What Retirement Planning is Really About

Choosing how we spend our time is most important, says this advisor in the eighth decade of life.

By Scott MacKillop

At the beginning of May I turned 72. Many of my contemporaries have already retired and many more are plotting their “exit strategies.” Not me. I love my work. I’ve been in financial services for 47 years and have served as president or CEO of five turnkey asset management providers (TAMPs) over the past 30 years.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Shouldn’t I be yearning for the easy life where I can do whatever I want whenever I want?  I could just put my feet up, go with the flow, and see what each new day brings.

No way.

Seven years ago, my colleagues and I launched First Ascent Asset Management, a TAMP with a very specific mission in mind: To help financial advisors, the front-line warriors in the battle for financial security, help more Americans plan for retirement.

That same year, I became eligible for Medicare. But why would I want to punch out and take up golf or play Parcheesi on the front porch with my buds? What could be better than being useful and having a purpose? I can’t think of anything more satisfying than helping other advisors solve the retirement crisis and improve the quality of their lives after retirement.

Additional incentives

I also have a selfish reason for staying in the game: I love the challenge. Solving the puzzles that present themselves every day is highly rewarding. It satisfies a creative urge inside me and gives me a sense of accomplishment that comes from creating something out of nothing.

And there is another benefit of staying engaged that is very personal. For me, there is joy in serving. The old saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” resonates. I feel that blessing every day in my interactions with our clients.

In 2023, First Ascent was ranked by advisors as the #1 TAMP for the fourth year in a row in the T3/Inside Information Advisor Software Survey based on client satisfaction. We have won numerous other awards since our founding. These recognitions are a source of great pride, but they also trigger a question: “Can we do it again next year?”  Only one way to find out — and I don’t want to be watching this from the sidelines.

Another transition

Recently we crossed another threshold: First Ascent was acquired by GeoWealth, LLC in March 2023 . GeoWealth built awesome technology and its investment-support platform serves the very same community of advisors that we serve. So, now my First Ascent colleagues and I are part of the GeoWealth team.

A transaction like this is often a catalyst for someone my age to move on to the greener pastures of retirement or semi-retirement. Time to move on? That’s not how I see it.

I think First Ascent and the team at GeoWealth are a perfect match. We’ve woven together our capabilities in investment management and technology development and combined our collective understanding of advisor needs. And perhaps most importantly, we find joy in service.

Now it’s time to really have some fun and I want to be there when it happens.

Building a brighter future

We weren’t looking for a partner, but we kept bumping into GeoWealth in competitive situations. We decided to get to know them better.  Through our conversations it quickly became apparent that they could help us expand the services we provide our clients and we could do the same for them.  A classic case of complementary strengths and weaknesses.

First Ascent will be able to provide clients with a more modern technology platform and more customized portfolio management capabilities.  We will provide depth to GeoWealth’s investment group and allow them to offer their clients more comprehensive support services.

The process of integrating the two firms will take some time.  For now, we will each service our own clients and refer clients to each other, when appropriate.  But when we put all the pieces together, our goal is to create a firm that is different than anything that exists today.

We’ll serve RIAs exclusively and focus solely on their investment management needs. For advisors who want to remain in control of the investment management process, we’ll provide a modern technology platform and support services to make them more efficient. For advisors who want to outsource everything, we’ll provide a full service offering that will free up their time and relieve them of the costs and burdens associated with investing and back-office work.

There’s a lot to do to make it all happen. But when we’re done, my teammates at First Ascent will be part of a growing, innovative firm with a very bright future. When I do walk away someday, I’ll be able to do so with a smile on my face and a sense of great satisfaction.

Still time for outside interests

With such great challenges ahead, why would I want to step aside and miss out on the fun? Yes, I have many outside interests that I could pursue. I love to hike and climb mountains in my home state of Colorado. I still play a mean lead guitar with my band. And I love to garden. But I can still do all those things, while pursuing the mission I and my teammates set for ourselves so many years ago. Who could want more than that?

I recognize that not everyone sees working full-time into their 70s as a viable or even a desirable option. I am fortunate to still be excited by my work mission and the challenges it brings.  But many people look forward to a new set of challenges or to simply kicking back.

More than money

However, because I have faced the reality that time is short and I must make the most of it, I can empathize with others who have arrived at the same point.  I know that retirement planning is not just about, or even mostly about, having enough money. Rather, it is fundamentally about how we choose to spend the most precious of commodities — our time.

This gives my personal mission special meaning.  Through my work, I see myself as helping others reach a place where they have options and the wherewithal to pursue them. In doing so, I find my purpose and help others find theirs as well.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me and my teammates under the GeoWealth banner. And I can only hope that those we serve will approach their later years with as much enthusiasm and gratitude.  We’ll certainly do what we can to help them get there.

Scott MacKillop is CEO of First Ascent Asset Management, a subsidiary of GeoWealth LLC. He is an ambassador for the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard and a 47-year veteran of the financial services industry.  He can be reached at scott@firstascentam.com.

 

 

 

 

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