Kennewick financial planner ventures into independent practice

A tool designed to protect a climber from a fall or ascend a mountain faster is the inspiration behind the name of a new independent practice headed up by a Kennewick financial planner. Named Piton Wealth for the mountaineering tool known as a piton, founder and Chief Executive Officer Michelle Clary likes to compare people’s financial path to climbing a mountain.

Michelle Clary

Michelle Clary

“The success or failure of your journey depends not only on your progress, but also how well you plan and prepare for the climb ahead,” she said.

Clary, 42, has been a wealth advisor for Thrivent Financial for 17 years and her practice was one of six nationwide to be chosen as an independent practice, with the other five in much larger communities. Thrivent is a national company based in Minneapolis.

By branching off, Clary will be able to create a succession plan for her business and is able to market it on the local level, instead of using branding provided by corporate leadership to all its practices nationwide.

Clary said she believes her practice is set apart from other financial planners in the Tri-Cities in that she focuses on comprehensive planning versus managing dollars. She said the level to which the company partners with other professionals provides a unique service to her clients.

Clary has trademarked a process she calls The Navigated Journey, with four phases of planning: discover, design, realize and achieve.

Clary said the mountaineering inspiration “just worked well in defining the process. We have very engaged, intentional clients who ask us to get to know their needs and then work alongside them in the journey to their goal, as defined by them.”

The six Piton Wealth team members are physically active and many enjoy hiking, though none have used a piton on a mountain. “We’ll get there,” Clary promised.

The employees recently spent time learning the ropes at an indoor rock-climbing wall as a team-building exercise.

Thrivent Financial is unique in that it is a fraternal organization and exempt from corporate taxes. Clary said the money saved amounts to about $200 million a year on a nationwide basis, and about $200,000 a year for her local practice, which can then be directed elsewhere.

“It’s like a charitable dividend every year called Thrivent Choice Dollars,” Clary said. “Clients will receive anywhere between $50 and $2,500 a year, based on their fraternal participation, that they can direct or give to a charity.”

Local nonprofits benefiting from these donations include Habitat for Humanity, Grace Clinic and Second Harvest. Clary’s team and clients also provide community service to these groups.

Anyone can become a client of Piton Wealth, but to become a member of Thrivent Financial, it’s required to sign a simple faith statement.

“It’s very generic,” Clary said. “It says, ‘I am a Christian seeking to live out my faith.’ ”

Clary said this necessity is because members of a fraternal organization must be united by a common bond. For Thrivent, that bond is their Christian faith. Those clients who choose not to become members of Thrivent are given options of others they can broker through instead. Clary finds that many people are drawn to her practice, even if they don’t become members of Thrivent, because they appreciate the element of fraternalism.

“It really gets in your heart,” she said.

Piton Wealth opened a second practice in Walla Walla in January, coinciding with its independent designation, and also serves clients worldwide.

Clary said she might consider future expansions to Spokane and Flathead, Montana, but right now believes “it’s critical to make haste slowly.”

Clary’s practice shares a building with a corporate training and event facility, Sageland Center, where Piton Wealth holds educational events for clients.

Clary sees herself as an important guide in helping people reach the summit, no matter what their financial goal may be.

Piton Wealth: 11257 W. Clearwater Ave., Suite 110, Kennewick; 509-582-0570;

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