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Ask the Right Questions with Phil Telpner

Prospective clients come to you with a presenting problem, an issue causing them financial pain. The questions you ask—and where you guide the prospect from there—are pivotal to establishing a long-term relationship.

On this Elementality, Carl and Elements client Phil Telpner of Breakout Private Wealth, talk about why it’s critical you direct prospects into compelling conversations from the very beginning of a relationship. And that can prove to be difficult unless you start by asking the right questions. Prospects come with many preconceived ideas about what financial advisors do. Establishing your long-term mission and probing deeper into their feelings about money helps establish your holistic planning approach.

Show Notes
BreakoutPrivateWealth.com

 


Podcast Transcript

Carl Richards:
I just wanna pause real quick to bring up a couple of points. One, just to emphasize a couple of things you said, ’cause I love the framing of what are we solving for. It’s really, really… It feels much more sort of spreadsheet-y language, but you’re getting to the same place. Like, hey, I understand performance is important, Johnny, glad you’re here. Could we back up with it? Like, what are we solving for feels much different than, can we cry on my couch or… Yeah and I find all of these tools are really useful, right? Like, George Kinder stuff could be way out on one spectrum, and what are we solving for could be on the other spectrum. And they’re all great. And as you’ve pointed out, it’s finding something you’re comfortable with.

[music]

Abby Morton:
Hey, Elementality listeners, it’s Abby Morton. As more advisors include Elements as part of their financial planning toolkit, we decided to interview a few of them to see what challenges have come up plus what successes they’ve enjoyed when using Elements. We believe learning from other advisors will help you see how Elements can revolutionize planning for you. Enjoy.

Carl Richards:
Greetings. Carl Richards here, and welcome to the Elementality podcast. So excited today to chat with Phil Telpner of Breakout Private Wealth just outside of Chicago. Phil, thanks for joining us.

Phil Telpner:
Oh, this is gonna be great, Carl. Thanks for having me.

Carl Richards:
Yeah. One place I’d love to start is at the beginning, I’m wondering if you could go back a little bit. And it might take you a second. Just settle in. And what I’d love to hear is why. Why did you get into the business in the first place? And now, remember, most of the you we have in this podcast can remember. But sometimes that why gets kind of smashed out of us, right? Because the industry has all these plans for us. But I wanna know the actual dream. Why did you get into this business in the first place?

Phil Telpner:
Okay. So I never wanted to be in this client facing part of the business. I had been a member of the Board of Trade for 12 or 13 years. I wanted to run my own hedge fund. That was really what I wanted to do. Talking to people, having conversations was not something that’s organic in me. A little more…

Carl Richards:
You like throwing elbows and yelling at things?

Phil Telpner:
Yeah, a little bit. Correct. I think that was just the way that the business was imprinted on me from 18 years old. And kind of a career arc being what it is, I got to a point maybe five years ago where I realized that the… I loved coach. Like I love coaching hockey and that’s… And I thought, well, here are people that are looking at all these charts and all this and it doesn’t really have all that much meaning to them. Even my best clients were more concerned about their grandkids or something like that. And being able to help and communicate and coach to me was so much more interesting. And it probably, Carl, comes from where you are in your life too, I think.

Carl Richards:
Yeah.

Phil Telpner:
I’ve seen really successful people not remain successful due to errors that could have easily been solved. So I think that’s how I guess I ended up here.

Carl Richards:
Yeah. Yeah, that’s super interesting. So was there a kind of a moment where you’re like, no, I really want, because you’ve used the word help a couple of times, like was there an element of like, look, I just wanna help people make better decisions with money or I wanna help align their values. What was it that helped you make that… What was it that drove you to make that change?

Phil Telpner:
I think that I learned that making good decisions is not something, especially with something as emotional as money, is not something innate. Yeah, you have these people we all know that have 18 spreadsheets and whatever, and that’s great for them. But for the rest of us, and I’ll raise my hand here, it’s not something that we’re conscious of or that we’re prepared for no matter how much you make. So top line income is not a predictor of making good decisions as I’m sure we can all attest to, right? So I just thought that being able to help people make those decisions or inspire better conversations, really, I don’t make decisions. I think when I’m at my best, I’m inspiring people to have those discussions with me. And since I only work with adults, they’re able to come to that decision with maybe my guidance. And I think that’s really powerful. And there’s not a… You can’t Google that, right? There’s not a Google for that.

