Spokane Journal of Business

Fulcrum Financial Group driven by clients’ goals

Carlson says more women needed as financial planners

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-—Kevin Blocker
Sarah Carlson, owner of Fulcrum Financial Group, says the organization employs five people, including her, and serves more than 300 clients currently.

Sarah Carlson, a certified financial planner based in Spokane, says she’s highly motivated to provide long-term financial security, along with outstanding customer service, to her clients as the owner and operator of Fulcrum Financial Group.

“Our clients have been with us a long time, I believe it’s important to have service for life,” she says.

Located on the South Hill at 1403 S. Grand Blvd. on the second floor of the Grand Office Park, Fulcrum is affiliated with Boston-based LPL Financial Holdings, one of the largest independent broker-dealers in the U.S. LPL has more than 14,000 financial advisers and more than $500 billion in advisory and brokerage assets.

“I like being affiliated with LPL because they’re able to offer everything in the financial universe,” Carlson says.

Carlson, a fiduciary planner, pays LPL for its services, which includes access to a voluminous number of financial experts across the country, she says.

“What being affiliated with LPL has allowed Fulcrum to do is to offer honest and caring advice for our clients. That’s what has always driven me. There’s nothing more rewarding than to be able to help your clients achieve the financial goals they’ve set out to reach,” she says.

Carlson says LPL is responsible for holding Fulcrum’s client funds. “It’s important to have a custodian of the assets because it keeps everyone safe.”

At Fulcrum, Carlson and four employees share 3,000 square feet of space. Of those four, two are financial planners and two are administrative staff members. Carlson says Fulcrum soon will hire an additional adviser as the firm is growing and needs additional office space.

Carlson declines to disclose the total dollar value of the assets under management, but says the firm currently has 300 active clients, most of whom are Spokane-area small business owners.

Carlson founded the firm in 1997. She was a career agent for Springfield, Mass.-based MassMutual Financial Group from 1987 to 1997. She started working at a MassMutual office in Seattle before she and her then-husband moved to Washington, D.C. from 1988-90.

Desiring to return to the Pacific Northwest they moved to Spokane in 1990. Carlson earned her undergraduate degree in economics from Yale University in 1986.

Carlson, who is 53, says she developed an interest in money and investing at a young age through both her parents and a grandfather. Her father invested in the stock market and followed business trends closely.

“Money wasn’t something that was foreign or a mystery in our household. I had a checking account when I was in the third grade and started following money market rates when I was in the sixth grade,” she says.

By the sixth grade, she says, she had saved $1,000. Carlson says it was then that she noticed that if she moved her money from her savings account to a particular money market account, the bank offered that she’d earn a higher rate of return.

She rode her bike to the bank, but to her dismay, encountered a dismissive bank representative, a woman, who questioned Carlson’s knowledge of what she wanted to do with her money.

“I was irate. I did some research and saw that the savings and loan across the street from my bank offered returns up to 18 percent,” Carlson says.

“I wrote my bank’s president and told him about my encounter and that I was going to move my money across the street. He wrote back and said he hated to lose my business, but I was determined to find the best possible rate I could for my money,” she says.

Carlson says the encounter with the woman bank representative had a deep impression on her.

“It’s why I’m adamant about wanting to provide the highest level of customer service that we can. Our clients have options, and the last thing I ever want to have happen is to lose anyone because they felt like their needs weren’t being met and they weren’t being heard,” she says.

Over time, Carlson says, she learned that the financial industry historically has looked more toward men to run it.

“It’s been more like a fraternity. It’s been very competitive, and you have to be good with numbers. The perception is that the financial industry appeals to more masculine traits,” she says.

In its June 2015 report, a Morningstar Research Report study showed that less than 10 percent of all U.S. fund managers are women.

Women exclusively manage about 2 percent of the industry’s assets and open-end funds, and by contrast, men exclusively run 74 percent of the industry’s assets and 78 percent of funds, with mixed-gender teams accounting for the balance.

“There are far fewer women in U.S. fund management than there are women doctors (37 percent), lawyers (33 percent), or accountants and auditors (63 percent),” the report says.

However, more women in the U.S. are making their own investment decisions than ever before. In one recent study, 19 percent of women reported being the primary financial decision maker for couples’ long-term retirement savings—a figure that has doubled since 2011, the Morning Star Research Report said.

After graduating from Yale, Carlson, originally from Aspen, Colo., moved to Seattle to train for a spot on the 1988 U.S. Women’s Olympic Rowing Team. She wasn’t selected to the team, and in 1987 started work at MassMutual.

Carlson has two sets of twins, the oldest are 19 and the youngest 15. “They’re probably my biggest claim to fame,” she says.

Carlson says she was driven to start a firm that wanted to help its clients above anything else.

“I always had a strong internal direction to want to help people, and I wasn’t able to help them by being under a contract working for another firm,” Carlson says. “I didn’t want to sell their products; stepping outside their normal practices didn’t fit their business model.”

Today, she says she is seeing substantial changes in the industry.

“The industry is at a crossroads and it’s going through a change. Those changes are occurring as a result of advancements in technology and veteran financial advisers and planners, mostly men, are near or at retirement age,” Carlson says.

Carlson also sees the finance industry increasingly driven less by the sale of products and more by actually helping people reach their goals.

“The industry is embracing traits that involve us being more nurturing, building relationships, and taking team approaches to how to best help our clients,” she says.

Ultimately, Carlson says the most successful financial planners are those who have the ability to adapt to change.

“You’ll never master financial planning, because rules, and now technology, are constantly changing,” she says. “It’s not rocket science, but it can be confusing.”

 Kevin Blocker
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Reporter Kevin Blocker, a University of Colorado alum, is a rec league basketball addict. At age 47, he still sports a 32-inch vertical leap. He has three children, all of whom are hooked on hoops.

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