Beta Wealth Group
Senior Financial Writer, Capital Group
Let’s talk about dream clients. They collect high salaries and are mathematically inclined. Many habitually save and invest large portions of their income.
Who are these people? Engineers, says Jodi Vleck, CEO of Beta Wealth Group, a San Diego-based RIA with more than $200 million in assets under management. Upwards of 70% of Beta Wealth Group’s clients are engineers, typically either electrical engineers or mechanical engineers, and they are often employed in the technology sector.
Vleck started working with engineers in the early 2000s while a financial consultant at Hewlett-Packard’s credit union. She learned that engineers are an ideal group to offer financial guidance to, given their focus on building a financially sound future and bent toward math (Vleck was an economics teacher).
So, after opening her own RIA firm in 2009, she focused on building an RIA practice serving this niche. “They (engineers) sacrifice new cars and fancy vacations because they are trying to chip away at their financial goals,” she told Capital Group. “They are very good savers.”
Engineers commonly rank among highest-paid professionals
How to plug in with engineers (or any niche audience)
Vleck’s first-hand experience shows the power of focusing on a narrow band of clients, rather than casting a wide net. Catering to a demographic, above what a generalist can offer, can boost your value to its members and create a network.
In her experience, Vleck found three techniques to help boost her appeal to a niche audience:
Speak their language. Engineers think mathematically, so explain their financial situation in the terms they prefer. Vleck dives into risk and returns calculations with her clients, showing them the details of average annual market returns and standard deviation (a measure of market volatility). This might turn off a client who is an English teacher, but Vleck’s core audience responds.
Common beliefs held by members of a profession can present hurdles for advisors. For example, many of Vleck’s clients are value investors, hoping to invest in stocks declining in price. A lower price-to-earnings ratio must be better than a higher one, right? Vleck, though, has found that chasing “cheap” stocks doesn’t necessarily have a positive result. To show engineering clients why it’s valuable to maintain a diversified portfolio across asset classes instead, Vleck explains using math.
Engineers wanted a periodic table of investments showing which ones to buy. Such a thing doesn’t exist. But the chart below shows statistics plotting how various asset classes take turns offering the best returns. This explains why it’s best to own these asset classes most of the time. The presentation connects with engineers, as it’s the kind of thing they’re used to seeing at work.
Show your value from your client’s perspective. The challenge in working with engineers is their tendency to “get caught up in the weeds,” Vleck says. Vleck spends much of her time keeping clients focused on their broad goals amid the swirl of market events and news.
Vleck also found that many engineers see money issues as math problems, and something they can solve themselves. Many engineers, especially early in their careers, think they don’t need help. Knowing that engineers think this way and getting ahead of their concerns are key to reaching them.
If rising interest rates are in the news, for instance, Vleck brings the topic up with clients. Rather than getting into a discussion over whether rates will or won’t rise and by how much, the conversation is framed in terms engineers appreciate: tolerance levels. “We aren’t going to try to predict, but here’s where your parameters are,” she says. “They walk (away) with a more thorough knowledge of how we are being proactive with their portfolios,” she says.
Be more than just a financial advisor. Getting steeped in your clients’ profession allows you to be even more relevant to them, creating a sort of widening network. Within the engineering community, for example, Vleck isn’t just an advisor but also a de facto career coach and recruiter.
She noticed over time that at around the age of 55 , many engineers found themselves laid off or bought out. It’s at that age engineers become highly specialized and expensive. Many could come to see Vleck for help at this critical juncture. Vleck adjusted her approach. With many clients now, she’s almost as interested in their resumes as their tax returns. Vleck uses her connections with other engineers and executives at firms she’s worked with who hire engineers. “I have inadvertently become a point person for (engineering) jobs,” she says. Companies looking for engineers will often also reach out to Vleck for referrals. That’s just another reason for engineers to know Vleck.
With her knowledge of the industry, Vleck can also coach younger engineers earlier in their careers for what is often a high starting salary but limited growth opportunities over time. That might mean investing in training in order to go into management, spending on additional education or gearing up to launch an independent consulting firm.
Vleck knows her niche approach is working. Her firm is growing — even while doing no advertising. Referrals all come from word of mouth.
“When engineers move into management, they really start to understand they can’t be expert at everything,” Vleck says. “They really understand the value of hiring good and talented people to work with them.”
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