As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or advisor, I had the pleasure of interviewing David B. Armstrong, CFA, President & Co-Founder of Monument Wealth Management.
Dave is a combat veteran and served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps on both active duty and in the reserves, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. While serving on active duty, Dave was unable to spend money on deployments, so he became a self-taught investor. After retiring from the military, his investing performance grew to be good enough for him to pursue an MBA allowing him to become a CFA Charterholder and work for large Wall Street firms before co-founding Monument Wealth Management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
While I was serving on active duty, I couldn’t spend any money during deployments. So, I taught myself how to invest. As the internet age began in its infancy in the late 90’s, a whole world opened up to me to be able to access and research information on individual stocks and I started getting into building my own portfolios. I quickly determined in the course of about 12 months that I had a greater passion for portfolio and wealth management than I did being a Marine Corps officer. So, I decided to get out of the Marine Corps and go back to graduate school where I could get a formal education in business, which I didn’t receive during my undergrad. I wanted to learn a lot more about all aspects of Finance from an education perspective. So, I got my MBA and then from there just started charting my path in the industry.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
So, this is a lesson in just paying attention, keeping your cool, concentrating on what’s going on, and not getting flustered.
I ended up doing some interviews after graduation and I had an interview with Goldman Sachs. It’s a gold standard for wealth management and I was really excited about an opportunity to go interview there. I ended up sitting down with a higher-level executive and either his first or last name was Bailey. Since I really wanted to remember his name, I came up with a mnemonic. Champ Bailey was this really good defensive back football player for the University of Georgia so I kept repeating Champ Bailey in my head so I could remember this executive’s name.
As the interview goes on, I’m getting flustered because he’s asking me challenging questions and I’m finding myself feeling challenged when all of a sudden, he abruptly ends the interview. As I stand up to shake his hand, I say, “Well, thanks a lot, Champ.” He had no idea I was doing this name associating in my head and I walked out of the interview, called my wife, and told her I wasn’t getting the job. There’s a great lesson here, and it’s making sure you’re well-researched enough to know who you’re interviewing with and maybe not associating their names with famous athletes. The same goes for clients. It’s important to be really present and concentrating on what’s happening before you.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m really excited about the digital marketing plan that we’re undertaking right now because I think so much of the industry has changed the way consumers are shopping for advice currently. And the pandemic didn’t cause this, I think it just accelerated it. There was so much volatility in the market, so many unanswered questions, and just this thirst for good online information.
People started coming to us with all of this information and education about what they should be doing with their portfolios and they were new clients we had never met before. It was surprising, until we started thinking about the increase we were seeing in the number of our blog subscriptions and readership. These clients had just come across our information online.
So, we began to ask ourselves that if this was something that was bringing in new clients in the middle of a downturn, then we should actually be investing some of our financial resources and really building this out to be more robust.
Whether someone is looking to be a do-it-yourself investor or use the content as a gateway to put them in touch with a wealth management team, it’s more important than ever to be putting out great online content that resonates with people.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
I don’t know if there was a tipping point as much as there were moments, right? Because I feel a tipping point makes it seem like my career had moved from bad to good. I feel like there were more just small, incremental wins that added up.
If I had to pick a significant point in my career where I thought wow, this is really important to me, then it was the day that I realized that I wanted to start my own firm. I remember that day as I was walking down the hallway and I saw Dean Catino, my business partner, sitting in his office. I walked into his office and because we had been friends and had similar philosophies on the way to run this business, I wanted to ask him if he had ever thought about starting up his own firm. When I posed the question to him, he told me to come on in and close the door. I’ll never forget that moment and figuring out that running my own firm was not only in my clients’ best interests, but actually in mine and Dean’s best interests, and in the best interests of frankly everybody who would eventually be joining our team.
What three pieces of advice would you give to your colleagues in the finance field to thrive and avoid burnout? Can you give a story or example?
If you’re just starting out, find a way to integrate yourself into an existing team so that you can work on really becoming a practitioner in the industry rather than a salesperson. Also, work on your your ability in dispensing real advice rather than solely relying on solutions to be the catalysts for advice.
If you’re already achieving some sort of work-life balance, continue to focus on that even in a work-from-home environment. Some people that used to work 9–5, Monday through Friday are now working 7 days a week because they can, but it’s important to still have balance there.
Ok. Thank you for all of that. Let’s now move to the core focus of our interview. As an “finance insider”, you know much more about the finance industry than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to hire a financial advisor (not you :-)), which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing? Can you give an example or story for each?
1) Know whether or not the financial advisor they’re hiring is going to act as a fiduciary — Unfortunately, in a world where everybody can call themselves a financial advisor, everyone will. Not every financial advisor is obligated to act in a client’s best interest which may sound crazy, but it’s true. True fiduciaries are legally bound to act in the client’s best interest.
2) Know how a financial advisor is getting paid — Nobody works for free and it’s important to understand exactly how that person is getting paid so that you can understand what could potentially be impacting their recommendations.
3) Know the structure of the team you’re working with — It’s not uncommon to see a big team of financial advisors in website imagery, but it’s possible that a lot of those advisors are just trying to get new clients or they’re operational assistants helping with paperwork. Just because it may look like a large team, doesn’t mean it is.
4) Know your financial advisor’s credentials — What kinds of certificates have they earned? What’s their educational background? What kind of experience do they have? It’s vital to have answers to these questions prior to engagement.
5) Know what services they offer — Make sure you understand the services offered from the beginning of your relationship and take advantage of all features that are applicable to you.
I think most people think that financial advisors are for very wealthy people. This is likely not actually true. Can you explain who would most benefit from hiring a financial advisor and why? Can you give an example?
There’s a financial advisor out there for everybody. You just need to find them. The fact that this digital revolution and our adoption of video and work-from-home policies has really opened up everybody’s ability to hire a financial advisor without any sort of geographical constraint. So much can be done virtually now, which means that anyone, anywhere, can find someone to suit their needs.
I know a lot of our clients now have children who are in their early 20’s and the parents are leveraging our team to ensure they’re being educated about the financial strategies they should know and be participating in as young adults.
None of us are able to 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 about that?
There are a few people. First, there are my parents because I think they did such a great job of instilling some great values in me. My dad also taught me early on about how to look up stock tickers in the newspaper before the internet was around.
I’m very grateful to everyone I served with in the Marine Corps because I feel like collectively, they were all responsible for providing me with the formative experiences that led me to be the person I am today.
And lastly, a gentleman named Rob Tanner who has since passed away, was my very first manager in this business. He ran the training program that I went through in 1999 and I worked under him for six straight months in New York City. He was a very difficult person to work for because he had very high standards and was very blunt in his criticism. I don’t think that I would have been anywhere near the level of success that I’ve achieved in my life or in this industry if it wasn’t for him training me in the very beginning.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d love to create a movement where young people coming out of college or even high school can be exposed to the career of wealth management and financial planning because I don’t think there’s a natural conduit from college into our industry. And so, if everyone in our industry took some time and applied it towards mentoring programs or even employing young people, it would show them that this is a career field that they can pursue.
How can our readers follow you on social media?