The Elements Story: From Concept to Success

In this episode of Elementality, join Reese Harper and Ryan Isaac as they delve into the origins of Elements within Dentist Advisors. Learn how the system evolved from basic spreadsheets to a powerful tool, shaping the way financial advisors interact with clients. They discuss the challenges faced, the solutions developed, and how Elements transformed their client experience, offering more holistic and efficient client services.

Podcast Transcript


Reese Harper: Today, I’m going to continue my conversation with Ryan Isaac. In the last episode, you heard us talk about the early days of building dentist advisors and how we needed a process to help us manage more clients.

But today, we’re going to talk more about that process, which has become known as elements, and try to give you a sense for how it’s evolved. And how our advisors use it to deliver a more holistic planning experience for our clients.

Ryan Isaac: Yeah, I was going to say it’s definitely like there’s been different um evolutions of needing a process And be being prompted by different things early on though.

I mean when we probably had a dozen clients I remember hand making, uh, the quarterly, quarterly reports. So I think I was using pages on, on Mac, you know, it’s like the Mac version of word. And I remember we were like, well, what sections would a dentist want to see every three months about their financial situation?

So I was doing like, I was just, uh, like, [00:02:00] putting in by hand like data, uh, side by side P and L quarter over quarter, uh, insurance coverages, net worth balances, liquidity amounts, like personal spending trends. We were just like building these by hand, like five, six different sections. So I, but I remember that it was probably 12, 15 clients who were like, we need some kind of Um, standardized, you know, packet or report or something showing like, here’s the progress you made.

We can’t just go in and talk. We got to have some standard for that. I think the process gets pushed along by volume. You know, you go from 15 clients to 50 and you’re like, well, you know, we’ve got to change the process and you go to 100 and 200 clients and then it just, I think it’s volume that changes that.

And you just got to be more and more efficient and you learn what people need. And what’s helpful to an advisor and

Reese Harper: what’s not. Yeah. And even to this day, I mean, that’s a big part of the technology investment that we’re making now. Now we’re like, when I first saw you doing those reports, I was like, [00:03:00] huh, that’s going to be expensive.

That’s not going to last. That going to last very long. So. Basically, someone’s going to be able to make like 10 reports a day, you know, so that, that, that was like the first impetus to realizing like, okay, what I’m going to take an Excel macros class, or I’ve got to figure out whether we can get data out of this system to like, so you really didn’t want, I didn’t want to let a piece of software dictate our process.

And there was a lot of financial planning software out there that was like, just print this out and show it to people. And I’m like, well, it’s, yeah. This is really bad stuff. This is not, you shouldn’t put this in front of any human under any circumstances ever. This should never see the light of day. And, and I don’t want to push print on that.

Anyway, I remember telling Ryan this and I just get frustrating and he’s like, well, you know, we’ll start Making our own stuff. I’m like, okay. Yeah, let’s make our own reports And then when I saw him start to make what I was [00:04:00] sketching out or telling him about and he was our first UX designer And then it just took so long that it was like we’re not gonna do this

Do you know I do, you know, I just talked to Creed Jones last week Creed the Economist I think I did must have just watched like beautiful mind or something a movie Where I saw a chalkboard and like fancy, um, scientific, you know, formulaic kind of approach. Or was that good will hunting? Yeah, good will hunting, could have been beautiful mind, good will hunting, could have been both.

And so I went to, I went to Home Depot, and I got like a ten foot wide by, um, 15 foot tall, like, giant plastic piece of, like, whiteboard material and just drug it into the office and stuffed it into the second room from the [00:05:00] back on the right. Do you remember that? Yep, that was my first office. Yeah, we kicked you out of there and moved you to the other office, and I was like, we’re gonna come up with a universal formula for healthy finances.

Financial health, yep. And I’m gonna find a number, and it’s gonna be like pi. Yeah, right. Yeah. Yep. It’s gonna like we’re gonna find the number that solves the equation and I brought I didn’t know like I just started doing it myself For the first few days. I tested and realized I’m not as capable as I thought and so I of course reached out to my network of Economists, and Cree Jones.

Hi, my name is Cree Jones. I’m have a PhD in economics and I’m an associate professor of law at Brigham Young University. Cree Jones, who he was, he was the smartest kid I knew in my undergrad. He was like teaching at the testing center and uh, of he was teaching math. To all the undergrads. He had [00:06:00] gotten like a, some kind of a magna cum laude undergrad in mathematics degree.

