First and foremost, I would like to graciously thank you for coming by and checking out our very first blog post!
It is my pleasure to invite you on this journey where through bi-weeklyish blog posts we will discover some relevant truths about money and finances as well as uncovering and exposing some of the pitfalls to watch out for.
Of course, all work and no play makes Jack (or David) a dull boy so an occasional tale of my outdoor adventures may sneak in from time to time. As an avid hiker, backpacker, and aspiring trail runner I am passionate about outdoor adventures and helping individuals and families, through financial planning and coaching, be positioned to maximize both the time they can spend doing that which they love and the enjoyment they extract from engaging in ‘their thing’. So, with that in mind grab your pack and a bottle of water and let’s head on down this trail!
Today I am going to be conducting a brief interview with David Fowler the President and Founder of High Mountain Financial Coaching (yup – I’m going to be interviewing myself!). David will tell us a bit about his background, what makes him tick, why he started High Mountain Financial Coaching and the change he hopes to bring to the world.
Hi David, welcome and so glad to have you here, thanks for making the time to meet with me!
David: It’s my pleasure David, I appreciate the invite and I’m glad to be here!
So obviously I know a lot about you, but for those who are reading this who do not, tell us a bit about yourself and how you wound up in the financial business.
David: Sure, well for starters I had a great childhood as a kid. I grew up in the town of West Milford, NJ which when we lived there was in the sticks. But for a boy it was amazing – the house was on a dead-end road that backed up to miles and miles of woods, so my brother and I were literally out in the woods from sunup to sundown (when we were not in school of course). We used to go hiking, go fishing, go swimming in the lakes – there was a new adventure every day. That is of course where I got my affinity for the great outdoors. We moved to Allendale, NJ when I was going into 7th grade where things were a bit more suburban. I participated in football and wrestling, went to college and then got to work. I found my way into financial services in 2006 and have been here one way or another ever since.
Wow so you have been in the business for going on two decades! What has that looked like for you?
David: Like a lot of folks in this industry I started off with a major financial services firm. I became insurance and securities licensed and got after it and did quite well. I drank the corporate Kool-Aid, went through their product training, and sold with the toolbox I had (which only had company approved tools in it).
I think what happens in this industry though is as your knowledge base starts expanding you hit one of those Blue Pill – Red Pill moments like from the movie The Matrix. You can take the Blue Pill, ignore what you are seeing, put your head down and stay a company guy selling company products as those are the ones most beneficial to your compensation. Or you can take the Red Pill and start seeing, as Morpheus says to Neo in The Matrix, “how deep the rabbit hole goes”.
As my eyes opened I began to see that at times products from other companies were better fits for some clients – yet because they weren’t proprietary products of my company I wasn’t allowed to use them.
I started to see how the active managers that were being touted by investment wholesalers would oftentimes underperform the market, and instead of any explanation of why that was, new ones were promoted to us on a ever rotating lineup. I began to see how clients were paying hefty hidden fees for certain products, and started to see how ‘financial planning’ was just being used as a lever to cram more product sales down the customers throats. As my eyes opened, like Neo I swallowed the red pill and couldn’t turn back.
After a few major conflicts with management over my wanting access to what I felt were more appropriate solutions and getting nowhere, I did not feel I could serve my clients best interest being chained to a product line. I resigned about 2 years in and became an independent insurance agent, with the intention of starting my own Registered Investment Advisor firm.
As Neil Sedaka sang in the 60’s ‘breaking up is hard to do’ – the transition was difficult but I cannot say that time was all bad. I had become a Christian in 1997 and over time had drifted away from faith, however during this trying time I reconnected with God and began reestablishing that foundation. Romans 8:28 say ‘God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God’ and looking back I see the truth in that.
I worked solely with insurance for a bit then added investments back in the mix by teaming up with a local Registered Investment Advisor firm. The last few years that itch resurfaced telling me the best way to serve my client’s needs is to be fully independent and so last year I started my own firm – High Mountain Financial Coaching LLC.
You certainly have seen a lot of different sides of the industry – having spent time with an insurance carrier, a broker dealer, as an independent insurance agent and with a small RIA firm. Can you elaborate on what led you to create High Mountain Financial Coaching?
David: There were several events that led to my finally spreading my wings and jumping out of the nest. My experience with the big insurance house and their broker dealer really put a bad taste in my mouth. Once the blinders started coming off I saw a few different aspects of the industry I couldn’t live with in good conscience. As I mentioned earlier the restricted product line was a big thorn in my side but that was just the tip of the iceberg. I saw the unfortunate reality that in that space at the time production and product sales were what mattered, seemingly more than the client’s best interest.
