teams are inspired when they enjoy their work and when they can excel. Nothing is worse than going to work everyday and not knowing how, or if, what you do makes a difference.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Compassionately, transparently, and unambiguously.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
You start with a plan, so you have a footing. You adjust as the tides change. But without a plan to begin with, you end up very far from where you want to be. Having a plan aids in weathering the unpredictability of life. A good plan also analyzes risk and directs strategies that help minimize or mitigate the devastation of certain risks financially. Plans evolve and can also inform you of the long-term effects of spending on your future. It can be a source of bad behavior modification.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Give more than you receive.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Biggest mistake: Retreat from view. Businesses get paralyzed with fear when things are difficult. It’s important to put yourself out there, communicate with clients, and show compassion. Clients must know you are in it with them and that you feel their pain.
- Second biggest mistake: Fatalism. You must have a plan prior to things getting rough, or at least afterwards, a way to navigate out. Some businesses have a culture where they think that they will never recover. If you feel that way, what will you do to make things better?
- Third biggest mistake: Not adjusting to changing business dynamics. As we have learned from the global pandemic, life can change quickly, and businesses should be able to adjust to stay viable. Businesses must look to the future and decide if they are prepared for changes that will most definitely occur. If the answer is no, then part of the strategy should be learning how to get there. This reminds me of Schumpeter’s creative destruction.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Decide ahead of time what you should do to insure financial stability. Review how to reduce expenses (while fixed expenses are difficult to cut, discretionary are not). Keep mandatory expenses at a minimum and liabilities low, and try to build cash. If payroll overhead is too high and the situation is becoming financially dire, have a plan of whom to cut and how to absorb their duties. Use strategies to get more clients into the door by changing your approach or offering free information on how to reduce client anxiety or pain during turbulent times.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be compassionate. People have different things going on in their lives that you do not always know about. If someone needs to improve in an area, give them time and nudge them along. From time to time, I have had employees underperform. It is almost always that they have something else going on in their lives or that they are doing work that is wrong for their skill set. Giving them time to improve or changing job duties is absolutely the best choice. Employees need to know that they can be truthful with you without any punitive retribution.
- Be patient. We all learn, adapt, and understand at different paces. Leaders are usually very decisive, right or wrong. It may take someone else more time to understand your concepts and strategies, and you need to be patient with them as they work through the process.
- Double down on service. Reaching out to clients helps you understand what they are concerned about and how you can better serve them. Over the last 30 years, we have saved dozens of clients from cashing out at the worst possible time just by reaching out to them. I know several clients that have told me that, and we have helped them immensely by being there to shoulder the burden.
- Stay focused on the future and the path forward. If you dwell on what happened in the past, you can get bogged down in hopelessness and give up. I always look at a situation and ask how to make the best of it. This is true even when I am hurting as well. If you envision a future of your design and making, you will find a better way to move forward and not get stuck in repetitive negativity cycles. You may even come out ahead of the game. I know when COVID hit and we were all working from home, we developed better processes which allowed us to move ahead in a more effective way.
- Ask for help. When I started my own RIA, I had no clue as to what I should be doing. For part of the process, I hired an advisor tech expert, and it was money well spent. I could have easily wasted thousands of dollars entertaining things I did not need. Leaders sometimes feel they must know everything and be the expert in a variety of fields, but I disagree. A leader’s job is to find the best resources and put them to work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be a great, good fortune.” — Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Time and time again when I thought I would not recover from something devasting, the future outcome became brighter. It is through pain that we learn. I am reminded of three terrible years in the market: 2000, 2001, and 2002. Income was stressed and I was putting money into the business to keep everyone employed. Finally, when I had started to deplete money that I had set aside for my daughter, I cut payroll. It was hard, but in the end, it was the best move for everyone — including the people I let go. The business came back even stronger, and we were able to offer more services and value to our clients.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Be sure to check out our website at https://www.Braun-Bostich.com to learn more about us and access educational resources. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and follow Braun-Bostich & Associates on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.