Ep 060

Authentic Brand Messaging, Acquiring a Tax Practice, and Building a Moat Against AI

With

Triad Member: Arcadia Financial

Listen Here

Inside This Episode

Today, I’m sitting down with Triad Members Mike and Jess Panico, the husband-and-wife founders of Arcadia Financial. Mike and Jess are living proof that you can have success in our industry at a young age — and they’ll tell you exactly how they did it.

After taking the leap to start a practice in their 20s, Mike and Jess have quickly grown Arcadia Financial. In 2023, they brought in ~$90 million in total assets, and are on pace to exceed $100 million in 2024.

Their secret? Mike and Jess have managed to stand out through unique branding, building their practice around the tagline, “Live Like Every Day Is Saturday”. As their brand grew their reputation, Mike and Jess also acquired a tax practice, helping ingrain themselves further into their clients’ lives.

This episode is packed with insights. Whether you’re looking to create a brand message that actually sticks out, considering an acquisition, or simply looking for some advice to manage rapid growth, Mike and Jess have you covered.

3 of the biggest insights from Mike and Jess Panico

#1 How a shift to their brand messaging helped them better communicate their unique value to clients, lead authentically, and grow from $5M to $30M AUM in less than a year of making the change.

#2 Making the decision to acquire a tax practice so they could serve their clients at a higher level – and the challenges, growing pains, and long-term benefits that came with that decision.

#3 Mike and Jess make it a goal to take significant time off each summer to spend with their two sons. Hear how they’ve made that possible — and how being intentional with your goals can push you to achieve them.

KEY TAKEAWAYS: 

  • How did Mike & Jess get into finance?
  • Advice for new financial advisors
  • Being analytical vs. being impulsive
  • Crafting unique brand messaging
  • Does your firm live by its message?
  • Reverse engineering retirements
  • Acquiring and running a tax practice
  • Insulating your practice against AI
  • The required cornerstone for significant growth
  • Setting domino goals

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE: 

PEOPLE MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE:

THIS WEEK’S FEATURED REVIEW

Want to leave your own review? Visit us on Apple Podcasts via mobile, scroll to the bottom, and give me your honest thoughts. I read EVERY review that comes through. Not only do they light me up, but they also make a huge impact on people who are considering listening. To leave your review, CLICK HERE. I might even feature it on the show 🙂

MIC DROP MOMENTS WITH MIKE AND JESS PANICO

  • “Our mission statement is to challenge you to fearlessly live like every day is Saturday.” – Jess Panico

  • “If you’ve got the playbook and you’re willing to execute on it, you just have to go and put in the work.” – Mike Panico

  • “You don’t have to wait until your mid-30s to have success in this business.” – Mike Panico

  • “Figure out what’s truly important to you. Just set those goals. Don’t worry about how you’re going to achieve them.” – Jess Panico

Brad Johnson: Welcome back to another episode of Do Business Do Life. I have Mike and Jess Panico here with us today. Welcome to the show.

Mike Panico: Thanks, Brad. It’s awesome to be here.

Jess Panico: Yeah. So, we’re excited.

Brad Johnson: Awesome. I am too. And one of the things we go way back, as they say, I’m trying to remember the first time I officially met you guys. I know you all worked with Shawn. Has it been a decade now?

Jess Panico: Pretty close.

Mike Panico: Close to it. Yeah. I think we met Shawn in ‘16 or ‘17, thereabouts. And actually, this was kind of like a full circle moment because when we met Shawn, there were some local connections that got us in touch with him. But I think, Brad, it was around that time that you were just starting your podcast. And what was so cool about that period of time was that there was like access to what other advisors were up to. And your podcast was one of those things, pioneering things. And I remember giving Shawn the business about it being like, “Hey, can I talk to that Brad guy? Or like, how come you’re not doing a podcast?”

Jess Panico: There’s a lot of that. Yeah. A lot of competition building there just so Shawn could get better. Like, how do we work with Brad? That’s what we’re really.

Mike Panico: Yeah. He seems to have like all the good ideas, and he’s like really proactive in getting it out there. So, it’s one of Shawn’s many deficits. But he’s got other strengths that make up for it.

Brad Johnson: Shawn is going to love the opening of the show. I can’t wait.

Jess Panico: But this is like typical Mike, right? Because he’s just trying to get Shawn to go and Shawn’s just like, “Yeah. Brad’s awesome. He has so many good ideas.” Mike’s like, “No, this is not working.” He should be like, “No, you want to listen to me. Not Brad,” but Shawn was just super nice the whole time.

Brad Johnson: He was doing some mental jujitsu, just basically taking your momentum and just letting it fly by, right?

Jess Panico: Yeah. He won’t get it under the skin there.

Brad Johnson: No. What’s really been fun about this journey because there’s a lot of relationships that we both, Shawn and myself, both go way back with, and I remember exactly the moment that the two of you really got on my radar because we were working at an organization that had lots of advisors at the time. And, Mike, you were fairly new to the organization, and you kind of, well, obviously you and Jess were working together. I think you were the one on the stage at the time. And you popped up, there was a little panel discussion and you’d gone from like, I just remember the number 40 that year for some reason. So, I think it might have been 40 million of total assets.

And you popped up and you’re just like real. And that’s what I’ve always liked about you. Our industry tends to have this theme where we put people on stage and they’re the hero and everything’s rainbows and butterflies and the world is perfect. And you were always like, “Well, yeah, we had some good success this year but here’s like what we battled through, and here’s how we’re able to get there.” And I just remember an instant rapport just watching you from stage even before we really officially met. So, you’ve influenced me as well, both of you have, and it’s been awesome to see you. You grow your team, your firm, and do some really cool things, and I’m excited to get into them today.

So, on that note, one story I’ve never actually heard is, how did the two of you get into the world of finance? Like, what was the jumping-off point?

Mike Panico: So, the short version of it is I dragged Jess into it at one point.

Jess Panico: Yeah. I’d say one word sums up for me, which is begrudgingly is how it started. Very different today from where the beginnings were.

Mike Panico: I went into financial services right out of college. I was working at Ameriprise. Didn’t end up working out there all that long just because it was very corporate, a lot of pressure to do proprietary products, that sort of thing. I left there and sort of joining like a semi-independent group. I used to call it The Archipelago because there were about seven guys that were operating independently under one roof, sharing overhead, that sort of deal. And there was one gentleman in particular that was like more or less grooming me to be his successor. You know, he was in his early 60s. He needed a game plan for an exit. And two to three years into that relationship, it turned out that his daughter took an interest in things and I got kicked to the curb pretty quickly.

So, I was like kind of really fed up either with both the corporate stuff or hitching my wagon to somebody else’s. And I was like, “You know what, I’m just going to go do this on my own,” which was working out of my car and basement effectively at that time. I mean, this was probably like the mid-2000s, late 2000s. Doing a lot of work with business owners, a huge pain point at that time was group health insurance. So, normally you knock on doors and you get thrown out immediately but it’s like, “Hey, just one quick thing. How’s your health insurance?” And everybody was really upset about that so that opened up a lot of doors to do work with business owners, which was pretty lucrative for a guy just working from home.

But then Obamacare became a thing. There seemed to be like a crosshairs on commissions related to group health insurance. And I said to Jess, “I’m not sure that this is going to work long term. I probably have to pivot.” So, I didn’t know what to do. I mean, I didn’t have a relationship with other coworkers or like a firm that was upstream or something like that. So, being somewhat desperate, I started talking to a couple of wholesalers, and I was like, “I know that you have relationships with guys in town that are really successful. Like, what are they doing to attract new business and to do work with people individually?” And their response was like, “Well, we don’t really know. We just support those guys, so why don’t you just talk to them?”

And I was like, “Why would they talk to me?” And this was actually a really interesting breakthrough in that as I started talking to these folks, I discovered that successful people love talking about how successful they are. So, I would call these guys and offer to take them out to lunch. They’d be like, “No, kid, I’ll take you out to lunch.” And in short, what they were all doing effectively was event marketing. So, we started talking to some of the FMOs that they were working with, and we started trying to do CE seminars for CPAs or steak dinners, library educational stuff for retirees, and that sort of thing. And, at first, they were disasters. I mean, Jess and I at that time were newlyweds, and we were probably spending all that we had for money.

Jess Panico: Do you remember our very first seminar? There were seven people that showed up. We didn’t even speak. They had another speaker come out. No one signed up for a consultation, and one woman told us about how she was suing her current financial advisor.

Mike Panico: Yes. That was the one person who signed up for a consult was a person engaged in a lawsuit.

Jess Panico: So, I guess technically we did get one appointment.

Brad Johnson: Okay. So, what town was this in? Where was this located at the time?

Jess Panico: This is at Lowell, Massachusetts. That’s where we did it. Yeah. I think UMass Lowell with that seminar.

Mike Panico: Yeah. So, I think it was just one of those things like we just have to push through. I mean, it was like maybe the definition of insanity like the first one or two were not working but like what else are we going to do here? And the timing was also interesting in that as the seminars actually did start working out a little bit, we had just had our first child, just had a plan to raise him for a couple of years, not immediately go back to work. So, in short, I was like, “Hey, honey, while the baby’s napping, could you do me a favor here and maybe help me with some of these emails and the phone calls and whatnot?” She’s like, “Okay, just while the baby’s napping.”

