“Everyone deserves financial security” – How One Advisor Took an Uncommon Path to Founding and Growing Their Firm for Overlooked Clients

About Stories of the Trusted Advisor

In Stories of the Trusted Advisor, we showcase the amazing advisors that work with Bridge. We’ll explore what made them want to become advisors, how they went about founding their firms, how they serve their clients in new and unique ways.
Bridge believes in people over products, and these stories embody that philosophy. That philosophy is what drives our mission to deliver technology that transforms data into actionable insights that empower advisors to make a greater impact in their clients’ lives.

The Showcase

In this feature, Bridge has the pleasure of showcasing Leighann Miko, CFP ® (She/Her), Founder of Equalis Financial.

Leighann’s path to becoming a financial advisor was far from typical. As a child, Leighann grew up raised by a strong single mother challenged by financial uncertainty. In many ways, the cards were stacked against her. Leighann recalls having no idea if she would ever be able to make something of herself. It would ultimately be those fears and challenges she faced as a child that inspired her to enter a career in financial planning. As an advisor, Leighann found fulfillment helping clients secure a life she had faced uncertainty in achieving for herself.

“What makes me unique and helps me connect with my clients is my own story of how I grew up and where I came from. Because I know the fear and stress of financial insecurity, I can empathize with people who come from similar backgrounds. For people starting to achieve financial security for the first time, I’m able to paint a picture of what it would be like if they didn’t have money, and empathize with people about their deepest fears around money.”

Leighann worked for established firms for 10 years, making a significant impact in her clients’ lives during that time. However, during that time she also realized that she didn’t find it fulfilling  working under someone, and was seeking more autonomy and freedom. Leighann said “I realized that if I wanted to be successful in the long-term, and focus on the clients I cared most deeply about, I would need to find a different direction to do this.”
Originally, Leighann approached a mentor who was planning on retiring. The two of them devised a succession plan they began to execute on. At that firm, Leighann’s niche target was LGBTQ folks, and she found that work particularly rewarding. However, after working on the succession target for nearly a year, due to external factors, the plan unexpectedly dissolved and Leighann was forced back to square one.

“When the succession plan dissolved, I said to myself ‘I guess I’m starting my own RIA.’ I was terrified, yet confident to take this challenge on myself.”

Motivated by frustration in not being able to find a firm that supported the type of clients she really wanted to work with, and an unflappable spirit in the face of unexpected challenges, Leighann founded Equalis Financial. She said “I wanted to support clients who truly needed financial guidance to achieve their dreams. I wanted to help people who were typically ignored or underserved by other advisors. People who were looking at the potential for security for the first time but weren’t sure how. People who really needed help.”
When growing her own firm Leighann focused on serving her ideal client. Leighann works predominately with LGBTQ folks, many of whom are in the creative or entertainment industries. “A lot of my clients are in the entertainment industry. I help them create the financial security and stability that they’re often desperately seeking. Most advisors have never truly experienced this nor does it resonate, so it’s a unique niche I’ve carved out. Overall, my firm is very socially focused.”
In addition to developing a strong client niche, Leighann has also developed an unconventional and impactful approach to financial planning. Leighann’s unique approach focuses on people first, and money second. In her process, Leighann spends the first three meetings with clients not talking about money at all. Rather, during that time Leighann and her clients are discussing their ideal life, creating a more solidified vision of that, and pinpointing potential obstacles to and accelerants in achieving those goals. Leighann explains “In this process, I’m merely facilitating a conversation to help people arrive at what their ideal life looks like. Then, once we have that mapped out, we look at the available resources. We then begin to think of what they need from the perspectives of returns, cash flows, and overall time horizon. I pull all this together to help the client understand the full picture.”

When asked why she takes such a deep diligent approach––one that some have told her is unconventional––Leighann was matter of fact: “My planning approach is the foundation to everything I work on with clients. I believe that, you only set the foundation once, and then you expand on it and build on it. I want to make sure that what my client is building on isn’t going to crumble. This is why during my process, I really poke and prod to ensure my client has an accurate picture of what they want out of life. I make sure that the foundation we build won’t end up having cracks later on.”

Through her unique, thoughtful approach and a genuine care with clients, Leighann has grown her firm from only a couple clients to over 35 clients and $13MM AUM single-handedly with no support staff. She looks forward to continuing to grow her firm and making an impact in her clients’ lives well into the future.

About Equalis Financial

Equalis Financial is an independent fee-only firm based in Los Angeles, California specializing in financial planning, business management, and investment management services. Equalis Financial balances the financial playing field by ensuring equal access to their services.
Equalis Financial’s mission is to empower and equip thoughtfully ambitious professionals, especially LGBTQ+ creatives who work in the entertainment industry. Since Equalis was founded by a member of the LGBTQ+ community, serving the underserved is at the heart of everything we do.
Learn more about Equalis Financial.