Deann Cross is Chief Operating Officer at Integrity Financial Corporation. She has over 20 years of experience in the financial service industry and helping others reach their wealth management goals. Listen in as she shares some of her experience of how not to overwhelm and add stress to a client but encourage them as they pursue retirement readiness.
Ed Dressel 0:06
Welcome, everybody. It's good to be on another podcast with you. I appreciate you listening. Today we're on with Deann Cross out of the Seattle, Washington area. Deann, welcome and great to have you.
Deann Cross 0:16
Thanks so much. It's good to be here today.
Ed Dressel 0:18
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Deann Cross 0:20
Sure. I'm fortunate to work for a boutique investment and wealth management firm out of Bellevue, Washington. I've been with the firm now, close to 15 years, and in the financial services industry, without dating myself too much, over 20. So definitely been at this for a while and just really enjoy what we do. And the ability that we have to work with clients for just different segments of the wealth management industry. So it's been a fun run.
Ed Dressel 0:50
What do you enjoy about your job?
Deann Cross 0:52
So at Integrity, we focus not only on the mass fluence and high net worth clientele, but we also do a lot of 401(k) and retirement plan benefits as well for small businesses. So obviously, I enjoy hearing any entrepreneur and the passion that they have for their business and how they got started. But then I love just coming alongside them and helping them take a step back sometimes from their business, and really focus on their own retirement planning, because oftentimes, so much of their wealth is wrapped up in their business. But then when we can offer a benefit and come alongside and really sit down with plan participants too, whether they're just starting out and saving for retirement and really don't understand the mechanics of a 401(k) plan and how that works--all the way to people who are getting closer and closer to wanting to retire and really fulfilling their dreams, what that looks for them as far as retirement. And being helpful in navigating them through that transition from earning a paycheck to translating their savings into distribution income for them, not only at that particular point in time, but then hopefully throughout their retirement as well.
Ed Dressel 1:58
This last year, we've gone through COVID. How did you make it through it? How did that work for you? How did your business go?
Deann Cross 2:05
Great question. What an interesting time for all of us. I think, thankfully, being one of our core values here at Integrity Financials is innovation. And so we were already in kind of a virtual advising space. Our home office here in Bellevue, Washington is lovely for anyone who's been to the Pacific Northwest. But we also have offices in Oregon, Southern California, Montana, Eastern Washington, and Florida. So we have a decent footprint. So we were already using technology to help us interact with the team. And for clients who are willing and open to that, certainly virtual meeting was available to them. But I think what COVID did was really pushed a lot of advisors into this virtual advising space. And in a world that was already fairly flat, it just flattened it all the more. And I think with the clientele that we've been working with more and more, not just your business owner, who is typically very busy running their business, but also, you know, when you do start getting the ashkelon in clientele, as far as net worth goes, those people could be anywhere in the world. And our retirees--we've had clients that were in our backyard, and now we're retiring and other parts of the country. We even had one business owner who is now in another country. And with technology and the things that COVID has really kind of pushed fast forward on, we've seen clients really adopting to the use of technology more and more. And so we were grateful that we were prepared for that, even though we had clearly no idea that that would be accelerated so quickly as a result of COVID.
Ed Dressel 3:42
So let me ask you is TRAK part of that? Did that really help with that?
Deann Cross 3:46
Yes 100%. Having tools at our fingertips and ones that we were already familiar with, as opposed to jumping into the game and trying to figure out how to interact with clients, TRAK was a big part of being able to not only meet virtually, be able to share screen and work with clients, but to have that visual in the meeting and then to be able to run the reports also and share those with the client and a secure vault, you know, or something of that nature as well.
Ed Dressel 4:15
What made TRAK a good tool in that environment.
Deann Cross 4:19
Our team really enjoys the illustrated tools within TRAK. So it's very easy to talk someone through you should be saving about this much and if we're getting this anticipated rate of return to having TRAK where you can plug those numbers in very quickly for a client and then give them an output that they can also read. It is in plain English for them to see as well from a visual standpoint really has just been incredibly powerful in showing someone their diligence and saving for years and years and years has really paid off. And give them that visual to take away to know that they can retire or that they're okay with this withdrawal rate through for retirement, and that's been a great tool for our team.
Ed Dressel 5:04
One of the complaints I get about TRAK is it doesn't do Monte Carlo. We need more. You laugh! Tell me about the laugh you have.
Deann Cross 5:13
Yeah, I laughed just a little bit, because I think, you know, the world of finance, I tease all the time I talk technology, probably about as well as some people talk finances. And so when we can take something that's very complex, and can be very overwhelming and really create stress in someone's life, and reduce and relieve or even eliminate that stress with a couple powerful crafts and inside TRAK. I don't need to tell them all the fancy Monte Carlos and sharp ratios and the beta their of portfolio, as long as we're meeting with them consistently and talking them through that process. And so what we've found our clients really resonate well with in a software and a reporting tool like TRAK, is that I'm not sending them 100 page document for them to try to decipher and actually creating more stress and anxiety in their world around finances. We can very simply illustrate it for them and a couple graphs, and then talk through goals, talk through expectations, talk through what's happening in the market. And TRAK is a great supportive resource in that conversation.