I mean, Jess, you can tell your side of it if you’d like but I think that she quickly discovered that while I maybe was halfway decent at working with people on the financial planning end, just all the other mechanics of running a practice, I was a complete mess. So, she was like, “All right,” and started pushing me out of the way a little bit, taking over some of the operational stuff. And I’ll always remember the first day that she reported to duty, in our basement, our little home office, and she’s wearing sweatpants and a hoodie. And I thanked her for honoring the company dress code because that’s really where we’re at, at that point in our lives.

Jess Panico: There were like baby stains like all over. And he’s like, “Good. I like this.”

Brad Johnson: Mike, that’s called athleisure. It’s athleisure. It’s cool now. It’s okay.

Jess Panico: I was just like a trendsetter, Brad.

Mike Panico: And then the rest becomes history. And you say this sometimes with other people that you talk to that an overnight success is ten years in the making. You know, the subsequent eight, nine, ten years were just us growing and expanding relatively fast. We got out of that basement, we started doing, it was like what? Like leasing office space and that turned into actually getting our own office. Now, we have multiple locations that went from one employee to now like over 30, pretty close to 40. So, what happened over time is I put all my energy and effort into running all things planning-related, and then Jess has taken over literally everything else. I mean, she runs everything from HR to marketing and everything in between from an operational standpoint. So, we’re truly a two-headed monster as it relates to this stuff. And I absolutely would not have been able to get out of that basement if it weren’t for Jess and her influence.

Jess Panico: Thanks, Mike.

Brad Johnson: Jess, any thoughts on your side?

Jess Panico: Yeah. You know, just a few. It’s funny because we see a lot of people in the office coming in for interviews asking us how we got our start. And I say all the time that if we were in our 40s starting this off instead of being in our 20s, we would never have done it. We wouldn’t have taken the risk that we did back then. Like, I don’t know what we’re thinking. You know, we’re both like newly married. We have a baby on the way. My ex is like, “Eh, I’m going to quit the corporate job and drive to people’s homes and meet in coffee shops and move into the basement.” And then I come from a healthcare background but I used to travel all the time and do some healthcare finance consulting.

And I don’t want to travel with like a newborn coming and Mike said, “So, quit your job and move into the basement too, and do something that you have no idea how to do.” And I was like, “Okay. This is a great idea.” So, here we are, late 20s, newly married, new mortgage, baby on the way, quit both our jobs. Like, not a lot saved in the bank account and we’re like, “Well, guess we got to make this work.” And it’s kind of crazy the risks that we were willing to take back then. And you know, that transition that happened and it’s really neat to see along the way that, yeah, it was like Mike and I just in that basement forever. And we both have kind of strong personalities.

So, when he’s like, “Hey, thanks for being here. Can you do me a favor and send some emails and make some notes and do some phone calls?” I’m like, “You can’t tell me what to do.” He’s like, “You’re literally the only other person here helping me.” I’m like, “Okay. Fine.” True enough. I can’t wait to get out of this basement and go back. I was going to become a nurse practitioner. So, I was all excited about that. And then we really started falling into this luck through these seminars and started really focusing on retirement planning. And what I love about health care was making a difference in individuals’ lives. And I didn’t know I could do that in this, in finance.

And seeing now how many people that we’ve touched and how that they’re retiring and that they are able to not worry about money. You have that clarity and the confidence. That just means the world and eventually go out the basement. And I realized that I absolutely wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. So, it’s pretty neat but I think if we weren’t so young and dumb and willing to take that risk, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Brad Johnson: You know, just hearing that, it makes me think of just my entry into finance and just kind of being naive. You know, it’s like, “Oh, I’ll just quit my corporate job and everything will work out.” And then it gets hard. It’s kind of that like honeymoon phase of starting a business. So, if you both go back to that moment in your life and if you really said, “These are the variables that I went through to make that decision to just like jump and like dive in.” And I’m just picturing both of you right now in your basement. Like, what the hell did we do? Like, if you had tips for advisors out there that are going through tough times because it’s always fun when you have the idea and then the work sets in once you make the decision, what advice would you give on that?

Mike Panico: I would say it’s just a matter of putting in the work. I mean, I think the observation that we had as we talked to some of those other advisors and then through them, we got hooked up with some FMOs and that even more advisors, I mean, the big observation I had is that these weren’t like the most brilliant minds in the community. They didn’t have something that we didn’t but their ability to produce what they were doing or run a business the way they were running it wasn’t based on some cred, like they weren’t doctors. They didn’t have these credentials or higher education that was a barrier. It was just the work and the effort. So, something I would say often is like, “Jess, if these knuckleheads can do this, we can do it. Absolutely.”

Jess Panico: I’m a knucklehead too. Why can’t I do it?

Mike Panico: Right. In fact, my argument was we should be able to do this better because oftentimes and, Brad, you know this is the case. Sometimes you run into advisors that are really successful but they don’t even really know what they’re doing. Like, they might be really good at sales but not really good at planning or they’re excellent at planning but they’re afraid to get out in front of people, right? So, one thing that Jess and I are not lacking for is confidence, right? So, getting out in front of people and doing that end of the work was not a problem for us in the slightest. And then like she’s mentioning it being a risk and certainly it was. I mean because absolutely when you’re spending a bunch of money and nobody shows up, like that was and is the risk.

But it is a numbers game, right? You say that oftentimes. So, if somebody’s brand new starting off on like the first run of the ladder, if you’ve got confidence and you’ve got a playbook to follow. And that’s what was always really great for us too is that these other advisors were sharing like here’s how we run an event, here’s how we run our practice. Here’s like some of the solutions that we’re using. I mean, the playbook was there. So, if you’ve got the playbook and you’re willing to execute on it, you just got to go and put in the work. It does take time, obviously, to get lift off but if you put in the work and the perseverance, I mean, it’s absolutely there.

Jess Panico: Yeah. It’s getting crazy. It’s not like you go to school and you sit down and they’re like, “Okay. Here’s how to be a financial advisor. Like, this is how you do a proper allocation because no one even agrees on that, right? And here are like products still got in. Here’s how to do marketing and here’s like how to run a business and doing HR and all these other pieces.” No one sat you down and took you through these courses. You just have to always be the student, right? We’re just constantly kicking on rocks and being like, “What’s going over there? Like, what’s under that? Is that like a better way to like build a business, a better way to like serve our clients?”

I think one thing that’s been really big for Mike, too, is that coming up, going into the corporate world and not really having any mentors is that he knew the advisors that we would bring on. Like, he would be a very strong mentor too. We have this one advisor in our office and he came straight out of school, and Mike’s like, “I’m going to teach him everything.” And I think that he had instant success because we laid down that groundwork and gave him the playbook and taught him like, “This is how you be a successful advisor,” but also, you’re like giving back to your community as well and making a really well-rounded person. And that’s something we never had from the beginning.

Mike Panico: Yeah. It’s like people are cheating today, Brad, because when we were coming up right out of college, right, and this dates us quite a bit but the internet was a thing but like communities had not yet formed. And where the good FMOs were as opposed to the bad ones like it took a while for people to figure that all out. I mean, we didn’t figure out where all those connections were until like 2015, for crying out loud.

Jess Panico: There’s no Twitter. There was no Reddit.

Mike Panico: Yeah. So, I mean like one of the things I say to Jess quite a bit is like I floundered in my 20s for lack of good direction and mentorship. And then by the time I found some good connections and a playbook to follow, I was already in my early to mid-30s. And so, for the people that are coming on board now with Arcadia or advisors that are meeting you through Triad, I mean, they don’t have to flounder through their 20s and 30s or for like five, ten years to figure this out. They can find the winning playbook right out of the gate. That’s such an amazing cheat code to have. So, I’m a little bit jealous that all those resources weren’t available then but it is what it is.

And so, what we’ve been telling some of our guys like you don’t have to wait until your mid-30s to have success in this business the way that I had. I mean, you could do it right out of school within a few years if you just buckle down and just follow what works.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, I was talking with Nick and Ryan on the coaching team to prep for this conversation, and both of them independently were like, you know, I was like, “Hey, look, if you put Mike and Jess up against all of the community and all of the members we serve, like what stands out? What’s unique that we could share in this conversation?” And both of them said basically when you guys are coached on an idea, number one, you’ve said it a number of times already, just a humbleness of, yeah, I mean, if you look at the numbers and we’ll get into those a little later like you’re in the upper, upper echelon of independent financial advisors firms as far as assets gathered on an annual basis. But the ego has not grown with the production and the revenue because you’ve stayed humble students and like, “Ah.”

Now, one of the things that I love about you, Mike, you’re going to question everything, right? You’re going to say, “Okay. Well, help me understand. Okay. What might not work about that?” And you’re going to dive in. You’re not just going to take every idea and run with it. But they said the speed at which you all take from idea to action and implementation once you figure it out, “Yes, we are going to test this and run with it,” is almost unmatched from many of the other offices we serve and many of the other most successful firms out there. How do you all do that? Is there something internally? Is it you and Jess who are getting together saying these are the two big initiatives for the year? How have you cracked that code over the years?

