Three local financial professionals have launched a new business after merging their separate financial planning, investment management, insurance, tax accounting and bookkeeping companies.
“We’re the only firm in town that has all of our disciplines together under one roof. There’s no competitor that we are aware of that can do everything we do, all with one phone call and one address,” said Jeffrey P. Lewis, owner and founder of one of the merging companies, Epic Trust Investment Advisors of Kennewick.
Lewis, Nathan Burt of Kennewick’s Burt Tax & Accounting, and Tyson Reil of Real Insurance Solutions in Kennewick merged their businesses on July 1 to form Epic Trust Financial Group.
The new company moved into HomeStreet Bank’s former commercial banking office at 1305 Fowler St., Suite 1D, in Richland. Minimal tenant improvements were required to ready the space.
Epic Trust subsequently acquired four other businesses: Advisor Benefits Group of Kennewick; ALP Financial Planning of Richland, Precision Accounting Solutions of Kennewick, and Balanced Accounting & Bookkeeping of Kennewick, bringing on their full teams and increasing their total employment to 23.
“You see some financial planning and some insurance services grouped together, but again, it’s the same guy doing your business insurance, home and auto insurance and some of your investments. So my argument is, if you’re doing all that, then what are you good at?” Reil said.
“That’s why we are adamant about having true professionals siloed out into different departments but working collaboratively together.”
Earning client trust
Instead of hiring an accountant for tax filing, payroll and bookkeeping, another professional to get financial advice, and an agent—or sometimes multiple agents—to oversee insurance plans, Epic Trust offers a one-stop shop.
Burt provided an example of how well it can work: he recently asked an accounting client, whose business insurance was handled by another office, if they would like Epic’s insurance team to look over their books to try and find them a better deal.
“Tyson went through their books with me, and we had access to all of their details, and so we could tailor an insurance plan for that business that was cheaper than what they were paying for and just as good of coverage, just because we knew more detailed information than anybody else would,” Burt said.
For less than the cost of one mid-level employee, businesses can hire Epic Trust’s professionals to manage all their financial needs, Lewis said.
“They get a CPA, a credentialed insurance agent, a certified financial planner. They get a paraplanner, they get a bookkeeper and an accountant … realistically, for way less money than they can afford to hire all of those disciplines in house,” he said.
Lewis said one of the biggest reasons Epic Trust’s model makes sense and why it’s gained so much traction is clients’ sense of trust.
“When it’s not just one financial advisor or one insurance agent or one tax person that they’re going to meet with and hope that they do a good job for them, now we’ve got multiple disciplines that all have to agree or are planning to talk to each other about what’s going on with our clients so that we can serve them. And that takes the trust level from where it is on an individual basis and puts us in a category that most other firms may not be able to achieve,” Lewis said.
Overcoming the hurdles
It begs the question: if this model translates to such significant added value to clients and a potential uptick in business, why haven’t other financial professionals joined forces to offer similar experiences?
“There’s always risk in partnering with someone,” Burt said.
Despite the three having known each other for years, they admitted there were still hurdles to overcome.
“The biggest one was probably just giving up that control of being the guy in charge,” Reil said.
“We were all president of our own company prior to this and deciding to give up a certain level of control and profitability or how decisions are made, that’s a really tough decision for a lot of people to make,” Lewis agreed.
He explained that a lot of people in the financial fields want to just specialize in being a CPA or only handle investments or only sell insurance.
“I think a lot of folks that are in our professions, they have a harder time seeing how these synergies working together really come into play,” Lewis said.
Burt explained how offering multiple services from one office involved sorting out plenty of logistics, including “age, having the right bedside manner, having similar ambitions, a client base that’s willing to follow, and similar values. So, it had to take like 10 matching factors to make it work, and so I think that’s why nobody else does it.”
The official merger came after nine months of strategic planning.
The Epic Trust team recommends that anyone interested in partnering or merging with another business to work through “The Partnership Charter: How to Start Out Right with Your New Business Partnership (or Fix the One You’re In)” by David Gage.
The book offers guidance, questionnaires and scenarios prospective partners tackle together to make sure they align on critical points and that all logistical and legal questions are addressed and agreed upon—even those that are difficult to talk about, such as how different partners will be compensated.
Lewis said understanding how the financial equation will work is one of the most important aspects. “One of the big reasons most businesses fail in the first several years is they don’t have enough money.”
“It’s going through that process and exploring, ‘What if…then what?’ ” Reil said.
He added, “Legally, it’s hard. We spent a lot of money on attorneys to get our business plan hammered out and had a lot of conversations with our governing bodies to make sure we’re in compliance, so there are some severe compliance hurdles that need to be addressed to do this right.”
After the merge was official, the Epic Trust team said the next challenge was blending company culture, an ongoing process.
“That was one of my negotiating pieces coming into this, is this has to be a good place to work,” Reil said.
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