Ep 019

Traits of a Great Fiduciary, Flywheel Momentum, & Designing a Business Around Your Life


Jason Wenk

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Inside This Episode

Today, I’m talking with Jason Wenk, who has spent the past 20+ years working to make financial advice better, more affordable, and accessible to everyone.

He has started and scaled many businesses, including FormulaFolios, which managed over $3.2 billion and was named the fastest-growing private company in the country by Inc. magazine 4 years in a row.

Today, he is the founder and CEO of Altruist, which is a modern custodian for independent financial advisors.

In this episode, Jason shares his early journey building businesses in the financial services industry and how he went from unhappy and burnt out to hitting the reset button to pursue a more meaningful life on his terms. 

3 of the biggest insights from Jason Wenk

  • #1 The “Core Desires” exercise Jason used to go from an unhappy and burnt out financial advisor, to taking a leap of faith and building a business that serves his life.

  • #2 The characteristics of a great fiduciary advisor and how to avoid biases so you can serve your clients at the highest possible level.

  • #3 Discover The Flywheel Effect and how you can use it to measure what matters most and build massive momentum for your business.


  • 00:00 Two important problems successful financial advisors must solve.
  • 05:27 The “Core Desires” exercise that led to Jason pivoting his income-focused business to a business that prioritizes lifestyle.
  • 13:16 The importance of investing in yourself.
  • 15:48 How to break free from the rat race, lead life with an infinite mindset, and build a business by design, not by default.
  • 21:21 How writing a detailed explanation to a client led to the creation of annuity review site Annuity Gator — and ultimately a waterfall of new clients.
  • 31:58 Balancing the requirements of being a fiduciary with the human element of bias in both advisors and clients.
  • 42:30 The advisor-facing problems Jason addressed to help Altruist rapidly raise $300M.
  • 51:59 Discover The Flywheel Effect and how you can use it to measure what matters and build massive momentum for your business
  • 1:03:35 Will A.I. disrupt financial services? Learn what you should be thinking about to stay ahead of the curve and relevant in our industry.
  • 1:14:00 The importance your personal network plays in the pursuit of Do Business. Do Life.





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  • “One of the most simple pieces of advice I’d give people is: If you find yourself in a hole, step one is to stop digging.” – Jason Wenk

  • “One of the things that I had conviction and that gave me the confidence to go take a risk and do that hard reset was — I could always do this over again. If I fail, what is the worst that can happen?” – Jason Wenk

  • “The best financial plan for everybody is one that works. It gets you the results that you want and you feel comfortable with it. Because if you don’t feel comfortable, then you can’t stick with it.” – Jason Wenk

  • “If you start pounding that drum, it’s going to feel really empty if the work you do doesn’t matter.” – Jason Wenk

  • “The human capital required to build and run a successful financial planning advisory firm will change dramatically in the next 10 years.” – Jason Wenk

  • “Don’t overinvest in antiquated technology that’s built on mainframes that haven’t been updated in 20 or 30 years, because you’re going to find yourself in a really tricky spot.” – Jason Wenk

Brad Johnson: Welcome to another episode of Do Business, Do Life. This one’s a special one. Jason Wenk, welcome to the show.

Jason Wenk: I mean, this is special. It’s probably more special for me than you because I’ve been a huge fan. I lurked in the shadows of your podcasting journey for over a decade. And so, I always wondered, what would it take for Brad to invite me on? So, I guess just a decade of us sort of building a relationship and following each other’s work, and so super excited and really proud of what you guys are building with this show, but also just the whole idea behind Do Business, Do Life is pretty awesome.

Brad Johnson: Thanks, Jason. It’s been really cool, I think, our relationship, and we’ll get into the origin story because it’s serendipitous, as you said before we went live here. But I’ve always had a mutual respect and I think just seeing what you’ve built and how that’s evolved over time in finance, it’s been really cool. And just always, you had to Do Business, Do Life approach before we talked about Do Business, Do Life. So, it was only a matter of time before we got you on the show.

So, with that, let’s go into, we were kind of going down memory lane before we started recording here, but I mean, there’s some fun origin stories, but this one’s really fun because it goes all the way back to my early days in this business on really the insurance wholesaling side, the marketer side, as they say in the FMO world. And honestly, the first memory I have was trying to cold call a guy named Jason Wenk that had an office up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And I’m curious, what’s your first memory? And maybe we start to piece this thing together for the audience of how we got to where we are today on this chat.

Jason Wenk: Yeah. So, in the early part of my career, I started off as a programmer, turned financial advisor. And so, I didn’t have any real bias, I guess, when I came into the industry. My bias was like I just was really curious, sort of engineer’s mindset, I wanted to figure out what’s the best way to solve problems. And I think there’s two problems that I saw if you’re going to be a successful financial planner. I thought the first was you had to solve the problem of client acquisition. I realized very quickly that if you couldn’t acquire clients, it didn’t matter how smart you were.

And the second part, I thought was it seems like how do you solve people’s financial problems in a way that is best for them? And I share that just because I think we chatted in the past about this, how most of us because we come up into the industry with a certain set of bias, I came up through insurance or I came up through an RIA or I came up through a wirehouse or independent broker-dealer or a bank, right? And people tend to form these biases that their approach is the right approach. And I like to think, at least in those early days, I was so naive that I didn’t have any bias because my bias was simply like, well, there’s got to be a best way to serve people.

And so, interestingly, that led me down a path which today is pretty common. Back then, it wasn’t, but sort of the path of being sort of a hybrid advisor, where I went out and got an insurance license, I formed an RIA. I was very early to the RIA game, so early 2000s. But I recognized that there were certain clients. My first firm was called Retirement Wealth that focused on retirement, and so, I felt there are certain products that really worked well for those clients. And so, yes, it was funny.

So, what I remember is that I remember there being this group of young kind of superstars in the annuity business, all of us just doing things very different, right? And you were part of that. You’re one of those kind of superstars. And just being super refreshing, I guess, even getting a call felt like an honor because a lot of your business, even back then, you work with successful advisors and help them become more successful. So, to have someone cold call you that you’re like, oh, wait, I know who this guy is, I know who this company is because they work with successful people, people much more successful than me.

And so, I do recall those days, but I think a lot of it was because unlike a lot of the industry, I was actually already doing kind of, again, full comprehensive wealth management, insurance work, annuity work, financial planning for a fee. I charge every client fees for a plan and then did percentage-based AUM. So, that’s how we met. I think it was, again, sort of fateful because then we stayed in touch for a long time.

And actually, I remember meeting you in person for the first time in Los Angeles. And there’s a bunch of kind of cool things that kind of happen over the years. But yeah, that’s going way back. It’s probably 15-plus years, I think.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, it was my very, very early days. So, I got into the business in ‘07, so ‘08, ‘09, ‘10, somewhere in that era. And so, there was another thing that was similar looking back that I kind of– there are certain people when you meet, you connect with, and you’re like, I want to stay in touch with that person. And you were one of those guys. And I think both of us were similar in the aspect. I mean, it’s one of the things that I love about this podcast. I was also curious. I was also a guy that sought to learn and was always just trying to be a student wherever I went. And so, I joined these different mastermind groups, Mastermind Talks with Jayson Gaignard, Strategic Coach, Dan Sullivan, was in a mastermind with Michael Hyatt.

And I remember the second time, there was like, you’d keep just showing up on my radar. And the one I remember, if you have video of this still, we need to drop it in the show notes because I think people will love it. It was a well-produced video and it was you kind of road tripping from Grand Rapids to Laguna Beach. I don’t know if you had a surfboard strapped to the roof or not, but it was well produced and it was basically you rolling out MM1 method, which was advisor-focused, and it was kind of a coaching platform.