Carl Richards:
Yeah, so good. So good. Thanks for that. I’m assuming you’re like most of us, that very few people come to your office asking for that, that thing you just explained, the conversation, getting a little deeper. Like, metaphorically, has anybody ever come to your office asking to cry on your couch?

Phil Telpner:
No, but it… We get it happens.

Carl Richards:
Sure, it happens. But in other words, people don’t come asking for what we think is real financial planning, right? They come with a presenting problem often. I would imagine for you, that’s often around performance. Could be around an inheritance. It could be around a life insurance need, whatever it is. Do you have a… Trick is not the right word, but do you have a question that you like to use? Do you have a… How do you take people from the presenting question? Okay, Phil, what do you got for me? Kid, I’m here for the hottest performing, whatever. How do you take people from the presenting question to these conversations that get more meaningful so we can get it? I’m gonna just call it purpose.

Phil Telpner:
That’s a really great question. So I think those of us in this industry throw around values or throw around some of those things. And that’s a deeper conversation that… I’ve always struggled with the first get to know you meeting or tell me your values. It’s like, yo, I just met you five minutes ago. I haven’t even finished my coffee. Right?

Carl Richards:
Right, right.

Phil Telpner:
You know, so I think that’s a little bit of the overtime thing. But I do think that the statement of financial purpose. Right? What are we trying to solve for? I serve Gen X families, most of the time big picture solving for is how do we combine paying or helping our kids with college, our own proper trajectory to work optional or retirement, whatever that means, along with the challenge that I think we all have sometimes as parents being, you know, the buzzword is present, right? Or having a life. How do you combine all those things? And I find myself having those type of conversations, I think, first and then…

Carl Richards:
Yeah. How do you… Let me interrupt you. How do you do that?

Phil Telpner:
I’m getting better at it, I think. That’s one of those things for me that is never… Some people. I don’t. For me, it’s never been easy or organic. It’s taken a little bit of work and being mindful of giving people their space and understanding and all those, again, skills that you can’t Google. Right? And just taking them through, you know, Bill Bachrach has that hierarchy, which again gives me good framework. I don’t think I have to follow it verbatim, but for me, having that good framework and getting to that real underlying reason why. Someone says, “Hey, Phil, what’s the market doing?” I’m like, I, you know, what are we solving? Like what… I don’t. I’ve gotten so much better at not engaging in that way.

Carl Richards:
Yeah, yeah, no, I just wanna pause real quick to bring up a couple of points. One, just emphasize a couple of things you said, because I love the framing of what are we solving for? Right, it’s really, really… That’s really… It feels much more sort of spreadsheet-y language, but you’re getting to the same place like, “Hey, you know, I understand performance is important, Johnny, glad you’re here. Could we back up with it? Like, what are we solving for feels much different than can we cry on my couch or… Yeah, and I find all of these tools are really useful, right? Like George Kinder stuff could be way out on one spectrum. And what are we solving for could be on the other spectrum. And they’re all great. And as you’ve pointed out, it’s finding something you’re comfortable with. So the framing of what I’m solving for, you mentioned something around asking questions and providing space, which I’m surprised to hear a Chicago boy use it, use a California woo woo term.

[laughter]

Phil Telpner:
Right. Right.

Carl Richards:
I’ll provide a little space. But those things are like asking a question, being able to listen. Right. Really, really important. Super cool.

Phil Telpner:
Yeah, I found and I’m sure you have as well that people come with a lot of preconceived ideas about what we do. Right? And if you just back up and say, I help successful Gen X families make great decisions with their money or whatever. I think that is much more inviting than I’m 18% small cap value and I can’t… No, not… That’s not… Plus for me… And I’ll just add one thing. Plus for me, I’m gonna shout out, give a little shout out to my dad, who’s a CPA and has had these amazing relationships for 50 years with some clients.

Carl Richards:
What’s your dad’s name?

Phil Telpner:
Mark.

Carl Richards:
Amen to Mark. Shout out to Mark. Hey, keep going.

Phil Telpner:
Yeah. So that’s really important to me. So people say, well, do you have a minimum or do you have… And the answer is not really. But if I think that we can work together for decades, we’ll find a way to make it work right. And I think that that’s really powerful for people I found because they’re hesitant, like, whoa, he’s came from big firm. He has, you know, you need two million dollars or five million dollars. And that’s really not what I’m trying to do here.

