I first began to think about starting BWFA back in the mid-1980s, when I was working in banking. I noticed several trends that I thought might create an opportunity for a new type of financial services firm:
- Traditional pension plans were being phased out. This meant that workers would become responsible for “managing” their own retirement.
- Deregulation of the financial services industry was starting. Since the late 1930s, financial firms (brokerage companies, commercial banks, credit unions, savings and loans, insurance companies, etc.) were highly restricted in the services they could provide to consumers. Deregulation would increase competition between these entities—and that would surely lead to lower costs and more choices for consumers.
- Improvements in communications technology were bringing down the cost of obtaining financial information. Spreadsheets, accounting programs, modems, and personal computers empowered consumers by giving them access to much more financial information than they had ever had before.
I reasoned that more choices, lower cost and better access to information had the possibility of benefiting consumers enormously. But what came next made the whole idea come together for me…
My employer paid for me to work with a “Big 8” accounting firm to develop my own financial plan. By today’s standards, my “plan” was rudimentary, but putting it together was still quite difficult and time-consuming. I learned just how difficult it was to deal with the many issues and variables involved with financial planning.
Then, I decided that I needed additional “advice” on some issues identified in my “plan.” Where could I go to get objective, competent advice? My broker? My insurance agent? My tax accountant? My lawyer? I soon recognized that I had to coordinate all the pieces. None of those professionals was trained to look at my entire picture.
I came to feel strongly that consumers needed someone in their corner, helping them understand their options in an increasingly complex financial world, and helping them decide what they should do. Getting advice from salesmen was probably not the best idea. The big unknown was whether consumers were ready to pay “visible” fees, after having fees hidden from them for years.
We took a chance and launched BWFA. We picked a good time and created a business model where our interests didn’t conflict with what our clients wanted. BWFA’s long-term growth rate since we started is 17.5% compounded annually. I’d like to attribute our success to superior performance and superior management. But the truth is that consumers have a tremendous need for what we do at BWFA. I think our growth has more to do with the growing complexity of financial matters and consumer needs than with anything else.
This part I know for sure as BWFA embarks on its silver anniversary year: Our employees take a lot of pride in putting the needs of our clients first and serving them in such a significant way.