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Meet NAPFA’s 2023 Award Recipients!

Jessica Hovis Smith, Daniel M. Yerger, Geoffrey Brown, Oak Wealth Advisors, CI Budros Ruhlin Roe, and Abacus Wealth Partners answer questions about their activities and their involvement with NAPFA.

Inspiring Leader Award 
Jessica Hovis Smith, CFP®, CAP®, CLU®, CPWA®

Jessica Hovis Smith is the president of Longview Financial Advisors and a NAPFA member since 2005. She has volunteered for many roles in NAPFA, including chairing the 2019 NAPFA Spring Conference and serving on the NAPFA South Region board and on a committee to choose NAPFA’s previous CEO, Geof Brown.

Hovis Smith’s nominator praised her mentoring and her NAPFA activities. “Jessica supports those around her and always finds a way to elevate others. She faces challenges of her own and is always open and honest in sharing those—and she always finds a way to work through those challenges, too.” Also, “Jessica’s leadership is inspiring to me, and knowing her makes me a better professional.”

What does this award mean to you?

This award is humbling. I am honored to be awarded for something I enjoy doing. I love to mentor and invest in the next generation. I am grateful for the opportunities I have been awarded and the people who have invested in me. 

Why do you do what you do for NAPFA?

NAPFA has meant so much to me, both professionally and personally. I have made longtime friends who have encouraged me over the years. I just hope to do that for the next generation. The old adage “You get what you give” rings true. You will always get more from an organization that you serve.

What is most rewarding about serving as a mentor and as a NAPFA volunteer?

The most rewarding part of volunteering and serving as a mentor is that it allows you to be a part of something much bigger than you are. I’ve been blessed to make some incredible, lifelong friends and mentors. I’ve also had the opportunity to pay that forward and help others in the same way. Those relationships would never have been forged if we weren’t working side by side and supporting one another along the way.

As NAPFA celebrates its 40th anniversary, what would you like to see NAPFA achieve in its next 40 years?

I’m so proud of NAPFA and all of those who have helped it grow to where it is today. Over the next 40 years (or, hopefully, much sooner), I would like to see NAPFA stand out as the leading financial advisor organization in the U.S.

I’d like NAPFA student organizations to be present in all universities that have a degree-offering financial planning and counseling program. We’ve come far in the last 15 years in changing the demographics of NAPFA, but we can do more. Advisors shouldn’t learn about NAPFA after they’ve spent years in the field. I believe that if we want to continue to encourage diversity, we need to start in the universities.

New Professional Award
Daniel M. Yerger, MBA, CFP®, ChFC®, AIF®, CDFA®

Daniel Yerger is the owner of MY Wealth Planners, a member of the NAPFA West Region Board, and the NexGen representative on the Financial Planning Association’s executive committee. He’s also a Ph.D. candidate in personal financial planning at Kansas State University and the author of Getting in the Door: Starting a Financial Planning Career

Yerger’s nominator said, “He is among the smartest values-driven financial planners I have met in my 26-year career in this [field]. Dan is an original thinker who is dedicated to moving the financial planning profession forward.” The nominator also mentioned how Yerger wrote his book “to pay it forward to a new generation of planners.”

What does this award mean to you?

It’s surprising and pleasant to be recognized as a new professional. I’ve been at this for eight years, and it’s been a whirlwind eight years, but there’s still so much work to be done to better this incredible profession. I can only hope to see others do the same after me in helping to advance financial planning to its next stage. 

Why do you do what you do for NAPFA?

Ultimately, I want to see financial planning advance to the same place in the public consciousness as CPAs, MDs, and JDs. I think the best way to do that is to help organizations like NAPFA grow and foster a sense of professional identity and community that the public can better recognize.

How do you recommend new planners get involved in NAPFA?

Local groups—formerly known as study groups—and volunteering. As soon as you’ve joined, look up your local group and get involved. If there isn’t one, volunteer to start one. NAPFA is only as good as its community. When you’ve started volunteering in one place or another, whether that’s a local group or a regional or national committee, you’ll find that you get a lot more value out of being an engaged NAPFA member.

