How do you go from being the fourth-ranked advisor on the BIC Top 50 in 2013 to missing the list altogether (although just barely) in 2014?

As it turns out, it’s easy, Brett Everhart explains with a laugh. An advisor can fall in the ranking even in a good year. Indeed, he increased his book to $170 million from $152 million the previous year, and his production to a cool $1.3 million from $950,000, a good year by almost any measure.

However, our lists can produce some very close contests in the variables we consider. And in a tight race where one percentage point can boost an advisor a dozen or more notches in a given category, even a good year doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily climb in the ranking.

In that sense, it’s akin to a race between swimmers or sprinters, where the difference between win, place and show can be measures in hundredths of a second. As he says, “Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t.”

In that spirit, we decided to check in on this year’s 101st-ranked advisor, to see how he does it.

Turns out, the key to his success was his willingness to jump, at the age of 49, from a cushy salaried post as program manager at one financial institution to a job as an ordinary financial advisor scratching together fee income at another, where he had to build his book from next to nothing.

Everhart, a financial advisor for some 33 years, explains that he began working for the North Island Credit Union in San Diego in 1993, after working at a small independent broker-dealer called Financial Planners Equity Corp.

In the course of 10 years at North Island, he had become program manager, while also serving as advisor to about 100 clients whom he had brought in on his own initiative from outside the credit union.

At that point he was approached by Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union, which was offering him a post as financial advisor at a branch located on a campus of Hewlett Packard.

“Addison,” says Everhart, “has the number-one advisory plan for credit unions in the country. They use a Select Employee Group (SEG) model, and HP was one of them.” (Raymond James is the TPM for Addison.)

The draw, he says, was the idea of being on site with some 2,000 employees of HP who are “educated, smart and well-paid.” He was able to bring most of the 100 clients he had developed on his own, thanks to an arrangement he had made at his prior job in becoming program manager. He also inherited a small number of clients who stayed at Addison instead of leaving with his predecessor (who had taken most of her old clients with her.)

“It was a scary transition going from program manager on salary with overrides to being totally on my own at Addison, but it worked out well,” Everhart said. “My income doubled in five years, and this year my income was up another 37% over 2013.”

The mid-career leap from North Island to Addison Avenue Credit Union was not Everhart’s first leap of faith. The first came early.

He recalls that he had just graduated from the University of Kansas, with plans of going into business as a financial advisor, perhaps with his father, who he says was one of the first graduates to earn a Certified Financial Planner degree, and was working as a full service advisor with US Life in Kansas City, Mo.

“Then this guy came to the house saying I should go out west to California, because of all the new aerospace workers out there, so I decided to try it.”

Everhart moved to San Diego and never looked back.

He attributes his success to several things, but the most important he says, are having a good mentor, and having patience. “My mentor was my dad. He warned me that the hardest thing would be finding clients, and advised me that going out west where there were a lot of new people without any contacts would make me a front-runner. Dad also told me that having credentials would be important, so in 1986, I earned my CFP. That really catapulted my career.”

He continues: “There are a lot of credentials out there, but the CFP has a lot of respect from clients. Having that training and the credential helps me get clients and helps me serve them. I’m not some one-trick pony. I can help people in all kinds of areas, even including taxes.”

As for patience, he says he had to recognize that as a young man, people wouldn’t immediately trust him, and he’d have to build a reputation.

To help things along, he says he decided to take advantage of his optical deficit. “I got myself a pair of those ‘Poindexter’ glasses with the big dark frames. They made me look older and more serious.” (In the years since, he ditched the glasses in favor of laser eye surgery.)

Patience, he says, comes in handy when a young person comes to see you about something simple.

“I had a kid come in who had just finished a summer job and he wanted me to set up a Roth IRA for him. So I did it, and he was so excited that he brought in his sister. Her mother came in along with her and after watching me work with the sister, she said, ‘You know, my husband should talk with you.’ So she came back with her husband and now they are really good clients of mine.”

When you delve into someone’s finances, you may well find some significant ways you can help them, he says. “Whenever you sit down with someone, you need to turn that meeting into a more comprehensive session. If you don’t do that, shame on you.”

Another example from his own clientele: “The same kind of thing happened with a guy who came in saying he wanted to set up an education fund for his kids. I could have done that and been done with it, but instead I said, “I’d love to do it for you, but let me talk with you first.”

Everhart explains that this session doesn’t have to be endless—15 to 20 minutes is enough. “Then you can cut it off,” he says. “Tell the person you’ll do a write-up and then give them your findings on debt management, cash management, education funding. etc. Maybe even give them a homework assignment, like coming back with documents you need, like bank statements and insurance papers.” That is where you get your new clients—from those kinds of meetings, he says.

Everhart also generally does a retirement analysis for every client, he says. One tip for others in the industry: “Become an expert on Social Security. Social Security is huge, and if you really understand it, you can be a powerful resource.”

His other word of advice to aspiring or new financial advisors: “To differentiate yourself from the competition, you have to be ready to do pro bono work.

Don’t be afraid to give clients and people who stop in to see you advice that doesn’t contribute to your income—things like debt consolidation, or 401(k) rebalancing advice or budgeting assistance. When you do that, people are thinking, ‘This guy helps me in so many ways, how can I complain about a 1% fee for his other services?’”

He adds, “That kind of word travels fast. Working at a place like HP, where people all know each other, I can’t afford to have someone saying ‘That guy had no time for me.’ I want them saying, “That guy helped me and he didn’t even make a penny for doing it.”

So far, Everhart’s approach seems to be working famously. Who knows, he suggests, its may even place him high-up on the BIC list next year.

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