Inside the Company That's Turning Traditional Financial Advisors Into Independent Business Owners
Good Life Financial Advisors reshaped the finance industry by using the 2008 recession to their advantage.
Traditional financial advisors do their clients (and themselves) a disservice, argues Conor Delaney, co-founder and managing partner at Good Life Financial Advisors. That’s why he designed his company to support independent, service and community-oriented advisors by taking on the backend business work for them.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What does your company do?
In 2008, when the recession hit, investors got smart. They started wondering why they were being interviewed by these big, overcharging companies that benefited their shareholders before them and provided the least amount of service.
That gave our company the opportunity to come in. We take financial advisors who are in a culture of sales and move them into a culture of service in their own community. They're rebranded: their name, their logo, their brand, backed and powered in their community by our ecosystem.
How do you define success?
My dad, who was the best person I've ever met in my life and who served his community for 30-plus years, defined success by the material crap that everybody else had. The day after I graduated high school, I found him in a coma. He had gotten sick breathing in bad air in his classroom on the poor side of town. He died on Father's Day in 2003.
There's a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson about the true definition of success: It's to put a smile on the face of a child, to leave the world a better place than it was when you got there and to earn the respect of honest critics. So it gave me the opportunity at 17 to look through a different lens at what success actually means. If you define success by the material, then you're going to find a lot of emptiness in your life. If my dad would have looked at things differently, then success would have been entirely different for him.
Within my company, if I’m giving a voice to the middle American investor, for the middle American family that needs to have their risk protected, that needs to be heard, then I’m successful.
How important is your company culture?
When people think of financial services, they think three-piece suits and a parking lot full of Jaguars and BMWs. For us, a big piece of what we do is centered around health. Our home office looks more like Google than it does Merrill Lynch. That's by design. We have the first organic juice bar in our county. We have a full gym in our office. They're both community-facing. When clients come into Good Life Advisors, they see their advisor walking out of the gym. That shows discipline that’s also attractive to the advisor's clients. They think, “Hey, I want to make sure this guy's going to be here for a while and that he’s responsible with the way he lives his own life.”
What are some challenges in your career that led to breakthrough moments?
Our biggest challenge has always been distribution. I think of the 400,000 people that make up the financial advisors in the United States, about 200,000 of them are, in my opinion, better suited to become independent financial advisors. But a lot of times it's a barrier to entry that stops them from getting in: They've never negotiated a lease, done the technology outfitting, created workflows or managed human resources. We come in and say, “Look, you focus on what you do, and we'll take care of all that stuff for you. Now, go thrive.” And it works. Nine out of 10 times, the advisor winds up joining us.
Other guys doing something similar use up all their money building out marketing. A lot of our business has been predicated on integrity. I think that has hamstrung us a bit because I haven't spent the money on marketing. I've spent all the money on infrastructure, on making sure that if somebody calls us, that I can execute for them. Now, how do we get that message out?