And I just remember, I’m like, man, this dude, he’s getting out of this kind of what I would call the world, kind of this incestuous world of finance where everybody goes to the same conferences. And I could tell you were kind of going into Internet marketing world, and I believe that was part of the work you were doing with Frank Kern at the time. He was one of the early pioneers. But give me the reasoning or how did you go down that path? Because I really believe that was ahead of its time when you were doing that.

Jason Wenk: It was definitely different. So, maybe that means it was ahead of its time. So, it’s funny because, like, so the origin to that video, I guess, is I built a pretty successful business that was primarily geographically constrained to West Michigan. I did it in a pretty old-fashioned way. I used a lot of seminar marketing, got really good at it. I really enjoyed the science behind marketing, so being very data driven and building kind of these processes. But it wasn’t really ever my idea, right? Part of what got me there was like, I think there’s sort of an expectation that, hey, go build a big successful business, make lots of money, and you’ll be happy.

And what I actually learned was that I wasn’t really attracting clients that were my ideal clients. I didn’t build a business that was really like– I wasn’t living life the way I wanted to live life. I was sort of chasing almost industry-planted dreams or someone else’s expectations, they weren’t really my own. So, when I found myself, I was probably 27 or something, 26, 27 years old, probably making a lot of money for that age, right? I mean, this is so long ago that adjusted for inflation, it’d be probably making a million, million and a half dollars a year. And I was really unhappy. And it was really hard to explain that to people at the time because I didn’t really have a network. My family, no one had money. So, it gives an awkward kind of situation. So, yeah, I hired this business coach, marketing coach, Frank Kern, a super funny guy. He was kind of known as this sort of surfer slacker kind of guy that lived in San Diego.

Brad Johnson: He kind of has hair like me and like you used to have before you got a haircut.

Jason Wenk: Yeah, he’s trimmed it up a little now, he’s a bit older, but I remember being like, man, this dude looks cool and he looks like he’s enjoying life. And he had this exercise that he walked us through back then. It’s called core desires. The very first thing is like, hey, before we do anything else, let’s do core desires, right?

And core desires is basically 25, 26 questions. The premise was remove any limiting factors from your life. So, don’t say, oh, I would do this if my family wasn’t all here in West Michigan, or I would do this if I didn’t have this student loan debt, or I would do this if I didn’t have. It’s like assume no limitations. Just build your perfect day. You wake up. How do you wake up? What’s the first thing you see? Is there anything you smell? If you look out a window, what’s that like? What’s your day look like? Who are you spending it with? What are you doing? How are you feeling spiritually, physically, right? And it sounds very New World at the time anyway. But I think today, there’s a lot more people who kind of have these ideas around building lifestyle designs, you might call it today. But this is pre-dating a lot of that.

But I remember it being this really life-changing exercise because after you finish it, then it’s sort of like, okay, well, what would you have to do in your business to live that life? You just sort of manifest through these questions. And to me, this is why it’s so cool being on your podcast because that was doing business and doing life, right? And it started actually with like, let’s talk about life first, and what does that look like?

And so, obviously, if someone looked at what I put on there, I was like, look, I like being active, I like being outdoors. I’m very casual by nature. So, I’ve never really worn suits, ties, shaved. Okay, I get maybe a haircut every couple of years type of thing. And so, I just really embrace like, I’m going to give this a shot. I’m going to give it a try. As a part of that giving it a try was I’m going to move to California, I’m going to live what I wrote out in that thing. I’m going to wake up. I want to see the ocean, smell the salt air. I want to create my schedule so that I’m able to be outdoors. I want to surf almost every day. I want to run. I want to spend. I want to be there for everything in my kids’ lives. I had young kids at the time. And I want to coach everything. I want to bring them to school. I want to do things and do life, right? That’s what I wanted. I didn’t covet making millions of dollars, actually.

Now, I realize I had to make a certain amount of money to build that lifestyle and to build that sort of freedom. But that was kind of the long winded, like how did that video come to be? Well, that video was me starting off by documenting the journey. And I left on December 26, 2007 and loaded up my car. I took my dog, Finley, with me. And what’s cool, so the video itself, we actually got a map of the US. We kind of cut out a picture of that, like the Holiday Rambler from National Lampoon’s, the woody wagon, created a little image with my head on one side, the dog is on the other side, and we set it to the actual holiday road.

And then, every now and again, back then, there was no GoPro. There was no easy mobile phones with good cameras. So, I had a Flip Mino, for those who remember going way back, which is one of the first handheld high definition cameras. And I would just hold it out and record part of the journey. And then eventually, I end up in California and I teach my first lesson to other advisors because I felt so free pursuing this. I was like, I have to tell other people what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, right? I want to document it because it actually took me about a year of preparing to make it happen.

And one of the big parts of preparing was making my firm virtual because if I’m going to move across the country, I’ve got to serve clients virtually. I’ve got to acquire clients virtually. I’ve got to change the way I do things because I want to have location independence, live wherever I want to live, and build a business around sort of these life pursuits that were really important to me. Yeah, so that started that.

That program is called MM1 method, and I kind of created a digital marketing platform. I built a huge advisor email list of people who I think clearly resonated with other advisors that probably were unhappy and maybe they were successful, but unhappy. Or maybe they were not even successful yet and unhappy. But they clearly were like, I want to do something kind of what this guy is doing.

And so, lots of people opted in. We gave away a number of free lessons, free videos, and then kind of culminate. We’re doing some live training, and yeah, set into motion, a whole bunch of things that now today are pretty big moments, I didn’t realize at the time. But I look back and like, man, they were pretty seminal moments. So, yeah, obviously, that video must have caught your eye as a fellow marketer and those circles you mentioned, like the Frank Kern’s, the Michael Hyatt’s, we were following the same people early in our career and trying to surround ourselves, I think, with people outside of the industry that could help us be better within the industry. And so, I think by nature, we were like had this osmosis, right? The universe is sort of pulling us.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, there’s some lessons there. The first one that comes to mind because I signed up for a Frank Kern training and I don’t remember what year. It was definitely after you had done it, but it was some of the video marketing stuff I was doing around the podcast and Infusionsoft, which I don’t even know if it exists today. It used to be the quintessential email marketing system back in the day. But do you remember how much you paid for Frank Kern’s coaching back then in ‘07?

Jason Wenk: Yes, I mean, I started by buying one of his off-the-shelf courses. It was called Mass Control. So, Mass Control…

Brad Johnson: Yeah, Mass Control, I remember that.

Jason Wenk: Mass Control 2.0. These were $2,000 courses and they were shipped to you in the mail, big binders, a bunch of DVDs. You watch the videos, do the homework. And then, eventually, I did his private coaching. The private coaching, it was, I think, in the neighborhood of like– I should say, I didn’t do his private coaching. I did his group coaching, his mastermind coaching. So, it’s a group of 25, 30 of us maybe. And I think we were all paying $5,000 or $6,000 a month. Again, this was around 2008, 2009, 2010. So, legitimately, that’s paying 10-plus thousand a month in today’s sort of dollars.

Brad Johnson: I think there’s a valuable lesson there. And you were not afraid to invest into yourself. And I say yourself over business because that’s really you showing up and learning that is what led to that evolution in your business. And I mean, I’ve been wired the same way, and I find that’s a core theme in many achievers, regardless of industry, finance or outside of finance. They’re just the people that are willing to pay to get in the right rooms.

And I think there’s a really early lesson. I know there’s a lot of people that listen to this podcast that think the same way, but that was not cheap. It’s not cheap today, and it definitely wasn’t cheap back then. But I mean, you’re cutting a check 50, 60 grand a year for private coaching, and then look what it led to. And honestly, I think that was one of the reasons I was cold calling you because I don’t remember how MM1, the website that you had back then, got on my radar, but I’m 99.9% sure it was one of my clients, was like, “Hey, what do you know about this?” And I’m like, “That guy sounds familiar.” And then it was like, “Hey, let’s get him on the phone. Let’s figure out what’s up. Is he doing any annuity business? Can we recruit the man?” And I think that was where we kind of struck up the friendship in the early days.

