Veteran Wealth Manager Ties Success to Curiosity
*As seen on Financial Times – Financial Advisor IQ
By Murray Coleman June 1, 2015
When Frank Armstrong started in the advice business 42 years ago, he’d drive around Miami’s industrial districts looking for clean and well-maintained trucks. He figured companies with fresh fleets were likely to prove better prospects for his insurance and investment-products pitch.
“As someone brand new to the community as well as the industry, I had to get creative,” says Armstrong, founder and CEO of Investor Solutions, which manages $750 million. “I couldn’t just go online and start fishing around the Internet using social media.”
Richard Feldman, managing partner at Investor Solutions, says thinking outside the box has long been a character trait of Armstrong — who started out at a large insurer, then moved to an independent broker-dealer before opening his own RIA in 1993. “Frank has always been a contrarian thinker and taken a more academic approach to succeeding as a wealth manager,” Feldman tells FA-IQ.
Armstrong, who is 71, credits his staying power in the business to an abiding fascination with behavioral finance and investment theory. This combination has taught him how to connect to people better and build trust. But such an approach wasn’t always seen as a formula for success. “When I first started in this business, the brokers able to follow the most consistent scripts — usually built around a bunch of marketing B.S. shoved down their throats by fund and insurance companies — were the industry’s biggest rainmakers,” he says.
Instead of building a book based on personality and memorizing tons of product literature, Armstrong reached out to top academics and leading planners in the field. “I’ve always felt that being put into a position of overseeing someone’s financial situation is a privilege and an honor, not a right you earn by making a better sales presentation,” he says. “In order to earn clients’ trust, I feel strongly that advisors need to take self-education seriously and make it a priority.”
These days, in fact, he won’t hire FAs who aren’t CFP credentialed and hold at least a master’s degree. “It’s important to send a message to your clients that their advisors carry a deep thirst for knowledge and have a track record of working to keep abreast of everything to do with financial planning,” he says.
Perhaps a bit ironically, Armstrong observes that by those standards he wouldn’t hire himself today. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1966 and facing a probability of being drafted into the military, he decided to take charge of his own fortunes. He volunteered for the Air Force, which also satisfied his interest in aviation.
Collect Your Wits
Armstrong flew 250 missions in the Vietnam War, becoming — at that time — the youngest pilot to command a combat crew. “I learned that a lot of pilots lost their lives by panicking and shutting off the wrong instruments at the wrong times,” he says. “It taught me the value of fighting adversity by following three basic rules — stop, think and collect your wits.”
That’s a message he likes to pass along to clients, especially when markets collapse or their financial circumstances take a turn for the worse. “Sometimes, I feel more like a psychologist than an advisor,” Armstrong says with a laugh. “But it’s a role I feel my experience and education have prepared me to undertake.”
Still, he admits that understanding how someone thinks about money — and then working to direct those attitudes in a positive direction — can be a challenge. “That’s why helping people to reach their goals is such an enormous accomplishment for both the advisor and the client,” says Armstrong. “Even after all these years, it’s still a feeling that resonates and keeps me young. I don’t see myself retiring for a long, long time.”