The Financial Planning Association’s Neurodivergent Planner Knowledge Circle is thriving despite the departure of its founder, a former financial advisor charged by the SEC and Finra.
Andrew Komarow focused on working with special needs families and other “neurodiverse” individuals and received awards for his work around the time he launched the FPA group in November 2021. He was diagnosed with autism as an adult after becoming a financial planner.
Despite Komarow’s legal troubles, the FPA initiative he started is continuing.
Advisor Elizabeth Yoder, who helped spearhead the neurodivergent group with him in November 2021, says it is designed to support professionals who consider themselves to be neurodivergent, or who are thinking about how to best support clients who are neurodiverse including those with autism, ADHD and dyslexia.
The group is part of a larger FPA knowledge circle initiative that addresses a variety of member identities and concerns, such as groups for advisors who are African American, Asian American or Pacific Islander, or who are interested in topics such as investment planning for public policy and regulations, Yoder says.
She is the founder of Dependent Financial Planning, a Maryland-based firm specializing in financial solutions for families with special needs children of all ages. She was formerly associated with Komarow’s firms Planning Across the Spectrum and Tenpath Financial Group. Yoder, who is not neurodivergent, said she continues to serve many of the neurodivergent clients who had been served by Komarow’s firms.
Yoder says the FPA knowledge circles offer advisors much more than just knowledge.
“They can really find a group of people that wants to either support each other in their identity or be an ally or learn together based on what different category that knowledge is made up of,” she says.
Helping Neurodivergent Advisors and Clients
In addition to autism, ADHD and dyslexia, the neurodivergent group also aims to help serve the needs of advisors and clients with dyscalculia (a learning disorder that impacts the ability to understand number-based information and math), dyspraxia (a coordination disorder impacting motor skills) and Tourette syndrome (a disorder involving uncontrollable involuntary movements and tics).
“One of the reasons we started the neurodivergent planner circle was to identify that there are many people who may have a classification of a disability who actually thrive in the field of financial planning and financial services,” Yoder says. “We wanted to identify that people … who may have autism really can do good work as planners in many different areas of investment management planning and investment analysis.”
The group recognizes the challenges that autistic advisors may face and shares different tools they can use to better perform their job, such as improving interpersonal communication and planning their workday, according to Yoder. Many neurodivergent individuals work in the financial advice sector, but not all have “come out” for fear of being judged harshly, she says.
Fighting Stigma in the Industry
“There’s still so much of a stigma around what a good advisor looks like,” says Yoder. “Some folks have reached out talking about how even the way we test, or the way we get certified, it prevents some people from really being able to be fully licensed professionals in the way that they want to be licensed, regardless of their ability to do the work over time.”
The neurodivergent group meets bi-monthly and currently has 42 members. Yoder predicts it will continue going strong because it fulfills an urgent need in the financial advice space.
“Enough people have spoken up about wanting more conversation around this, that it’s not something that’s going away. It’s not,” she says. “There will be more and more of a need to have these conversations going forward, whether or not someone really has publicly acknowledged the diagnosis, or really feels a connection with the troubles of someone who might be diagnosed.”
The group is “opening the career pathway to people who can do the work,” she says.
Although she was an original co-host of the neurodivergent group with Komarow and remains active in it, Yoder says she had to step back from her leadership role because of the demands of her business.
Financial planner Otto Rivera of White Lighthouse Investment Management in the Orlando, Fla., area, assumed the role of host in May. Rivera wasn’t available to discuss the group.
Yoder, who was associated with Komarow’s practice when he allegedly engaged in illegal stock “free-riding,” was not charged or implicated in the case. She declined to talk about the charges against him.
Former Group Leader Charged
The SEC on Dec. 8 charged Komarow with conducting the $6.9 million free-riding scheme from October 2022 to January 2023. Prior to that, Finra in June barred Komarow after he refused to fully cooperate with the agency’s own investigation of the alleged activities.
According to the SEC complaint, Komarow made unfunded electronic transfers totaling $6.9 million from bank accounts to accounts at four broker-dealers, knowing that he lacked sufficient funds to cover the transfers. Komarow immediately traded securities using funds that the brokerage firms made temporarily available while the fraudulent transfers were pending, the SEC alleges. The free-riding trades were mostly unprofitable, but he was able to withdraw at least $615,031 from the accounts, leaving the brokerage firms with losses totaling over $3 million, the SEC said.
Komarow has consented to a partial judgment in the SEC case that, among other things, bars him from placing any securities trades without having settled cash in the account equal to or greater than the amount of the trades. The settlement is subject to approval by the court.
The SEC demands a jury trial and seeks that Komarow be required to return his ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest and a civil monetary penalty, and that he be barred from serving as an officer or director of any public company for a period of time to be determined by the court.
On his LinkedIn page, Komarow describes himself as a “DevOps Software Engineer and Recovering Financial Advisor.”
In a four-decade career in journalism, Ed Prince has served as an editor with many of New Jersey’s leading newspapers, including the Star-Ledger, Asbury Park Press and Home News Tribune.