Guiding Star in Montana’s Financial Planning Scene

Famed motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar is often quoted as saying, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

Jay Stenzel took that message to heart and he made it the guiding philosophy of his firm, Guide Star Financial, Inc., Commonwealth, based in Great Falls, Montana.

His interest in all things financial began early. In fact, in high school he started looking for ways to invest his money but found it difficult to get momentum – in the 1970s, options like mutual funds weren't popular. A few years later while in college, he answered an employment ad from a firm looking for financial advisors. He was hired and within three years, Stenzel had worked his way up to management position. Some 23 years later, he was managing most of the firm’s offices throughout Montana and led the growth of his office from $40 million to $800 million in assets.

Success, though, can come at a price, and Stenzel knew that his career was taking a toll on his health. For a number of years, he considered opening his own independent financial planning firm. It seemed like a natural move for the veteran financial planner. Along the way, he had earned various accreditations, including that of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and Chartered Financial Consultant®. He also led a wide range of complicated financial planning situations involving estate and income planning, and he was adept in hiring and training advisors.
So, in 2016, he pointed his knowledge and experience towards the launch of Guide Star Financial, supported by Commonwealth Financial Network.

“My goal was to take those experiences and leverage them going forward to benefit my clientele now,” said Stenzel, adding that since the firm opened, it has experienced significant growth and is poised to continue.

Most clients of Guide Star Financial have known Stenzel for some time and appreciate a long-term approach to investing instead of chasing market trends. What he has found to be successful through the years is what he calls the “Warren Buffet-type approach” – sticking to the basic principles of buy and hold and understanding current tax, estate, and other related laws and regulations.

“Most financial advisors have access to the same products and services as most of the other firms. It's what you have to offer as an individual and it's how you apply your knowledge and experiences through financial planning,” he said.

Often, many clients don't have a firm grasp on their goals on their first visit to Guide Star Financial. They know they want to retire, but that's not specific enough. The foundation of the firm's service is to guide clients in establishing dollar amounts, timelines, and explaining how to achieve those goals.

“I once read that if you can't explain the concept so that the average person can understand the it, then you don't understand it well enough yourself,” said Stenzel adding that clients will make good decisions if they have a basic understanding and if they're informed of their choices. “Technically, you can simplify financial concepts to a point where clients feel comfortable that they have enough information to make a decision.”

There are other ways for people to familiarize themselves with investment options and take an active role in their own financial planning. For instance, robo-advisors are online financial planning platforms driven by algorithms that are available for people to use but offer very little, or no interaction with an actual financial advisor. Stenzel says some robo-advisor platforms can be useful, but they have their limits.

“For the most part, robo-advisors do a great job during the accumulation phase. It's a simple way for the average person to maximize their 401(k) or get into the appropriate growth investments,” he said.

But when clients get to the stage in their lives where many decisions have to be made – like using their assets as income, social security disbursements, whether it’s time to sell their home, or how to best utilize their other investments – Stenzel says that much more guidance and an established relationship with a planner is needed.

“I don't think we'll ever be in a position where robo-advising will replace an individual financial advisor that can build a trusted relationship with a client and guide him or her through complicated decisions,” he said.

As an independent financial planner, Stenzel is able to offer products and services for what he calls “the right reasons” – those that are in the best interests of the client, not the company selling the investment products. While he is not a big proponent of overregulation, he does support the efforts of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to establish a fiduciary standard for all financial investment professionals to advise in the client’s best interests at all times, whether they are independent or representing investment products.

“In the industry, if there is an area we can improve on, it is the number of individuals that are working as financial advisors, insurance agents, and others who need to spend more time on their craft and be more dedicated to how they can benefit others – and sometimes it takes a regulation to do that,” said Stenzel. “When you get into the business of helping others to succeed, you put their interests first, but somehow that seems to have gotten left on the sidelines in certain situations.”

He said that he also supports the DOL regulation to make sure that individuals have a better understanding of how they are charged, total expenses associated with their accounts, and “what they can expect from the professional who puts them in that position.”

Even the often-ignored investment product prospectus could be improved to better serve and educate clients. Cast aside by most people due to their verbosity and legalese, Stenzel suggests that with some reader-friendly formatting, a prospectus could be designed to be more easily understood. For instance, bullet lists of fees and risks could be detailed in bold on the first page along with investment examples so that at a glance, a reader is informed about pertinent information regarding the product and their money.

There is one particular area of retirement planning that people often view as an unnecessary evil – long-term care insurance. They sometimes see it as something they pay for but never get to use, Stenzel said.

“They never say that about their home insurance or about their car insurance. I find that I have to help them understand the need for long-term care, and then show them different ways to purchase it,” he said.

He then explains to clients that if they want to be sure to get to use the product, they can approach long-term care planning through asset care – a life insurance policy that has a long-term care rider. Clients, in some cases, are more comfortable with that, he said.

“It's not my job to make them purchase long-term care, it's my job to help them understand the need for it, the benefit of it, and how they can purchase it. It's their job to make the decision,” he added.

If a client is interested in long-term care insurance or other products, Stenzel asks them to make a decision within 48 hours after he has provided them with his research and recommendations. His reasoning for imposing a deadline is that he doesn't want the information he has given them to dissipate before they make a decision.

The second thing he requests of clients is that they have to be comfortable saying “no” to him.

“If I can approach them with an idea for a product or service, and they can tell me ‘no’ and they know I'm good with that, then that establishes our relationship as one where they don't feel like they're going to be sold a product,” Stenzel explained. “They also know, that if I feel it's in their best interests, that I'll bring it up again. They can say no again, but that way, we have a dialog that promotes unity and movement in the right direction, even though they might not take action on everything that I recommend. It's so important to build a relationship with clients where trust and open communication are the prominent qualities.”


For more information on Guide Star Financial, Inc., visit: http://guidestarplan.com/
300 Central Avenue/Suite 300/Great Falls, MT 59401/406.952.1054/406.952.1057 (fax)

Securities and Advisory Services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network©, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser


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