Jess Panico: Well, I think sometimes it’s a little bit of a struggle because Mike wants to approach everything at 200 miles an hour. And a lot of it is great, and some of it is not. And then I’m over here being a little bit more cautious, being like, “Wait, let’s think about that for a second before we go forward. But he’s super passionate about getting things like off the ground implement right away. And then after I think we’ve done our due diligence, this is really our team. You know, back when it was just us or a small office, we had like four or five people in our office for years, it was just you have the idea in front of you, and you got to get done and that’s your focus. And it’s like a dog with a bone. You don’t let it go until the new initiative is implemented. And now our company has 35 people so we got a lot of help. And that helps too.

Mike Panico: Yeah. I’m highly analytical for sure but I’m also outrageously impulsive. And between those two things like usually the impulsivity wins and that’s gotten us into a lot of trouble.

Jess Panico: Less trouble than if I wasn’t here but some trouble.

Mike Panico: You know, sometimes advisors, it’s said, right, that they see something bright and shiny and they just want to latch on to it. Usually, what I’m able to spot is like when there really is a great idea or service or message to embrace. And so, sometimes I definitely get it wrong but I think instinctually, a lot of times whatever we leap on is directionally what we should be doing. And whether it’s a 50/50 split between the good ideas and the bad ideas, I mean, so much of entrepreneurship is being willing to take risks and also fail. I mean, we’re only as strong as we are on the back of all of the mistakes that we’ve made. I mean, you have to screw up, just think, okay, step back and say, “What do we do wrong here? How do we avoid it again in the future? Or why did this fail? What would be a better way of going about it?”

So, I’m glad that the analytical part of my brain doesn’t often win because I think that if you are analytical at your base, you’re not going to do new things or take chances. And I think that’s what really because if you just sit there and say, “Gosh, I need to analyze this to make sure it’s going to work,” I mean, yeah, it might work in practice for one person but it might be different. I mean, that’s something we find a lot, especially with marketing. Like, what works really well out in Kansas just does not work in New Hampshire or Massachusetts. So, sometimes I’m just analyzing it to the nth degree. You just have to do it and see if it works or not. And I think so many people like if we’re talking to other like younger advisors that are listening and they’re worried like, “Hey, I want to analyze this first before I execute on it,” you’ll be frozen forever.

It’s not like an angel is going to visit you in your dreams and say, “Yes, this is going to work for you.” You have to try it and see if it will work. And so, I think we’ve been successful off that impulsivity. Some of it’s definitely luck but we’ve always been able to put in the work and anytime we see a good idea we’re like, “Hey, why can’t we do this too?”

Jess Panico: Right. It’s really you cannot be risk averse and be a business owner. You can’t. I mean, you can’t make silly decisions and ruin all your money. But back when we met you and Shawn in ’16, ’17, I remember even our sales process, we were meeting with clients and solving the income needs first and talking about fixed indexed annuity and what company and having a lot of those conversations. And we had like no assets under management. And when we met you guys and learned about this whole philosophy of really presenting a plan and not a product, and we’re like, “How would that ever work? They don’t even know which annuity we’re going with. They can’t do their research on it.” And we thought about it for a while and we’re like, “I don’t know, it seems like a lot of people are having success. Why don’t we try to implement it?”

That first year when we changed our sales process, not only was there no pushback from our clients, like zero. I was like, “How is this actually working?” But we went from less than $5 million under management to over $30 million at the end of that year. It was insane. And it’s something that didn’t intuitively make sense to us but we trusted the people that were saying, “Why don’t you just give it a shot? Like, it really does make sense.” And we’re like, “Okay. Well, we’ll let you know how this goes.” And it was a huge success and I can’t ever imagine having a different type of process.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. That’s such a good example of I heard something there that came to mind. It’s being an entrepreneur is running a series of experiments in your business. And obviously, not dumb ones like you said, Jess, that’s just going to burn a bunch of cash but it’s like little mini-experiments. And you were willing to run that experiment like, “Hm, it’s working for others. Maybe we should try it.” And now you’re like, “Oh, we were doing this the hard way the whole time. Now, we can just serve people and help them build a plan. And by the way, an annuity might be one of the tools that we help fix the problem but we don’t have to lead with the product.” And that’s actually a perfect segue because I know when you first got to Triad, you had fully embraced financial planning at that point. You were obviously managing assets, using annuities for the fixed-income portion of a portfolio. Were you guys doing some life insurance as well at that point on the tax planning side?

Jess Panico: Yeah.

Brad Johnson: Okay. So, obviously using a lot of different tools to fix problems. And you had actually already gone down the proprietary process. You named a process. Was it trademarked at the time, the first one that you came to us with?

Jess Panico: No, we never got that one trademarked.

Brad Johnson: Okay. So, it was the on-track and on-time process, and you had a nice little railroad track for your logo or something, or a train on a railroad track. And this is an exact quote from Nick that Mike said, so please correct it if it’s strong. But, Mike, this one didn’t sound like you at all. So, when we first started coaching and we were like, “Okay. Let’s talk about your process and like, what are your thoughts?” you said, “It sucked and we hated using it.” Is that accurate? The name, the name of the actual planning process.

Jess Panico: Should have got that trademarked.

Mike Panico: Yeah, it felt a little hokey. I mean, my big hang-up at that time and it’s probably still true for a lot of people so I might rub some people the wrong way here. But so many financial advisors have either for their message or logo or both, like a clipper ship or a compass or a lighthouse. And I get it because like it’s a guide, it’s a beacon. And so, it’s like we need to do something different here. I think our original logo was like an arrow. I mean, that’s another big one that’s out there, right? Because it’s all about direction. And so, we wanted to be different. One of our first radio coaches came up with the train theme and we’re like, “Okay. The train’s a little bit different. I get it. We’re going to get people on track, get them to their destination on time.” Like, so it was fine, but.

Jess Panico: It has good imagery like with that but I don’t think it really spoke to us.

Mike Panico: Yeah. It never was like something that settled in our hearts. So, it was catchy. It worked. It was a little bit different but it didn’t really like speak to. I think at the time we didn’t even understand how important it was to have an authentic message that you really wanted to share with the world. So, at that time, it was more about it being a tagline than like a real representation of who we are. Or maybe we didn’t even know who we were at that point because we were just in growth mode and still trying to figure some stuff out.

Jess Panico: Or just shoveling coal into the engine.

Mike Panico: Yeah.

Brad Johnson: Yes. Love it.

Jess Panico: Every now and then…

Brad Johnson: Wait. Jess, is that considered a mom joke? Because I get hit with dad. That’s a dad joke for my kids. Is that a mom joke?

Jess Panico: Yeah. Or I don’t know. Maybe I can tell dad jokes, too.

Brad Johnson: I love it. Okay. So, I want to give kind of the before and after for context here because what you guys have done with your brand, it’s one of my favorites ever in this space. And I’m not just saying that like I love it. I use it as an example a lot. And so, I want to hear your side but I’ll give like a brief overview for the listeners and watchers. So, you came in, you are having a ton of success. You’ve done the work and like you said, Mike, it was something. It was kind of an analogy for some of what you did and help clients do but it didn’t come from the heart. It was kind of just like a tagline, a catch line and you didn’t really like believe it or be it. So, we walked through and, obviously, Chris Smith is a strategic partner in the Triad community. And we call it kind of it’s the brand manifesto portion of our onboarding process. And you all were one of the very first to go through that at Triad.

Thank you for your patience because it’s very different today than it was back then. And it was a little clunky and it took a little while but what came out of it was just beautiful. And I don’t want to butcher it. So, I want you all to say it like you would say it today but it’s all over your website for those watching or listening, we’ll put it in the show notes but Arcadia.financial and go to their website. It doesn’t like you might not know it’s a financial advisor website when you first hit it because it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like something completely different. So, what’s your version of the framing and the phrasing that you use now?

Jess Panico: Yeah. So, our mission statement is to challenge you to fearlessly live like every day is Saturday. And I think Chris Smith is such a genius because this is actually a great example of something that Mike was like, “Oh, our old motto or our theme like sucked and I hated it and wasn’t working,” but Nick called us one day and was like, “Hey, do you know who Chris Smith is?” And I was like, “That’s like the most generic name I’ve ever heard now.”

Brad Johnson: It’s almost as common as Brad Johnson, right?

Jess Panico: Yeah. Right. You guys had some bonding over that drama. So, we sat down and he said, “Hey, listen, he’s this amazing brand coach. Why don’t you sit down with him and work on your brand?” I was like, “Oh, our brand is like really bad, horrible but okay.” And it’s night and day from where it was. It’s like I didn’t realize that it could be so much better with this power, this concept of Saturday and what Chris is so brilliant and is that we sat down with him and he was like, “Just tell me about you guys. Like, what are you guys all about? What’s important to you? What are you trying to do in your business?”

