by Ross Marino, CFP®
Founder, Transitus Wealth Partners
Branch Manager, Raymond James Financial Services

Think back to when you were a teenager. Do you remember your 15th birthday? I do. I received gifts, just like any other birthday. I can't recall any of them, except one: A copy of Money Magazine. I was instantly fascinated with business, investments, and the stock market. Then, thanks to my mother, I had a subscription to Psychology Today during High School. Although I didn't know it at the time, I was destined to be a financial planner and help people make financial decisions.

My first real job was a financial advisor, focusing on investments. During one meeting with a prospective client, everything changed.

A married couple, we'll call them Mary and Phil, were approaching retirement. They asked if I would look at what they had and help them. I said, "of course!" They arrived at my office carrying stacks of files and papers. Thump. They plopped them down on my desk.

"We have investments, life insurance, benefits from work, savings accounts, mortgages, etc. We've accumulated all of this, but not sure what we should be doing now. Can you look at everything for us?" I could hear the overwhelm in their voices and see the confusion on their faces. They were wondering, did we make good decisions? Do we need all of these accounts and policies? They just weren't sure.

They wanted and needed much more than help with investments. That's when I knew I needed to become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and provide much more holistic advice.

And for the next 20 years, that's what I did. But along the way, I noticed some limitations to traditional financial planning.

Here’s what I learned. Our industry focuses on planning for the future. That's great. But life happens, and when it does, we are forced to make decisions and figure it out. As I thought about it, I realized we do just as much financial reacting as financial planning.

During those 20 years, I had to react to life as well. First, I spent six years recovering from a back injury. Instead of working in a traditional office, I had to work out of my house, lying either on the floor or in a recliner. Next, my wife and I adopted two wonderful girls and learned our youngest had some challenges. Shortly after that, my wife had some health issues and spent eight years being mostly bedridden.

I had to learn to juggle my physical limitations while being a parent to a child with challenges and a caregiver to my wife.

While my combination of challenges may be unique, it doesn't make me special. Life happens to everyone, and we all must react and figure it out.

So in 2015, I decided to specialize in helping people during life's most challenging times. I understood the financial side, but I needed more insight into the personal side. When life is stressful and uncertain, it's much harder to think clearly and make decisions.

An example is someone who is planning to retire or sell their business. One day, they’re thinking about what they could do for the next 20 years. The next day, a doctor says, "We found something." At that moment, plans change. Or consider someone looking forward to growing old with their soulmate, only to find themselves as a caregiver or suddenly single.

In these situations, people are coming to grips with traumatic changes. It's hard to think clearly. There may be family members, charities, or people selling something who comes knocking on their door. Some are well‐intentioned, while others are circling like sharks, only interested in taking advantage of someone who is vulnerable and has access to money.

Our foundation is and always will be financial planning. But life‐changing events happen to all of us. Some are planned and wonderful, like retirement. Others are sudden and traumatic, like losing a loved one. That's when people need the most help making decisions, and that’s when we need to be there for them.