On the investment side things were just as sketchy. Wholesalers would come in and tell us what the ‘best’ funds were – which incidentally were funds their company owned, or if not those funds were were shown the best ‘5 star’ funds that would be great for our clients – often wrapped up with a bow in a high-cost variable annuity. It seemed like after selling their recommendations to clients these same ‘5 star’ funds would then underperform the market, at which point a new crop of ‘best’ funds would be trotted out. If we were not trying to pick the best stocks and mutual funds we were trying to figure out when to get in and out of the market which was a fools game as well.
I was really wrestling with what I was being instructed to do versus the results those marching orders produced. Things came to a head when I participated in a training class where I saw statistical and academic evidence that backed up what I was already seeing – that very seldom does stock picking, market timing, and trying to pick the best funds beat market rates of return, and much of what was (and is) being touted as investment advice amounted to nothing more than looking into a crystal ball or tea leaf reading. I had a catharsis moment and knew I could not continue to operate in the manner which I was being ‘taught’.
That is what happened on the business side of things. On the personal side there was a lot going on as well. I went through a divorce several years later – and as anyone who goes through that unfortunate event knows there is a lot of soul searching that occurs. I of course had the additional facet of wrestling through divorce as a man of faith.
Working through the emotional upheaval that comes with such an event caused me to realize I had lost a lot of myself and had ceased pursuing my personal interests over the years – particularly my time in the outdoors. The grind had taken over and my precious time in the outdoors ceased – for years. During my divorce I rediscovered how time alone in the wilderness was an integral part of my life, just as it is for anyone who loves being in nature. I started hiking again, then got into backpacking, and shortly after started trail-running.
In our modern world it is hard to maintain balance. Juggling career, faith, family, and personal interests makes it hard to take time for everything and too often we sacrifice ourselves and our own well-being for everything else. Planning, saving and investing for the future is of course of great importance, but equally important is living a life you love today.
High Mountain Financial Coaching exists to help people live purposeful, passionate, adventure filled lives – both today and tomorrow.
Our lives and our time here on Earth are too precious to be squandered away, and along with our money should have a definite purpose. Our work centers on planning and investing for individuals and families who want to build a life that works for them both today and tomorrow. For many of our clients that involves a healthy dose of time in the great outdoors. We create through collaboration the path to run on. That is the first part.
The next part is establishing the guardrails that keep us on course. That is where coaching comes into the equation. We can build the ‘best’ plan or the ‘best’ investment portfolio and it means nothing if our behavior derails it. Without going too far down the rabbit hole for the most part we, as human beings, aren’t wired to be great investors and we aren’t great at sticking to plans. Left to our own devices we are run by emotions, habits, and biases. Coaching is the doorway by which to overcome this roadblock, and is facilitated by a combination of periodic reviews, coaching calls and education events designed to empower our clients and help them build and live their ideal lives, both in the present and in the future.
I know it often seems that when people do business with the bigger firms out there, they wind up being little more than a name and a number to the bottom line.
Oftentimes once someone buys a product they never hear from the company or their ‘advisor’ again unless it is to try to sell them something else.
It sounds like you really care about your clients and want to equip them to truly have successful, meaningful lives. You mentioned how outdoor adventures are important to you. To wrap up our time today, what has been your favorite adventure to date?
David: That’s a great question! While it’s hard to pick one I would have to say my favorite trip so far has been backpacking in Zion National Park.
I first hiked the Narrows top-to-bottom hike, spending the night at campsite #12 right beside the river. The Narrows is a great hike – it is a slot canyon where you literally hike in the river. A private shuttle drops you off at a ranch and you start hiking along a steam. As you follow the stream the canyon rises above you until you are in the river with walls 1000 feet above you. I went in April and the water was mostly knee to thigh deep, though at one point it was chest deep (I’m 6’4” so it was deep!).
After spending the night I hiked out the next morning and took another shuttle to the other side of the park where I was dropped off on the Connector Trail and hiked to the Wildcat Canyon Trail where I spent the night. What was wild about the 2nd day is I started the morning in a slot canyon hiking in 3 feet of water. After finishing The Narrows the 2nd shuttle dropped me off in the high desert where it was hot and dry, and I hiked to and spent the night inside a pine forest. Three quite different ecosystems in one day.
Day 3 I continued to hike through Wildcat Canyon, merged onto the West Rim Trail and spent the night at Campsite #6 where I had some amazing views of the valley below.
Day 4 I finished the West Rim trail (I passed by Angel’s Landing but skipped it – I don’t do anything where gravity has a good chance of winning!) and took the park shuttle bus back to the parking lot. Zion was amazing and I highly recommend for everyone to go see it. It is a fantastic park to backpack in but what is also great is the park has an astounding shuttle bus system so even doing the regular tourist thing you can see many of the amazing views. I will go back at some point.
Well there you have it, thank you for reading the inaugural blog post for High Mountain Financial Coaching!
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