There’s another thing that you hit on that I want to get your thoughts on. And one of the things we talk about it at Triad is playing the infinite game versus the finite game. I’m sure you’re at least somewhat familiar with Simon Sinek’s book, Infinite Game, and to me, you were looking at the infinite game in the early days. It was like, how do I design a business that serves my life? Starting with the most important variables first, which is how do I want to live my ideal life and day and week, and then retrofitting the business around it, where to your point, when you first started out in this space, you’re chasing the dollar, you’re redlining out, and it’s kind of like the business is controlling the lifestyle.

And what I have found is if you look at the infinite game, which is, can you ever have too good of a business and too good of a life if that’s done properly? Versus the finite game which is chasing the premium each year, the revenue each year, the new assets each year. It’s like, oh, every year the game starts over and I’ve got to run faster on the treadmill. You figured that out way younger and way earlier than most. Any thought process that went through that or any tips you could give a financial advisor who may be redlining out a little bit on how to course correct and play a different game than they’ve been playing in the past?

Jason Wenk: Yeah. So, I think it’s worth noting, too, that it was actually really hard to hit rock bottom. So, for me, when I started, I had no money. I was so broke. Nobody in my family had. It was sort of like redlining. I felt like I ran the RPMs to the max for four or five years and I reinvested almost every dollar back into the business to try to grow it, grow, grow, grow it.

And so, interesting, I’d say one of the most simple pieces of advice I’d give people is if you find yourself in a hole, step one is to stop digging. And I think a lot of people, the opportunity cost they create in their life makes it really hard for them to ever stop digging. That’s why they keep running the redline. So, I think if I just keep going harder, if I just can get another $2 million case, if I can just get another $100,000 of revenue, and that’s just you continuing to dig and dig and dig and dig.

So, for me, I had to hit a point where I was completely exhausted, burnt out, questioning if I want to stay in this business. And I was 27 years old, I was young and I was making great money and I sort of did a bunch of dumb things that I didn’t realize at the time, when I bought a bunch of stuff thinking like, well, I’m unhappy, but I’ve got this money now, so maybe if I buy a big fancy house or maybe if I buy a fancy car, and none of that stuff is actually that important to me.

But I think the sooner people can recognize that they’re in a hole and then stop digging, which basically means like hard reset, do a bit of calendar bankruptcy and kind of go, what do I really want to spend my time on and get there fast. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. I think one of the funny things about this business, and hopefully, someone’s had some success and they’re listening here, one of the things that I had conviction and that gave me the confidence to go take a risk and do that hard reset was I was like, I could always do this over again. If I fail, what is the worst that can happen? I have to go back and rebuild again. I mean, that’s not that hard. I know how to build. I could build it 10 times faster and better if I had to do it all over again from scratch.

So, what do I have to lose by pursuing something that actually is still great for society and great for clients, but also works for me? And again, so it’s easier, you always know this in hindsight, but it’s very scary at that moment when you’re like, okay, am I really going to do this? This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done. All your friends think you’re nuts. I had all these friends who thought I was completely out of my mind to walk away from kind of the life that I had built and start over in a new state with no family, friends, connections, contacts, building a virtual business back before Zoom existed, right? I mean, these were all strange things to people, but I think that, again, hit rock bottom, stop digging, and move quickly because it’s always going to seem scary at the time, but it’s always in hindsight. You’re like, man, one thing I regret is not doing it sooner.

Brad Johnson: I can relate very closely to that. I just went through a similar transition myself that I think most people would say was absolutely crazy. But I think the key thing is I had a mentor tell me this once. They said, “Do the work first. Get crystal clear on what it is you want.” And you mentioned an exercise with Frank Kern, the core desires. You got pretty damn clear on what Jason wanted before you left, right? And the same thing for me, it probably took me two or three years, a lot of conversations with my wife, a lot of self-reflection. And I just got really crystal clear on what I wanted.

And then the truth is, once you get there, that’s almost like you’re free. And I love the worst-case scenario because the worst-case scenario, like, honestly, the way I look at it is my family is healthy. I could be on a cardboard box on a street corner and things could be worse. You know what I mean? And I don’t know, that’s just the way I think. It’s not necessarily a money thing. It’s being surrounded by the people I love and I want to do life with. And so, I just love kind of that mental exercise you just went through. So, thanks for sharing that.

All right. We have to get to Annuity Gator, our favorite website that reviews annuities. And at the time, it wasn’t my favorite website. So, let’s share a little bit of the story behind the origin story of Annuity Gator. You drop something really cool before we went live here, you said, “If it wasn’t for Annuity Gator, I don’t know that Altruist would exist today.” So, let’s talk about Annuity Gator, and then let’s get to how that evolved and where you are today.

Jason Wenk: Yeah. So, Annuity Gator still exists today. It’s actually a very successful website that drives a lot of business to financial advisors. But the origin story was basically, right, so when I said I moved to California, I had to build a virtual business. One of the things that I had to do is figure out how to serve my existing clients. So, I hired some people to take care of most of the work in Michigan. I kept some clients as my own personal clients.

And one of things I want to do is be able to serve them virtually. I thought one of the best ways to do that was to sort of asynchronously post information to my blog. So, basically, kind of in my mind, I thought, what do I talk about in meetings with these clients? If I’m sitting down with a client, what am I really talking about? I felt like there’s kind of a framework that I was using. In that framework, in its most simple form, is like three really key kind of questions that I’d be talking about people, and they’d always be like, “Hey, what have you been doing that’s working really well, like you’d be happy about, you’d be pleased with?” That’s question one.

Question two, hey, what’s not going so well? Do you have any anxieties, concerns, questions, stuff that I’m doing wrong that you could tell me I didn’t improve, whatever? And then question three was, hey, is there anything you’ve heard about, you’ve been thinking about, you have questions about, maybe you even consider changing with your financial life, but you just haven’t pulled the trigger yet that maybe I can help you provide some clarity? So, those are my three kind of questions.

And so, I felt like, why don’t I turn that into like how I write my blog? So, my blog then became reaching out to clients and asking them about these three questions. I could then write articles and I could keep it like to where– that way, like if I had a client meeting, it was sort of like most of the work was already done. It could be a 15-minute phone call or web meeting or whatever versus like an hour-long session type of thing.

So, I post these questions often. I’d send them out to clients. One of the clients actually, rest in peace, his name’s Bob. And Bob was a rocket scientist, like legitimate rocket scientist that worked for GE Aerospace. And he was one of the smartest people I ever worked with in my career. And it’s funny, so basically, he responds to one of my queries, “Hey, listen, I’m working on some new content. I want to make sure all my clients are feeling really good about their financial life. So, if you don’t mind, like here’s my questions. Can you share anything in any one of the three, all three that’s happening in your life?”

Bob writes me back, and it basically goes like this. He says, “Hey, Jason, I know I shouldn’t have, but I got an invitation for one of these free dinner seminars, and I went to it, and I know I shouldn’t have, but the presentor made a pretty compelling pitch for this annuity, and so, I signed up for appointments. And so, here I am, I’ve got all these questions and I’ve tried to do research. I can’t find anything on the Internet. Here’s the way the product was described to me. Here’s what it’s called. What do you think?”