And we literally just like word vomited all over him for like two hours. And he was like, “Wow. What I’m hearing a lot is that you guys are tough love. Like, you want to challenge people. You want to support them but you’re not letting them take the easy way out. You’re not a bunch of yes-men. You’re not telling them what they want to hear. And you guys really value how precious and important is life and how short it is.” And we only have once been around this thing. And how do we make it that everyone, our clients, prospective clients, our team members at work are living every day like it’s Saturday? And what’s so neat about Saturday is your ideal Saturday, Brad, and mine, it might all be totally different but thinking of Saturday, it gives you that feeling. Like, that feeling that you’re not so concerned where’s my next check coming from? Because you know that Arcadia has it all planned out for you, and you really get to focus on whatever it is that you want to be doing.

So, it was really, really a neat process. And our training theme was kind of all like blaze and copper and like a little cold and now Saturday? I mean, to me it’s like bright colors and balloons and outdoor festivals and cotton candy and live music and beer and like it’s happy. It’s happy for me. And we want to just spread happiness with everyone too.

Mike Panico: Yeah. I think the messaging part, we’ve had several big breakthroughs. I think the very first breakthrough as we covered was embracing fearlessness with marketing. And then a second breakthrough was developing a process to help clients navigate all of their assets, as opposed to just being product-focused. And what the whole exercise with Chris Smith brought under the microscope was the breakthrough concerning messaging. What are you really doing here? What is the fruits of working through your process or with your firm specifically? Because clients, of course, have other options. So, I get, of course, like a little bit famous for my rants as Jess already kind of like alluded to.

And so, I was just riffing that, well, no, I don’t want to be known for the guy that just strictly diversifies your stuff or gets you a better rate of return or maybe even helps you save money on your taxes because those things are helpful but they’re not the end result that people are looking for. Most people have jobs that they don’t like, they want to get out from, or they’re stuck in traffic and they don’t want to do it anymore. They don’t see their kids or grandkids enough. They’re not hitting their bucket list items. And so, I’ve always felt, and I guess we were stymied in expressing that that’s what we wanted people to know about us, that made us different, that we were going to spend, in a lot of cases, way more time talking to clients about life than their money.

So, one of the things that the first initial talk with Chris initiated is I remember going into the boardroom and I gathered who was on our team at the time around and I got up on the whiteboard and I put a line right down the middle. And on the left side, I was like, “Guys, let’s talk for a second. What do we do for clients? What is the impact that the clients experience in working with us as opposed to other people?” And already there was a lot of energy around that. It was like, we get people sometimes retired, well ahead of when they thought was possible or they’re able to do more or spend more than they thought they could. They feel more relaxed. They know that there’s a team in their corner, all this great, positive, impactful stuff. And then on the right side, I was like, “Okay, guys, what does it say on our website that we do?” And it was like portfolio management, tax planning, like all this dry stuff—

Jess Panico: Diversification.

Mike Panico: —that literally every other financial advisor website says. And I was like, “So, we do all this wonderful stuff but we don’t tell anybody about it.” So, Chris kind of pushed us to embrace that messaging. And at first, I think we were really, really afraid because when we saw the first prototype of the new messaging, especially on the website, I was like, “Chris, this looks like a travel agent’s website.” I think people are going to be confused when they visit us.

Jess Panico: What do we do here?

Mike Panico: There’s no mention of money or anything. And he was just like, I think it was one of those trust me moments, which we’ve been on that precipice several times. And so, we said, “Okay. Let’s take a plunge.” And that was an enormous breakthrough, really, because I think people are thirsty for this stuff. The world is so negative. I say to people a lot, you’ve got this little device in your pocket or on your wrist that reminds you constantly through social media how negative and terrible the world is and how all your neighbors and inner circle friends and family have a different opinion than you and that people are just angry. They’re down and out. They’re often very bleak in terms of how they feel about the present and the future.

And so, what we’re trying to do by our messaging is be like this oasis of positivity, in this desert of negativity where we’re like if you believe that we still live in an amazing country and it’s a blessing to be alive, and you’ve been working hard and saving for a future that you want to enjoy, you want to come talk to this team that’s going to relentlessly push and coach and challenge you to embrace all that and put all that other noise to the background. So, that’s what that process did for us. And it’s probably the thing that I’m most proud that we’ve developed as a firm here.

Jess Panico: Yeah. It was so neat too because when we came to Triad, there’s part of my mind that’s like when we’re going into different groups before, we knew there was so much more to grow and things that we could do. And so, like when we first met you and Shawn when we were just not managing assets, we learned how to do that. It opened up a whole world to us. But by the time we joined Triad I’m like, “Well, we’re kind of already established office here.” We’re our own RIA, and we’re doing all this holistic planning. We’re doing some insurance stuff and assets under management and long-term care and Medicare supplement all the stuff. So, I’m like I know there’s a lot more growing to do but I’m not sure how you get there.

And then you guys and all your infinite wisdom in Triad was like, “Why don’t you go through this branding process?” I’m like, “I don’t think this is it but okay.” And boy, was that it. That was another huge pivotal moment for us like talk about moving the needle. So, while I was more focused on, I think, the structure of the operation, it was really all the messaging and being true to like who we are and putting that out. That was huge growth for our company.

Mike Panico: I want to share, too, that one of the real powers of having the right message is we have clients now that will send us photos from vacation or from family events and they’ll throw on like a #Saturday moment and like they just get it. They know what that means without really any big explanation. And it’s gotten to the point now to where prospects will come in for their first discovery visit. And one of the first questions that me or any of the other advisors ask is, “What brought you in here today?” And prospects will say, “I’m here because I want to live every day like it’s Saturday.” Like, they already know that and it just clicks. They know what it means. They know that they’re not there. There’s something in their way. And they feel like we’re going to help be the gatekeepers to get them through to the other side. So, to see the messaging manifest in that way is it’s awe-inspiring. It’s really incredible.

Brad Johnson: That is so cool. Did you guys create the #Saturday moment or did your clients just come up with it? How did it come to be?

Jess Panico: Yeah. We were talking about Saturdays in the office and we’ve had some Saturday stuff but a lot of our clients, people just come up to us all the time and feed it back to us or we’ll be saying we had this one advisor on a call, it was like late Friday afternoon, and he’s helping somebody in this transfer like got held up. And he’s trying to call like all these companies before they closed business for the weekend. And at that point, and we just came out with this new branding and language and everything that, that client said to our advisor, “Hey, man, I know it’s Friday afternoon but it sure feels like Saturday.” And it was so cool to see that start to happen. And it happens all the time. Clients, prospective clients, like people we run into are like, “Oh, yeah, you’re the Saturday people,” like they get so excited about it. So, it’s really neat to see how it wasn’t something that we put out there but they have like brought back to us sharing their Saturday moments. Neat.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. So, the team pulled this off the website. I didn’t even know you guys have done this. So, I believe this is under your bio section, so tell me if it’s not, but it basically says, “My Ideal Saturday,” and there’s one for Mike. There’s one for Jess. I’ll paraphrase a couple of things but Mike basically said, “I have a big work hard, play hard personality. My ideal Saturday, good night sleep, then I’m out. Basically, a steamy cup of black coffee. Time to do some work, preferably physical. I’m out in the yard getting a sweat. Then afternoon, grab some time with the kids, hike outside, bike. Now, it’s time to eat again.” So, Mike’s got a lot of eating in his Saturdays. I love that. We connect on that. “Time to fire up the grill, get the tunes going, relax outside, maybe a board game, have a beer, have some friends over. The best things in life are free, right?”

So, now, I’m going to hit Jess’s. “My ideal Saturday starts with waking up before anyone else or anyone else notices.” Feel that one with kids, right? “To grab a cup of coffee. Go outside no matter the season. If it’s summer before the heat of the day. If it’s winter, no more beautiful time of day being outside, listening to stillness before the world starts to wake up. After I get ready for the day, I’ll be heading back outdoors, blessed to live in New England where we get to experience four distinct seasons. So, my ideal Saturday could fall in any of them. I love them all, hiking, beach, hanging in an outdoor concert, snowshoeing. Alongside of me, close friends and family. To cap it all off, having some good food and beverages are a must, tacos and margaritas. Lobster, bacon, wine, pizza, and beer. A five gourmet restaurant. It doesn’t matter as long as I’m with people I love.”

I mean, so we’ve talked a lot externally how that hits clients but now you bring it back internally. And that’s one of the things I’ve seen with Triad as well. Do business, do life, we want it for you all but we also want it for us. It’s a selfish pursuit, right? And then you can live it. And as Chris Smith says like, “Not just say it but be it.” So, how has that now translated internally to your team, the idea of living every day like it’s a Saturday? How has that played into your culture, how you attract talent, how you show up? Just give me some of that insight because it has to have impacted your team as well.

Jess Panico: Oh, sure. Yeah. I think, and that’s really cool because people, our teammates, who we interview are like, “You guys are just so authentic.” And I’m like, “I don’t know how people can’t be authentic. I don’t know how to be anybody else.” And I think because we express ourselves like that, people feel free to let their hair down and be their true selves as well. And we have people working at Arcadia in their 20s and in their 70s and everywhere in between. And everyone truly just gets along with one another because they’re just being the real true person. And our culture, we have a culture club at work and they’re amazing. They’re always planning awesome, fun things for our team to do internally, externally.