As NAPFA celebrates its 40th anniversary, what would you like to see NAPFA achieve in its next 40 years?

I would like to see NAPFA put a dent in financial planning regulation. We’ve seen countless regulatory victories for insurance companies and broker-dealers over the last 40 years, so it would be good to see NAPFA help move us toward a better-regulated place for financial planning. 

Special Achievement Award
Geoffrey Brown, CAE 

Former CEO Geof Brown is well-known to NAPFA members for his tenure of more than nine years, which ended earlier this year. He is now president and CEO of the Illinois CPA Society, one of the largest state CPA societies in the nation.

“Geof was an amazing leader for NAPFA and helped the organization grow, mature, and become an even more important force for leading the profession and promoting Fee-Only financial planning,” said one of his nominators. Another nominator mentioned Brown’s accomplishments in the development and execution of a long-term strategic plan, enhancing and growing NAPFA’s position in the profession and adjacent fields, and financial and association management.

Yet another said, “He joined us in 2013 as NAPFA was facing a financial crisis due to its old conference model and reduced revenue from sponsors and exhibitors, and he left us after carrying us through a tumultuous time in an even stronger financial position.” The nominator also commented on Brown’s role in recognizing the role of larger firms in NAPFA, as well as his communications and media skills. A fourth nominator mentioned Brown’s “initiatives to address structural and brand challenges, increasing membership by 45% with three straight years of double-digit growth and member retention well over 90%.”

What does this award mean to you? 

Being recognized with the 2023 Special Achievement Award is a true honor. When I think about the past recipients, I know the impact they had on the profession and the lives of the American public. Because it’s a unique group of individuals who can say they received this award, I feel very fortunate to be in their company. My time at NAPFA was truly focused on elevating the organization, advocating for Fee-Only planning, and being a voice for consumers. It was a role that I relished, and this award is a fitting recognition of those efforts.

Why do you believe in Fee-Only planning and NAPFA? 

I believe in NAPFA because of the foundation that it is built upon. Throughout my tenure, I knew that the community was focused on the following values:

  • Being the beacon for independent, objective financial advice for individuals and families
  • Championing financial services delivered in the public interest
  • Being the standard bearer for the emerging profession of financial planning

The financial planning professionals I worked with embraced those values and were true evangelists for the profession. Their passion and commitment drove my belief in the model and organization. It’s not every day that someone in my position gets to lead an organization where you can see a public need and the impact that affiliated professionals make in the lives of their clients.

Why did you do what you did for the profession of financial planning and NAPFA?

I can honestly say that NAPFA was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I had the privilege of working with the best staff teams, boards of directors, and volunteers I know. Their collective focus on making NAPFA the best community in the profession, curating relevant member experiences, and exposing more Americans to the benefits of working with a Fee-Only financial planner inspired me to do what I did for 9 ½  years. Those efforts solidified NAPFA’s growth and leadership role in the profession. I’m proud that I was able to steward the organization through such an exciting time in its history. 

Having recently left NAPFA, what would you like to think of as your legacy to NAPFA? 

I was honored to lead NAPFA for more than nine years, a time of tremendous growth and change for the association. I am very proud of our work to grow NAPFA and the number of Fee-Only financial planning professionals. The type of growth we enjoyed validated our focus on a valuable and relevant member experience. I’m also proud of the relationships we built for the benefit of the member community and our focus on prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion since 2017. By prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, we demonstrated the diversity that board and volunteer leadership can reflect, we stewarded the next generation of financial planning professionals through our programs, and we committed to doing our part to make financial planning a more diverse and welcoming profession. 

As NAPFA celebrates its 40th anniversary, what would you like to see NAPFA achieve in its next 40 years? 

When I joined NAPFA in 2013, it was a relatively small and passionate group with a committed membership focused on pushing the financial planning profession forward. It has transitioned from fighting for recognition of Fee-Only financial planning to a community of professionals who are now leading the profession’s transformation. As it grows, its influence can continue to increase. Over the next 40 years, NAPFA should continue leveraging that position and take on a greater leadership role in the profession. With its primary focus on Fee-Only planning, NAPFA is uniquely positioned to continue driving much-needed change in the field.

