As a child, Jesse grew up in a middle class family in southern Louisiana. His father worked in a chemical plant but took up a hobby of getting involved in the stock market to help him grow his retirement savings. Jesse recalls “As a child, my dad always taught me about the stock market. As I got older and started to think about what I wanted to do with my life, I was naturally interested in investments because it would make my dad proud. I decided to go to school for finance with a specialization in investment management.”
While in school, Jesse had a pivotal experience that solidified his dream of becoming a financial advisor while joining his father for a meeting with his current financial advisor. At the time, his father had only been working with the advisory firm for a few years and was still testing the waters with their approach. Jesse recounts that during the meeting “the advisor didn’t seem to know much. My dad was asking him why he hadn’t made a single change in three years, and the advisor told him he had my dad on the firm’s boilerplate plan and left it at that.”
Jesse was taken aback by the advisor’s inattentive approach that left him and his father feeling taken for granted, underserved, and insecure in their finances. “Even at that young age, I already knew that people’s money and investments need attention. What works today, might not work next year. Technology is constantly advancing, companies are always changing, and people’s situations evolve.” Leaving that meeting with his father, who was extremely disappointed, Jesse remembers thinking, “This isn’t how you manage people’s money. People deserve a great advisor. I have an opportunity to help other people do things the right way.”
This experience motivated Jesse to pursue finance, investments, and advising even more passionately. By the time he finished school and started his career, Jesse already had several years of experience managing his own investments and gathering financial know-how and best practices. As he quickly progressed in his day job, from an Analyst to the Director of Finance, his passion for helping others only grew. When it came to retirement, understanding investments, and personal finance, Jesse recalls first family members, and then friends, and then friends-of-friends calling on him for help. “I was always helping people and never charged anyone a penny. One day I was helping two extended family members with their retirement planning over lunch. As we came to a close, they asked, ‘What do we owe you for this work to help transition us to retirement?’ I told them “you don’t owe me a thing.” They leaned across the table and said, ‘What is wrong with you? Jesse, people want to pay you to do this for them. You need to become a full-fledged financial advisor. We know all the people you’ve helped so far, it’s time for you to do this.”
Jesse walked straight out of that meeting and registered for the Series 65 exam sitting in his truck outside the restaurant. “I realized in that meeting that people need people who are willing to help them without a hidden agenda. That’s what everyone is looking for in life. I knew I wanted to take care of people, charge reasonable, clear fees when folks could afford them, do things the right way, and never take commissions from investments. I was going to serve people and their finances the same way I would want someone to do so for me.”
It was on that principle that Jesse founded his firm, Fortune 45 Financial Advisors, but his start wasn’t without challenges. In the early days, Jesse was balancing working nights and weekends on his firm with the demands of his day-job. Moreover, Jesse was determined to ensure he was setting up his business the right way with the highest standards possible. “At the time, the biggest challenge was that I had no one I could go to for advice. I like to be thorough and exact. I like to operate morally and ethically at all times. I didn’t know anyone personally I could trust to do things at the level I wanted to do them. I had to figure it out all on my own.” Jesse took a hands-on approach and reached out directly to the lead Securities Division auditor for the Louisiana state Office of Financial Institutions for advice on founding his firm. “I wanted to know how to start a firm, become an advisor, and have all of the correct systems and documents in place right from the beginning. I knew even my very first clients needed to have the most exceptional experience.”
Starting from day one, Jesse always took a unique approach to working with clients. “Every single client meeting, I tell the clients the same thing, ‘Talk to me like I’m your brother, or like I’m your son. You don’t have to worry about a sales pitch, no invoice, and if you don’t need an advisor, that’s okay.’” Jesse emphasizes “Many folks we talk to don’t need an advisor right away, and we tell them that. Our goal is to make sure people get the answers that they need, when they need them, and be ready to be their trusted advisor if and when they need that.”
Through this approach and passion for helping people and caring for his clients, Jesse grew his firm rapidly. Starting from nothing in 2014, working on lunch breaks, nights and weekends, he ended 2015 with $5M AUM. He then made the decision then to make the leap to full time, and from there Jesse scaled the firm to over $73M AUM by the end of 2019. In all this time spending nothing on sales and marketing—Fortune 45’s growth came from referrals and word of mouth alone. “Most people need help with their finances, but they don’t know who to call and they think it’s going to cost them a ton of money. Fortune 45 has a solid reputation for offering no-pressure financial advice. This reputation has been all we need for growth. We don’t have to spend any money on marketing, because we have organic growth. This has been our approach consistently since day one, so all of our new clients come from referrals and word of mouth.”
Early in Fortune 45’s growth, Jesse faced new challenges scaling his business while wanting to maintain the highest standard of client service. Within 12 months of starting, Jesse realized he’d reached a point in his firm’s growth where his current processes needed to be streamlined and enhanced with technology so he could focus on clients. He said “As the firm got bigger in the early days, I could still handle all the client relationships on my own, but I couldn’t do it anymore running my business manually or with Excel. I needed good technology, and knew it would be my ticket to the next stage of growth.
Jesse implemented Bridge as his portfolio and practice management solution at the start of 2017. He recalls “making my company super efficient in billing and performance & client reporting was exactly what I needed to do. Bridge provides all the things my firm needs to be efficient and effective, giving me the tools and time for higher quality client management.” With his culture, systems, processes, and technology in place, Jesse was able to grow extensively without hiring additional staff until 2019. Now on-track to hit nearly $110 AUM by the end of 2020, Jesse and his firm is focused on hiring and training more advisors to manage clients with the Fortune 45 level of care.
This stage of growth has brought with it a unique set of challenges. He said “It’s a delicate balance because established advisors often don’t do things the way we do things at Fortune 45. Usually, they come from a sales culture and we’re just not like that. We’re a people-first culture, we’re helpers, and we like things to be that way.”
Jesse has focused on bringing in younger advisors who he can train on the client approach his firm takes. “I tend to bring in people who are eager to learn and to help others, and they’re the right people and I can bring them up the right way. I want my team members to make money the right way and the fiduciary way – by putting our clients first. It can be difficult to get people to not focus on the money in this line of work, but I always tell my team ‘let’s make other people money, and everything will fall into place. Do it for other people first.’” Jesse added “We’re in the hyper-growth stage in terms of our team. Leaders have to bring in the right employees, then give them the training and attention they need to have the spirit of excellence our firm thrives on. The next step will be continued expansion, opening more offices in other locations. From there, it’s continuing to grow, while always being thankful and content with what we have now.”
At the end of the day, Jesse remains clear on his northstar and what it means for him to be a financial advisor: “It’s about people. Life isn’t about money, it’s about doing what you’re called to do. And doing it for something bigger than just you. You have a calling to help people. We all have it in a different way. That’s why, when I go into client meetings, I don’t care if you have 500 or 5 million dollars, it doesn’t matter, I’m just here to help and serve.”