So, it’s funny. It’s like had I never moved to California and decided to do virtual work, I would have never done these queries. I may have never had this person say, “Hey, I’ve got these questions.” And it was a very specific product. It was a security benefit, secure income annuity with guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit rider. Now, whoever he was talking to sounds like they weren’t the most honest ethical advisor on the planet. And they kind of pitched it up to be like, “Hey, your worst-case scenario is essentially what the roll-up.” It was like a 7%, I think, roll-up, but it wasn’t really a 7% return, obviously, just kind of rolled up the income benefit pool.

Anyway, so I started working on an email back to Bob and I realized, again, he’s a really detailed engineer. So, I was like, I went full blown engineer mode myself and I built the spreadsheet and I did the analysis and I wrote all these descriptions and then I was like, I should just publish this on my blog because if Bob, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, successful guy, rocket scientist, if he doesn’t know how this thing works and he’s been confused by it, there must be some other people, maybe in my own client base or around the world, maybe they benefit from it too, right?

So, I published the review. I recorded a long video. So, I want to make sure people knew, like I knew what I was talking about, says like, “Here’s all my sources. I went to this site, I pulled all this data. Here’s how I ran a query to extract the data, build it into a model. Here’s how I ran all my return calculations here. So, I did seven different simulations, like da, da, da.” Links to everything, try to make it really, really legit. And it was super helpful.

Bob ended up, by the way, investing in one of those annuities. But now, he understood how it worked. And it wasn’t a huge investment. The other person wanted to put a million bucks in or something. He put $150,000 or something, like just enough to get enough income stream to supplement his pension, Social Security to give him the stable income that he and his wife wanted, right?

So, in some respects, I’m like, “Hey, this worked.” He still got the annuity. It was the appropriate. He understood it, it fit within his financial plan, right? Everybody seemed to be happy. And now, everybody’s happy because obviously, the other thing that happened was that blog blew up. I started getting hundreds of inquiries every week from people around the country.

Hey, here’s my situation. And people were extremely detailed. I just sold my business. I got $5 million. I’ve met with six different financial planners. I don’t know what to do. Some people are saying to buy this, some people are saying not to. I don’t know who I can trust. You seem like you’re really knowledgeable. Is there anything you can do to help me? I’m like, well, this is weird. That’s not supposed to happen like that in our industry, right? Because it’s supposed to be like the advisor is constantly pursuing and selling and convincing. All of a sudden, I had people coming to me, just tons of money, tens of millions of dollars of opportunity every week, pretty much wanting to get on my calendar to see if I could help them. It was really wild, right?

The other calls that came in were very angry financial planners, insurance agents that were like, you cost me a big deal. I’m going to come and get you and sue you and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right? It reminded me of a Dan Kennedy note, but it was something like, if what you’re doing is not offensive to at least some people, it probably doesn’t matter to anybody. And so, I think that what I was doing, clearly, it was offending some people, but it was really helpful to a lot of people. And it really became the catalyst for growth for my firm.

And I remember that first year, I ended up doing just three or four more annuity posts. Eventually because I wanted to protect my anonymity, I took it off my personal blog, moved it to this Annuity Gator, which was like the Annuity Investigator. And I would write really long, detailed, nerdy engineer-like reviews with hour-long videos. So, super long form content with a very simple CTA, which is like, hey, listen, if you’ve been pitched this, it doesn’t quite add up with how it’s being described here. And you have questions, you want to talk to somebody, no sales pressure, fill out this form, and I’ll see if I can get back to you within 24 to 48 hours. That was the pitch.

And it worked. So, that’s how Annuity Gator was born. Eventually, there was so much demand that came in. I’d hire a couple other advisors to take care of all the clients. And so, that rekindled our connection because I think, obviously, you were very familiar with that product and I think you probably had advisors going, “Brad, what the hell, shut this guy down. He’s got my deals.”

But suffice to say, it was a really good learning experience even for the industry as a whole because nobody had ever done a review site before. I mean, a lot of the stuff I was doing at the time, this was way before Josh Brown and Barry Ritholtz, I mean. And it was actually driving huge amount…

Brad Johnson: I think that product was 2010, if I remember right. I think that product has rolled out in 2010. So, I mean, that was even Amazon back in the day, I’m sure they have the rating system, but not near to the reviews that they have today, where you kind of gauge on whether or not you want to buy the product based on reviews. But I feel like now everybody’s wired. I’m not buying any product of substance until I read some sort of review on.

Jason Wenk: I don’t even buy a T-shirt if it has a three-star review, why would I? It’s like you want to only get stuff that has reviews and you see the star rating and whatever, your bias is to ensure that others are happy with whatever the product service, etc. So, I used to mention Amazon. And Amazon was really the inspiration behind writing the reviews because their business model back then, it still is partially like this today is that they– but back then, they didn’t have any of their own products. They were just a reseller.

But what they built was this incredible marketplace where they were able to build the largest amount of reviews and content. And what they knew is that serious buyers were looking for detailed information, right? So, a serious buyer that was in the market for a TV wouldn’t do a search for TV, like television. That wasn’t how they search. Instead it would be Vizio 75-inch ultra-high-definition 7K smart TV near me or whatever, some long tail, big long query into the search engine.

And so, that’s where my reviews worked really well because it would be like the title would literally be an independent objective review of the security benefits, secure income annuity with GLWB rider, and then the first header to tag would be like SBL, SIA, or I use a different term that it might be applied to fees. Another one might be potential returns, income guarantees. So, there’d be all these long tail variations of the product. This is exactly how Amazon laid out their products back in the day and it allowed them to sort of hijack the traffic.

Now, of course, if they found a product sold really well, they would become a wholesaler of it or a manufacturer of it because they had all the data. They knew what sort of sold. So, simple concept. I think there’s a lot of these things that could still be done today really effectively if advisors were curious on how to build Internet marketing machines.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. I mean, as you were talking about Amazon reviews or actually went to, I mean, that is essentially Morningstar, at least where Morningstar was born. It was reviewing different mutual funds. It’s their five-star review system or however many stars they had. But it’s just another form of what was supposedly an independent review, right?

Okay. So, I want to circle back. So, we brought it up earlier and we talked about the biases that exist. And all humans have biases, I mean, not just wired into us. It’s kind of nature versus nurture, right? And so, if you were nurtured up through a wirehouse, an insurance brokerage firm, a certain broker-dealer, Ed Jones, Ameriprise, we could just keep naming all of the players, based on your schooling, which was typically somehow tied to product distribution, if we’re fully transparent. So, you were trained to distribute a certain product selection or maybe a certain way that you were compensated, fee-based, commission-based, etc., etc. There’s all kinds of different biases. You come up through this.

And one of the things that was coming back to Annuity Gator is here is just an independent, because you were sourcing a lot of it, and it was just one of the things I love about math, the numbers, is they don’t lie. It’s just black and white. And so, you saw this need and what was interesting is you had insurance people distributing this product. You had some securities license people. There were a lot of fee-based RIAs that also distributed insurance products. There were BD channels. And what you did, as you just said, here is the product, set it on the table. Now, let’s slice and dice it and talk about it. I love that. To me, that’s fiduciary. That’s a fiduciary standard. Let’s throw the tool out on the table and let’s just talk about the pros and cons and where it may or may not fit.

One of the things we were talking yesterday kind of preparing for this conversation, so easy to say, so hard to do in our space because you’re fighting all these biases. You’re fighting what products you have access to. I truly believe our industry suffers from using fiduciary as a marketing term versus an actual definition, like you would see legally obligated to do what’s in your client’s best interest.

One of the things that I think we both share is a fiduciary should have as many possible tools, financial tools in their toolbox that are vetted by something or regulated by something. And then a true fiduciary ideally should have access to as many tools as possible and then take as unbiased of lens as possible to figure out what can serve this client at the highest level and then construct the financial plan.