And I thought, well, he’ll know. So I brought him in and I started explaining this all to him. And he’s just like, Yeah. So I, so from what I remember, Reese was trying to come up with a way that you could measure somebody’s financial stability or success on how well that they’re saving relative to other people.

And he wanted to boil it down to a particular number. And what I remember is, I mean, there’s, And something that I now appreciate as an economist is It’s not all a science There’s a bit of an art to it knowing what you’re going to include in your equation

Ryan Isaac: how you’re going to measure it You also end

Reese Harper: up you need a lot of data on the success of other people to know how important different variables are So I think we essentially spent Three or

Ryan Isaac: four hours writing

Reese Harper: on the whiteboard and just talking about how complicated it would actually be to do it.

I think it’s totally feasible. And now as an economist, I’ve got a clear picture of how you would do it. And it’s just a very complicated problem to try to solve. [00:07:00] Especially

Ryan Isaac: for,

Reese Harper: you’re just a person with the idea and then somebody that just has an undergraduate degree in math. I want to like weight all of these factors and give each thing a weighting, but I’m like, which one’s more important?

Is risk management more important? Savings? What about, like, real estate equity? Like, how do I know if someone’s debt leverage is the right thing for their income level? How leveraged should someone be? I remember, like, explaining all this to him, and he just, at the end of it, we were just kinda like, we spent like four hours in the room.

And yeah, he just like talked through this idea of what he wanted to do. And then I just spent an afternoon

Ryan Isaac: talking about how complicated

Reese Harper: it would be to solve it. And I was like, okay, cool. This has been great. Like we got a lot accomplished and the whole whiteboard just filled with all this like stuff.

And I just remember feeling like. This is stupid. This is so hard. Like, this is just not worth it. I brought Cree Jones in and he can’t figure it out. Like, who’s gonna be able to figure it out? And so I can, I could see the value of the tool, [00:08:00] right? Even though we were fuzzy on how we were going to execute the tool.

Because I think

Ryan Isaac: it’s super useful for people

Reese Harper: to know. Anyway, Cree went on actually to get like a PhD in economics and law from Chicago or something, studying with like Eugene Fama, like coincidentally. I don’t know if you knew this. No, anyway, he just got hired on as a law professor last week. He got his first full time job.

So Cree Jones got his first full time job, and he’s like my high school, you know, best friend. 14 years later. And I’ve been working my tail off for 17 years. He’s been going to school for this long. So

my point was like, we have this experience, and we have this whiteboard full, and I realized that I was over complicating. The one number, like, I couldn’t assign, because it’s impossible to assign a weight, like, what’s more important in someone’s life is spending a weightier measure of health than [00:09:00] savings, or is debt, or, and I was trying to, I was overcomplicating, I was trying to simplify it so much, because I was big into the, the um, quote, um, Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication by Leonardo da Vinci, and I thought, we just need one number, that way Ryan can just give me one number.

And I, I can be very precise about it and I can know what someone’s financial health is and what area to help them with based on this number and, and it just turned out to be that it was, it was more like you couldn’t weight each factor, you just had to like identify a factor, so you had to say okay, we know savings, someone’s savings is important.

How are we going to measure that and how are we going to weight that in its own right? So if someone’s making a hundred thousand a year, what percentage of their income should they save? If they’re making 125, if they’re making 150, if they’re making 200, like how would that change? And that to me seemed like it started all falling to get, falling into place after [00:10:00] we tried to create the one unified financial health indicator.

We just saw the And, and, and over time, we’re able to really precisely identify each one, you know, that we really did think spending was something that was worth spending time on every year, measuring and giving people feedback on. It really did make sense to look at someone’s debt to income ratio. And tell them if they needed to add leverage, decrease leverage, you know, or just refinance.

And keep similar amounts of leverage. Meaning keep their DTI the same. Like that, each one of these like, things became, you know, what we eventually turned into the elements down the road.

What would you, what do you remember, Ryan?

Ryan Isaac: Well, yeah, I’m actually so that whiteboard was like the first instance and what it’s what you said It was literally like a 10 by 15 foot equation. That didn’t mean anything It was

Reese Harper: really long It was a [00:11:00] really really long equation like we did come up with an equation to wait all of this stuff It spit

Ryan Isaac: out a number though, but we just didn’t know what that number

Reese Harper: It was just a really really long equation and it was like it was so complicated It was just like the wrong way to approach the problem.

Ryan Isaac: It was nuts but from there what happened is You probably remember this from there. We took pieces of the equation and then we moved it into, uh, spreadsheets. Yeah. And then, so then, then there was like 20 or probably 15 sections of the big equation that became its own spreadsheet. And so then we started putting every client into this spreadsheet under each of these different sections and started like ranking and, uh, recording progress.

