Sometimes when I look back at my 17-year career in financial services, it's with utter horror because I realize now that I had no idea what it would entail -- and no plan for how to move forward. Here's my story -- and three key lessons that I learned along the way.
Now, I'd always been fascinated with equity markets -- loving the numbers and the stories behind each company -- and knew that I was destined to carve out a niche in the industry someday. The idea of your money making you even more money intrigued me, and as I've previously written, my dad taught me very early on the importance of saving and planning for the future.
I graduated with an accounting degree from Michigan State University. After bouncing around for a short time, I accepted a position at Rock Financial (now Quicken Loans) in metro Detroit. Participating in Rock's rigorous training program provided me with the necessary skills to serve clients and their mortgage needs.
My six years in the mortgage industry also taught me the importance of a strong work ethic. After all, taking a loan from origination to the closing table requires accuracy and constant follow-up with both your client and your internal team.
But while gaining additional knowledge and experience in the mortgage industry, I was also developing relationships with Realtors and business professionals in the community, building up my credibility and proving that I was up to the task.
And fortuitously, the Internet boom was taking off just as I was developing my career in the mortgage business. I began to follow several stocks, doing extensive homework that eventually led me to buy shares that later took off on a rocket ship of a ride.
Fortunately, I sold 90% of my holdings late February 2000 shortly before what turned out to be the dot-com boom's peak. (As the old saying goes: "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.") I decided it was time to take a gamble and pursue a career in financial services, so I joined a regional firm in metro Detroit and passed my Series 7 exam.
But then, the Internet bubble burst, 9/11 happened and rates bottomed out. I realized that as good as my timing was a year earlier with stocks, it was lousy when it came to my decision to change careers. But I was determined to forge ahead anyway, so I began where I knew I could make some inroads.
Lesson 1: Build Relationships
I built on the relationships I had made at Rock Financial, and I also called upon my friends. (People who were my age -- 31 at the time -- just were beginning their higher-income years.)
My business started small at first, but I was thankful to have clients at all. Actually, "relieved," "appreciative" and many other adjectives would also apply.
Having been in the workforce for seven years provided a good solid base of prospects for me. Many friendships had emerged during my time at Rock Financial, and many of those folks remain my friends and clients to this day.
Quicken, which grew into one of the largest U.S. mortgage lenders, also supported (and continues to support) my efforts to educate its employees about the importance of financial planning I'm sincerely grateful for that after all of these years.
Lesson 2: Focus on Customer Service
Another thing that I've learned over the past 17 years is that successful businesses know the importance of providing outstanding service to their clients. In fact, it's beyond imperative in the financial arena to provide exceptional customer service.
But all too often, I've found that the level of service in the financial industry is very low. However, it's important to remember that if you don't effectively serve your clients, pretty soon you won't have any clients to serve.
I saw this first hand following the 2008 credit crisis, when the U.S. economy's state was paralyzing society. At the time, it was especially important for clients who had put their trust in me to know I was there to listen, to understand their fears and to provide guidance and support. Fortunately, I believe the efforts that you put forth in the bad times will be remembered in the good.
Lesson 3: Always Follow Up
The importance of follow-up and persistence is another good lesson for a successful financial-services business.
People usually make quick decisions in the mortgage industry, but in financial services, the process is more drawn out. Most people won't hand over their investment money without considerable thought.
A good financial adviser goes through a multistep process of first building trust, then showing competence and then developing credibility. That eventually enables the person to create and execute a financial plan for the client and hopefully manage the person's assets for many years.
The Bottom Line
Well, that's my story of transitioning to financial services.
It certainly is a work in progress, and I've learned many lessons along the way. But for me, the rewards from the personal relationships that I have with my clients is truly amazing and I feel blessed to be able to do this job every single day. It's turned out to be the best move of my business career.
(Mark Bordelove is president, CEO and co-founder of Southfield, Mich.-based Bordelove Foster Wealth Management. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Bordelove's securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor, Member FINRA/SIPC. Bordelove and LPL Financial are not affiliated with Jim Cramer, TheStreet, Quicken or Rock Financial.)