Nicole E. Peterkin | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Nicole E. Peterkin

Background:  

When Nicole Peterkin began her own business, Braintree, Mass.-based Peterkin Financial, she was determined to change the focus of financial planning from predominately selling products to advisement that would enable customers to save for the future, but not at the expense of today. Peterkin, who is also the author of "If You Love Your Money, Save Like It," will deliver the keynote address at the Lootscout Capital Summit at the Bond Ballroom in downtown Hartford, Conn. on Oct. 5.

The Mistake: 

Making career and financial decisions that are not in line with your value or beliefs.

My parents married when they were 21, had four kids, and should have lived happily ever. They worked hard and saved every penny so one day they might be able to enjoy life.

In 2008, when I was finishing out my junior year as a pre-med student at Boston University, my dad just passed. He went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up the next morning.

Because of a traditional division of responsibilities, my mom had not handled anything to do with money. She didn’t know how to pay the bills or the details of our financial information aside from passwords. Together we started trying to understand what we had and didn’t have. Luckily, Dad had some life insurance because everything else was a mess. The stock market was down. Because my parents had high salaries and were professionally successful, I thought they had everything together. They didn’t.

I immediately realized I didn’t want to spend the next twelve years in med school, working hard at the expense of a lifestyle. I had always thought being in business for yourself meant more balance and I was taking elective finance courses since all my pre-med requirements were fulfilled. It seemed like a natural transition to switch to business.

Since I decided not to apply to med school, I didn’t feel like my diploma had to say Boston University, so I left BU and finished up at UMass Boston.  I was paying for my own education at that time. I had no student loans and I didn’t want to take any on any debt.

After graduation I got solicited by investment banks and insurance companies who were all saying, “Come work for us and sell our products, commission only.” But I didn’t feel like I could walk around and just sell people life insurance policies or mutual funds after my dad had just died. I didn’t want to sell anything, actually. I wanted to build this practice as a young woman in an industry that didn’t look like me—or think like me—and be able to help people with planning, like how I helped Mom after Dad died. My parents had been sold a ton of products; it’s just nothing was cohesive.

I was advised at the time that the way to build a business around fee-for-advice was to start on the commission route, so I got all my licenses including what I needed to be able to charge clients for my advice even if they never bought a product. It took me almost three years to be able to start charging a fee. I didn’t know how to value myself or my services and I couldn't find anyone who understood the industry and could give me a road map. I just knew that there was a gap there—a need. My business is completely different now and is still evolving, but now all clients pay for advice related to planning. It doesn’t matter if they buy anything from me.

My father’s death made me realize that what I valued was time and the ability to be able to control my schedule.

The Lesson:

My father’s death made me realize that what I valued was time and the ability to be able to control my schedule and be there for my future family if I had one. When I interned in corporate banking, I heard my colleagues complain about not being able to make it to their daughter’s ballet recital—which was similar to the sacrifices I resented my dad having to go through.  

I also noticed a huge gap among successful professionals who really had no idea how to maximize their money. That’s when I became committed to the idea that working with a financial planner should continue after you’ve figured out a financial strategy: when you’re worried about work and your family or you want to go on vacation. Clients need advisors who can look past old assumptions and say, “Hey didn’t you say this was important to you? Let’s do that.” Or ask, “Did you refinance your house yet? Why not?  Why are you still paying PMI?”—someone who holds your feet to the fire when everything else is crazy.

Follow Nicole Peterkin on Twitter at @NicolePeterkin.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Peterkin

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