Agency Profiles

Building Bridges to Retirement Security

Engineer turned advisor now constructs financial tools

by P.E. Kelley

Mr. Kelley is managing editor of Advisor Magazine. Connect with him by e-mail:

An engineer at heart, Houston Financial Advisor John Westerman finds it ironic that he began his career as a civil engineer, working on highways and bridges, and now, as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP™) he helps successful executives, professionals and business owners design a financial bridge with a better future in mind.

“We found that people, no matter how savvy and successful, do not adequately know how much they need,” said Westerman, a financial advisor with Houston-based Selah Financial Services, Inc. “Nor do they have a custom-designed plan to sustain the kind of lifestyle they want.”

Westerman is an author, speaker and wealth advisor. Westerman has been seen in various publications, including Yahoo! Finance, Advisor Magazine, and REP. Magazine as a “Top Next GEN IBD Advisor”*. He has a passion for showing people how to be more prepared for their future in order to help them avoid the big money traps and more fully enjoy their life and retirement.

A Typical Retirement Age?

According to the National Institute on Aging, men average an additional 17 years and women 20 years beyond what Americans tend to think of as the typical retirement age. “With people living longer, knowing how much is needed and having adequate savings and investments is crucial to being able to live and retire securely,” adds Westerman.

With that in mind, while going over company-wide improvements, Selah Financial’s Founder Sharon Duncan and Westerman decided to take a fresh and closer look at potential-customer procedures. Selah Financial defines itself as a ‘system-oriented practice’, from portfolio-change procedures to a step-by-step system for cashiering to a detailed compliance logbook. So for Westerman, it only made sense that they develop a good system for meeting with new prospects as well.

Instilling the desire to help themselves

Their first step in tackling the problem was to ask themselves what information was needed to move people in a positive financial direction that would eventually help prepare them for retirement, no matter which stage of life.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, many retirees and workers approaching retirement, have limited financial resources.

The report indicates that Americans simply aren’t starting early enough in order to have the retirement savings they will need. With this disheartening information (and holding true to Selah Financial’s official purpose statement of “inspiring people to champion their dreams,”) the team decided to be a financial planning firm that motivates people to take control of their own financial future.

Building the tool

After much discussion between the advisors at Selah, and several drafts later, the team came up with an online tool called Your Financial Pulse. Adding this initial onboarding required form to the process has allowed Selah advisors to better conceive each prospect’s financial picture before the very first meeting.

Selah Financial messages Your Financial Pulse to the public as the first step to receive the freedom they deserve, adding that just like seeing a doctor, the more complete their information, the better Selah Financial can help them.

The Financial Pulse call to action reads:

  • Is your future secure?
  • How do I achieve financial freedom?
  • Are my investments helping me reach my goals?
  • Am I on track?
  • What am I missing?

If these are some of your questions or concerns, please take Your Financial Pulse to get an accurate reading of your circumstances.

Refining the tool

“The Pulse gives us a nice snapshot of the people we’re about to meet for the first time, but we felt we needed more.” Westerman said. “It addresses the objective topics, such as income level, debt, investments, tax bracket, etc., but as a stand-alone questionnaire, it isn’t robust enough to capture the more subjective nuances about a potential client.”

He added that the agency will soon roll out a new aspect of the Pulse which is presented much like a scorecard, gaguing where the prospect falls on the spectrum when it comes to the more subjective attributes of being financially savvy.

The qualities Westerman feels are important to measure early in the financial advisor/client relationship are related to opportunity; results; risk; learning and growth; advice and ideas; investments; action and choices; and value and cost.
“Getting a good gauge of these qualities for each potential client helps us nail down whether or not this is someone who would fit well with Selah Financial’s values, purpose and mission,” said Westerman. “It also sends the subtle message that we like to choose who we work with as well.”

If you take a step back and try to look at it through a client’s eyes, you’ll see that the financial industry is crammed with intimidating jargon

Selah Financial focuses on long-lasting relationships that carry over all the way until a client is ready to start thinking about retirement. And, of course, systems and tools are in place to streamline the retirement process for Selah clients.

Retirement-specific tools

Westerman explains that when Sharon Duncan first opened the doors to Selah Financial Services, she knew that something had to change.

She had a deep frustration with the confusion surrounding the retirement process and the one-size-fits-all, product-centered approach taken by the financial services industry. It was because of this dissatisfaction that Duncan created the Retiring FITT (Financial Independence Today~Tomorrow®) System, which helps ensure people are as financially prepared as possible for retirement.

Retiring FITT is Selah Financial’s proprietary system designed to empower retirees to make good decisions when going through the retirement process. Systematic and organized, Retiring FITT looks at the entire picture and provides the missing pieces, helping alleviate fears of making critical and permanent mistakes.

No longer scary, overwhelming and confusing

Rather than offering general, overly broad guidelines, or focusing on rollovers and insurance alone, the Retiring FITT System allows consumers to consider all aspects of how retirement may impact a family’s financial health for decades to come.

Retiring FITT considers personal data, timelines, pensions, Social Security funds, compensation plans, insurance, 401(k)s, IRAs, but also address more comprehensive concerns such as purpose in retirement, philanthropy, legacy, budgeting, education, major purchases and more.

“Your typical retirement plan covers only four concerns, including 401(K)s, health insurance, pensions, and Social Security, whereas our system allows our advisor to explore 25 crucial retirement topics and options, many of which are often overlooked but just as important,” said Westerman. “After going through this process, we than work with our clients to develop a solid action plan tailor made for their family’s particular circumstance.

By educating retirees thoroughly about their options and then placing the power in their hands, Westerman says that clients feel the mystery behind retirement seems to disappear. The system provides a deeper understanding, stability, and security, taking users from the point they begin to dream about retirement all the way through the years following their official retirement.

“We really are working to change the conversation about retirement across the country,” Westerman says.

Bringing FITT to financial planning

Two years after implementing the Retiring FITT System, Westerman and Duncan have now kicked off a new financial planning tool called Achieving FITT (Financial Independence Today~Tomorrow®) which, just like Retiring FITT, helps simplify the financial world for their clients. Achieving FITT allows users to have a vision of what they want, assess what they have, strategize what they need and finally, take action to implement change.

“The standard financial-planning process is generally filled with a lot of strange words and acronyms, such as contingent beneficiary, per stirpes, BDC, SEP and much, much more. We, as advisors, know what these things mean but if you take a step back and try to look at it through a client’s eyes, you’ll see that the financial industry is crammed with intimidating jargon,” says Westerman.

Westerman and the advisors at Selah Financial have developed what they believe to be a clear and simple path with steps that help clients plan their family’s finances in a smart, strategic way. The Achieving FITT System begins with an assessment of the client’s current situation, then a tailor-made report is developed for the family which considers the logical, as well emotional aspects of their situation.

The family is also given a probability of success percentage according to their current investments. They’re invited to make changes along the way if they’re not happy with their likelihood of success.

“Our team works with real people who have real-life experiences,” says Westerman. “And, our advisors are not afraid to address whatever clients bring to the table with honest and frank discussions because we believe that is what is in their best interest and is, ultimately, what they deserve.” ◊


*As ranked in REP. Magazine. Advisors on this list are ranked exclusively by assets under management. Nominations were solicited from the top 35 independent broker/dealers by headcount.