Carl Richards:
So cool. Well, thanks for sharing all that. It’s just so… I think that it’s important sometimes the work and I’m sure you feel this way sometimes, Phil. Sometimes the work feels lonely. And so it’s nice to hear other people kind of out there struggling to add one more little bit of light to this. And we keep… And just for all of the you that are gonna send emails about us using the term industry, don’t send them. I’ve already gotten them. It’s fine. I know there’s a profession that we’re struggling to sort of define inside, but it still operates inside an industry. And what we’re talking about here is the financial services industry broadly. So let’s shift gears just a little bit. I’m curious about your use of elements as a tool. Can you share a story about how elements gave you the framework for one of these conversations, have you had a recent experience where you can like, “Look, this allowed me to talk in a way that I wasn’t able to before”? Or a conversation that came up around the scorecard or something.

Phil Telpner:
Yeah, of course. So one of the first things I look at when when I get a populated scorecard is liquid term, right, because that… I was just in a message to a client the other day, that’s, you know…

Carl Richards:
Wait, a message, you mean like a text message?

Phil Telpner:
[chuckle] Like a message, right. Yeah. Yeah. I said that the liquid term score is something like the anti-anxiety medicine of financial planning, right?

Carl Richards:
Satisfying.

Phil Telpner:
Where… Especially what we’ve seen this year, right? Where having that cash cushion, liquid assets, it allows you not just to make, to be clear headed enough to make decisions into stress, I suppose, like we’ve seen in the capital markets this year. Meaning can we add? Do we have the resources to add? How are we feeling? Because now we have this. Anyway. My client, I’m thinking about of had a very nice year so far and had some extra money and we were able to determine as best as possible, how much we should invest into market weakness, which we all know is statistically a good idea, how much we should save for college, which for them is at a couple of years. So that should be liquid. So there’s no unpleasant surprises there when the bills come in.

Phil Telpner:
And it was just a very comforting conversation. And I’ll add one thing. It gives you an… To me, it gives me an objective, a number, a metric. I was a competitive power lifter and so we’re always if this is this, then this should be this. It’s KPIs. It’s wherever you came from, whatever it is. But it gives you an objective measure. And I can scroll now, which is a great feature that they added and see whose liquidity score isn’t great and who may need that phone call. “Hey, it’s Phil, just checking in. Everything all right? I noticed, did you have a big purchase? Is something going on?” And then that goes to our other conversation, Carl, about having a conversation.

Carl Richards:
Yeah, yeah. So good. That was a light bulb moment for me was the idea of an objective set of financial measures that allow me to quickly orient myself around where we are. So I can give course correction advice, like next step level advice, right? Rather than waiting for this annual state of the plan meeting.

Phil Telpner:
Right. It’s real time. I like it because I can see in real time a little bit more of what’s going on. And like I said, one of my struggles in this… We can’t say industry, right? A business. One of my well, you could just…

Carl Richards:
Like what the people want me to say is profession.

Phil Telpner:
Send the hate mail to me. It’s fine. Is I always felt that there was this dark space, I know there’s always talk about demonstrating value and all that, but in between that annual meeting with a stack of reports and a white board and video and all that. There was maybe we did a lot of work, but how do you kind of make these incremental changes that we talk about that you and I and everybody will know that good habits, good changes stacked up over time, a long time can be more impactful than a well-diversified evidence based portfolio tilted towards small cap value and profitability. I mean, that’s important. Don’t get me wrong. But if the rest, these other changes, that’s where people are living.

Carl Richards:
Yeah. Yeah, that’s so good. So good, Phil. So let me ask you to kind of… They’re slightly rapid fire. You can take as long as you want on the answers. I’m just gonna ask them quickly. So the first question is, is there a tool that you use? And I’m not talking about elements, by the way, like is there a tool, a software program, a pen. A tool that you use that’s been surprisingly useful for you? In your work.

Phil Telpner:
I’m gonna give you the not sexy answer. I think it’s probably a pen and a paper.

Carl Richards:
Tell me more about that.

Phil Telpner:
Well, you know, like I said, it’s this client communication, these conversations is not something that came easy for me, it’s something that I’ve actively had to work on to improve, and I’m cool talking about that, I guess. So one of the ways that I’ve done that was every Friday I shoot these Fridays with Phil videos.

Carl Richards:
So good.

Phil Telpner:
So uncomfortable, Carl, I can’t even tell you.

Carl Richards:
[laughter] I can see it on your face.

