Financial Literacy

An Educating Fiduciary

Marty Watkins, chief executive officer and owner of TrueNorth Wealth, is doing just that.

For potential clients wondering what type of services and what level of quality comes with a fee-only charge of less than one percentage point, the answer is this: all services resulting in complete financial management and a diversified portfolio achieved through the highest standards of fiduciary care available in the industry.

“Our most practical strength is our average fee which, calculated on basis points, is just a little over half a percent per year,” Watkins said of his firm based in Salt Lake City. “And with that half of a percent, we write a two to three page summary of each client’s estate plan, we review their auto and homeowner’s insurance, their business insurance, their personal insurances including disability, health and life insurance on top of all of the investment advising, money management, portfolio creation and monitoring, and taxes. We can do all of this profitably at a half percent per year because we have put the whole thing through a process that is cost effective and tremendously beneficial to our clients.”

Watkins has worked as a fiduciary since finishing college in 1993, long before the notion that a financial manager puts the client’s best interests ahead of his own became popular.

He began his career in financial services by helping to create and subsequently grow the UMA (Utah Medical Association) Financial Services after the association voted to create a financial advisory association charged solely with helping member physicians handle personal and professional financial issues. Watkins functioned as the association’s chief financial officer and financial planner.

He stayed in that position for 13 years, during which UMA/FS grew from nothing to managing more than $240 million in assets. In 2006, Watkins left to establish TrueNorth. What he didn’t have was a crystal ball to forewarn him of the Great Recession coming in 2007.

“It was a very difficult time to start an independent fee-only practice,” Watkins recalled. “It was a really good thing I had a lot of money saved up, as it was much more difficult than I thought. Being properly prepared and having realistic expectations is really important for people trying to create a business like mine.”

Watkins gained clients by helping those people who, due to the 2007 recession, had become “a little bit shell-shocked” about what happened with their previous advisor. Watkins was able to step in to help clients where other financial advisors had failed them. The failures by previous advisors may have been caused by a myriad of reasons; maybe it was a lack of communication during that time period when hand-holding was a key factor for client comfort. Maybe it was a lack of coaching and reassurance that the market would rebound and the downturn was not the time to exit. Maybe it was the absence of a properly diversified portfolio. Whatever the reason, Watkins’ approach to financial management was different.

Watkins found a way to meet whatever need was being left unattended. In doing so, he grew his practice to include 220 families and numerous institutional investors, all seeking an advisor who was just as interested, or perhaps more appropriately – as invested – in their success as they were.

Watkins’ slogan, “Building and Securing Your Wealth Through Evidence-Based, Academically Sound Financial Planning,” was his guiding light and remains shining. Today his firm is just shy of having 350MM under management, and advises on another $9 billion.

He is a big fan of Modern Portfolio Theory, and factor based investing its focus on the use of a dramatically diversified portfolio as a tool for safeguarding clients’ wealth. From there, Watkins’ most important tool is his constant communication with clients. He leaves the day-to-day running of the firm to the “brilliant folks” he hires, as Watkins describes them. Working this way allows him to do what he does best: interface with clients.

“Really what I am best at is meeting with individual clients,” Watkins said. “I view my role as one of an educator.”

While he does make recommendations to his clients that he, as their advisor, hopes they will follow, these are informed rather than blind recommendations. Watkins shows his clients how he arrives at recommendations he makes by providing extensive information on their options and on the possible results of various decisions.

Working with the complexity running throughout the finances of high net worth clients such as the physicians and surgeons TrueNorth focuses on, is something Watkins thoroughly enjoys.
“Successful people tend to create some financial complexity,” Watkins said. “Those are the ones we can help best. Inherent with complexity is the challenge of making all the right choices in each area. We look at each issue in great detail and help our clients make the best decision.”

One of Watkins’ current goals is to “replicate” himself by training others who can continue his work after he passes on. He isn’t interested in retirement; he intends to keep working as long as physically possible. But a brush with death a couple of years ago led him to consider succession planning.

“I realized that there are so many people relying on me that I needed to build a backup,” Watkins said. “So I trained three other people to do what I do. Trying to replicate myself is a major goal for me, so that if something happens to me, the firm has backup.”

But that recognition of the inevitable doesn’t mean a work stoppage for Watkins. Rather, it inspires him even more.

“I have a missionary zeal to get this type of planning work out there,” Watkins emphasized, “because this is what people need.”

Learn more about Marty Watkins and TrueNorth Wealth online at

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