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FA Center: This financial adviser helps people rebound from hard times. She knows what that’s like

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Many people assume that financial advisers are only for the rich. Stacie Rasmussen is convinced that people of more modest means can benefit as well.

She should know. Rasmussen and her husband ran out of money after finding themselves jobless and depleting their savings. It would be four years before they recovered their financial footing, and after that Rasmussen became a financial adviser.

Unlike many financial planners who hunt for high-net-worth clients, Rasmussen welcomes non-wealthy clients. She works at a firm, Abacus Wealth Partners, which has no account minimum for new clients. Based in Santa Monica, Calif., the company’s advisers are fee-only fiduciaries (meaning they are paid solely by their clients and are bound to place clients’ interests first). 

When Rasmussen meets prospects, they often say, “You probably don’t want to talk with me. I don’t have that much money.”

Sometimes they really have so little money that Rasmussen tells them it’s unwise to spend any of it on an adviser. In such cases, she suggests community resources and pro bono assistance.

Yet many mass affluent consumers (who generally have more than $100,000 in liquid assets) also struggle with money issues. They may need to adopt better budgeting, saving and spending habits.

That’s where Rasmussen comes in. For starters, she tells clients about her own experience with financial stress. With their savings dried up, she and her husband lost their home. The couple split up temporarily (with Stacie and her son staying with her father while her husband couch-surfed as he searched for a job). Then they lived in a friend’s vacation home and later rented a condo from a friend’s mother at a below-market rate.

In 2017, her husband was hired as a freelance writer and editor for Abacus’s marketing team. Eventually, he joined the firm full-time, and by early 2019 Rasmussen came aboard as a fledgling financial planner.

Her experience as a teacher — and her master’s degree in education — gave her an edge. The more she discovered about a financial adviser’s role, the more she realized it centered around teaching.

Rasmussen passed her Series 65 exam and plans to take the CFP exam this November. She’s particularly passionate about working with clients who are undergoing financial hard times.

“I can tell they are scared,” she said. “I can tell they are worried about being judged and looked down upon. Maybe they’ve made dumb choices or huge mistakes. So I’m more vulnerable with them. I share more about my experience and how we just didn’t know what we didn’t know.”

To put clients at ease, Rasmussen begins their first meeting — what she calls “goals and values discovery” — by declaring: “In this room, you’re the expert in your life.” She clarifies that she’s not there to impose order.

“I’m not there to say, ‘Obviously, you don’t know what you’re doing so I’m going to take over,’” she said. “Switching the tables like that and making them the expert empowers them and they share even more about their best hopes for their life in the next five years. There’s not judgment and not shame. We shed the shame and embarrassment so that it’s all about the future.”

Once they open up about their money history and future goals, Rasmussen determines how she can help. A spendthrift client, for example, might benefit from tough love; another needs an accountability partner to stick to their financial plan. “We figure out what that relationship needs to be,” she said.

When she tells her story — how she figured her family was financially secure in the decade prior to 2013 when her husband earned good money and she was a homeowner and happy stay-at-home mom with their young son — it resonates with many clients. They see that the bottom can drop out for anyone — and they’re not alone.

“When I started learning to become a financial planner, I was learning for myself,” Rasmussen said. “I wanted to teach myself what I didn’t know. I wish we had hired an adviser when [her husband] was making so much money. We had to cash out my husband’s retirement. An adviser would’ve helped us make good choices and educate us to know what we should be doing.”

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