However, the growth in this particular special needs niche comes as Scott and his team have worked to reduce the total number of clients they are working with—whittling that figure down to less than 150 clients from more than 400 over the course of more than a year. Currently, they have about $130 million in client assets under management. Much of the decision to scale back was based on the team's style of practice, Scott says, which emphasizes behavioral finance.
In fact, approximately six years ago behavioral finance planning became a bigger part of the practice, Scott says. His team works with clients first to identify their basic values, look at the decisions they are making, evaluate whether those decisions match their values and then ultimately decide on investment products that reflect their goals.
"We just felt we needed to increase our time spent per client," Scott says. "In some cases, there could be a whole meeting or multiple meetings spent on what type of decision to make, let alone having conversations about product."
Yet, it was Scott's personal experience that also drove the team's special needs emphasis. At about the same time, Scott's mother, who is now 63-years-old, was diagnosed with a combination of borderline personality disorder, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and also possibly schizoaffective disorder. Her condition includes persistent paranoia that has gotten in the way of a full diagnosis of her condition. That paranoia has also affected how well Scott, his father and two brothers are able to handle the family's wealth. Scott's mother has a tendency to hoard cash and hide it in clothes or various locations around the house.
Scott credits much of the progress his family had made in accepting his mother's illness to NAMI's Family-to-Family Education Program, in which both he and his brother participated. Like many of the more than 350,000 people who have taken that class to date, Scott says he found the experience life changing.
The 12-week NAMI course covers all of the major mental illnesses and topics including the pros and cons of medication, how caregivers can also take care of themselves and communicating with someone who suffers from mental illness. In one of those classes, one student will try to follow instructions while five or six people are also talking about different things at the same time to simulate what a person with schizophrenia experiences.
"We didn't really come to terms with it until after we got the education," Scott says of his family. "Mental illness is just not like cancer or other illnesses, where you can get a crystal clear diagnosis, you can deal with it and press ahead and here's the outcome."
Even as Scott's family began to address his mother's condition, he immediately leaned on his financial expertise. That included getting insurance together even as they just knew a diagnosis was coming. For long-term care, that meant taking on increased risk with an unlimited lifetime benefit that was more expensive than the traditional four to five-year benefit period.
Years later, there are still some parts of the family's wealth plan that Scott says he would like to get more in place, particularly with estate planning. But his mother's condition can sometimes prevent productive discussions. And having meaningful conversations often requires getting more than one family member involved. When family dynamics get in the way, Scott will pull in his financial advisor team members who also work with special needs clients to handle the conversation.
Scott says that having that first-hand experience enabled him to have a deeper connection starting from his first few clients dealing with special needs. "It was like all of a sudden talking to somebody and we speak the same language," Scott says. "We had the same types of challenges. We had the same level of understanding. There was an immediate connection, an immediate bond, an immediate level of trust, because we're coming from the same place."
'More Problems' Calls For More Options
But introducing Scott's team to the new strategy to target families facing mental illness was very different, Scott recalls. That included concerns about whether that strategy would be successful.
"I actually was initially faced with quite a bit of resistance, not because they didn't support my passion, but because they thought, 'Is there really a market for this? Are we going to spend a lot of time and not get a return on investment?'" Scott says. "Luckily, my team is very loyal, and they saw my vision and they pressed ahead with it."