On 08 Sep 2021, we utilized Ramsey Solutions’ SmartVestor Pro service to find a firm that could help maximize our investment strategy as both a business and personally. This is a review of our experience with that service.
Thank you to Dave Ramsey and his team for providing this service! We’ve used their ELP service in the past (ex. business insurance) and have been very happy. We would encourage you to use their SmartVestor Pro and ELP services for applicable business and personal needs.
Flood of Calls
When we hit “submit” on the SmartVestor Pro page, the first SmartVestor Pro (SVP) called immediately, and two more called within a few minutes. In total, four of the five SVPs that the SVP service said would be contacting us, actually contacted us. We scheduled a face-to-face with the first three that called us.
Meeting the SVPs
During our first meeting with each of the three, we considered various aspects of their service, and how that matched with our unique business and personal needs and goals. This initial meeting was complimentary in all three cases, and was essentially us sharing just enough for them to understand our needs/goals, followed by them highlighting why they would be the best fit for us.
Evaluating the SVPs
What follows is a list of key considerations and how well we felt each SVP matched our needs/goals. Hopefully this can help you in evaluating SVPs, should you choose to use this service personally or as a business.
Note: Firm names have been anonymized (SVP1, SVP2, SVP3).
- Ramsey Approved: Our assumption was all SVPs would have “the heart of a teacher” and be at least ~90% in line with Dave, certainly not pushing anything that Dave would call “stupid” or “dumb”. SVP1 and SVP2 were essentially clones of Ramsey Solutions – full alignment. SVP2 even had a gong for “memorable events”, very comparable to the debt free scream. SVP3 spent the first 10-15 min with just chit-chat (i.e. a long ice-breaker), and the last 10-15 min giving us a binder (and walking through it) that would help us plan out our strategy. This was actually really good; he was the only SVP to give us something like this. However, the core of the meeting (1 hr of it) with SVP3 was a FUD-driven life insurance sales pitch. In not so many words, he stated we’d be a fool not to do it (I think his exact phrase was “this is a no-brainer for you”). Specifically, he was trying to sell us on what he called a “no-tax retirement plan” using an Indexed Universal Life Insurance (IUL) policy. I’ll admit, it sounded good while looking at it, especially the benefit of showing the premiums as a business expense. But, then we went home and ran the numbers against just an IRA (minus taxes), considered that it wouldn’t kick in until age 67, and compared that against the mortality tables. On top of that, I’m pretty sure Dave says these policies are “stupid” 100% of the time and you should run from anyone trying to sell you one. We were left wondering, why is SVP3 a SmartVestor Pro?
- Distance: SVP1’s location was the most convenient, followed by SVP2, and SVP3. None were terribly far (range: 25-45 minutes). All of that to say, I’m not sure if there were closer SVPs, but at the same time, they were all semi-convenient.
- Debt: Even more so than Dave Ramsey, we are deathly allergic to debt and opposed to using it even for a few minutes. In fact, it’s a core value of PEN Consultants. SVP1 and SVP2 never mentioned debt other than SVP1, who went out of his way to commend us for being debt-free. I think SVP2 may have also, but SVP1 was very intentional and celebratory with us. SVP3 literally mentioned “taking out a loan to pay X” and “use debt to build wealth” on several occasions.
- Connection: SVP1 was the most professional, personal, friendly, down-to-earth, relatable, etc. SVP2 was also all of that (nothing negative to say about him), but we just connected slightly better with SVP1. SVP3 was kind of creepy and felt like he was trying to push his agenda more than trying to understand our interest – i.e like a pushy salesman.
- Approach: SVP1 had what we felt was an equal balance of understanding our needs/goals (at a high level), showing us potential strengths and weaknesses of our current approach and what we may need to adjust, sharing an investment product to give us an idea of what he may be able to offer to help, etc. SVP2 had the most thorough “getting to know us and our goals” approach, by far. He used what he called “HonestConversation cards”, which ended up being an effective way to determine our combined top-5 life goals. Of the three SVPs, we learned the most about ourselves with SVP2, and, therefore, the assumption is, he probably learned the most about us. To be fair, SVP1 stated that, if we chose to go with him we would drill into the weeds in future visits. SVP1 appeared to be taking a more iterative approach, whereas SVP2 appeared to be taking a more sequential approach. Additionally, SVP1 may have just as likely realized we already had most of our ducks-in-a-row and treated us accordingly (i.e. not wasting our time self-reflecting as much). SVP3 was basically just an insurance salesman (as mentioned above).
- Advisor vs Salesman: One of our concerns was trying to find someone who was a true financial planner/advisor, and not just a salesman pushing products. SVP3 failed miserably (as noted a few times above). SVP2 exceeded expectations; he even hesitated to talk about products when we asked him. SVP1 felt like he would probably be a good fit, but it was hard to know for sure with one meeting. As mentioned, SVP1 did show us one (and only one) product (American Funds), but it was very much in the spirit of “this is an example of what I could offer” and not “this is the best solution for you, do it now” like SVP3 did.
- Goal building vs Wealth Building: Another thing we were looking for was someone that at least understood our life goals and desires, if not relate to them; as opposed to just being a “numbers guy” and trying to build up our wealth. Both are important, of course. But, our do-missions-work-during-retirement goal (for example) has more consideration than simply money in the bank. SVP3 was a complete fail – he seemed to have no interest in our desire to do missions in retirement. SVP2 not only understood our desire, but he also indicated a similar desire. SVP1 appeared to fully understand our desires/values, but maybe did not necessarily have the same goal of doing mission work after retirement (which is not a negative…just a data point).
- Understanding self-employed/small business owners: Although we are not well versed in investment solutions and approaches to take as a small business owner, we know there are quite a few investment “tricks” that would be different as compared to just what we do on an individual basis. A key point for us was an SVP that understood what options we may have available. SVP3 talked as if he knew, but, as seen above, we essentially lost trust in him. SVP2 knew for sure, and even did some of it on his own (his wife is a small business owner). SVP1, being a small business owner, likely understands these things as well, but it was not demonstrated during the first meeting. Again, to be fair, SVP1 stated we would get into the details in subsequent visits. It is simply unknown if SVP1 would be strong in this area, so we will give him the benefit of that doubt.
- Knowledgeable: All SVPs sounded and seemed knowledgeable. The only red flag was with SVP1. We didn’t think about it, or even realize it, until a few days after meeting with him, but he had said we should be maxing out our Roth IRAs ($6k each/year). The problem being, due to our household income, we cannot contribute to a Roth IRA, so we would end up having to withdraw/recharacterize the money into a traditional IRA, thus missing out on the tax advantages of doing something like a backdoor Roth, or something even larger such as a Roth 401k.
- Kingdom-focused: Another data point for us was looking for both an individual and company that was kingdom-focused, Bible-centered, etc. This wasn’t necessarily a make/break input, but it is close to it. For example, we were looking for someone with as overt a kingdom focus as Ramsey Solutions or our own company (ex. https://penconsultants.com/coreValues) – in the spirit of Matt 10:32, Rom 12:4-5, Ecc 4:9, etc. One of the metrics we used for this was a Google search – ex. “site:svp.com (god | biblical | etc.)”. Another metric was just what came up organically in conversation. SVP2 was hands down the winner – individual and company. SVP3 had Biblical core values listed on their website, with scripture, but that did not come across in conversation. SVP1 was the inverse, nothing overtly Biblical on their website, but it felt like we were talking to a person of faith who, for whatever reason, was not comfortable with that “bleeding through” to things like overt Biblically-centered core values.