Okay. First off, before I move on from there, anything you disagree with, and by the way, this podcast is not for everybody. Let’s say the same thing, if there’s different pieces that you disagree with, let me know. But if we start of that from a base kind of understanding, thoughts there, disagreements there?

Jason Wenk: Yeah, man, I mean, look, I think it’s most simple form, a fiduciary is someone who’s supposed to put their client’s interests before their own. So, they should try to remove best they can any biases that they might have. But I 100% agree that we all do come up and people have their, and I think even outside of our industry, it’s actually pretty well-documented that by the time we hit certain ages, our bias has become so strong that it’s very hard for us to ever change. And so, I think this is why you have these social media battle royals of people who they believe their way is the right way and they’re not open-minded to anyone else’s way.

And look, at the end of the day, I used the saying a lot when I was in private practice, but I would tell people, financial plans are really interesting, like the best financial plan for everybody is one that works. It gets you the results that you want and you feel comfortable with because if you don’t feel comfortable, then you can’t stick with it. It doesn’t matter. So, this is where I think these biases are tough because you can make almost any plan work, right? So, someone could be like, I’m hardcore fee only, advice only, I’m hourly only, or whatever, right? And they could build a plan in a one-dimensional world that would work just fine.

I know advisors who are insurance license only. All they sell is fixed indexed annuities, income annuities, MYGAs, etc., and you can build plans that will work. It’ll get the client the outcome they want, meaning their goals, their income goals, and whatever. Neither one of those is probably one that most people would feel, like not everyone’s going to feel comfortable with them, right? So, there’s lots of kind of personal bias our clients have from their own experience to their parents’ experience.

Brad Johnson: Yes, yes, that’s a good point.

Jason Wenk: And so, I think it’s really important if anything, that to me, great fiduciary advisors, they should be extremely flexible and not try to cram everybody into one box that’s like their bias box, right? Unless they’re transparent about it, which is like, listen, I offer fiduciary advice to this very defined niche client and they all get the same solution, but I reject 90% of the people who want to work with me because they don’t fit into the solution I offer. I don’t know too many people that are telling 90% of their prospective clients to go somewhere else.

So, I think, no matter what we do, I 100% agree with you that the right approach is one where you have a lot of options and you try to bespoke the solution for what works for the client and they feel comfortable that they’re going to stick with it. Can’t do those two things, then I’m not sure you’re being a real fiduciary.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. We were talking about advisor biases. But it’s so true. The client or the prospect also walks in with their own biases. And if there are certain biases they have, they might eliminate some of the tools out of the toolbox for you.

Jason Wenk: 100%, yeah.

Brad Johnson: And I think a great advisor helps anybody work through those. And you’re obviously going to try to educate, but sometimes, there’s certain things that just had a bad experience with that thing, never using that thing again.

Jason Wenk: Yeah, there are people, I remember in the Annuity Gator days, obviously, a lot of these people, they were doing research on annuities, they probably had some insecurity around market risk. And think about that time period, 2010, this is shortly after the financial crisis. People were still licking their wounds pretty badly. There were people who, if you just ask them very sort of like, listen, how comfortable do you feel with money in the stock market? And there were definitely people who are like, “I would never put a penny ever in the stock market. If I look at a statement that’s down even a penny in a month, two months, three months, whatever time period, I’m out. I can’t do that again. I have too deep of wounds. I have too much scar tissue. I’m not going there.”

And a lot of planners would be like, “Well, that’s not what’s best for you, though. And so, let me go ahead and prescribe.” And I used to coach advisors and I’d say, listen, I think we all know that we should probably maintain a balanced diet. We should get lots of sleep, drinks lots of water, probably best not to drink too much alcohol or partake in crazy drugs and dangerous activities. We all know what should be a healthy lifestyle.

But the reality is, there are clients who come to you and say, “Listen, Brad, I love cheeseburgers. The cheeseburger is my manna from heaven. That’s what I really want.” And if the advisor sitting there, being like, “Great. Let me change your mind and get you to love salads, Brad,” that client’s never going to hire you, right? So, instead it’s like, okay, well, what could you offer? Maybe just blow their mind with the greatest cheeseburger in the history of cheeseburgers and make it with the best ingredients and freshest, whatever preparation, etc., that client is going to be better off, I suppose. And you deliver to them something they feel comfortable with.

And again, many advisors, I think they push their opinions on their clients. They talk what they think is important. They do seminars, podcasts, blogs, whatever on what they think is valuable. And they kind of forget that at the end of the day, the easiest thing to do is just find people who are– I mean, it’s like a Ray Kroc’s story, where he’d say, “Hey, what’s the secret recipe if you want to have a successful McDonald’s franchise?” And all the franchisees are like, “Great location, unlimited marketing budget, best food.” He’s like, “You just need hungry people.” Just have a lot of hungry customers, they’ll buy lots of food from you, right?

And I think, as advisors, we sometimes forget that probably the bias that matters the most is the clients. And as a default, they will 100% opt out of certain product services. And then so why bother? You’re just wasting your time in theirs and they’re probably never going to, even if you can convince them to do what you’re telling to do, they’re the type of people who are going to become very, very hard to work with down the road because they’re going to have reluctantly agreed to what you sold them, and every opportunity they can to second guess and rub it in your face and try to get out of it or create problems, they likely will. So, just best to be a fiduciary and ask people what’s important about money to them.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, I think what’s cool there, because it’s like Ray Kroc, you bring that up, which, by the way, the founder, incredible movie, very entertaining, great business lessons, the book, I think it’s Grind it Out, also a stellar read. So, maybe we throw those in the show notes, but a lot of lessons for McDonald’s. Instead of creating a product and then selling it and forcing it on people, I mean, one of the coachings I got when I started my original podcast, it was Who’s Your Audience?

And I remember I cut the first couple episodes and there was a guy in our mastermind group. He’s like, “Hey, I’m in IT security and I love that episode. Why are you narrowing it so narrow to financial advisors?” And the coaching I got, which was spot on at the time, they’re like, “Hey, figure out your niche and who you want to serve at the highest level because that’s going to dictate the guests you have on, the questions you ask, how you market it, everything that the end consumer of the show will dictate that versus you doing these shows and trying to force people to listen to them.” And that’s the same concept you’re talking about here.

And by the way, if you have a good show, guess what? People are going to hear it and they’re like, “I’m not a financial advisor, but I’ll listen to that anyway.” So, it doesn’t actually keep those people from listening. But I couldn’t agree more and I’ve seen that play out just in my own journey in podcasting as figure out the hungry people. I love your analogy. And then how do you build a product that serves those people versus build the product and then try to shove it down people’s throats because that’s not as fun, right? So, cool.

Well, time is flying, dude, and we haven’t even got to Altruist yet. So, we better at least get to your latest venture. So, we go through this journey. Let’s tie the Annuity Gator and Altruist together. So, there was a learning there for you that you said, “Hey, that was probably maybe the inflection point of why I’m at Altruist today.” Can you tie those two together? And then we’ll see where it goes from there.

Jason Wenk: Yeah. So, what happened was with Annuity Gator, that was really the first time that I should say, the work I did with MM1 got me exposure to other financial advisors. I’m actually, by nature, pretty reclusive. I don’t go to a lot of conferences and I’m really enjoying my privacy and time at home with my family. So, MM1 kind of forced me into doing some events and spending time with our advisors. And then that part just kept going for five, six, seven years.

So, over that time period, I launched Annuity Gator, kind of built this whole, really kind of, I’d say a persona anyway as being someone who really understood the early days of digital marketing for financial advisors. And so, inevitably what ended up happening was kind of those things merged, meaning advisors kept being like, well, how do I just plug into what you are doing? And so, they were interested in how do I use the marketing that you’re doing? And then they learned a little bit about my private practice, and I was using this sort of formulaic approach to building financial plans and doing tax location and managing assets for clients and built a lot of our own technology to sort of make the client onboarding experience really easy and delightful.