NAPFA Excellence in DEI Award (Large Size Firm)
CI Budros Ruhlin Roe—Sonia Brinkman on behalf of the CI BRR Diversity & Inclusion Committee

Sonia Brinkman is a wealth advisor at CI Budros Ruhlin Roe (now Corient), which has made DEI part of its strategic plan.

What does this award mean to you?

Because NAPFA is the gold standard for Fee-Only fiduciary financial advisors, it’s an absolute honor to be recognized as a firm with a best-practice approach worth sharing with others in our industry.

What got your firm interested in tackling the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Our leadership understood that diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives need to both inspire diverse and underserved populations and to address needs within the firm operations. The balance started with creating the Peggy M. Ruhlin Women in Wealth Management Scholarship & Internship to encourage and attract more female wealth managers to the firm (see profile of Peggy Ruhlin in the July NAPFA Advisor). From there, it expanded to adding a Diversity in Wealth Management Scholarship, a Women’s Initiative Group, and a Diversity & Inclusion Committee. These efforts have had a direct impact on client and employee recruitment and retention.

Why do you do what you do for NAPFA?

Two of our wealth advisors—Jamie Rizer and Sonia Brinkman—serve on committees for NAPFA to stay in collaboration on the evolution of our practices, make a difference in the profession, and expand their career impact.

What is most rewarding about serving as a NAPFA volunteer?

Definitely the relationships. It is incredibly rewarding to have access to financial planning leaders across the country, deepen friendships among like-minded executives, and know we are raising the bar of how financial planning is perceived and managed.

As NAPFA celebrates its 40th anniversary, what would you like to see NAPFA achieve in its next 40 years?

With technology being developed and driving changes in the profession faster than ever before, there becomes an even greater need for self-regulation. We hope there are increased conversations and features about using technology for good and remaining focused on prioritizing the clients’ best interests above our own.

NAPFA Excellence in DEI Award (Mid Size Firm)    
Oak Wealth Advisors—Michael C. Walther II, CPA/PFS, CFP®, CFA

Mike Walther is the founder and president of Oak Wealth Advisors, which has a mission to “provide education, resources, and wealth management services to families who have loved ones with disabilities so that they can focus on their families’ greatest needs.” He serves on NAPFA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiative.

“Mike and his team work with a historically underserved population, and he continues to make an effort to achieve more diversity among his staff. He works with clients who can truly benefit from the services of the firm rather than only the wealthiest clients,” said Walther’s nominator. The nominator also said, “He continues to uplift others while not taking no for an answer. For example, he worked with the Academy of Special Needs Planners, which historically only allowed attorneys to join its association. Mike advocated for financial advisors to be a part of that community, and Oak Wealth Advisors was allowed to join the organization.” In addition, Walther inspired NAPFA’s DEI Initiative to tackle the needs of the intellectual and developmental disability community.

What does this award mean to you?

Oak Wealth Advisors is honored to have NAPFA recognize our work with the disability community. We work to incorporate the skills and abilities of individuals with special needs in as many ways as we can. We have employees—and have had interns—with disabilities. All our employees have relatives with disabilities. 

When we design the cards that we send to clients and friends of the firm for their birthdays and holidays, we source the cover artwork from individuals with disabilities and organizations that provide support for those with special needs. We then highlight them with brief stories on the inside of the cards. The artwork we collect extends to the walls of our headquarters office in Northbrook, IL. All the walls are covered with art created by individuals and groups with special needs. We appreciate the acknowledgment that we are “all in” with our focus on helping those in the disability community with their planning and wealth management needs.

What got your firm interested in tackling the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

I founded Oak Wealth Advisors in 2008 because I was frustrated that families like mine that have loved ones with special needs and were seeking support and solutions had so few sources of trustworthy information. The financial services industry often sees the disability community as a community of people who have significant needs and lots of fear about the future. That assessment is largely accurate. However, before firms like ours were created, the financial services industry just sold them insurance products that did little to address their primary needs.

We want to help families understand that they are on a journey and they have many options and paths to consider. By educating them and providing them with resources, we feel that each family can pursue their future with more optimism and less stress knowing that they have a caring partner along for the ride with them.