But then there were too many clients to fit in spreadsheets. So from there it went out to, um, do you remember when we put everything in Smartsheet?

Reese Harper: Which is another spreadsheet program, but a little more like Went from

Ryan Isaac: one spreadsheet program to a more expensive one. And then we started doing, um But in

Reese Harper: Smartsheet it was [00:12:00] nice because we started using Yes.

Um, red lights and green lights and yellow lights, like For, yeah. For different factors. So if someone’s data was scary, we used a red light. If it was great, we used a green light. And if it was cautionary, we used a yellow light. And then we had a red flag that was in the sheet for things that were really Really notable.

Like you can’t let this go. We got to talk to him about it. Yeah. And then from

Ryan Isaac: Smartsheet that went for a few years and then that just got not good enough. And then that’s when Jacob, I think, entered the picture. Shout out to Jacob Rich. My

Reese Harper: name is Jacob Rich. I am the planning operations manager at Dentist

Ryan Isaac: Advisors.

And started helping us take that data into, then, then we started boiling it down into. The elements and got it down to 12. It was a lot

Reese Harper: of like manual work and, um, I could see the, the goal and like the vision of what they were trying to accomplish, [00:13:00] and it just kind of sucked that it had to be, am I allowed to say sucked?

Okay. It just kind of sucked that I had to do it manually. And so as I started working with the developers to, uh, come up with ways that we could automate these processes and the data flow, so it could automatically be pumped into Salesforce where we could build the functions and the formulas that we needed to calculate

Ryan Isaac: element scores, that’s the evolution.

And then it’s gone from starting the elements and now developing, you know, elements into technology on a phone. So. That’s when

Reese Harper: things really started to pick up and the vision started to become more clear.

Ryan Isaac: In all the things that we’ve developed, uh, Reese has luckily hired smart designers. Besides my early, uh, designing skills. And we’ve made everything, like, really pretty. Like, it’s really fun [00:14:00] to look at. You know, people go to our website and they’re excited to see the elements. They’re excited to see That they actually kind of get something physical from financial planning.

It feels like a widget, you know it’s like a service that kind of got made feeling like a widget a little bit and it’s it’s interesting because It ends up making the the client and the customer feel like like it was designed for them because there’s so much Emphasis on making them, we want them to read the reports.

We want them to see the data. We want them to be engaged. This whole thing was built to make a financial advisor’s job better and easier. And there’s two things that, um, even after, I mean, it’s, it’s almost been about 14 years, but even after this long of a time, there’s two things that still make me feel like I’m doing a good job for people that revolves completely around the system that we built.

One of them. Um, is every month when my inbox, um, which is the current method, uh, gets flooded with PDFs of everyone’s reports. As I start going through those and [00:15:00] giving responses to my clients, I just feel like I’m doing such a service for people that my, this industry will not deliver to them. And our industry typically will be proactive or reactive about two to three subjects, insurance investments, and I don’t know what else, maybe it’s only two.

And the other 10 months a year when we’re hitting subjects that are very important to people, they matter a lot. They, they move the needle. They’re, they’re consequential, but they don’t get talked about by anyone else. When I go through those reports and I reach out to someone and I tell them something about their personal spending or their net worth growth or how liquid they are.

I’m like, man, I, that was a really good job for that person. It makes me feel like I actually, I did a really good job and I gave them something that they can’t get anywhere else in the industry. The second thing is when someone calls out of the blue and wants some kind of reactive conversation to something they’re going through or decision they have to make.

And within two, like they’ll call [00:16:00] me, I’ll pick up the phone. I have no idea what they want to talk about. And while they’re kind of just chit chatting for the first two minutes, I have so much data in front of me. Like I, I know so much about this person in such a short period of time, how they’ve trended historically, where the holes are in their plan, what the red flags are.

I mean, it’s incredible. The amount of data that I can pull up in two minutes without even knowing what someone wants to talk about and then deliver. Advice and answers with like really specific context in context of numbers. And math and data, things that are non emotional that pulls a client away from making emotional decision into making a more trying to make a more logical and calculated decision based on numbers and data.

So those two things keep happening in my career as an advisor and it’s, it’s completely because of the system. If it did not exist, I would not experience those things and my clients wouldn’t experience them either. So those continue to happen for me.[00:17:00]

Reese Harper: Should we maybe just take a quick second to summarize what elements is? I don’t want people to feel like we’re being elusive about it or anything. So if you, if you go to get elements. com, you can see what we’re talking about with our next generation platform. Essentially we’ve identified. These categories of financial health, and we put them on a recurring annual schedule, uh, to help us scale planning and make sure we’re not missing anything for any client at any given point in time.