And so, I started a company called FormulaFolios, which is really my first real B2B to C. So, it’s an RIA. People call it TAMP, I guess, today. This was in 2011. And when I launched, 2012 is when I first started taking other advisors and it took off really fast, so went from zero to $100 million pretty quick, from $100 million to a billion pretty quick, a billion to $2 billion really, really quick, and then like 2 to 3, 3 to 4, so forth.

And really, the pitch was simple. I was telling advisors like, look, what I’ve done is I’ve got two really interesting, maybe valuable things to people. One is the systematic digital marketing approach to help you get more prospects and clients and then a sort of turnkey business management platform to help you onboard the clients. Since a lot of advisors that we work with, given the Annuity Gator type of background, they had insurance licenses, and so, we end up doing a partnership with an FMO. They had a ton of advisors that were very eager to kind of learn the advisory, the wealth management side of the business, but they also wanted to still be able to sell and use FIAs predominantly and other annuity products, insurance products, but they want to use those as well.

And so, this is a really interesting time. But I grew a very large RIA platform serving other financial advisors, and what I learned in that experience was operating at scale. Opening whatever, 50 to 100 accounts a day at a traditional custodian was really painful. Managing the back office for 300 financial advisors and 50,000 end clients is really painful. So, opening an account, and some of this predates even when DocuSign came alive, like it was still hard. You had double-digit low teens NIGO rates, we call not in good order where accounts wouldn’t open for some reason, or ACATS wouldn’t fill for some reason, or checks would get lost.

And so, what I learned anyway, was like, hey, this is super painful for a firm at scale. I also learned that if an advisor was still in the early part of their career, they shouldn’t be doing a lot of this administrative operational stuff. It’s a total waste of their time and effort, keeps them from really spending more time with prospects and clients. And the hair that broke the camel’s back, I forget the exact year that they really came on the scene, but it was when Robinhood came out and let’s just say that happened probably 2015 or 2016.

And I remember downloading the app, opening an account, putting whatever, 100 bucks in it, and then buying fractional shares with no commissions on a phone. And I’m like, this is bonkers that we, as advisors, managing billions and billions of dollars for clients, are still having to open accounts in a really old-fashioned way, fund them in a really old-fashioned way. We have to buy all this other software to do things like trading at scale and we still can’t do it back then, there was still no commission-free trading. Fractional shares didn’t exist.

So, it really started to irk me that I was like, advice is going to have a hard time ever fully scaling, meaning like, how do we get more people to be able to hire an advisor? Because a lot of people would love help, but advisors have generally high minimums because they all operate on some type of subscale environment, like there’s a trade-off of people on your team to households you can serve. And I just felt like that’s nuts, right?

And those who followed Robinhood certainly know that they went from 0 to 3 million accounts really fast, 3 to 10 million really fast, 10 to 20 million really fast. But think about how crazy it is, they opened more accounts in five years than companies like E*TRADE did in 30. So, this is really interesting, like if you build a really incredible user experience, in my mind, I thought I want to build a B2B version, a really incredible digital first custodian. I thought about doing it kind of internally within my old company, but it’s really hard if you have a bunch of legacy kind of people, processes, and technology and the right approach would be like, let’s start this from scratch with no customers, no need to support customers. Let’s just take the year and a half, two years to really focus on R&D and building that first version of the product. So, that’s the Genesis story.

I mean, but again, interestingly, had I not done things like MM1, had I not done that move across country, had I not done Annuity Gator, I don’t know that I would have been able to build a successful RIA. And I can tell you that if you’re building a really meaningful fintech company, so a company like Altruist, which we’ve raised almost $300 million in funding to build the company, I think probably by an order of magnitude or two of the most successful fintech company in the history of financial advice for advisors that is like WealthTech, I don’t think anything is even remotely in the same stratosphere in terms of how quickly we scaled up the users, the accounts, the assets, the revenue, like every metric that matters frankly, it’s just a decade faster than most everyone else.

So, that takes a lot of money. That’s why we had to raise $300 million to build this and to really go and do something. It’s also a huge problem. The players in custody are $100-plus billion companies, managed with multiple trillions in assets. So, these are monstrously big entrenched companies that have been around for 50-plus years. These are not easy things to disrupt.

So, in order to have the confidence to go after that market, in order to have the credibility to raise the capital, in order to be able to recruit the team, I had to have built my last company, FormulaFolios, which is a very successful company that I eventually sold. I had a really good exit there. But without building that, I could have never done this. I wouldn’t have had the credibility, the experience, the confidence, etc. I would have never built FormulaFolios had I not Annuity Gator because Annuity Gator really is what gave me the credibility in the advisor’s eyes that they wanted to join a platform that I built, because I had eaten my own cooking, I wasn’t just talking the talk, but I was able to say I built a firm from scratch to $100 million. I built a firm from scratch to a billion. I built two firms now actually to over a billion in assets and did all those things before I was 35 years old, from scratch. No help from anybody, no outside investors, nothing, right?

Those stories were so important to be able to then pitch and receive the funding to then go recruit the team, start building what is now Altruist. So, a lot of work to be done, but it’s not lost on me. There’s these sayings, pretty hard to give credit to, but most startups, it takes them about 10 years to really become meaningful. And yet, most people don’t know anything about them until they’re 10 years old. So, it seems like they’re the longest overnight success stories that you’ll ever hear of are successful startups because most people don’t realize, like even a company like Altruist, the ground work for this company was the 10 years before I started all the stuff I did before that, and then it’s like the four and a half years since founding it.

So, in many ways, it’s a 15-year journey to get where we are today. And we still have so much work to be done. So, kudos to the SBL team, had they not created that product that then got distributed by your old company and then my client didn’t go to that seminar, but who knows? You might have been the one who wrote the copy to that seminar ad that they actually went to. Who knows, right? I mean, these are the ones very six degrees kind of thinking.

Brad Johnson: It is crazy, those little forks in the road all along the way. It’s crazy how things work out. And I feel it was cool hearing you share that because I feel like my chapter before this, the 15 years, like I wouldn’t be here today and a lot of that’s the learnings I had along the way.

Let’s go into, you mentioned something on Altruist that was kind of a philosophy. You called it the flywheel approach, I believe borrowed from Jim Collins. Can you talk through that? Because I think that’s a really cool framework that I think some are familiar with, some aren’t, that your version of that could apply to other firms here as they think through their practices.

Jason Wenk: Yeah, totally. So, I’m a big fan of studying other great businesses and trying to learn from the best we can. We’re really, really lucky here that one of our strategic investors is Vanguard, one of our individual investors and board members is Bill McNabb, the former chairman and CEO of Vanguard. And he actually worked very closely with Jim Collins and kind of the team that put together Good to Great and on Vanguard’s flywheel, right?

And so, I think people don’t realize that. Using Vanguard first and then go into Altruist, do you have some perspective on a company like Vanguard? They just celebrated their 50th year, I think last year, to my knowledge, they’re either number one or two. It kind of changes by the day. But in terms of largest asset managers in the world, market movements can fluctuate, but I think they’re north of $8 trillion in assets. So, just a monstrously big, successful company.

And at the core, at Vanguard, like the one thing all of their crew, as they call them, they have a very nautical theme, as you can imagine. So, their team, they call their crew, they all can recite. They know exactly what moves the needle at Vanguard, right? So, it’s in the book, but I say it maybe messed up a little bit by recall here. But by recall, the number one thing that they actually strive for is that they want to have– so their flywheel, think of it like a wheel, it’s kind of spokes. The first spoke is of the lowest cost in the entire industry. I think their metric is they’re trying to drive the average cost of service under 10 basis points across all their products.