We have large goals for expanding our reach and helping as many individuals as possible live their lives to the fullest. The statistics around discrimination, bullying, and unemployment are staggering for the disability community. We want to do our part to elevate the needs of this group, highlight their strengths and abilities, and help them achieve the interdependence that they are striving to attain.

Why do you do what you do for NAPFA?

I founded the NAPFA Special Needs MIX Group to share my experience and network of trusted professionals with others who want to serve individuals and families with loved ones with special needs. It has been a wonderful community of sharing and colleagues assisting colleagues. We would love to have more members join our group. I have also been fortunate to serve on the NAPFA DEI Initiative, where I have been much more of an apprentice than a leader. The group has helped me to broaden my perspective and to think more creatively about a number of issues facing the financial planning profession.

The other involvement our firm has had with NAPFA has been to share our knowledge and experience as speakers at various NAPFA events. Our mission is to help as many families as we can who have loved ones with special needs. We view empowering other financial advisors to use the tools and resources that we find helpful to be a way to fulfill our mission.

What is most rewarding about serving as a NAPFA volunteer?

Serving as a NAPFA volunteer has provided two major benefits for our firm. 

First, the networking and relationship building that has occurred through being involved in multiple capacities has been incredible. We have gotten to know so many wonderful people who love helping others. As we look to expand our services, hiring fellow NAPFA advisors will always be at the top of our list.

Second, the opportunities to learn from fellow members and outside experts that NAPFA presents have been fabulous. While the conferences and online programs are valuable, being more deeply involved as a volunteer provides you with more access to some of the very best minds in the profession.

As NAPFA celebrates its 40th anniversary, what would you like to see NAPFA achieve in its next 40 years?

Our hope is that NAPFA becomes THE voice for the financial services profession in the future. The lobbying dollars pushing other agendas will make it difficult to achieve this in the short term, but over the next 40 years it would be great if fiduciary financial advice becomes the only format for professional financial advisors. We want NAPFA’s momentum to continue and our clients to help carry the message that the alignment of interests between financial advisors and clients is essential.

NAPFA Foundation Pro Bono Service Award           
Abacus Wealth Partners—Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, and Neela Hummel, CFP®

Abacus Wealth Partners, co-led by Mary Beth Storjohann (pictured above right) and Neela Hummel (pictured below right), offers three kinds of pro bono financial planning services on an ongoing basis. These include 45-minute financial check-ups offered by phone, project planning offered in a two- to three-hour video or in-person session, and financial planning on an ongoing basis via video or in person. The firm also has offered pro bono sessions in honor of Pride Month to LGBTQ+ individuals and families, and it has partnered with B Corp businesses and nonprofit organizations to offer pro bono financial guidance. In addition, it has shared its pro bono method with other advisory firms to inspire others to offer pro bono planning.

The firm’s nominator, an Abacus Wealth Partners employee, said, “One of Abacus’s core values is ‘Serve Others,’ placing the needs of our clients and community above our individual desires. Our Pro Bono Initiative isn’t just something we do—it’s woven into the fabric of who we are.”

What does this award mean to you?

This award highlights the work that our incredible advisors have done and is such a testament to one of our firm’s core values of “Serve Others.” The Abacus team delivered over 200 pro bono sessions last year, which takes a lot of time, care, and organization, and we are so grateful for the work that it takes to manage a program like this.

Why do you do what you do for NAPFA?

We believe deeply in the value of financial advice, but that financial advice is often not available to many of the people who need it most. We hope to expand the table of who can deliver and receive financial advice so as to make the world a better place.

What is most rewarding about pro bono service?

Knowing that 45 minutes can have such a big impact on someone’s life. It can change shame into empowerment, overwhelm to focus, and confusion into a better sense of clarity. Giving back to the community in ways we are uniquely qualified to do helps further our purpose of expanding what is possible with money.

As NAPFA celebrates its 40th anniversary, what would you like to see NAPFA achieve in its next 40 years?

We’d like to see NAPFA continue with its incredible content and subject matter expertise while also expanding into serving more communities that are often precluded from financial advice.

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