Politics and portfolios align at Modernist Financial, an RIA in Portland, Oregon, whose investing focuses unequivocally on progressive politics. At this firm, talking politics with clients is far from taboo.
“The golden rule for giving financial advice is that you never talk about politics. But everybody I talk to is hungry to talk about politics,” Georgia Hussey, CEO and founder of Modernist, tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.
Launched in 2013, the firm is a certified B Corporation managing $70 million in client assets.
Folks in the creative arts and those connected with the real estate and property development world constitute much of Modernist’s clientele.
Hussey, 43, a former writer and sculptor, started out as a financial advisor at Wells Fargo Advisors in 2011, then moved to Rosenbaum Financial Group, a small Portland firm.
At both, she felt stymied.
During her Wells Fargo stint, she says, “I took a loss on a lot of clients because I needed to be able to charge financial planning fees to do the work I’m doing.”
“My entire career was people telling me that what I wanted to do was crazy and that no one would pay for it. I’ve learned over the years that that’s not true,” Hussey says.
She continues. “I’m not making my business based on the industry. If anything, if the industry disagrees with me, “I’m like, ‘Oh good. I must be on the right track.’”
When Hussey left Rosenbaum to start her own firm, again because of financial planning frustrations, she knew that her company “would have to be oriented toward the good of all people, not just my financial benefit,” she says.
Through sustainable investing options and financial life planning, Hussey helps investors structure their wealth according to their progressive values.
In the interview, the certified financial planner discusses the savings and investing advice she’s providing in this market downturn and recessionary environment and her technique for keeping clients calm when markets do plummet.
ThinkAdvisor recently chatted by phone with Hussey, who was speaking from Portland.
The Sarah Lawrence College graduate, a writer and sculptor before becoming an advisor, declares in her firm’s manifesto: “We reject stereotypes — cheapskates, spendthrifts, bootstraps, silver spoons.”
Here are highlights of our interview:
THINKADVISOR: What’s your ideal client?
GEORGIA HUSSEY: I want to work with folks who are interested in how we make simple decisions in a broken culture and how to help make the world better through the choices we make — not just our own families richer.
What’s your overall objective?
A lot of our work is about acknowledging that investment management is constructed in an inequitable society, whether it’s gender, race, class or immigration status.
The work we’re doing is to bring that forward and help people make grounded decisions that are more about collective benefits than just their own benefits by including the greater community’s needs in their decisions.
Modernist has become a laboratory for understanding what ethical decision-making means when we have resources.
You’re politically progressive and chose to specialize in progressive investing. Please elaborate.
When I started in the business, I worked with creative professionals — designers, writers, musicians — because so many have money stories about whether they’re able to be successful.
When I [founded] Modernist in 2013 and then with the 2016 [presidential] election, I saw there was an overlap with the creative clients I had and the political work I’ve always done personally.
As the Trump administration took power, it became very clear that all I wanted to do was talk about the political impact of the decisions our clients were making.
They felt constrained within the systems we’re all operating in. I looked at my client list and saw that everyone was politically progressive because they were already attracted to working with me — and they wanted to work with a Certified B Corp, which we became in 2017.
In 2018, we made the full pivot to progressive politics, making that the explicit focus of the firm. In some ways it was there the whole time.
Have you encountered pushback from the, largely conservative, industry?
I’m not making my business based on the industry. If anything, if the industry disagrees with me, I’m like, “Oh, good. I must be on the right track.’”
My entire career was people telling me that what I wanted to do was crazy and that no one would pay for it. I’ve learned over the years that’s not true.
People will be like, “Wait — you talk about politics with your clients!” The golden rule for giving financial advice is that you never talk about politics. But everybody I talk to is hungry to talk about politics.
You were a financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors and a financial planner with Rosenbaum Financial Group. Why did you start your own firm?
At Wells Fargo, I took a loss on a lot of clients because I needed to be able to charge financial planning fees in order to do the work I’m doing.
I left Rosenbaum so that I could do financial planning.
Also, I needed to choose my investment committee.
I felt that I was actually being forced to start a company because the industry so deeply didn’t believe or see the vision I had for what was possible in working with clients.
We have clients who pay us $25,000 in cash for financial planning fees, and they’re fine with it. They understand the value of advice.
I was told that was insane, that nobody would pay more than $2,000 a year for financial planning.
My goal is to [increase] clients’ assets so they’re well over $1 million and aren’t paying us financial planning fees anymore.
How have your portfolios performed during this market downturn?
Quite well. Several positions outperformed the benchmarks significantly. Everything performed the way I would expect in a rising-interest-rate, recessionary environment.
Broadly, what stance should investors take?
I think the mistake a lot of people make in a recession or economic downturn is to turn off their financial structures because they get scared and panic.
But you shouldn’t turn off savings and investing. Just save a little less for retirement or start living off reserves from your business, not cash flow.
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