They believe by having the lowest cost, that lets them drive by wheel number two is the next kind of metric, which is the best returns because they believe that low cost will increase the returns for their customers. So, if they can have the lowest cost, they can drive the best returns. By having the best returns, they can have the happiest customers, the highest NPS and engagement among their customers.

By doing that, they’re going to drive more share of wallets and more assets under their platform. By driving more assets on their platform, they can further reduce their cost and then they can further improve their performance, which will further improve the outcomes and happiness of their customers, which will allow them to drive more assets. And you can kind of see how a flywheel spins, right? It’s hard to get it moving, but man, what it does, it starts to really chug along. And so, it’s very simple, their flywheel.

So, we learned a lot from them. We start thinking about at Altruist, our mission is making advice better, more affordable and accessible to everyone. So, like, what would matter? What should we track? And if you don’t track it, it doesn’t matter. So, what should be tracking and working towards? And everybody in our company knows 100% exactly what our flywheel is. They know what all the metrics are as far as the numbers. Ours, at the very core, the center of it is our team. So, we measure internal engagement. We have about 350 people. We want our engagement score to be above 90.

So, we want people highly engaged. They are mission driven. They want to be here. They understand that if we win, if we do well as an organization, millions of people who otherwise could never get access to advice will get access to advice, good advice. They’ll get better outcomes with their money, right? So, there’s a real kind of fervent belief that that team has to be engaged and followed, believe in the mission, work hard towards it.

But I think like what’s cool about this is we built this all around our mission and I think like this is part of, I’d say like a Do Business, Do Life kind of mantra would be it’s really hard, like if you start pounding that drum, it’s going to feel really empty if the work you do doesn’t matter, right? So, I think it’s really, really key that people start to think about, well, what happens if I’m successful? What’s the outcome if I’m successful, if this works?

And so, with a company like Altruist, we named it Altruist, which is almost the definition of a fiduciary. We want to put others before ourselves. We want to build a platform that allows others to get phenomenal outcomes. So, if we win, if that means that millions of people save billions of dollars in taxes and tens of billions of dollars in fees, and ultimately, closes the wealth gap in America and allows us to really make big impact in different communities all over the country, that’s pretty worthwhile. That’s something I want to get up and go do every day and be excited about every day and build a team that’s excited about it every day.

If the mission is like, go make tons of money, that one, that’s not really doing much for me and for most people, almost anybody’s going to eventually get tired. It’s just not inspiring. Your team won’t rally around it. So, I think for us, the flywheel is a really good way to measure what matters. But all of those metrics, they’re not metrics. None of them, you’ll notice, are like make more revenue, have bigger profits, do a big quarterly dividend, buy a new McLaren, get a private jet. None of that sh*t matters. That’s not important to me. It might matter to other people. So, I would say they should do what matters to them, but it’s just not important to me. So, I’m going to build a company in a culture built around a mission that really matters and then I want to build metrics on my flywheel that were hell bent on improving those metrics.

We are really close, by the way, but they should be by default, those who’ve read Good to Great, they should be stretch goals, they should be really hard to hit. And as soon as you hit them, that means you start reaching higher. And Vanguard’s done that with theirs as well. So, yeah, a little lesson from Jim Collins that kind of applied to Altruist, but I think every business could find there are four or five things that matter, hopefully, again, built around a purpose that’s inspiring and that makes it a lot easier to integrate the business and life components where I love the people I work with, I love the work I do. My family loves being involved in the work I do because they get it too, they’re fully aware, my kids fully appreciate, understand the importance of the work that we’re doing, which is hard to believe that teenagers would care about this stuff, but they do.

And so, anyway, it makes like, if you do happen to work a long day or two, which I work a lot, I really love working, but it doesn’t result in burnout, which whereas I think if you’re just doing something, making the rounds, running hard, but not really understanding why and your family doesn’t like it, almost always you can have some serious problems.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Thanks for running through all that. I didn’t want to interrupt because it was good and I love how you tied it together, too. It’s like, hey, here’s a lesson I took from Vanguard. Obviously, he was the guy that helped make that come to life is helping, obviously, on your side as a believer in what you’re doing on Altruist. So, it’s cool. And that’s the thing. I think, in business, there’s so many lessons, all the books, all the business lessons out there that oftentimes people ignore and just try to figure it out themselves, it’s like, no, this worked for them. Now, let’s apply it to what we’re about.

Another thing about that flywheel that I love is once you get the momentum, it’s kind of that perpetual wheel of motion where all of them assist the next one and it gets going faster. So, I love that framework. I know our time is close to the end here. A couple of final thoughts here. We’ve talked about kind of everything present day. I do know you have a big conference coming up and they’re asking you about innovation, AI tools. So, maybe not the long version because we don’t have a ton of time. But you’ve looked at the future with Altruist and where things are going, but if you kind of future casted, there’s not a day where ChatGPT doesn’t pop up on some stream that I’m on. Let’s just go out 10 years. And what are some things if you’re an advisor that you should be thinking about, if you want to be a business that matters 10 years from now, in your opinion?

Jason Wenk: Yeah. So, I think there’s some that are technology-related, some that are not. I think one of the things that’s going to be important is that we’ve been hearing about this for decades. You and I are about the same age. We’ve been in the business for a long time. So, I’m sure we’ve heard about like the great wealth transfer, but it’s not transpired yet. Well, it’s going to, like people do eventually die, right? So, I think one thing that advisors would be really smart to be thinking about is how can they serve some clients that are Gen Xers right now? They better build a Gen X book a business, or they’re going to have a hard time in the next 10 years because– and Gen Xers, by the way, are like, so the oldest ones are in their 50s, like mid-50s. So, these aren’t young clients anymore. But I think that, generationally, advisors better build more than just a retirement-focused business because over the next decade, we’re going to start to see a lot of those older Silent generation, Great generation, like they’re going to start passing away. Their kids are going to be primarily Gen Xers, maybe older millennials.

And almost every study that’s ever been done on this shows that the vast majority of inheritors don’t keep their parents financial advisor. They move to somebody new. So, I would go ahead and get the clients that will inherit the money and make sure you have at least a roster that if you want to have longevity in your business. I think technology-wise, I was a big skeptic for a long time on certain products like crypto and certain digital assets I thought was a solution looking for a problem for the most part. I feel very differently about AI. I feel like this is very real.

And yeah, I don’t think anything’s going to happen. Some stuff will take a while to happen. I think that some of the end customers, it’s going to take a while before they even warm up to it, and clients it is. But I think the majority of the work your staff does and a lot of the work advisors do, you’ll be able to have AI do it for you. This human capital required to build and run a successful financial planning advisory firm, I think, will change dramatically in the next 10 years.

I think it might take a while. It could take longer because our industry is really bad at innovation and they work really slowly. So, the fact that major custodians and major insurance companies still oftentimes require medallion stamp signature guarantees and stuff. It’s just a good reminder that it’s going to take our industry probably maybe 10 years longer than the rest of the world, the rest of other kind of the economy. But it’s definitely coming. And so, I think, like, what do you do today? Not really much, but be wise to those things. Don’t overinvest in antiquated technology that’s built on kind of mainframes that haven’t been updated in 20 or 30 years because you’re going to find yourself in a really tricky spot.

Largest, because the two big benefits, I think, the AI will bring and big changes will happen on that front will be, you’ll be able to serve a lot more customers. So, if you can build up an incredible marketing machine, which I think an incredible marketing machine today is going to be a lot different than what it was. I think what I did with Annuity Gator, by the way, I don’t think that’ll exist anymore in 10 years because why do you need it for? You build pop into Bard or GPT and just ask whatever questions you want and get whatever answers you want. It will be very accurate in the next few years.