We just went bowling with everybody. We do trivia things. We do lots of stuff around food. And I think it’s really cool because we get to know who everybody is on a personal level. I mean, they say you see your colleagues more than you do your family sometimes because you’re sleeping and commuting and all that stuff, too. So, they should feel free to be who they are and know that that’s what we’re doing for our clients too. We’re supporting them so they can live what their ideal life is. And it’s just really neat to be in this environment, especially coming from corporate backgrounds, where everything has to be a certain way to just be your authentic self and it’s cool.

Mike Panico: It can be a struggle at times. I mean, we’ve been rapidly growing and we’ve asked a lot of our team over the last couple of years, especially those that were with us through COVID and then thereafter. I mean, we were suppressed on hiring needs through COVID. So, I think the year after we hired like 10 or 15 people. It was stupid. And so, we’ve often joked with our team like, “We know that you’re going through Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons but the objective is like we know that you come to work to support what’s important to you on Saturday. And I hope that you know that Jess and I are here to relentlessly support you in that pursuit. The other thing, too, is I hope that you feel like your work is meaningful, that you’re not just punching a clock, that you are having impact on the people that we’re helping.”

And this is still a struggle. We’re trying to work so consistently hit this because this messaging is still kind of in its infant state. I mean, we’ve been doing it for two or three years. And so, I’d be lying if I was saying that we were iron-clad with this. But we try to help our clients make a Saturday declaration. So, what you just read off of our website, that’s like our ideal Saturday. When you come in for our first appointment, we ask our clients like do that same description for us, like pick a given Saturday. There’s a clean calendar, no obligations. You can be doing anything with anybody anywhere. What’s emblematic of an ideal day? And we’ll get clients describing all sorts of stuff because there’s people who are gardeners or they’re travelers, or they just want to mess around with grandkids, whatever.

But then once they say that we’re trying to make it emblematic, we encode it, like that declaration gets thrown into their binder. We’re going to try to start putting it on things like for when they retire, like a cutting board that will hang around the kitchen. So, it’s a constant reminder of what they’ve declared. When folks come in for their annual review, we’ll like read that declaration back to them. Are you living this? Is something standing in your way? Can we expand on it? And make that the focus of not only what clients are watching to measure how successful their plan is but also for our team internally to measure the impact that they’re having, to feel good about what it is that they do. And like I said, it does tie back to us trying to make sure that they’re living their best lives as well. So, all the way around.

Brad Johnson: I love that. Where in the process do they declare that? Is that after they come in for the first discovery session and that’s homework before they come back for their second? Or where do you insert that into the process?

Jess Panico: It’s getting asked the very first time we sit down with them. And, boy, has that changed the conversation. You know what that looks like. You know, we asked them, what brings them in today? What are they trying to accomplish? And then we just tell them it’s just a math problem. We just need to figure out what you have now, what you need done, and backwards up the math but we’re not here trying to get the next hot stock tip or get you the biggest rate of return. What we’re trying to do is consistently deliver on what you need to live every single day like it’s Saturday. So, we can’t tell you that without knowing, what is your ideal Saturday? What is it that you want to do?

Because if you have dreams of touring the world and traveling constantly, well, that’s going to have a different type of financial impact than if you’re like, “Oh, I want to do this thing on my backyard with my cat and spend time with my grandkids.” And both of those are beautiful things but if we know from the get-go what is it that you’re trying to achieve, then we can put a plan around helping you get there.

Mike Panico: Yeah. It’s powerful to introduce out the job because, especially a lot of our prospective clients, right, at minimum, half of them already have an advisor or maybe they’re shopping for the first time, and we’re one of the first stops that they’re making to consider who they’re going to work with for their retirement. And I know that it’s actually, like, so I think some advisors would prefer like if you’re going to be a prospect that they’ve never had an advisor before or they don’t have an advisor presently, I almost prefer it now because once I’ve had one conversation with us, it should stand out. This is unlike any other conversation I’ve had with somebody who just talks to me about mutual funds and rate of return.

And that stuff is important. I’m not saying that you can’t… You have to obviously put in the planning work on the back end but what’s the point of any of it if you don’t understand what it ties to? And there’s not this intimate understanding of what these people are trying to accomplish. I mean, that’s where we’re starting like where do you want to ideally be? And then let’s like backwards the rest of it out.

Brad Johnson: Well, what comes to mind there is you’ve simplified the complex. I mean, you think about most retirees, to your point, they’ve either been super confused because they’ve had all kinds of financial acronyms and products thrown up their way in the last 20 or 30 years, or they’ve just never even started. They procrastinated and like, “Oh, we’re way behind,” and it’s Covey’s Seven Habits. Start with the end in mind. What do you want on this side of the equal sign? It’s just simply backing into the map to get there. You know, that’s like that. Do you see shoulders like, “Oh, really? It’s that easy? I just need to like talk about what I want to live in retirement and you guys can just help me get there and you’ll do the work?” Like, do you see the weight lifted off their shoulders when you’re having these sort of conversations?

Jess Panico: Sure. We sure do. And it’s funny too, is that in our neck of the woods, we got a lot of very analytical engineers here. So, the husband and wife come in and there’s maybe some preconceived notions of like, “I’ve got it spreadsheeted out. I’ve thought of everything in retirement.” Really, but what do you want in retirement? And first, they’re like, “Who cares? I know I have the money to retire.” We’re like, “Okay. But, you know.” And we’ll look maybe sometimes to the wife and be like, “How do you feel about the retirement plan?” And oftentimes having a very type A driven analytical spouse and they’re like, “I don’t understand what’s going on. And I don’t know what happens if he has another heart attack again and he leaves me, what I’m going to do, and I don’t know who to trust.” And it’s crazy that these questions bring that out and couples and we can really discover like what’s going on and get everyone on like the same page too.

Mike Panico: What it makes me think about, Brad, is that I know that you featured Pat Quinn, the speaking coach, several times and he’ll often talk about how advisors, especially in seminar settings, will use all sorts of buzzwords: risk mitigation, tax strategies, and conversions, laddering, dollar cost averaging. And one of his points is that nobody knows what that means half the time. It’s not the language that normal people use. It’s the language of the industry. So, oftentimes when like that’s the value that you’re putting forward, especially in an initial conversation, you’re talking over a lot of people’s heads. You’re confusing them. They’re just not feeling any warm fuzzies.

I mean, when people make a decision to hire somebody that’s going to have like an impact and have like a potential lifelong relationship, I don’t think people are making that decision based on brochures or fat patterns or like Morningstar reports, that they’re making a gut oriented decision based on trust, “Do I like this person? Do I feel like they’ve heard me, that they’re listening to me, that they’re going to be the person to guide me?” And you’ve got to talk at their level. And their level is, well, they understand where they’re at, and oftentimes they don’t like where they’re at. They want to be somewhere else.

And if you’re talking that language, “Can we get you from A to B? Can we get you out of what’s like inhibiting you from having a fantastic life over towards what’s a more ideal day for you?” people will say yes to that, as opposed if you’re asking them to like, “Hey would you want a more diverse allocation with these types of funds versus the…?” That’s not how normal people like regular people that we’re serving think and act. So, just by changing that conversation to something that’s a little bit more close to home makes it easier for people, I think, to make a decision to work with us.

Brad Johnson: I heard Pat share an exercise that’s like super simple. It’s like pretend like you’re calling your brother, your sister, your mom, your dad, and talking about money or retirement. And as a financial advisor, that’s the language you should use. And to your point, Mike, it’s none of those words. You just spew it out. You know, it’s like I’ve really been considering risk mitigation this evening about, you know. So, yeah, 1,000,000%. Okay. So, I’m watching the clock. It’s ticking down. We’ve got like so much I haven’t got to. Okay. I want to go back to you guys. I just love the realness. And this was a couple of years ago, Mike, and I remember we had a pretty deep heart-to-heart, and it wasn’t like a warm and fuzzy conversation. It was a real conversation. I appreciate that.

I appreciate like my best friends in life, my best relationships in life you can get real with, you know? And sometimes it’s like not super fun conversations but sometimes they’re needed conversations. And this was right when you guys had just acquired a tax practice. So, as we look out at how you all build holistic plans, income planning, investments, tax planning, health care, legacy state, kind of a CFP standard of how you would build a financial plan, and you guys saw an opportunity, “Hey, what if we brought this tax into Arcadia?” And I know they’re separate businesses but basically just made it as easy as walking across the hallway so we could serve our clients at a higher level when it comes to taxes.

And I think it was a lot tougher than you thought it would be and we were kind of having one of these conversations where like, “This kind of is sucked out of the gates. It’s a lot more work than we thought.” Can we talk about that? Because I know it’s kind of back to the beginning of the conversation where it’s like, “Oh, Jess, come help me,” and then it’s like, “Oh, the real work sets in.” What did you learn through that process? I know banks have really, that decision has benefited your practice now but it wasn’t so easy in the early days. So, like just work through that if you were giving a financial advisor friend advice on like the do’s and don’ts of that whole process.

