Being an independent advisor has both advantages and disadvantages, but Michael Zagari and Edward Simpson of Zagari Simpson & Associates prefer to focus on the former, such as being able to implement the technology they want to help scale their business.
Technology has become the staple behind the practice’s My Planning process, which uses NaviPlan financial planning software to help everyone from young professionals to retirees plan their financial future. So far, the formula has led to success for the practice, which continues to expand its client base and AUM.
Zagari and Simpson met a decade ago while working at Investors Group. “In 2011, I moved to Peak Financial, and Ed and I decided to open an office together about a year after,” Zagari says. “We started the practice with one other advisor and were originally managing about $25 million. At the time we didn’t really have a process, just old habits we learned at Investors Group.”
As the duo evolved and grew their team’s AUM to $220 million, they started implementing financial planning and established the My Planning process. At the same time, they started a radio show, My Planning Hour, on CJAD in Montreal. Both the process and the show led to a huge explosion in their client base.
“I think the show made the My Planning process relatable,” Simpson says. “Then, when we moved to fee-based, clients were really able to see that we believed in the way we were running the business and stood behind our process.”
Zargari and Simpson are diligent when it comes to the clients they take in. Their first step is to see if there is a long-term fit based on the three pillars of their process: trust, chemistry and profitability.
“Trust is such a big deal because clients need to trust in our recommendations without a doubt, or else the relationship won’t last,” Zagari explains. “With chemistry, we want to make sure we have clients who bring the right attitude to the table. With profitability, the relationship has to be profitable for both parties.”
After they have gained sufficient information about the client, Zagari and Simpson build out a plan via the NaviPlan software that allows them to take into consideration both the client’s current situation and future goals. They then run the plan through stress tests and give the client access to it, both digitally and in print.
“We educate our clients throughout the plan,” Simpson says. “We do a walk-through so they understand why we are doing something. We also revisit the plan after six months and update it after a year. We don’t just build it and forget it.”
There’s no doubt that technology has played a huge role in the way Zagari and Simpson have been able to scale their business. The practice has a scheduling program that allows clients to view schedules and make different types of appointments online. Still, they say the biggest impact has been using NaviPlan.
“I think NaviPlan specifically has made it easy to dictate our value,” Simpson says. “Our clients see the impact of the decisions they make. It’s nice because there is a milestone feature that shows if clients are on track to meet their retirement goals, based on their current situation.”
The biggest challenge for the pair has been bulk trading, which is difficult in their current structure. Both have a short-term goal to earn a portfolio manager designation to provide discretionary management, while incorporating more technology and continuing to grow their client base.
Both men acknowledge that the services they currently offer wouldn’t be possible without independence. “Being independent allows us to select the best product based on a client’s best interest,” Simpson says. “Coming from Investors Group, it was a great place to learn the business. We realized that no competition is bad for the client. Competition leads to lower fees and better performance.”
Both Zagari and Simpson landed a spot-on WPC’s Top 50 Advisors list earlier this year, something they view as proof that their approach is working.
“Being an independent can be lonely because there are no pre-set objectives,” Zagari says. “If you don’t set them up for yourself, you don’t know how you are doing. Being on the Top 50 list shows we are meeting the experience provided by the top advisors in the industry. It really helps us believe in what we’re doing.”