And so, content marketing with copy will become kind of a thing of the past. But I think podcasts, video, these are harder for AI to disrupt, I think. It might take longer. I think a lot more people will consume and meet their clients that way. I think, even some social media will become a lot more important to advisors. And it maybe happened in the past, so authentic media where you connect people to really feel who you are and know you’re not a robot, right? So, I think, those things will be important.

And face-to-face work, I think, will become really important again, because how will you differentiate from a robot? Well, you know you’re human, so go do the things that robot can’t do, right? And so, I think there’s things that become pretty important because I think if you build the right marketing machine, if you want to, you’ll have the ability with these tools to serve 10, 20, 30 times many customers. And you may have to serve a lot more because price compression may come down a lot. I think with some of this innovation, we may find a world where things just change. And that’s okay. I’m pretty excited about that.

I think, again, right now, to my knowledge, it’s about 30 million people in United States who expressed they would like to have a financial advisor, but they can’t afford one or can’t find one. So, AI can really help solve that problem, and just more broadly, get people access to great advisors. But it will be things like onboarding and a lot of the planning work and thought work, this sort of knowledge work, I guess as you’ll call it, I’m not trying to be doomsayer, but we’re not even remotely as smart as these large language models are. They’re so much more capable and they’re still in the very early days of their training. So, over the next handful of years, even months, I mean, it’s almost weekly, the evolution of things that are possible.

And so, given years and given significant GPU investment, I mean, it’s kind of mind blowing. What’s possible, now will it get built? Time will tell. But those are my motivations. One is don’t sleep on clients that are Gen Xers or old millennials. I think they’re going to be really important to your business over the next decade plus, and then be reluctant to use AI when it’s built by companies that their product today sucks, their AI is probably going to suck too, but know that there’s going to be some innovations that come out that advisors, I think, if they’re smart, build a really elegant marketing machine that gives you a huge top of funnel and the ability to serve more people should you choose because the technology will become available down the road. Probably most of stuff today is not even really that useful for advisors, but the stuff the next two, three, five years will be. It won’t matter though, if you don’t have a client acquisition machine. So, I’d be heavily focused on building a really good client acquisition machine.

Brad Johnson: Good stuff. Well, thanks for that. Just download out of Jason’s brain. I always appreciate how you think about that. And what’s interesting I look back, like, look back in the days where people were trading paper stocks in a pit, the stock traders. And then if you look at the stock broker of back in the day, well, it was very obscure information, like the only way, I think Warren Buffett, there was something I read about him. He used to go to libraries and get these super thick volumes so he could read about company information and figure out what was a good buy at the time. And obviously, all of that evolved towards the Internet, which is why there’s not stockbrokers really around anymore.

And so, as we look at this evolution of just the– it’s really the democratization of financial information, and AI is going to just put that on steroids and accelerate that. I loved one of the points you made there at the end, which is like, what can a robot not do? They can’t sit face to face, break bread with another human, I mean, at least to this point. And I think one of the things you pointed out earlier is, if all the information’s there and all the– hey, ChatGPT, build a CFP standard financial plan based on these inputs, there will be a day where it’s like boom, and it happens instantly.

But a plan is only as good as it’s stuck to. And the human psychology element of, hey, the market’s down, don’t freak out and sell everything, I think that will be one of the last things to go. I’m sure, eventually, AI will figure out how to be a therapist, too. But I mean, I think that’s one of the things to be thinking about as a financial advisor is how do you start to do that at scale, potentially, where it’s not just a one-to-one conversation but kind of the human psychology element as well.

Jason Wenk: I think it’ll be a lot of services to that. It’s kind of funny. I’ve met with some big firms over the last decade or so, and some of them they’ll say like, well, our differentiation is like, we have all the services in-house, tax, estate, da, da, da, financial, investment management, I’m like, I think to myself, soon, I think those are some areas they’ll be disrupted pretty quickly, like tax returns and tax planning, estate planning, that’s already close within two to three years. I’m pretty confident that every financial planner will be able to offer their clients almost family office-like services by using technology, right? Not buying companies and putting a bunch of people together. You’ll just be able to be like, yeah, now, listen, for all my clients, we do this super comprehensive service where we take you your taxes, your estate, your financial planning, investment, income planning, insurance analysis, right?

But really, it’ll be a general artificial intelligence, a very much trained, kind of closed network, but it will be hard. I think that’s actually sooner than people realize. I suspect like inside of five years, maybe even inside of two years before a lot of those services will be pretty much kind of standard. And future generations, they’ll just accept that as normal. My grandfather, rest in peace, would probably not sit in a Tesla and let it drive him around. It would freak him out. But if he was alive, he’d be like 100.

My one-and-a-half-year-old will probably never drive a car, right? He’ll never know what it’s like to actually sit by in the middle. He won’t even know what an internal combustion engine is probably, right? So, we have to keep in mind that if we want to have a generation-proof business, you can’t just hold on to the old ways of doing things forever. Eventually, your clients will expect something that is just a more modern experience. And it’s been a ton of fun. Thanks for letting me share the past, reminisce a bit, talk about what we’re building today, and then a little dream casting about what might happen over the next decade.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, well, one closing thought, just because this is Do Business, Do Life. You’ve hit on this, but if you had to define, here’s what Do Business, Do Life means to Jason Wenk, how would you package that up?

Jason Wenk: Well, I mean, I think ultimately, it’s being incredibly content and happy with your entire life, your work and your non-work life. And that’s incredibly subjective. So, some people that maybe now work 10, 15 hours a week and then volunteer my time or do all the work with my kids, I mean, what I’ve learned, so I’ve done all of those things where I’ve really not worked, worked $100 a week. But I think the people can find their happiness, that’s just such a great, rewarding pursuit. And it’s never the same for any two people.

But to me, that’s about the ultimate. It’s a real privilege if we get there because so many people are miserable and wouldn’t even know where to begin. So, I think what you guys are doing to really champion that, it’s okay to want more. And by wanting more, I think, just want more happiness. That’s ultimately what should people hold on to. And that could be very subjective. And if you do it together with other people, other like-minded people, I mean, many hands make light work.

And one of my favorite sayings is going to– I don’t know where to even credit to on it, but is that you become the average of the people you spend the most time with. So, have a network, have a group of people that thinks the same, it sees the world kind of the way you do and maybe it’s a whole group of people in pursuit of happiness doing business, doing life together, like you’re probably going to find you’re happier, which I mean, what more could you ask for than to live a life that feels highly fulfilled and makes you feel content? You’re making a difference. You’re present for your family. You’re doing meaningful work for your customers. I mean, these are all things like to me, anyway, that’s what drives happiness.

Brad Johnson: Love that. Well put. On the spot, too. It’s like you’ve lived it a bit.

Jason Wenk: Listen, it’s been a long-term pursuit, buddy. Yeah.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. You remind me of a quick quote. I’ll leave it and then we’ll wrap this. It’s two definitions of being wealthy, to get everything you want or to want everything you have. And I prefer the second one, right? But defining what that is for you and then working towards that, so.

Well, Jason, dude, so thankful to have you come on and just share your wisdom. I always know every time we chat, whether it’s a phone call, a Zoom, a podcast, I’m going to learn something new. And I just love surrounding myself, speaking of people like you, so thanks for sharing. Thanks for carving out the time. And it sounds like, we’ll at least be seeing each other a little later in the year at Future Proof. So, I’ll look forward to that unless we get to cross paths sooner.

Jason Wenk: At minimum. It’s been a pleasure, man. Thank you so much.

Brad Johnson: All right, Jason, appreciate it.


These conversations are intended to provide financial advisors with ideas, strategies, concepts and tools that could be incorporated into the advisory practice, advisors are responsible for ensuring implementation of anything discussed is in accordance with any and all regulatory and compliance responsibilities and obligations.


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