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Finding Satisfaction in Handling Complexity 

Peggy Ruhlin of CI Budros Ruhlin Roe

By Kevin Adler

Peggy Ruhlin knows the moment she realized she had found her career. “That would have been the day I opened the initial box of study materials for the CFP® program. My first thought was, ‘Where has this been all my life?’” she says.

It was 1984, and for nine years Ruhlin had co-owned a small CPA firm in Columbus, OH. Working mostly with small business owners, she had met Jim Budros, who was the financial planner for several of them. “I was always fascinated by what he did, but not sure what it actually was,” Ruhlin recalls. “The clients seemed to be successful in building wealth at a greater pace than my other clients who did not work with a financial planner.”

Ruhlin’s partner in the accounting firm suggested they investigate obtaining CFP® designations and becoming financial planners themselves. “I sent away for the coursework and opened up the binder—and it was fascinating,” Ruhlin says.

Instead of focusing on financial statements and tax returns, which consumed most of her working time, the program showed how to integrate tax planning (which she already enjoyed) with retirement and estate planning, college education funding, insurance needs, and more.

In 1985, Ruhlin received her CFP® and then joined Jim Budros in 1987 at his Columbus-based firm, which was then called SMB Financial Planning. “I liked analyzing an issue and coming up with a creative solution to solve clients’ problems or to show them a path to reach a goal,” she says. “It was very different from sitting behind a desk all day plugging numbers into a tax return or financial statement.”

Also, she joined NAPFA to jumpstart her new career. “It was great to be able to talk to like-minded advisors who were dedicated to the concept of Fee-Only financial planning, which was a radical idea back then,” she says.

Ruhlin quickly became active in the organization and its efforts to educate the public. “I remember hearing at one of my first national conferences that NAPFA had printed a brochure for the public, explaining what Fee-Only was and how it could benefit them. They were charging $1.00 for the pamphlet. I suggested that we give it to consumers for free. And I’m happy to say they decided to do that,” she says.

Her contributions in those early years led NAPFA to present her with its Financial Planner of the Year award in 1988.

At the same time, she was busy building the planning firm she had joined. Reflective of her efforts, it was renamed Budros & Ruhlin in 1992 and then Budros Ruhlin & Roe. She later became its CEO. Today, the firm is known as CI Budros Ruhlin Roe, and it has about 860 clients, $3.3 billion AUM, and 54 full-time equivalent staff (including interns). “CI” refers to CI Private Wealth, which acquired the firm in October 2021.

Getting in Front of Clients’ Needs

“Our typical client is a self-made multimillionaire,” Ruhlin says. “They’ve been very successful in building their business and accumulating wealth, but they want a trusted partner to take them to the next level in terms of wealth preservation, estate planning, and investing.”

Given the successes that these clients have had in their careers, Ruhlin says they could probably manage their own financial affairs if they had the time. “They’re smart enough to do it themselves but also smart enough to know they have better uses of their time and that they could miss something important,” she says.

Making sure that clients don’t miss something comes from providing the comprehensive financial planning espoused by NAPFA. “We don’t wait for them to ask, for example, ‘Should I do a Roth conversion?’ We run the numbers and tell them what it will save in taxes, what it will do for their estate plan, what it means for them financially in the long run,” she says.

Ruhlin fully retired from the CI Budros Ruhlin Roe in January 2023. Living part-time in Naples, FL, she’s now a client of the firm. “Seeing it now from the client perspective, I’m telling you it’s hard to keep up on all this stuff, with RMDs and Roth conversions and gifting and college funds,” she says. “I see now why our clients love us so much because of all we take care of for them.”

The Technological Edge

Ruhlin entered the Fee-Only profession in its early years, before the arrival of software solutions that have automated much of the manual recordkeeping and reporting that was a major part of an advisor’s life.

Something as basic as shifting a client’s investment from one mutual fund family to another was a paperwork nightmare when she started. It began with a notarized, delivery-verified letter to the fund holding the assets, asking to take out money. A check would be mailed, which then had to be deposited by the client in their bank account. Then the client had to send a check to the new mutual fund, where an account had to be opened (with more letters and notarized forms). Ruhlin says the transfer could take two or three months.

