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January 31, 2024
Many in the financial services industry pay lip service to working for the benefit of clients and society, but not all are willing to put in the time and effort to live that mission. While the journey with that sort of mission in mind can be difficult, the end result is worth it: just ask Irv Rosenzweig, CFP®, ChFC®, CLU®, CRPS®, AEP®, AIF®.
An alumnus of The American College of Financial Services, a member of The College’s FinServe Network, and an executive business consultant at Diversified, LLC in Wayne, Pennsylvania, Rosenzweig’s career in financial services spans over 30 years – and as he doesn’t hesitate to tell people, it hasn’t always been an easy road.
Finding the Financial Services Profession
Growing up in Minnesota and following the traditional path to university education, Rosenzweig says his first diversion was discovering that college just wasn’t for him. Looking for other opportunities, he worked a variety of jobs until he, along with his brother and cousin from New Jersey, opened a “California-style” restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The restaurant was named one of the top new restaurants in St. Paul in their year of opening. That experience taught him his first valuable lesson.
“There’s a few industries that people are very critical of, including food, medical care, and anything involving money,” he says. “From a client perspective, you don’t mess up any outcomes involving those topics. Because of that, there’s no shortage of opportunity in those professions for those who aren’t afraid to seek it out and pursue excellence.”
The beginnings of Rosenzweig’s ventures into financial services included some real estate investing and breaking into the fields of insurance and banking as they began to broaden their array of financial products to customers. “Black Monday,” the severe stock market crash in 1987, further molded his experience, and surviving that lesson crafted a career of working in bank financial services, global investment banking firms and then, finally, beginning and running his own firm for the last 20 years. Along the way, he noticed some common and troubling trends that made him question the assumptions of those around him.
“I became conscious that certain types of investments very popular in financial circles didn’t work well practically,” he says. “In addition, financial firms weren’t always allowing you to work for the benefit of the client. Many firms were trying to be the McDonald’s of financial services: serve as many clients as possible with little regard to the quality of product or service.”
A People-Focused Approach
It was this experience that led Rosenzweig to the conclusion that would drive the rest of his career: financial advisors and their practices must seek to be holistic in nature, encompassing as many potential client needs as possible while still maintaining excellent service and quality care. This switch from serving many clients to serving clients’ needs more effectively took him away from big firms and into the more independent space of registered investment advisors (RIAs), which at the time were still in their infancy. Today, he works with Diversified, LLC, the result of a merger between his independent practice and a larger multistate, Delaware-based company. In many ways, this merger was the fulfilling and meaningful role he’d been searching for.
“We have a very diverse client base: entrepreneurs with pension plans and 401(k)s, high-net-worth clients that have been with me from my banking days, and a large segment of middle-class clients who are fairly new or naïve in regard to investing,” he says. “Through our diligence, honest approach, and hard work, our clients trust us, and although younger advisors may lack perspective gained through experience, I was able to convey my expertise and decades-long insight in their training. It’s very important to get to know the client, their concerns, their goals, and their hesitations because I’d been where they are, understood their points of view, and had the work ethic and desire to give them excellent service. We developed a strong bond that allowed us, in many cases, to work with three generations of client relationships.”
“It’s very important to get to know the client, their concerns, their goals, and their hesitations.”
Rosenzweig says the benefits of the merger have been an increased focus on advisor education for employees, while also becoming big enough to split up responsibilities like planning, running meetings, compliance, and back-office duties, and departmentalize things he used to have to do by himself. He says these days, he’s been able to transition into a more supervisory role as the second generation takes over at the firm.
“I’m mostly there to make sure clients are confident in the direction the firm is going, especially when we’re dealing with their major inheritances,” he says. “My job is less to manage the day-to-day and more to send a unified message to clients, and with where I’m at in life now, that’s quite a relief. I’ve also been able to broaden my reach through consulting, volunteering, seeking to serve on company boards, and getting to know other prominent people in the industry.”
However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Rosenzweig says he’s had issues in the past with some new hires and even longtime employees not working out, and the lesson it’s taught him has been that trust and value alignment are indispensable to a practice running smoothly.
“When you’re interviewing people, you have to make sure they’re honest, hard-working, and above all, trustworthy,” he says. “Some will get burned out too quickly because the business moves so fast and have to leave. Others may try to take your clients and go elsewhere because they feel you or the firm owes them something. A sense of ethics and responsibility is key to a good hire.”
The Importance of Expanded Education
Another aspect that makes advisors and firms stand out from their competition, Rosenzweig says, is education – and that’s where The College and its programs come in.
“The College does a great job with its retirement, tax planning, and insurance knowledge through designations like the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) and Chartered Life Underwriter® (CLU®). What I learned gave me the confidence and knowledge to get creative with helping business owners and others in need of succession planning fund their own retirements,” he says. “There are so many nuances to product uses, tax laws, and other considerations, and even if some clients don’t perceive a difference, there’s still a huge shift in the quality of advice you can give.”
“What I learned [at The College] gave me the confidence and knowledge to get creative with helping business owners and others in need of succession planning fund their own retirements.”
Rosenzweig says another element of his life that has made him better and more successful in his career and life at large is his personal passion: a decades-long study of the martial arts earning him multiple black belts in several martial arts disciplines. “The martial arts emphasize the need to become well-rounded through the exercise and training of the mind, body, and spirit. The strengthening of will and the concept of ‘indomitable spirit’ builds patience, resilience, confidence, and moral strength,” he says. “It would be easy to succumb to circumstances, market fears, client pressure, and self-doubt that could cause me to question my strategy and financial plans to the detriment of the financial health of clients without the moral strengthening my martial arts experience has given me.
In addition to building character through the martial arts, Rosenzweig has cultivated a network of friends and classmates about whom he readily declares, “They have my back, as I have theirs.” He has even acquired new business from fellow martial artists, as the bonds they form in their classes go beyond studying, training, and perfecting fighting skills to a more personal level. “The formation of trust and respect for intelligence and acumen motivates fellow students to come to me, and I am happy to provide a second opinion on their plans or thoughts. Often, this has resulted in new clients for our firm over the years,” he says.
Returning to the financial services space, Rosenzweig notes responsibility for training today is much more on individual advisors – and advisors need to live up to their duty to give excellent service.
“Retirement planning is extremely important in this day and age, especially for retiring business owners. In general, advisors should get as much knowledge as it takes to help their clients achieve their goals in new and creative ways,” he says. “Expanding your opportunities isn’t just an option: it should be a moral imperative for all of us in the profession.”
“Expanding your opportunities isn’t just an option: it should be a moral imperative for all of us in the profession.”