A Generation Gap Becomes a Selling Point for this Advisory Firm

A 67-year-old advisor has an epiphany: A partner nearly 30 years younger is an asset, not a liability.

By Eleanor O'Sullivan

Glenn J. Downing, a CFP in Miami, Fla., learned a lesson from study and personal experience that he imparts to his CFP students.

“What we call retirement is really a very, very new concept that came about after World War II, because before then, there were no defined benefits pensions. People worked until they couldn’t any longer, generally on a farm, where generations of families lived.

“So what we call retirement planning is new, and when I look at what can be gained by retirement, I ask clients, ‘Retire to what!’’’

At 67, Downing is still busy, as co-founder and principal of CameronDowning, putting in 40-hour weeks. He also serves on the board of the Estate Planning Council of Miami, and is a trustee of the Miami-Dade Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust.

And when he’s teaching CFP courses in places like Raleigh, N.C., Dallas and St. Louis, “the number of weekly hours shoots right up,’’ he said.

“Retire to What?”

Generally, Downing said, when clients are asked “retire to what?’’ they mention traditional post-work activities, such as traveling and spending more time with their children and grandchildren.

“Oh great! But when you press them a little bit more, generally their retirement plan is not that well thought out — it’s more, ‘I don’t want to work anymore at a wage-paying job.’”

”The point that I like to make is, that’s very nice, but you need to work, men especially. You need to be productive, do something that is useful. You have to keep yourself busy and to contribute. Many of my clients do think it through about how they will spend their time and are productive and happy because of that,’’ Downing said.

A Busy Schedule

CameronDowning, an independent, fee-based RIA firm serving 60 households, was founded in 2014 by Downing and Jonathan G. Cameron, CFP, who is 38. They met at their church, Granada Church in Coral Gables. Downing has been a CFP practitioner since 2006, and has been an instructor for the Zahn Associates certification curriculum for many years.

In 2019, he began teaching Zahn’s Live Review, a four-day intensive review for those ready to take the CFP exam; that teaching takes him on the road.

“I usually teach six to eight live reviews in the month before the CFP exam is given, and September and October are very busy. The CFP exam is given three times a year — in March, July and November, so the month before is very active teaching.

“I’ll fly into a city, stay at an airport hotel, stand up and talk for four days, and then leave. The classes are from 8 to 5:30 at night and it’s exhausting. I really have to kind of manage my resources.’’

“But I do enjoy the interaction with the students, which keeps you fresh,’’ Downing said.

Bridging the Generation Gap

He says that he and Cameron have bridged the generation gap in their financial planning.

“Jonathan, my business partner, is much younger than I am. I’ve had people tell me they are concerned about working with me, because the client and I are the same age and they want to know, what happens when I retire!

“So I turned to Jonathan and said, “Partner, you know what, we’ve been looking at this the wrong way — the penny just dropped; our age difference should be a selling point, not something we are trying to get around.’ ‘’

Older clients are impressed with Cameron’s expertise, and younger clients are impressed with “having some gray hair in the room; it adds a little gravitas,’’ Downing said of himself.

Although only in its seventh year, CameronDowning does have clients who are the children of clients. Typically, Downing said, a parent dies and the surviving children choose to keep the investments with the firm. Or, a client will ask that a child who needs advice be taken on as a client.

An “appropriate’’ fee is charged clients, such as the children of older clients, who do not meet the firm’s $100,000 asset minimum, Downing said.

Following His Dream

A native of Connecticut, where he graduated from the University of Connecticut with an MBA, Downing began his financial services career in 1997.

“It was something I’d always wanted to do. And then I wanted to go out on my own, and I began with insurance and eventually I made the full transition. I was in my 40s with young children at home, and there were some hectic times. But I do it all over again.’’

Finding his niche accounts for his continuing enthusiasm for what he does.

“My specialty and what I absolutely love is financial planning; I love to get all the documents requested from a client before we have met, and then go through it all: tax returns, everything they have sent, so I can build a composite picture of a client. It’s fun.’’

Downing says CameronDowning, is a “relatively new firm and so we are not huge; we will be some day!’’

He sees the industry’s move toward fiduciary standards as a significant change since he began his career in financial service planning.

“A client needs to do vetting and the big question should be: ‘How are you compensated?’

“You get what you pay for in life. A client might say to me, “If I’m not paying the other company anything, why are you charging me? This other guy will do my financial planning at no charge.’

“‘Yeah, well, he could be recommending a commission product that may or may not be in your best interest. You need to wonder if the recommendation is truly the best thing for you.’”

A 100-Year-Old Role Model

Living a long and engaged life strikes Downing as the way to go, whether working or not.

“When I first started out, my wife (Joyce Downing) and I had a friend, who began as a client, and who died two years ago. She didn’t quite make it to 101. She was just the most delightful person, always forward-looking and wanting to discuss world events, and to know how we were doing. She’s our role model.’’

Downing and his wife, who have been married 43 years, make regular visits to see their two grandchildren, who live in Fort Myers with one of their two grown daughters. He also is a fan of mystery novels.

“No plans to slow down. I love what I do. No attractive alternatives!’’

“My wife and I have a friend who’s a retired university dean who informs my reading list, so around Christmastime, when I’m asked what I would like, I call this dean and ask him what he’s been reading and he always gives me wonderful suggestions.’’

Among his recent favorites, novels by Ruth Ware, Rose Macaulay and John Irving.

“No plans to slow down. I love what I do. No attractive alternatives!’’ says Downing.

In a four-decade career in journalism, Eleanor O’Sullivan has reviewed many books on best practices for financial advisors, has written for Financial Advisor and the USA Today network, and was movie critic for the Asbury Park Press.

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