Ed Dressel 6:22
You talked a little bit about the interactivity, the ability to make changes on the fly with a client. What makes that attractive when you're working? Why is that a good solution for working with individuals?
Deann Cross 6:33
We use other software as well certainly, as we come along clients for different reasons and purposes. But the illustrated ease of TRAK is so nice, because as you're showing someone, "Hey, we're on target here, you can retire at age 65, with x amount of dollars, and that takes you out to IRS tables plus 10 years, as far as longevity." Well, that client can come back to you and say, "Well, what does that look like at 62?" And in few seconds, I can go in and I can change that number of retirement age to 62 and say, "Well, you're going to have to save x more dollars then for the next 15 years. And yes, we can we can talk age 62." You can also very easily say, "Hey, what if this account that I have could be stock options, or something of that nature?" And we're using that to factor into our illustrative purposes of retirement. But what if my company were divesting of those shares, but what if we have a significant change in the stock price, I can go in and change that account number in a second, rerun the graph to show them what their income and what their balances would be if that account number was affected in any way, shape, or form, fill in the blank for the reason. And it does give the client the ability to kind of almost then choose your own ending type books we used to read when we were kids. Where we can very quickly on the fly in a meeting make that reporting full dynamic for their "what if" scenarios, because retirement isn't "this is what you do and this is how you do it." It looks different for everyone. And so TRAK helps us come alongside our clients and really help with that "what if" scenario as well.
Ed Dressel 8:17
So how does that changed the meeting? How does having that interactivity, how does that change their interest or their engagement in the conversation about retirement planning?
Deann Cross 8:25
Sure. We've gone into meetings where we're planning either for a goal-based scenario-- maybe the client wants to buy a second home or has decided they want to change their target retirement date--but you can see the stress that they're coming in, in even thinking about those conversations and those types of decisions. And so when you can open TRAK and run them through those different scenarios of "Let's see if that works for you." Having that illustrative nature, just the stress falls off in the meeting. And then I've had meetings where they're actually excited. They're like, "I totally didn't think we could meet that goal." And then now they're really excited for the planning side of it, because you've affirmed with them that they can meet the goals that they've been talking and thinking and believing towards.
Ed Dressel 9:12
So financial planning can be fun with a client.
Deann Cross 9:15
I mean, crazy, who knew!
Ed Dressel 9:16
Do you have a favorite success story.
Deann Cross 9:19
Oh, favorite success story. I think probably some of the favorite success stories are just that it's working with that existing client. And so--rewinding for half a second--TRAK has actually earned us probably more clients than I can count, just because people come in with a lens of rate of return, investment performance, the end. And so when you can take a step back and say, "Well, that's one component of it, that's important. We will hit that for sure for you and make sure that we're accomplishing everything you want in that area to the best of our abilities." But when you can take them a step further and say, "Well, if we hit those targets, what does that mean for you?" And you illustrate those out. That's what they're not getting in conversations with other investment or asset managers. And so that's a huge success. I would say, for our firm. I think the greatest success story I've seen with the client is just going into the conversation with a lot of stress and anxiety, especially in marriage situation. We all know that's a very big hot button. That can create challenges, even within a relationship. And so financial advising can be fun. Yes, we are also part I think, counselor, sometimes and psychologists, but we enjoy playing that role. When you can see the stress come off that couple, or that household and then believe that they can meet the goals that they want to accomplish. Those are successes for us, because we'd like to see healthy relationships and healthy families, healthy moms, healthy dads, healthy kids. And so when we can accomplish that through a software like TRAK, just by giving them the peace of mind that they are meeting the goals that they want to meet. That really is fulfilling in our job and what we do. And seeing families succeed.
Ed Dressel 11:13
Any comments as we wrap up?
Deann Cross 11:16
I think the other tool, I would say that's really been a benefit to us, I kind of see TRAK in three stages. So you have those early on saving for retirement, what's my number? How much should I be saving? How much can I put away? And what does that look like at 65, 67? I think we have that second tranche of clientele that we are using it to say, okay, I've done all the diligence. I'm now sitting down finally, with a financial planner. Can I retire? And what does that look like for the rest of my life? Awesome. And then we also have a component to the wealth management. We're looking at estate planning, as well. So we all know in the state of Washington, very low estate tax threshold here. And so when we can plug in those numbers and say, "Great, you're retiring at 55, congratulations! That is awesome! You did all the things you wanted to do." But based on your net worth today, 30 years from now, even at the withdrawal rate that we're looking at for you, your estate is still growing. And so we need to start having some conversations with an estate planner to make sure that we're getting the rate structure behind you from a taxation standpoint. That's been really powerful for our team to help people in that forward thinking planning. So oftentimes, planning is today and we say we'll see you again next year. That helps us to really calculate out what their future tax bill might be. And then start working with estate planning attorneys and their CPA etc. to get them into a good place for their future selves 30 years from now and seeing their net worth transferred to their beneficiaries and charities of their choosing, as opposed to just the tax bill.
Ed Dressel 12:55
That's nice. Well, I appreciate you taking the time today. Thank you for interacting with me and I really appreciate you sharing with my podcast world about your business. Have a great day.
Deann Cross 13:06
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me.