Ryan Skinner is a passionate financial advisor and retirement specialist, and co-owner of Summit Financial Partners, in Woburn Massachusetts. He had a harrowing journey into and thankfully out of a hell of multiple addictions. He is living proof that with deep faith, the encouragement of loving friends, sponsors, mentors and family and an effective 12-step program, anything is possible.
Now with a second chance at life, he is building a successful business and paying his positive reversal of fortune forward in many inspiring ways. He is the author of an inspiring book, Taking Stock.
Today, I ask him about his experience helping clients, and about the book, which will be published this fall.
Alan Gray: You often get new prospective clients who were burned by a previous financial advisor – some very badly burned. How do you handle that?
Ryan Skinner: It’s a big problem, and I usually know, when they come into the office that there is a problem, because they are really nervous. I try to find some way to break the ice, because I need them to be not nervous, and to help me understand their needs. Sometimes that’s really hard, because they’ve been hurt so badly, they don’t know if they’ll ever be able to retire.
AG: And because they don’t know you yet?
RS: They’re also nervous, because initially, I’m a stranger, and I want to know their innermost financial secrets. I believe they are guarded because they’re being asked to expose some very personal details. It might be similar to a doctor meeting a new patient for the first time. It’s not easy, but I’m probably the least judgmental person they will ever meet. They’re usually worried about being judged on their financial history.
AG: Does your reputation in the local community help?
RS: It does, but even though I’ve developed a strong reputation in my community as a retirement expert, they still have previous experiences weighing on their minds when they walk in my office. Many of my great clients later told me they were initially skeptical because even though they knew they needed someone to help them achieve their financial goals, they didn’t know if they could trust anyone in the industry.
AG: You must hear some real financial horror stories.
RS: After I gain their confidence and we each choose to work together, they’ll open up to me. Some have really shocking and appalling experiences with their previous financial advisors. Sometimes, those advisors lost them large sums of money, lied to them and didn’t provide the quality service they promised.
Even if they haven’t been burned personally, they’ve read about Bernie Madoff or they’ve seen “The Big Short.” That’s the film about the financial industry greed that led to the housing bubble and the financial crisis of 2007-08. Those things often color their perceptions of the industry. It makes them hesitant about entrusting their life savings to anyone.
So, if I can circle back to your first question as well, I take the time to address their specific concerns, identify with them and express the fact that I understand the reality that most advisors don’t take the proper approach. The only way I can really prove this is by working with them over time. We actually run our practice as if clients are family.
We’ve created a very unique, nurturing family environment. It allows us to provide individualized service for each of our clients that they won’t see elsewhere. We work as a team to guide them in a direction that’s best suited to meet their evolving needs and desires. Our business model is designed to protect the integrity of every client relationship.
AG: I lost a part of my retirement funds in 2008 through believing an advisor’s presentation when I’d asked to pull my money out of the market. Thankfully, an early bounce let me exit.
RS: That hurt a lot of folks. A great deal of investment money was lost in 2008 because overly optimistic advisors simply told clients to “Stay the course” and “Ride out the storm.” The problem is that general financial advisors are not retirement specialists. They’re trying to do their best on behalf of their clients, but they’re not suited to do retirement planning any more than a primary care physician is equipped to do open heart surgery.
AG: Can you explain your mission?
RS: My mission is simple: to be of service, to help people achieve an income for life, that lasts as long as they live, that always outpaces inflation and is sheltered from the great expenses of nursing home care. I want all of my clients to enjoy their retirement years to the fullest, whatever they want to do.
I really like something Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I’m always happiest and at my best when I’m with a client, discussing strategies to help them achieve their goals.
AG: Why did you get into financial advising?
RS: It’s been a long journey that started in 7th grade at Saint Agnes School in Arlington, Massachusetts with my teacher, Joan Morrissey. I was dyslexic and had learning disabilities. My teacher noticed that despite those shortcomings, I had skills with numbers. She introduced me to the stock market and to the legendary investor and philanthropist Peter Lynch, the manager of the Magellan Fund at Fidelity Investments between 1977 and 1990. His success story really inspired me. During his time managing that fund, he averaged a 29.2% annual return; during his tenure, assets under management increased from $18 million to $14 billion. I loved learning the details of the market and talking to Peter about his work in the industry. It was the first thing that ever made sense to me in my life – and I ran with it.
AG: That’s a great story.
RS: I’m passionate about what I do. I get a huge rush out of seeing people enjoy their retirement. I wasn’t raised in a wealthy family, so I love helping normal people have extraordinary retirements.
AG: You like to have a huge impact on people.
RS: I believe that every day, every success and blessing, and everything good in life is an unmerited gift from God. I want to be of service and play a positive role in people’s lives. I believe God works through people and that as human beings, we’re either growing or retracting and going backwards. My choice is to grow. I aspire to be the man God meant for me to be. So I try my best to give all of me to everyone I come in contact with. My business blesses me with the ability to have a deeply positive impact on people.
AG: And you talk about this in your book, Taking Stock. What made you write it?
RS: I was inspired to write Taking Stock because people in my industry are always asking how I got to the level I’m at. Although my ego wants to take credit for that, the truth is that it comes from my own deep connection with God. I don’t believe you can ask God for material things or personal success. I focus on paying it forward and God always partners up with me to ensure I have enough success that I can bless others.
AG: That’s the real secret of success.
RS: Yes, I believe the true measure of success is how many people you bless. That’s just a fact of life.
AG: Best wishes for your book, I hope it inspires a lot of people.
RS: I hope so too. I wanted to share both my personal story and my professional knowledge and hopefully some wisdom. A lot of people have lost their path forward, and they need a guiding hand to set them back on track. If this helps in a small way, I’ll be happy.
AG: Final question today: I really like what you say in the book, about your funeral.
RS: What I said, is that when you go to your grave, they don’t dump the contents of a Brink’s truck into it. You can’t take any of your money or possessions with you.
What’s important, is how many people show up at your funeral. That’s because when you’re gone, you can’t do anything more for anyone. So at your funeral, it should show how many people you touched enough that they show up to pay their respects, expecting nothing in return.
Ryan Skinner’s book, “Taking Stock” is set for publication in Fall 2017. Learn more about Ryan at his website, summitfinancialpartners.org.