Phil Telpner:
Like just just brutal. But it’s oh, a couple of minutes and I’ll just take maybe a topic or something in the news, something financial like lately it’s been about staying away from the news or whatever it is. And I’ll just go on it for five minutes and I’ll send it out to my prospect list and I’ll post it and goes to YouTube. And it goes to my Gen X Wealth Academy, which is kind of new for me. And anyway, the pen and the paper helps me organize my thoughts and it gives me just like this much confidence to do it and post it, I guess.

Carl Richards:
That’s so good. So good ’cause one of my favorite places to hide is… I gotta find a better app for that. Well, what if you just use the pen and paper? Right. So good.

Phil Telpner:
Yeah.

Carl Richards:
What’s the… If you… What’s one thing, one thing that if you knew you did… If you… One thing that you know, if you did it, you’re sure that if you did it, it would have a positive impact on your life or your business? The one thing you’ve been meaning to do, what’s the one thing?

Phil Telpner:
Separating life from business?

Carl Richards:
Either way, you can just what’s the one thing that you knew… Like I can tell you, I know if I turn my phone off at seven thirty, I am positive I would sleep better and that will have a positive impact in my life. What’s one thing for you? And it could be business or life?

Phil Telpner:
That’s… All right, I’ll separate it just because I think business-wise for me, it’s been a process of slowly narrowing my my niche or who I serve best, and then really being able to then start the process of amplifying marketing, attracting, whatever words you want to use. Those people that I know without question, I can serve better than anybody. I think that may go into personal life and all that too, where that removes that… Sometimes you get that scarcity mindset a little bit… Sometimes you’re… Look if you have 30 million dollars and five million dollars in esoteric stock options and weird stuff, I am not your guy. I could… I can refer you. I have much, but I am not your guy. If you’re a successful Gen X family, working towards combining all these things, and I’ll throw in there something that I know a lot of people are going through, is aging parents and in-laws. That creates a whole new level of concern/stress, maybe expense, that most people are unaware of. So those are the people. Like I know, Carl, I know I could serve those people better than anybody.

Carl Richards:
And the thing that would have a big impact is if you narrowed your niche.

Phil Telpner:
Yeah, correct.

Carl Richards:
And then communicated it publicly.

Phil Telpner:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Carl Richards:
Put a stake in the ground and said, “This is who I work with.”

Phil Telpner:
That’s that’s why I just created the Gen X Wealth Academy. I just…

Carl Richards:
Yeah, look, I’m so excited about that. I wish we had time to talk about it. I just want to go check it out. Because I feel like I’m watching the future be created…

Phil Telpner:
0:23:51.4 PT: Well, that’s kind.

Carl Richards:
With the examples of what you’re doing.

Phil Telpner:
Thanks.

Carl Richards:
So narrowing your niche, putting yourself like Seth Godin says, right? Putting yourself on the hook for that niche. That’s the one thing, you know if you did it, it would have an impact on your business.

Phil Telpner:
Oh, absolutely. And that impact business translates to…

Carl Richards:
I’m sure it does.

Phil Telpner:
A lot of other things that certainly I can improve on. This is well outside of my business.

Carl Richards:
Sure. So let’s… Let me ask you. There’s only two questions left. One is, what’s stopping you from putting yourself on the hook for that? What’s stopping you from really putting a stake in the ground around your niche being a little more narrow? What’s getting in your way?

Phil Telpner:
You ask great questions, of course. So I’m going to say that I needed to… Well, I did it. I did it. So now the question is, how deep and narrow can I go with this and how can I, I don’t know, stand on the mountain and scream it out to everybody or whatever the analogy is, right?

Carl Richards:
Yeah.

Phil Telpner:
I… We talked a little bit about space here where when I left Wall Street, whatever you want to call it, to start my own shop, I intentionally gave myself some space to… There’s a word again. But I just wanted some time to figure out to see who I attracted, who I enjoyed working with. And then take it from there. So I attracted people, surprise, kind of just like me. Right? Family guys, kids going to school, aging parents, in-laws, all that good stuff. And then, okay, now I can… Now, with Elements helping me out, I know I could serve them better than anybody else. And now it’s like, how much more narrow can we go to…

Carl Richards:
And what… I’m not going to let you off the hook. What blocks you from getting more narrow, if that’s what you think you want to do? What… Is there a single word? Is there a sentence of like, “Oh, I’m just this”?

Phil Telpner:
I’m probably overthinking it, which I’m pretty good at. [chuckle] But also, I think that I’m committed to it, maybe I just need to get a little more of a sample size there to really get that narrow. I’m… It’s taken me a while to even be able to say that I created the Gen X Wealth Academy and these are the people I serve. And then I think slowly, but surely my plan is honestly to get really clear about making that just as deep and as narrow as possible.

