CEO Insights

If You are Learning. There are No “Bad” Questions

When it comes to understanding one’s finances, there is no such thing as a bad question.


Well ... maybe not. It could become a bad question if it is one that a person brings to a meeting with a professional advisor, but doesn’t ask it, and then leaves the meeting with the question still in tow and even worse, unanswered.

So believes Jon McCardle, president of Summit Financial Group of Indiana based in Lafayette, Indiana.

With more than 60 percent of his clientele being people working in the education industry – whether at the high school or university level – McCardle views his job as their financial advisor as more than just a numeric transaction.

The relationship, in his estimate, is about learning – him learning what his clients’ goals, needs and wants are – and his clients learning from McCardle about what options and strategies can provide the best possible outcome toward fulfilling those goals.

He is all about education, that is, the financial education of his clients.

Yet he knows that even his clients – the folks that do the teaching – often feel overwhelmed by financial issues, but also do not wish to be embarrassed by a lack of knowledge.

“I always start our meeting by asking them, ‘do you have a question?’ and I check the pulse of what they are understanding throughout the meeting by asking again if they need something further clarified,” McCardle said of his approach to keeping dialogue between himself and clients focused on their continuing education. “Then at the end of every meeting, I ask them once again, ‘Do you have any other questions. Does this make sense to you? Is there anything you do not understand?’”

McCardle knows that clients won’t comprehend all the ins and outs of the financial world, but that isn’t necessarily his top priority as their advisor.

cardle600He seeks to build a relationship in which he serves as an accountability partner to the client; a relationship in which the full definition of a fiduciary – doing what is in the client’s best interest, no matter what – is the sum of what occurs.

“Early on I was taught a lesson by my father: Take care of your customer first and everything else will take care of itself,” McCardle said. “I have put that as the core of our philosophy. That has been the culture we have built from the beginning.”

He knows his clients – educators themselves – are very intelligent people. They will quickly catch on to the concepts he presents, and be able to make educated decisions.
Yet, they will need assistance muddling through the hundreds of pages of investment account prospectuses to distill down the necessary information.

“There is the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to all the fine print in these prospectuses,” McCardle said, noting that the bulk of the documents outlining the fees, procedures and rules for 401K and other investment accounts are written by lawyers for other lawyers for legal reasons and not necessarily to help clients. “We spend that extra time – a fair amount of time – with our clients just walking through these investments to help them get a precise understanding of what they are signing up for.”

One particular area that McCardle devotes that extra time to is making sure that clients understand the fees associated with their investment options. He doesn’t believe simply laying out a list of fees in a vacuum. This, he said, is often the case when clients are presented investment options through their workplace.

The client may have as many as 35 different investment options – each with varying fees – presented but no context by which to gauge what is in his or her best interest.

“This exposes the client to what all of the fees are but it also does it in a manner that is incredibly unfair to the client because they have no power to change or alter the choices,” McCardle said. “Just having it disclosed to them that it will cost say $5 to participate is no way for a client to determine if that is appropriate for them.”

He sees the financial services industry as having made progress in the appropriateness of fee disclosure and education, but he also believes much more work is in order.

“Access and simplicity. Those are the two things this industry must work on,” McCardle said. “We have to offer access to those who want financial help – not just the wealthy – and we, as advisors, have to improve the way we communicate and translate very complicated information so that we make it much simpler for our clients to understand.”

McCardle views financial education as an effort that ought to begin within the home and then be supported by schooling – even starting at the youngest grades.

But he also knows that education without a sincere interest on the part of the individual being educated has no lasting value. He points to the endless stream of information regarding health and obesity and even the “gym craze.” People purchase memberships for clubs they may not faithfully attend, and the American population still struggles with increasing rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart failure.

Perhaps the recent surge in online games and tools – highly popular with younger generations – will help spark increased interest in financial literacy. McCardle sees evidence that “financial literacy” is an often used buzzword in his industry, yet the sheer volume of available information can be burdensome and overwhelming. Thus, people are left feeling frustrated instead of feeling more emotionally secure about their finances.

“My attitude is the more you can have good baselines of financial education, the better off you are going to be,” McCardle said. But he has concerns that online resources presented without any context will provide that baseline. “I just have my doubts about the whole concept of turning on the easy button. People have to take time to be educated. It comes back to the fact that people simply have to have some interest in how their money works for them.”

Knowing and noting that education is also a time-consuming process for him, McCardle said he makes a point of surrounding himself with the very best mentors possible. And he makes a point of listening to and following through with the advice they share.

“I have never considered myself to be the smartest guy in the room,” he said. “But one thing I can control is my attitude and my actions. I have learned that it serves me well to try to employ a new strategy or philosophy or approach that someone smarter than me has experienced success in using.”

McCardle has come a long way since Sept. 11, 2001, when he was hosting his first face-to-face meeting with a client and seeing on TV the second plane was hitting one of the World Trade Towers.

“That was quite a beginning for my career,” he noted in a somber tone.

His career had several stops at other financial services companies before moving back to the Midwest in 2002. He was settled back in Lafayette, Indiana, managing executive planners for the Summit Financial Group of Ohio, and in 2008 he opted to purchase the firm.

Today, McCardle is licensed in 12 states, and has received the 5-Star Wealth Manager Award in 2010, and each year from 2012 through 2016, and he was featured in Forbes Magazine as one of the top seven financial leaders in Indiana.

While expanding Summit Financial Group of Indiana is certainly a priority, McCardle is also focused on mentoring his own children, as well as giving back to his community by taking an active role in its successful development.

He believes, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Learn more about Jon McCardle and Summit Financial Group online at

Securities offered through Regulus Advisors, llc. member finra/sipc. Investment advisory services offered through Regal Investment Advisors, llc., an SEC registered investment advisor. Regulus Advisors and Regal Investment Advisors are affiliated entities. Summit Retirement Advisors, llc and Summit financial group of Indiana are affiliated entities. Summit Aetirement Advisors, llc and Summit financial group of Indiana are independent of regulus advisors and regal investment advisors.


Follow Us

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

What's Next, Updates & Editorial Picks In Your Inbox

Related Articles

© 2017-2021 Advisors Magazine. All Rights Reserved.Design & Development by The Web Empire