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CEO DeLynn Zell, CFP® featured in Birmingham Business Journal’s Executive Profile

This post originally appeared in the BBJ on Friday, April 5. Here is link: Planning for the Future of a Financial Planning Firm

It took her a little while to decide what she wanted to do with her accounting and finance degree, but she discovered her calling, DeLynn Zell has made headway in her career and is clearing a path for women financial planners like herself.

Zell said after two years working in accounting, she decided to switch gears and pursue a career in financial planning – a career she said was uncommon for women 30 years ago.

Today, she is the managing partner at Bridgeworth, a Birmingham wealth management firm she helped launch in 2008.

The firm is the third-largest in Birmingham, following Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, with more than 50 team members, a second location in Huntsville, and $1.49 billion in assets managed locally.

At the firm, Zell specializes in comprehensive retirement planning, asset management, and income distribution. She has worked with hundreds of clients as they have prepared for and transitioned into retirement.

She also provides guidance as managing partner to the firm’s members and is preparing to for the future of the firm through recruitment of up-and-coming financial planners. The firm offers its own in-house training program called Bridgeworth University and partners with the University of Alabama to provide internships for students in an effort to. Sustain the firm and facilitate growth.

What are your long-term goals for Bridgeworth?

A lot of (independent) financial services firms typically have a one-generation lifespan, and that is the lifespan or career of the founder. So, the long-term goal for our company … is to make sure we’re here when my grandchildren come along. We want to make sure … the firm lives past founders for several reasons. One, because we want to be able to see what we’ve built and see our legacy, but secondly – and probably most importantly – is so we can serve generations of clients.  In order to do that, we have to make sure we’re bringing along the right people, 30 years younger than us, starting their career, and we nurture them and give them a career path so they can be working with our clients’ children and grandchildren.

What are you seeing in terms of talent in the financial industry here?

One of the biggest issues in my industry is we have a very aging financial planner population. I think about 68 percent of financial advisers across the country are in their late 60s, early 70s. we don’t have enough people coming behind. I see that very much so locally, as well as nationally. We’re taking a lot of steps here to try to address that issue.

How do you approach growth at Bridgeworth?

A lot of people in the financial industry think it’s important to grow just by numbers I don’t believe that. I think you have to grow very strategically because if you grow too fast, just for the sake of saying ‘I’ve grown’ or for the sake of saying ‘I’ve added this many people; I’ve added this many assets,’ you run the risk of harming the culture. So, you have to grow for the right reasons.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?

The biggest risk, really, probably would be in 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, taking 20 something people, breaking away from what we had known for many years and starting our own firm – walking away from what we knew to do something we believed in, hoping our clients would follow. And we were very fortunate that all of them did follow, and it has been the best thing we’ve ever done.

What’s the hottest topic for your clients in terms of planning?

I would say most people who come in – it doesn’t matter how wealthy they are – all have the basic question, “Am I going to be OK? Am I going to have enough money to take care of myself to where I’m not dependent upon my children?” That is probably the No.1 question. It’s really interesting to me because we work with some very, very successful people, and most people think, “why would they even be asking that question.” But they do. Most people do not want to be a burden on their children.

What is an interesting fact about most people don’t know?

I grew up on a peanut farm. I love the country, and I love outdoors, and that probably comes from growing up on a peanut farm.

What would be your advice to a woman who wants to enter this field?

No.1, get the right kind of education. If you identify this is what you want to do, you take the right courses in school, educate yourself and then get with a firm that can provide you with a career track growth. Many firms don’t have that. And find a good mentor.

What is your philosophy on management?

You need to have the right people in the right seat on the bus. That’s a famous quote from Stephen Covey. You’ve got to have the right people. Otherwise, nothing’s going to happen. My philosophy – and I don’t always do this – is when you have the right people get out their way. I don’t believe in top-down management style. I don’t believe in dictatorship management style. I do believe having a lot of people around you and people being able to feel free to voice their opinions. …I think diversity and voice produce the best outcome.