Mike Panico: Well, I think that that journey started with just kind of an observation that when you’re helping somebody navigate retirement, they have to solve a lot of different disparate problems. So, they have portfolio concerns and tax concerns but then it turns into health care, legal issues, tax issues, certainly. And by our licensure, maybe our experience, what we can do as advisors, you might only be able to tackle a 20th of that or maybe even as much as half of it but there’s still a deficit that required coordination with other like-minded professionals, usually either accountants or attorneys. The problem with that is that whether or not you can maintain a relationship with those folks depends on a host of different things, how good they are at communicating, how much they believe in cross-pollinating plan work.

And keep in mind that even if you’re working well with a couple of those professionals, if you’re servicing hundreds of clients, it’s not just that they’re all going to be using the same persons. They might have like 20 different accountants, 30 different local estate planning attorneys. And so, it just made it really, really challenging to use the word comprehensive with a straight face because we were doing some of the work and referring out the rest. But, gosh, we would notice like mistakes left and right, even with the best of intentions. The attorney would do their trust work but then there was no communication so people’s beneficiary designations hadn’t been updated. And I could give you other examples but you probably get it that it just wasn’t a cohesive plan.

Jess Panico: Or clients calling us saying, “My accountant yelled at me because I have all these taxes,” and we’re like, “Remember? Yeah, we did that conversion. That was part of the plan.” They’re like, “I don’t remember but my accountant says you’re an idiot.”

Mike Panico: Oh, God. That still happens. It would drive us crazy. So, we said, “To heck with this,” and I’m like hyper simplifying, like how we actually got this started but we’ll just bring this in-house. And so, on the tax side, we did that by acquisition. One of our clients just so happened to be a retiring accounting professional. And so, we worked something out where we acquired his practice. And then a year later, we acquired a separate practice that the attraction there was that it had some staff, and we had a staff up to replace those people that we purchased and they were going to retire and that sort of thing. And I think the issue is that while they are similar services, they’re very much different operationally. So, that was a problem out of the gate.

And then the other issue is that these two firms that we purchased were being run by their respective entrepreneurs who are selling their practices. And we kind of assumed that will either be able to hire a new leader for this particular division or department or one of the accountants that we have on staff will like rise from the ranks and run this division for us and neither one of those two things happened. And I think accounting is a very specific type of industry where either you just really enjoy doing accounting or you kind of do have an entrepreneurial mindset. And you’re probably running your own practice. And so, hiring somebody to lead that was just like it’s been three years. We struggled to even find one person to interview that wants to manage a tax break. Because guess what? If they want to do that, they’re probably already running their own practice.

And then for the accountants and we have some really talented ones working for us, their comfort level sometimes is just draw on the shades and hunkering down, hibernating for four months, and banging out 500 different returns. And so, some of the struggles we’ve had in assimilating that as a service have included running it operationally because that’s something that I myself have had to effectively bear the brunt of. It’s like we had our entire financial planning team really immersed in the language of Saturday and the holistic mindset. And accountants are very left-brained. And so, as much as we’ve been like, “Hey, we’re going to do this stuff for people too.” They’ll be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Saturday this, Saturday that. But at the end of the day, it’s all about maximizing the refund.”

And I was like, “No, no, no, that’s not at the end of the day. I mean that’s important.” And so, getting the cultural assimilation has been a challenge too. And so, no, not to those guys because they truly do. I mean, like our team is like what? Just like a week and a half out from deadline. They are working super hard. So, they’re some of the most talented, dedicated people I know. But I would say on the whole building up the financial planning side for us has been a lot easier than building and assimilating the tax service.

Jess Panico: You’re also financial, you’re CFP. So, you’re like, “I know how to do this,” but it’s like, “Okay, how about all this tax stuff?” And you’re like, “Starting to get a little off my comfort zone.” I really kind of relate it to– so in my family, I just have one sister and she’s 10 years younger than me. And it kind of makes me feel like that. There’s a huge age gap. It’s like, “Hey, I started this financial planning practice.” And now, oh my gosh, it’s 10 and it’s doing wonderful and really developed. And then all of a sudden, you have another baby and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’d then start from scratch again here. What should I do? How does potty training work?” And you’re starting from the very beginning. Yeah, I have done it before, so I’m not a total novice, but it’s new and it has to go through. It’s like little ugly baby phase until it gets there.

Mike Panico: I think my advice for anybody who wanted to introduce a service like that to their practice is have somebody that can manage or spearhead that effort from the jump, as opposed to assuming that you can find them thereafter, because then you might find yourselves in our position. We’ve made it work. It’s just like duct tape and prayer, a little bit, like holding it all together at times. But I will say, some of the dividends that it pays is in addition to people coming to see us, if I say, “Why are you here?” If they’re not saying, “Hey, because I want to live every day like a Saturday,” the second most common thing I probably hear from prospective clients is, “Well, you guys are a one-stop shop.”

We actually describe for people that, if you engage all of our services, imagine you’re coming in for your annual review and you’ve got your advisor, your accountant, and your attorney all in the same room, all at the same time. This is not a service that you generally get from most financial planning firms. Usually, that’s three separate visits. Sometimes it’s four or five separate visits with disparate professionals who do not coordinate on your behalf. They rarely talk about you. They’re maybe even making mistakes on their respective side of the fence for lack of that cohesion.

So, sometimes this doesn’t matter until it really matters. Like, when there’s a death in the family or you get laid off, all of a sudden, having cohesive service matters tremendously. And I think people recognize that. So, it’s another huge draw for us. We’re still figuring it out. But we said earlier, Brad, we’re not afraid of taking risks and taking a couple blows to the face. We’ve taken those blows, but we’re learning from them. And that tax practice, it’s going to be totally transformed, probably within the next 12 months, because we’ve been able to bring in some new talent. We are getting organized. It’s just taken some time.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, the other benefit, I mean, typically, to have those three professionals in the same room, you got to be working with the family office and have 10 million bucks. So, really, you’re democratizing family office level planning, which is huge. And I heard it once said, if you can build a business that allows people to be lazier, you’re on a pretty good track. I mean, look at Amazon, I mean, look at all– so I think that is very smart long term and worth the pain. And at the end of the day, you’re building better financial plans today because of it. You’re serving your clients at a higher level. So, I mean, it’s…

Mike Panico: Well, I feel like we have to start thinking about resilience because we are in an environment where potentially it might not even be years. It could be months where people have an artificial intelligence, where they say, “I’m 66 years old and I have this much in the bank, and I want to spend this and I think I’m going to live to 100. What do I do with my money?” That’s definitely coming. ChatGPT will just tell you what to do. I feel like, and it could be a generational thing, but at least the people that we’re currently targeting, I don’t know if they’re going to trust the robots, right? So, I think that gives us a little bit of resilience.

But then, as some of the younger people start approaching retirement themselves, I think there’s going to be more temptation to use apps and AI and other things. And what we’re trying to do is build Arcadia to be so over the top, intensely relationship driven, because I mentioned before how, with social media and similar, everything is so negative out there. The other, I think, consequence of all this online stuff is that people do feel alienated from relationships and communities, and sometimes too, that is just an enormous draw to be able to sit down in front of a person, shake hands, look each other in the eye, and not just have one professional be able to do that for you, but now several.

So, to what extent will that make us resilient in the brave new world? Brad, I have no idea, but at least, it will give us a lot more defense against that. And I actually believe that makes us more attractive than ever because when you’re really going through it, that ChatGPT is not going to reach out and hug you and spend time with you and really get to understand. It is an algorithm.

Jess Panico: It’s not asking about your ideal Saturday and making sure that they’re holding you accountable to that.

Mike Panico: Yeah.

Brad Johnson: Well, the other thing too, from a just straight, as Warren Buffett calls it, building the moat around your castle, I completely agree, Mike. I’ve thought about this a lot. I plan to be in finance for hopefully, at least a couple more decades, which means you need to start thinking right now how is technology and AI going to impact this business over the coming years. And if it is what generates me the highest return on my portfolio, guess what? An algorithm is going to be able to crank that out much more efficiently than a human is in the next handful of years.

But now, if it is all of the complexities of a financial plan interacting with proactive tax planning, interacting with estate planning that’s going to leave a legacy behind those that you care about, those are a lot more complex problems with a lot more moving parts and rules and regulations and depending on your state you live in. And now, because you’re solving more complex problems, that moat around your castle is bigger. And also, you think about it from a revenue standpoint, you’re going to be climbing the ladder on the higher network that have those problems.

If I don’t have money, I don’t have tax problems. I figured that out when I left my job and didn’t have a paycheck for two years. I’m like, “Oh, this is easy. This solved my tax problem. I just don’t make money. That’s easy.”

Jess Panico: Nice.

Brad Johnson: Right. But I just love that as far as just building that moat around Arcadia, like, you’re solving more complex problems now, which means it’s going to be harder for AI to take that over. So, do you have any thoughts there, Mike? I know you geek out on this stuff a lot, but any additional thoughts?

