Stories are at the heart of everything financial advisor Nan Cohen does with her business. Cohen began in the financial services industry in 1994 after growing bored of retail. Her financial advisor at the time, Alan Yanowitz, suggested she look at a financial services career when she decided to sell her chain of candy stores. Cohen knew transitioning from the woman who sold gummy bears to being a trustworthy financial advisor would take time, but the career fit her entrepreneurial desires and her business background, so she was determined to make it work.
“I spent my whole first year having coffee dates and lunch dates, asking people what they would want in their ideal financial advisor,” said Cohen, founder and CEO of Creekside Financial Advisors LLC in Pepper Pike, Ohio. “I really listened to their advice and every time I used their advice, I thanked them in a note. After that first year, my business grew because I continued to listen to people, and I designed my business to be personal, prompt and responsive. I don’t ever want to be less than what I say I am.”
After collecting enough stories to comfortably know what she needed to be an ideal financial advisor for others, she began meeting with people to learn the personal stories of their lives.
“Everyone has an interesting story, in their own right,” Cohen said. “Something you can learn from, laugh with and enjoy. I go to my clients and ask them who they know with an interesting story and they will introduce me to them. I assure them I will not ask them for their business, and that all I want is to hear their story, because the joy of what we do comes from hearing those stories.”
Cohen became interested in stories after reading multiple biographies, autobiographies and even obituaries. From those she said she realized that the fabric of life was rich in color and texture and it spilled over into her passion for matching financial resources with personal goals and dreams.
“When you view each person as a unique story, then your attention to their details has a context that makes solutions extremely personal,” Cohen said. “When I discuss finances with my clients, it is not about the portfolio or the product; it is about the solution provided to continuing their life story.”
Cohen believes financial advisors are really financial social workers, aiding clients with some of the most important decisions of their lives.
“We are really just the agents using special tools to figure out people’s needs and helping them with the math of their financial lives,” Cohen said. “Figuring out their life stories and then matching the money to those lives is what’s interesting in what we do. Unfortunately, I think many financial advisors spend their time in the business sucking time, pushing paperwork and acting like they are at work all day long, but in reality they aren’t working unless they are with people, helping people.”
When it comes to her own clients, Cohen always tries to be as responsive as possible, with the client first and always, without excuses. If she is ever late to a meeting – even by two minutes – because of traffic or other circumstances, she will call her client to apologize and inform them of the situation. After meeting with a prospect, she writes a thank you card to the prospect, to the client that referred the prospect and, in some cases, to the secretary who arranged the meeting. The foundation of her approach to financial planning is a deep understanding of her clients – and their stories – with exceptional service.
“I believe that companies can make a statement and companies can act a statement,” Cohen said. “Everyone says ‘we believe in our advisors.’ What is extraordinary is when a company acts it.”
A good example of a company “acting a statement” is Securities America’s planning, creation and execution of the Ladenburg Thalmann Institute of Women & Finance advisor forum, Cohen said. Cohen attended the inaugural event in October 2012, and was impressed to see a company embracing women advisors, and not just because women advisors are a hot-topic trend currently, but because they genuinely value their success and role in the financial industry. The forum invited women advisors from all three of Ladenburg Thalmann’s broker-dealers and the presidents and CEOs, board members and other female leadership of every Ladenburg company.
“That is a company saying we not only believe in our women, but we are taking the top of our house and displaying their support,” Cohen said. “This is very sincere. Securities America lives what they say they are, which is a great independent broker-dealer.”
Cohen’s relationship with Securities America is similar to her relationship with her clients, where strength comes from constant communications and personal touches focused on service.
“We run a very personal practice,” Cohen said. “We probably send out more chicken soup when people are sick than any kitchen in town. We always stay focused on the client value and try to provide the best service we can without taking up much of their time.”
Cohen frequently holds client events that are kept personal as well. She has sponsored events to educate clients on Social Security, Medicare and other health care information, and fun, intimate events such as one for women at a museum that included a private touring of an exhibit. One larger firm event was Creekside’s shred event for clients. Clients could come to Cohen’s home for lunch and have their documents, computers and phones shredded and recycled. Cohen sponsored a local charity as well, by inviting clients to bring clothing they wished to donate along with their items to shred.
“We always want our clients to bring guests, so our practice will grow that way,” Cohen said. “Based on thank yous we receive after an event, clients have truly appreciated our efforts. Sometimes just giving them the invite even if they cannot attend makes as big a difference as the event itself!”
Creekside Financial Advisors includes financial advisors Cohen, Yanowitz and Randy Schneider; Dan Abrams, chief operating officer; and office personnel, David Atwell, Jeanne Cowart, Jessica Silver, and Susan Valerio.
Nan Cohen, CFP®
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