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The men and women in the Fraternal Order of Police were Brian McGinnis’ brothers and sisters. He had their back, and they had his.
But there was a problem: When it came to financial planning, investing and the byzantine rules of the Florida Retirement System, his colleagues were typically clueless. “People had no idea what they were doing with their pensions,” McGinnis says. “No idea at all.”
This bothered McGinnis, and he decided to do something about it.
His background, as it happens, was in engineering. Born in Vermont in 1958, he began his career in engineering production control at Hughes Aircraft in Glendale, Calif., and eventually found his way to Pinellas County, Fla., in 1988, where he entered the police academy. McGinnis then worked in the county’s corrections and court systems, and on patrol as a deputy sheriff and, 10 years later, moved to Hernando County, where he became a detective, a sniper on the police force’s SWAT team and, finally, a sergeant in the patrol division.
He also went back to school, getting degrees in business management and criminal justice from Hodges University in Naples, Fla. Around the same time, one of his friends on the force left to go to work for Raymond James, and something clicked for McGinnis.
“Being a financial advisor looked interesting, and I realized I could help people,” McGinnis recalls. “I began studying the Florida Retirement System for state employees. I educated myself.”
What he found was a complicated system with myriad rules and options, including a defined benefit plan, a defined retirement account, cash investments in mutual funds and a self-directed brokerage account.
At state police conventions, McGinnis began to notice booths touting “Florida Retirement System Specialists.” When he went over to check them out, he discovered that “they were actually insurance companies selling annuities to cops,” who weren’t aware of the relatively high costs. McGinnis redoubled his efforts to get his arms around the retirement system, as well as personal finance and investing. He earned a number of financial designations, including the Series 6, 7 and 65. As word got around, police officers and other first responders came to him for financial advice.
By 2011, McGinnis had reached a crossroads. A friend on the force had just died in the line of duty — the fourth in four years. McGinnis had been a law enforcement officer for over 20 years. He felt he understood the retirement system and financial planning and enjoyed helping people out. It was time to make a move.
McGinnis retired from the force and opened Serve & Protect Financial, in Spring Hill, Fla., outside Tampa, targeting police officers and firefighters as his primary clientele. He had an advantage, of course, being an ex-policeman himself. “I know that world, I like the people and they’re comfortable with me — cops and firefighters don’t trust anyone but cops and firefighters.”
Like any niche market, law enforcement officers and other first responders have their own set of issues, including a high divorce rate, younger-than-average retirement age and a higher-than-average chance of becoming incapacitated while on the job.
“The rate of divorce among law enforcement officers is about 57%,” McGinnis says. “That affects financial planning, because if part of a client’s pension is going to go to an ex-spouse, that will mean the amount they receive in retirement will be different from what they were expecting.”
Serious injury on the job is “always a concern” for first responders, McGinnis continues. “In addition to health concerns, it can also affect your pension, because the agency you work for has the right to move you to another job,” he explains. “That job may no longer be classified as high risk, which means it may impact the amount of money you are eligible to receive.”
Clients who can retire in their 40s and 50s with a comfortable pension are also clients who requires more-complex financial planning, McGinnis points out. “First responders who are highly skilled have a lot of options for highly paid employment,” he says. “They can work for hospitals or security firms, for example, full-time or part-time. They have many years of work ahead of them, and need to understand their new benefits and rules like IRS rollovers.”
It was McGinnis’ ability to cogently explain the options in Florida’s confusing retirement system that persuaded Sheriff Brandon Ross of Hernando County to become a client. “I worked with Brian and know the man and his character,” Ross says. “He knows us and talks our talk, but it was Brian’s knowledge of the retirement system that made me comfortable. I’m not a financial guy and he answered any questions I had. The way he explained things were on my level. That was the deciding factor for me. He knew how the system worked.”
But three years after launching his firm, McGinnis still had less than $10 million in assets under management and realized he needed help himself if he wanted to grow.
“A turning point came when the Florida Retirement System introduced a self-directed brokerage account, which was no longer limited to the previous cash investment option of 20 mutual funds,” McGinnis says. “I realized that, when it came to investment options, like using a fund of funds, I would be out of my league and I needed more experience around me.”
A Tampa-based advisor for Independent Financial Partners, a super OSJ firm affiliated with LPL, knew McGinnis and suggested that he talk with executives of the firm. “We saw that Brian has an unparalleled passion for his clients and is truly devoted to first responders,” says Chris Hamm, executive vice president of Independent Financial Partners. “We expect Serve & Protect to become one of our larger and more prominent advisor firms.”
Originally published on 10/1/2015, on www.financial-planning.com, by Charles Paikert, Senior Editor, Financial Planning.