Mike Panico: AI is just a more convenient way of dividing the playbook. I mean, I do think most of what we do in the background can be boiled down to an algorithm. Any advisor listening knows if I threw a pair of 65-year-olds at you with a million bucks, you’d probably know already what you would do for that person in terms of services and financial strategy. So, there’s nothing preventing anybody from– right now, you probably have written down somewhere what your philosophy or planning strategies generally are. So, you can code that and make an AI just spit it back for you and do the math.

By the way, that’s just a more convenient way of like instead going to the library and reading a bunch of books on these same subjects, I mean, what we do is not a secret alchemy that only advisors have access to, it’s becoming easier for consumers to access it themselves. Having said that, I don’t really see that as an enormous threat because generally speaking, it’s not the lack of knowledge that hurts people in executing a financial plan. It’s they themselves and their emotions.

Jess Panico: Psychology, yeah.

Mike Panico: Right. People want to buy more when the market’s up and they want to panic sell when the market’s down. They get greedy, they get fearful. And it’s those things, no matter how much reading that you do, whatever ChatGPT tells you to do, it is your ability to stick to a plan, especially in these environmental extremes that really often makes a difference between your plan working and not. So, the problem isn’t the lack of access to a particular mutual fund or insurance product. Generally, the problem is you, the consumer, to stick to a plan. And so, that’s the thing. I don’t think that the AI is going to be reaching out and slapping you off the back of the head when you’re tempted to do the wrong things with your money at the wrong times. It’s never going to be able to do that. But a human that you trust, that you have a relationship with, who has promised to challenge you, is going to be able to do that.

Jess Panico: Right. It’s not that you don’t know the formula. What’s the formula I got to plug in to get the answer? It’s the coach. Like, who do you have that’s challenging you to live that life that you said that you want to? It’s all this lack of human connection, the more digital we get. And the mental health crisis is happening in our world today. How many times that we sit down with people and we’ve said, “You keep talking about that your ideal day is to move”? Why don’t you do that now? If that’s what you want, that’s what’s going to make you happy, move closer to those kids and grandkids. Well, I don’t know if I can afford it. Okay. Well, we’ve done the math. You can. Your plan supports that. Don’t be so fearful. Don’t have that lack of clarity in your plan. We’re here as humans telling you, like we got our eye on this. Now, we’re going to challenge you to go and do that. And they do and they’re so happy. But they would have been so paralyzed before. And sure, the AI can tell you, like, yeah, you have money to do it, but they’re not giving you that confidence that humans can.

Mike Panico: That’s so righteous because what I just said is like, hey, a good coach or advisor is going to prevent you from making mistakes, but another unspoken value is our average client, Brad, is what we call the millionaire next door because most people we work with, they’ve got a house that’s worth a lot of money. Their mortgage is usually paid off. They get some monies tucked away in their 401(k) and similar and they’re usually easily worth a million or more.

And it said that on average, if you retire with a million, you die with two to three times that same amount. Most people get richer as they age. And well, that’s for a couple of reasons, right? Compounding interest is a pretty miraculous thing. That, and people live with a lot of fear. What if the election goes wrong? What if I end up in a nursing home? What if taxes go up? So, a lot of people, they’re afraid to spend their own money. And so, something that a great coaching relationship, like we do this a lot with clients, like you’re not spending enough. And they don’t expect to get that kind of advice from an advisor. You’re expecting for them to say, “Save more. There’s dark clouds on the horizon. By the way, the less you spend, the more I get to manage and bill you on,” right? That’s what they’re expecting.

But we’re like, guys, I remember specifically doing this with a lot of clients coming out of COVID. I was like, it’s time to do some make-up spending. You’ve been trapped indoors for 36 months. I know you skipped the vacations and weren’t going out to eat. We’ve got to do– the more we were using it, people still say it to me. I was like, we’ve got to do some reckless spending this year.

Jess Panico: Yeah. Challenging them to, like, not too much, but this amount, I want you to go out and spend it on something that you wouldn’t even consider because you can and you owe it to yourself and you’ll really feel a lot better after you do.

Mike Panico: Yeah. That was just fun conversations. People would write me back, “All right, Mike, I was reckless this weekend. I bought this or that or whatever. We booked this trip.” And it’s just like, that’s the impact we’re gunning for, man. AI will never be able to do that.

Brad Johnson: So true. I love that. Okay, there’s two more places I want to go. And if you guys have to run out the door, wink twice and we’ll end it quick. So, one of the things that, and we never probably lay this out, but I’m just going to hit it here just for context because we’ve talked not really at all about revenue and money, and that’s been the best conversation because it’s actually why you all exist. It’s to serve retirees and help them live their best lives and do the math to make that happen.

But you have experienced some pretty insane growth. And this isn’t going all the way back to when I first met you guys, but 2021, approximately 65 million of total assets gathered that year; 2022, you bought the first tax practice, had a lot of additional side energy getting poured into that, still grew a little around 70 million; 2023, last year, as we record this, bought your second tax practice, brought in around 90 million of total assets. And then this year, year to date, so we record this April 5th of 2024, 36 mil year to date of assets brought on. I mean, we do the math. That’s trending for well over 100 million.

Jess, I want to go to you on this one. One of the things you said before we hit record, you’ve been sitting in the COO role, the ops role, that really team-focused role. And you’d mentioned a lot of your focus now is on growing leaders on the team. And what was the total team members now that you’re up to?

Jess Panico: Thirty-five.

Brad Johnson: Thirty-five. So, those numbers that we just laid out, there is no possible way, Mike and Jess Panico, in the basement, in the hoodie with a little spit-up on your shoulder, there is absolutely no way you could have done that with the two of you. So, what have you learned as it’s become not an “I and we” game, but a team game, like a “we,” the two of you,” but a “we” collective now with all of the team members, what have you learned along the way? And how has your focus shifted now as you’re running a much bigger team in business?

Jess Panico: It’s been really amazing. Nick Whitaker, one of the coaches at Triad, he came to visit us a couple years ago. And he said there’s two things that really will grow your business, one being leads, who you bring in and how much revenue you do, and two is the team. And you cannot experience significant growth without having a solid team behind you. And he was so true. And at the time, it was just Mike and I. Kind of you looked at our org chart, it was like me and Mike and everybody else and…

Brad Johnson: As far as leaders, like established leaders on the team?

Jess Panico: Yeah. It was just Mike and I, we were the only leaders at the time. And everyone else was kind of just floating under us. So, we said, “I think we really need to develop a leadership team around here.” And we already knew. We had a couple key individuals in the organization that were just 10 out of 10, excellent at their job, excellent at just being team players and helping other people out. They were individuals that people want you to seek guidance and direction often. So, while they technically weren’t in a team lead type of position, they were just natural resources for our team there.

So, when we did some restructuring with our org chart and actually moved some individuals up to get a director of planning operations, a director of client service, a director of marketing, that helped us tremendously with the day-to-day pressure of not only running a business, but checking in with 35 individual people and make sure that everybody happy. Is anybody having a bad day? I don’t even know if there’s something going on in your life because the team’s getting so large, and I might be in a meeting all day, and I’m not even aware of this.

So, I think that has been something else that has tremendously help us move our growth needle there by having these trusted individuals. And some of them have come to us after we started building this new structure. But it’s been amazing. It’s taken a lot of the pressure off of our shoulders knowing that our entire team, regardless of your position here at the company, is getting cared for, and our leaders are now making business decisions with us. Yes, we own the firm, but they’re coming around the table and they’re as passionate and invested in the success of Arcadia as we are. And they’re bringing new different perspective, things that we don’t see necessarily every day. Sometimes, I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” and then we implement it. And it’s like, “Oh, that was a great idea.” You speak for the people. So, it’s been huge. It really is.

Brad Johnson: Awesome. Well, I know we’re close to time here and I know you guys have some things to get to today, like shovel some snow, right?

Jess Panico: I’ve gosh, like two feet of it up there in April. This is unheard of, Brad.

Brad Johnson: Well, welcome to the northeast, right?

Jess Panico: That’s right.

Brad Johnson: Hey, it’s beautiful in Kansas if you guys want to move south to more of a winter south. You can be snowbirds in Kansas.

Jess Panico: I never thought Kansas is balmy.

Brad Johnson: Oh, yeah, it’s beautiful. So, I want to share just one last thought. You guys, first off, one of the reasons I love you as just humans, when I throw all this financial advisor stuff out the window and what we do day to day for a living, but you’ve just always been just real people that have fun, like you don’t take yourselves too seriously, a good time to, whether it was a casino in the Bahamas where we were throwing craps one time, you just like to have a good time.

And one of my proudest moments at Triad, I relate so much to what you were sharing, Mike and Jess, just about the early days in the basement. And then, the next inflection where it was take on this tax practice and you were in over your head. And as an entrepreneur, there’s just these curveballs out on the horizon that you just don’t see coming. And then it’s like, well, I guess we got to figure out how to get through this one, and Triad’s had our fair share of those.