Anyway, I just wanted to make sure people had a little more context and hopefully that helps. So, uh, Ryan, sorry, I think you were going to finish your thought.

Ryan Isaac: One thing I mentioned, didn’t mention. Um, is I, I think there’s a high level of anxiety as an advisor. I mean, I think it comes with the job. Um, I don’t know if it’ll ever go away.

I constantly worry seven days a week. There’s always at least one moment during the day, usually the evenings and the nights where I’m like, I wonder if this person’s okay. You know, I wonder if they need to hear from me. I wonder if like, I [00:18:00] wonder what I need to do for them. I don’t think that ever goes away, but I think it’s so much worse when you don’t have a system or a process that.

Shows you, uh, like a methodical approach of what to reach out about, you know? So, if I didn’t have this system, and I would still have those worries, but I wouldn’t know what to reach out about. But, like, today, if, uh, a name comes to my head and I’m like, Man, I wonder how they’re doing, you know? I’m gonna reach out.

Um, it’s not a meaningless waste of time. It’s not a, hey, bud, how you doing? Hope you’re well. Like, let me know what’s going on. It’s, you know, there’s, there’s data, um, that I can look at and there’s trends and I have something to talk about constantly. There’s never a shortage of things to bring up or discuss or talk about, even if it’s purely just to educate them, pat on the back, a congratulations for a milestone.

Without that, I mean, the normal anxiety of being an advisor, just the stress of worrying about people would be so much worse. I think, you

Reese Harper: know, as a CEO, that’s trying to look at [00:19:00] how, how does this help the industry? How does this help advisors? How does this help the client? Ultimately what this means is that.

Advisors can actually give better advice to more people and impact more lives at a lower cost. This is the way to protect your future as an advisor. Like the, the future right now is going to be continually commoditized. You know, the investment and selling investments and being a broker of investments is going to continue to be commoditized and the customer is going to want to get planning in exchange for.

their, you know, for their fee, for what they’re paying, and it’s really cool to be able to see that an advisor can just manage, um, in a higher quality way, much more, many more relationships. Everyone’s gonna feel busy all the time, but I’ve now been able to see, like, Ryan probably doesn’t get to see this as much, because I actually get to go talk to other advisors a lot [00:20:00] now, and I see how much planning they’re doing across the number of relationships they have.

I mean, Ryan’s like impacting so many more people than the average advisor is. Um, and it’s, and it’s probably in my experience, based on my interviews, I’m having with other people, you know, it’s, it’s less burdensome on Ryan as well than it would be on a lot of other advisors to do this because he’s got better data in front of them.

He’s more organized. He’s got a methodical approach and all of his customers are. Very similar, you know, he’s targeting a dentist. He’s only working with dentists and it just makes him be able to add a lot more value and have less stress. Stress, as an advisor, a lot of the time, in my experience, comes when you don’t know answers and they, your client asks you to figure out something that you don’t know the answer to.

Like that’s when your stress meter kind of peaks and you’ve got to go on a research project. You’ve got to like go figure this thing out. And when advisors don’t have a consistent type of client that they’re working with, Their [00:21:00] stress level tends to be quite spiky because you will get sent down a research road that might take you, you know, several days.

And mean, in the meantime, all of this like works piling up behind you and you’re trying to figure out an answer to a question that you’ve never really had to research before. Um, it’s hard for any young advisor because this happens even in our firm where young advisors who don’t have experience have to go through this learning curve of, of a question they don’t know an answer to, which creates that spike and a little bit of discomfort.

But once you’ve been where Ryan’s at, there’s just not a lot of questions that come up that you don’t know the answer to. And that’s a pretty like, that’s a great place to be because if you have the right planning process and you have the right niche market and you have the right experience as an advisor, like you can just.

the industry way more. You can earn more money. Your clients can have a more cost competitive experience and you’re, you’re just giving more advice than they’re going to get from any [00:22:00] other competitor. And so that’s just a great, I guess, a great place to be. Thanks to Ryan Isaac for joining us again and to Jacob Rich, our planning operations manager for stopping by.

You’ll be hearing a lot more from both of them. Also a special thanks goes out to Cree Jones for taking some time for us. And of course, thanks to you for being with us. If you’d like to learn more about our technology and elements advisor opportunities, visit getelements. com and subscribe for updates.

Thanks again for joining us. We’ll catch you next time.

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