Carl Richards:
Yeah. I just again, I have such a problem not diving into these things ’cause I’m so curious about it. But when you did it, you created the Gen X Wealth Academy. You put it up, you tweeted about it. You said, hey, I’m putting myself on the hook here. Did anything terrible happen?

Phil Telpner:
Actually, the opposite.

[chuckle]

Carl Richards:
So you didn’t get eaten by lions?

Phil Telpner:
No.

Carl Richards:
You didn’t get kicked out of the tribe?

Phil Telpner:
Nobody like picked on me or laughed at me or called me funny names.

Carl Richards:
Really crazy.

Phil Telpner:
And the sense of, I don’t know, accomplishment or just kind of getting over it. You know how sometimes when you get mature enough to get over your own BS kind of? That good feeling like, “You know what? This kind of sucked and was awkward, but I did it anyway?”

Carl Richards:
Yeah. So good.

Phil Telpner:
I think that that’s the cool thing about the independent space for a lot of us, right? We… Anyway.

Carl Richards:
That’s super good.

Phil Telpner:
I like that kind of stuff. Yeah.

Carl Richards:
Thank you, Phil.

Phil Telpner:
Thanks, Carl.

Carl Richards:
So let’s wrap up with this last question. Here’s the question. Let’s pretend like we’re 20 years from now and somebody’s writing… What is it called when you write something on a tombstone? What’s that called?

Phil Telpner:
Is that like an epita…

Carl Richards:
Epitaph?

Phil Telpner:
Yeah. Yeah.

Carl Richards:
Let’s pretend like somebody is writing… Well, here’s a better way to ask this question. 20 years from now, looking back, what do you hope will be true about the impact that you’ve made with the business?

Phil Telpner:
My hope is that the clients I serve… First of all, my hope is that we have a long relationship. Okay? And then my hope is that they look back and can say that… And you use this all the time, I think it’s brilliant, that I was the guide, right? That… It’s so interesting to me because the most successful people I know, almost always go into a meeting with, for example, maybe their CPA, maybe their attorney, right? Business guys, they travel in packs, right? Very rarely are they alone. And I guess I’m trying to say that I don’t think that any of us can make good decisions in a vacuum on our own. Whether you bounce it off your wife or a buddy or your advisor, I think I would want people to think of me as somebody that helps them make… That is in their best interest, helping guide them to make the best decisions possible, given the information we have at that time, and then being able to change, modify, adapt, if you will, as life does its thing.

Carl Richards:
So good. Amen, Phil. Thank you for taking the time. That’s so beautiful.

Phil Telpner:
Thanks, Carl. I appreciate it.

Carl Richards:
And I’m excited to watch that happen over the next 20 years.

Phil Telpner:
I appreciate it. Thank you so much. This was great.

Carl Richards:
Cheers, my friend.

Phil Telpner:
Thank you.

Abby Morton:
Next time on Elementality.

Carl Richards:
You mentioned you’re comfortable with the sort of silence.

Brandon Galici:
Yeah.

Carl Richards:
That awkward space of maybe asking a really good question and somebody’s like… ’cause by definition, a really good question is something that somebody hasn’t been asked before.

Brandon Galici:
Yeah.

Carl Richards:
How did you get comfortable with that space? Most of us aren’t comfortable. Did you have to learn or was that just a natural thing for you?

Brandon Galici:
Yeah, I felt I definitely was not… I’m still not perfect at it, I would say, but definitely at the beginning, it was a little bit more uncomfortable. And sometimes I would jump in maybe like, “Hey, why is money important to you?” It could be like… ’cause I would feel uncomfortable. But then I realized if if I just didn’t fill that space, they would. And because again, like you said, it’s a question that most of us probably haven’t been asked. It takes a second to process, especially because like you said, they weren’t coming into the office to sit and cry on the couch across from me, right? So they’re not necessarily expecting that question. So I just learned that, hey, if I just be quiet, ask this question, allow them to process, then great conversations happen out of that 10 times out of 10.

Abby Morton:
You can learn more about the Elements Financial Monitoring System at getelements.com/demo and schedule a time to talk with one of our friendly financial planning experts. Elementality’s executive creators are Reese Harper and Carl Richards. Elementality is produced by Abby Morton and directed by Jordan Haynes. Have a good one.

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