But in Austin, and so, this was our launch experience, so this was the beginning of 2023, you guys had shared what we call at Triad, a champagne moment the year before. And so, that’s kind of our version of live every day like a Saturday. Like, what are you shooting for a year out? What are we going to pop a bottle and celebrate? And I pulled up the exact words that she wrote down, January 14th, 2022, it said– and here’s what’s cool, at that time, we just defined a champagne moment as what do you want to celebrate a year from now? We hadn’t in corporate. Now, we do it, like, what’s your Do Business champagne moment? What’s your Do Life champagne moment? At that time, we’re just like what’s your champagne moment? And you all wrote this down. I’m guessing it was Jess because it’s pretty neat handwriting, “Take the summer off to spend time with our boys, Mike and Jess Panico, January 14th, 2022.” Well, fast forward a year, you had that summer, I believe it was six weeks. You’d take in six weeks. Was that in Cape Cod? That’s normally where you guys go, right?

Jess Panico: Yep.

Brad Johnson: Six weeks in Cape Cod. Now, I won’t say completely unplugged, but 95% unplugged. And you had not only grown your practice that year, but you had grown your freedom. And back to living every day like a Saturday, you spent a summer with your two young boys and created some memories, I’m sure, like you cherish to this day. And guess what? Those are fleeting because I’ve got a 13-year-old now and it goes in the blink of an eye. And I remember recognizing that in our community and that was one of my proudest moments because I was like, man, you guys just didn’t say it, you did it. You did the work. And that’s like stuff that’s meaningful because now you’ve created a business that’s blessing more team members, blessing more clients, but it’s blessing you more. And that’s what this business is all about.

And so, just share some of your thoughts there, as you’ve seen the evolution of your business. And what was cool is one that you’re after is make more meaningful memories with our boys this summer. So, I definitely see a theme. And I think you’re expanding to 10 weeks this summer. So, give me the Do Life side. Like, what’s important about that to y’all? And I guess we can just make this your definition of DBDL because we’re going right into it, but what are your thoughts there?

Jess Panico: First of all, that wasn’t an easy goal. And I want to throw that out there because sometimes, January, if I’m like, oh, I already know I’m going down for the summer, I’ll just write that. But that wasn’t the case. We’ve never done that before. We dreamed big. And I think that’s something great that you all push us to do at Triad. It’s like, ideally, close your eyes, what would you want to be doing? We’re like, we have no idea how this can happen. We’ll worry about the how later. Right now, we’re just saying what our dream is going to be. And I think you were reading about how few weekends or summers you have with your kids until they turn 18. So, that really inspired us to make that goal.

Mike Panico: So, first of all, that was born of a certain necessity, I mean, during COVID. So, our two boys are on the autism spectrum, and so, a lot of services related to special needs were sorely lacking during that period of time and even extended into the summer periods. I mean, they were supposed to, with their needs, have summer program for both school and this occupational therapy and similar, and there just were no services. So, we knew going into one of those summers that we would have to mind them. There was no solution for it.

Jess Panico: Or yeah, find a solution. And I don’t know how we’re going to do either because there were no options there and we certainly couldn’t step away from the business, or so, we thought it was like…

Mike Panico: So, the goal wasn’t at first, like, hey, let’s just go enjoy ourselves at Cape Cod. It’s like, well, we’ve got to figure out a way to balance our schedules to take care of our kids for the summer. And we did have this option to be able to maybe do that down the Cape as opposed to New Hampshire. So, we said, well, maybe we could turn a negative into a positive. Like, can we work remotely? And so, like, when we shut off the computer, be able to just jump on the hiking trail or go to the beach within a matter of minutes. And it was around that same time, as Jess had mentioned, I had read something. I think it was somebody who had come speak at an event, Brad. So, I’m sorry, I can’t like…

Brad Johnson: Was it Jim and Jamie Sheils, 18 Summers?

Jess Panico: Yep.

Mike Panico: Yeah, that’s what it was, something effectively, like if you do the math on your kids. So, if your kid is 12, that puts them six years away from 18 where they’re going to hopefully leave you because that’s what you want for your kids. And there’s really eight good summer weekends if you live in New England because it gets cold pretty fast, right? So, do the math. You have 48 weekends left with your kids before they grow up and move out. How are you going to spend that time?

And so, one of the things we reflected on is, and this is I said earlier, sometimes people see the overnight success and not the 10 years that led to it. There were a lot of 60, 70, 80-hour workweeks in those basements. I’ve done hundreds of seminars where I don’t get home until 8 or 9 o’clock. I’ve missed a lot of bedtimes. I’ve missed a lot of family dinners. And I started thinking, man, like, is this what it’s all about? Work, work, work, revenue, revenue. Is that what success is?

And we decided, like, if we were going to work remotely or, like, more so, enjoy our summers, if that came at the expense of not producing as much or making as much, then so be it. That was a tradeoff that we wanted to make because we decided that our family was way more important than the success that we were having as a business. And by the way, we don’t really feel like we had to absolutely sacrifice one for the other.

Part of the way that we’ve been able to balance it is empower the team, have it so that our business isn’t entirely dependent on us so that we can be able to work remotely. And that allows us to achieve a really great but delicate balance, like, be able to just enjoy summers, really maximize it. I mean, as you read earlier, all the barbecuing, the copious eating, being outside, I mean, it’s really easy to do that from Cape Cod in the summer, but the business is still chugging.

Jess Panico: We were actually okay with it if our production numbers went back because what it meant for our family, and they didn’t luckily. It’s another thing that maybe we kind of just took this big leap of faith and we’re like, well, if we go back, it’s okay and it’s grown with us being able to go away from the summers. So, I don’t know, maybe we’re just lucky. I don’t know if we know what we’re doing.

Brad Johnson: Well, Michael Hyatt, who’s another strategic partner in our community, he shared this with me when it came to goal setting back in 2015. He said, “Set goals.” He called them push goals or domino goals. “Set goals that if you do that, it dominoes into other good things in your life.” Like, if you say, “I’m going to work out at 5 a.m.,” you’re probably not going to drink heavily the night before, right?

And so, by you guys setting that intention of we are going to take this summer and be with our boys, it forced you to build your team in a way that allowed that, which, by the way, now is like the best thing ever because now you’re able to help more people. It takes the weight off your shoulders. So, I just think that that’s a great hack in life is like, set that intention that forces you to do the work to make it possible. And I love that.

That’s why Triad exists right there. I mean, Shawn and I have been asked many times like, “Oh, how did you come up with this vision for DBDL?” We’re like, number one, we listened to people like you that we respect and what you wanted. But number two, it was a selfish pursuit. We want the same thing you all want. We want to do business and do life and enjoy it, and not let the business eat us alive and miss all the family dinners. And yesterday, I was at my son’s track meet at 3 p.m., and my team knew it because that’s a higher priority for me than being on a call and missing the moments that matter. So, I love that about you guys. Any other closing thoughts on just like your definition of Do Business. Do Life that you want to share before we wrap?

Jess Panico: Just say, figure out what’s truly important to you. Just set those goals. Don’t worry about how you’re going to achieve them. Just close your eyes, really feel, like, what is your ideal Saturday? Where do you see yourself? Who you’re surrounded by? What are you doing? Just write that down and then, honestly, everything else will just fall into place after it.

Mike Panico: I don’t know if I can say that any better, I mean, my message is to have, and this is not an original thought, I’m probably stealing it from one of your other friends, like, it could be Chris Smith, but we try to embrace having a servant’s mindset. We’re not in this business for money. I mean, if we wanted to stop growing and still be successful, we could do it. But I do believe we’re really helping people. It’s amazing to have a job where, at the end of the day, people’s lives are better off interacting with you and you touch their lives.

And I feel just really lucky that that is something that we can do for a living, make money doing it, meet awesome friends, and create awesome relationships along the way. And it’s not just for clients, I mean, this community with Triad, having other advisors that we’re friendly with that are on the same journey. And I think all collectively, we have that mindset. To me, it’s an amazing opportunity and position to be in life to say this is what we do for a living. So, I hope other people can join us for the journey, Brad.

Brad Johnson: Well said. Well, Mike, Jess, as always, love our conversations. Thanks so much for just sharing openly. I know, I 100% know this impacted a lot of advisors listening and watching it. So, I’ll let you get on to your day. You’re very close to Saturday. So, I’ll let y’all get to the snow so you can actually get out and get on whatever adventure you’re going to be up to. Thank you so much.

Jess Panico: Awesome.

Mike Panico: Awesome. Thank you, Brad.

Brad Johnson: See you.

Mike Panico: Bye.

Disclosure

DBDL podcast episode conversations are intended to provide financial advisors with ideas, strategies, concepts and tools that could be incorporated into their business and their life. Financial professionals are responsible for ensuring implementation of anything discussed related to business is done so in accordance with any and all regulatory, compliance responsibilities and obligations.

The Triad member statements reflect their own experience which may not be representative of all Triad Member experiences, and their appearances were not paid for.

Copyright ©️ 2024 Triad Partners. All rights reserved.

TP04243513935

FREE SWAG

Get yourself some DBDL Swag by clicking below

Become a dbdl insider

Get your copy of and access the rest of the DBDL Library

Claim your private coaching session

Apply today to schedule a coaching session with brad