As founder of Financial Fiduciaries, Thomas Batterman brings comprehensive financial planning and financial management to his clients with only their best interests in mind. He started his fiduciary career with a local trust company in the mid 80’s and was then involved in founding an independent trust company. While here, Tom realized that many of his trust clients needed fiduciary advice with investment management and planning, more than needing a trustee. This led to the formation of Financial Fiduciaries in 2010.
In 2012, there was a structural change which resulted in complete operational separation between the trust company and Financial Fiduciaries. Since that time, if a trustee is needed for a Financial Fiduciaries client, their partner trust company can be appointed, and the trustee hires Financial Fiduciaries to continue to invest the trust’s assets.
Today Financial Fiduciaries has three lines of business. It provides surplus management services for small insurance companies, private wealth management, investment management and financial planning for individuals and investment management for the trusts of which its trustee partner services as trustee.
Before entering his fiduciary role, Thomas obtained his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Madison Law School and practiced law in the areas of estate planning, tax, corporate and real estate law for a period before entering the professional fiduciary field.
In his free time, Thomas enjoys several hobbies, such as; golf, curling, biking, and hunting. He also loves spending time with family and friends boating and fishing.
How did you get started in Financial Fiduciaries and what inspired you to go this route?
Changing career paths comes with several uncertainties and questions of where the next chapter will take you, but I was ready for a change as I disliked the practice of law. Transferring from a career in law to for a trust company was a logical transition; a trust company acts as a fiduciary for its clients and its work requires an approach like the practice of law with respect to representing the interests of clients. I have never worked in the financial industry other than as a fiduciary. Over the years I came to learn how others in this field operate who are not fiduciaries. They are product salespeople and the “advice” they give to clients about what to do has to rightly be questioned as to whether it is being given because it is good for the client or because it is good for the salesperson. They’re governed by a different standard – a “suitability” standard – which is quite different and less “peace of mind”-inducing for the client than the fiduciary standard. I was glad that I came into the business on the fiduciary path that I did because I wouldn’t have enjoyed the business otherwise. Most clients are wanting guidance from an objective standpoint that helps only their best interest, and that’s what a fiduciary does. I think this is the best way to provide services to clients, by being a fiduciary, working with and for the client.
How do fiduciaries make money?
Just as a lawyer or doctor, we charge a professional fee for our services. We charge a percentage of the value of the portfolio we’re working with. This essentially creates a partnership with our clients, one which aligns our interests with theirs; if they are successful due to our work, they make more money and so do we. And if they are less successful, we share in that pain.
Did it take long for Financial Fiduciaries to become profitable?
Truthfully, we were profitable as a business from the beginning but that doesn’t mean there weren’t other difficult challenges we had to overcome. It was a process of moving things from inside the trust company over to the Financial Fiduciaries entity, which made initial profitability a much easier proposition.
When you were first beginning to split off these businesses, was there a time that you doubted this was the right decision? If so, how did you handle it?
No, there wasn’t much doubt in the decision since it was set as a continuation on from the existing business, with just a different structure. The expansion to provide the surplus management services for insurance companies that we now provide, wasn’t possible in the former structure. This was a more improved version for providing services to individuals and opening the opportunity up to offer it to insurance companies as well.
How did you get your first customer?
When I was with the trust company, one of the first customers was someone I had worked with previously. Over the years, I had developed a significant relationship with them. In the beginning, they wanted to support me while I was getting started, so they became our first customer.
What is one marketing strategy that you’re currently using, besides referrals, that’s working well to generate new business?
The most effective strategy we have found thus far, would be most online resources. We are constantly circulating information and thoughts about different issues and ideas we’ve come across. It is about making that information as available as possible, for it to be seen by whoever may need it. The goal is to have someone read about something we are doing or have done and realize that they are in that situation and should reach out to us. Most of the new clients we receive come from an online basis and referrals from different groups that we belong to associated with the fiduciary field.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
I would say it’s probably been computer or network related things that have brought the business some complications, as some things are essentially a learning curve. There were several difficulties regarding moving things to the cloud, but ultimately it was the best operational decision for us and the safest route for our clients in terms of their data security.
What do you think makes you successful?
I have an unwavering commitment to serving the best interests of the clients, which I believe is imperative to being successful in this industry especially. We’re not vendors, we’re partners with our clients. I have the training and experience that allows me to understand pretty much any issue a client may face. My work is entirely and only about utilizing that training to educate clients and focus on guiding them accurately with their financial needs.
What has been the most satisfying moment in business?
There have been several, but I think it would be with our first clients. They’ve both passed now, and they had no children. They wanted to fund college scholarships, particularly to those who were continuing their education. There’s a lot of funds available for first-year students, but not continuing students. A foundation was set up, and we’re still involved in an advisory role. It’s very satisfying and rewarding to know that my client’s wish is happening.
What books have inspired you?
There have been several books that have brought me inspiration lately. I would have to say “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie gave me a good context regarding how to treat individuals as you wish to be treated in the most basic form. Another book which is most appropriate for consumers but brought me inspiration because it strongly advocates for the work I do would be “Unshakeable” by Tony Robbins.
What is a recent purchase that you’ve made to help with your business?
Technology upgrades, new software or programs and tech services.
Can you give us an example of when or how a fiduciary is right for someone?
The best clients for a service like ours are those who realize the importance of taking time and paying attention to managing finances but who are realistic enough to appreciate that they themselves don’t have the time, interest or expertise to do this important job themselves. If you are in this situation, you want someone who is motivated only by what is best for YOU, not someone who has products to sell and is working from that agenda.
Many “advisors” push clients into mutual funds because that is really all they have available to sell. Mutual funds can be a good solution in the right situation, but they also have some drawbacks and are not right for every situation. For example, using mutual funds to invest in a taxable account causes you to lose complete control of your tax liabilities. An independent, objective fiduciary like us will use different investment products where we can control and understand the tax consequences, and we’re mindful of these issues to help the client. Being aware of all aspects of investing and taxation and finding the best solution for our clients in accomplishing their financial goals is what we do, that others often don’t.