Then came Schwab Marketplace. The online platform gave advisors the ability to shift money electronically from one fund to another on the platform, enabling timely deployment of strategies that advisors were recommending. NAPFA members embraced it immediately. “Schwab Marketplace was the turning point for independent advisors,” she says.

While Schwab Marketplace was revolutionizing investing, software tools were also becoming available for advisors to manage their operations. Budros Ruhlin & Roe was an early adopter of Junxure for client relationship management. “Instead of just using Junxure as an electronic address book—which a lot of firms did back then—we adopted every single aspect of its suite of services. We had all kinds of workflows and checklists that helped us,” she says.

Best practice ideas gleaned from NAPFA meetings and interaction with colleagues, implemented through technology like Junxure, made the firm more efficient. “That was crucial in enabling us to grow from a $600 million firm to a $3 billion firm,” she says.

Equally important, technology led to a standardization of processes that ensured all clients received the same quality of service, regardless of which team at Budros Ruhlin & Roe served them. This brings up a lesson that holds true for all advisory firms today, Ruhlin says. Technology is not the answer by itself. It’s about having “a successful firm that you built prior to having the tools, such as having good systems and good people.”


Propelling Women into Leadership

One of the themes throughout Peggy Ruhlin’s career has been expanding the proportion of women in advisor and senior leadership positions in the profession. She sees some signs of progress but laments, “We’re still so far behind.”

To cite a recent example, Ruhlin worked with two RIA firms last year to coach them on growth strategies. Both are owned by men. “Before I talked with them, I went to their websites, and all the advisors were men. All the admin staff were women,” she says. When she mentioned this in a meeting, one of the firm owners said he had just made an offer to a woman advisor. “This was 2022,” Ruhlin says, “And some firms are trying to hire their first woman advisor. I’m not singling out this firm—I think the owner is sincere. But it’s not enough.”

The profession continues to struggle to attract women. “When I got my CFP® in 1985, I was told that only 25% of all CFPs were women. Today, that number is 23%,” Ruhlin says.

Ruhlin is trying to do something about it. She started a women’s study group at Budros Ruhlin & Roe 10 years ago, and she published a book in April called Wealth Is Women’s Work that explains how women can have great careers and become leaders in wealth management and financial planning. She includes a chapter to explain to owners of firms how they can bring more women into their orbit, such as reaching out to colleges and universities with financial planning programs and offering scholarships and internships.

Also, Ruhlin says firms need to network with women centers of influence (COIs). “How many firms don’t have a single woman on their COI list? You can’t tell me there are no female CPAs or estate planners in your area,” she says.

CI Budros Ruhlin Roe created two scholarships—available to college juniors and seniors—called the Peggy M. Ruhlin Women in Wealth Management Scholarship and the BRR Diversity in Wealth Management Scholarship. “These garnered awareness and attracted unbelievably talented young women,” Ruhlin says. “We have offered internships to one or two candidates beyond the scholarship recipients because they were amazing. And those applications give us a great list of potential employees.” In fact, the first winner of the Women in Wealth Management Scholarship is now a member of the CI Budros Ruhlin Roe team that advises Ruhlin.

Here’s a key point to remember about improving a firm’s gender balance. “Every time I see something about advisors having a program for women, it’s about getting women clients. That’s great, but you need to get women employees in order to get women clients,” she says. “When women see no women in advisory capacities on your website, they might not even call. We’ve had many prospective clients, women and men, tell us that having me as female CEO was a big selling point.”


CI Budros Ruhlin Roe, at a Glance

Location: Columbus, OH


Year founded: 1979 

Number of staff: 54 full-time equivalents 

Number of clients: 864 

Total assets under management: $3.3 billion 

Typical clients: self-made multimillionaires 

Typical client needs: trusted partner to handle wealth preservation, estate planning, and investing 

Typical investments: globally diversified portfolios based on a customized investment policy statement for each client—a mix of mutual funds, ETFs, separately managed accounts, individual stocks, and private investments 

Favorite financial planning website: 

Favorite nonfinancial planning website: Twitter 

Piece of advice to fellow NAPFA members: “Every time I see something about advisors having a program for women, it’s about getting women clients. That’s great, but you need to get women employees in order to get women clients.”