Financial planner Cheree Burnette takes the lead at meetings with clients and Doug Burnette takes notes.
“I like to say I fell in love with the plan and then I fell in love with the planner,’’ says Doug, 72, of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
His wife of 13 years, CLU and ChFC Cheree, 65, says the couple works about 20 hours a week — on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That leaves Tuesday and Thursday for extra-curricular activities such as golf.
“But we’re available 24/7 because of technology,’’ Cheree Burnette says. “If somebody texts me, I’ll answer. However, I do have a “’do not disturb’ on my phone from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.’’
Burnette Financial Planning is a fee-only firm. The Burnettes have clients from about 100 households. They partner with Buckingham Strategic Partners.
From Physician to Financial Planner
At 59, Doug, a radiologist for 32 years, was burned out by long work hours and literally thousands of patient images. It wasn’t unusual for him to work from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. His self-directed retirement plan was in need of professional help, so he first met with Cheree Burnette in 2006; he liked the academic and scientific approach to her work.
“With my self-directed plan, I had to manage my retirement myself, without any help. I knew my limitations. At the time, I’d read this book ‘The Millionaire Next Door,’ and several things in it registered:
“The book said, ‘Stay married to your wife,’ ‘Don’t become a doctor,’ and ‘Find the best financial planner.’’’
Bingo, he says; one out of three isn’t bad.
Once the couple made the decision to become business and personal partners, Doug Burnette applied his professionalism to earning accreditation as a CFP.
“You don’t have to have a CFP to hang out your shingle to be a financial planner, but I always felt it was important to have credentials; in medicine, board certifications were required,’’ he says. He earned his CFP by taking a yearlong online course offered by New York University. He renews his CFP accreditation annually and every two years he completes the required 30 hours of continuing education.
In 2009, the year he and Cheree Burnette married, he switched to practicing medicine part-time. He retired from medicine in February 2015.
When asked if they honeymooned anywhere exotic, Doug Burnette says, “No! We went to work.’’
More Opportunities Today
Starting out in the 1970s, Cheree Burnette was an office manager in a legal office that handled real estate and property management. She was then recruited by an insurance executive who would be her mentor for 13 years.
“I had a great mentor, who is no longer alive; you got great training back then. It was a five-year-program. You weren’t just thrown in. We were trained in planning from Day One.”
Cheree was a general agent with Minnesota Life (now Securian Life) for 20 years, beginning in 1984.
In her careers in banking and insurance, she saw that men were more apt to get promotions and better pay.
“There are a lot more opportunities for women today and the playing field is even,” she says. As a financial advisor, “If you work the same, you will get paid the same. You can make whatever you want.
“In the early years, the owners were dirty old men and you had to put up with a little more harassment and flirting, which today are not accepted.’’
“The Lifestyle Practice”
The Burnettes refer to their firm as a “the lifestyle practice.’’ Most of their clients are age 55 to 85, and more than half are women.
“Our specialty is people in transition, which is largely women because a lot are becoming widows. Some of our clients are in transition from divorce. We never did focus on a niche, but we do a lot of work with widows helping them again with settlements,’’ says Cheree
Even with a truncated schedule, they continue to love what they do.
“As long as we have the freedom to work as we do now, to come and go as we please, we’ll keep working. We are nearing completion of a formalized succession plan with a father-son team and the son’s wife,” she says.
The couple still thrives on the contact with clients. During COVID, clients kept in touch by Zoom meetings or telephone conversations, says Cheree.
“We love people and we get energized anew when we meet new clients,’’ Doug says.
“We do everything together. We don’t do client work separately. At every meeting, we are both there; I take notes and Cheree leads things,” adds Doug.
“Some clients might resonate more with her and others more with me. Having two of us is attractive to a broad range of people.’’
“Over the years, clients have liked that both of us are in meetings. Some clients might resonate more with her and others more with me. Having two of us is attractive to a broad range of people,’’ he says.
Doug says his wife is the “big picture’’ half of the business and he is the detail person: He deals with compliance issues, online needs and maintains the firm’s newsletter.
He also says he brings some of the skills he developed while practicing medicine to his financial planning.
“Dealing with clients is not that different than dealing with patients. It’s developing an empathy with clients and truly understanding their problems. And most importantly is learning how to translate complicated jargon into language they can understand. I did that all the time as a radiologist,’’ he says.
Increased Flexibility and Resiliency
From decades of experience, Cheree Burnette sees that compliance is much stricter now than when she began her work in financial services. She applauds the conveniences that technology has brought; the couple can work pretty much anywhere.
The couple is currently licensed in Louisiana and Texas. However, most other states do not require licensing for RIAs serving fewer than five clients in a state where the RIA doesn’t have a physical location, explains Doug. He and Cheree have two clients in Alabama and another in Oregon.
Cheree also points out unlike her younger self who was apt to be overly sensitive when clients moved on, she has become more resilient over the years.
“If my ratio went down, I was devastated. I took losses too hard in the early years but I’m better now, because the next person who comes in to see me will be a better fit.’’
Doug says he wouldn’t change his trajectory from radiologist to financial planner; he’s lucky in that he has enjoyed both careers.
They have children (from previous marriages) and grandchildren to keep them busy with their various activities such as soccer, ballet and acting. The couple plans a trip to the Balkans and Paris in August.
There is the occasional client who doesn’t heed the couple’s advice. Against their advice, clients moved from Lake Charles to Biloxi, and then decided to return to Lake Charles. Doug remembers the extra duty these clients required.
“We drove one of their cars back to Lake Charles, and went driving around looking for houses and property for them, and as we’re cruising down the road, we looked at each other and said, ‘Exactly what business are we in?’‘’
“The people business!’’ says Cheree.
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.