A healthy approach to financial planning

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  • | 12:00 p.m. March 18, 2009
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by Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Staff Writer

One local financial planner has focused on getting her clients to be physically fit, so they can be fiscally fit.

After searching for answers about what she and her husband needed in order to retire, Dr. Carolyn McClanahan, 44, decided to look into financial planning herself. She became so interested that she enrolled in the University of North Florida’s Certified Financial Planner Professional Certification Program.

“I went back to school and had fun,” said McClanahan.

Shortly after earning her certificate, she opened Life Planning Partners with the idea of developing a lifetime relationship to help people reach their life goals rather than just their financial goals.

“If you are looking to hit it big in the stock market, we might not be the right people for you,” said McClanahan. “Financial planning shouldn’t just be about money. We look at your physical, emotional and financial health to find out how you can reach your goals. It’s all about living consciously.”

Using her medical background as a family practice and emergency room doctor, McClanahan helps clients position themselves better for life, long-term care and health insurance coverage.

“Say someone is 30 pounds overweight,” said McClanahan. “That can equate to hundreds of dollars in insurance premiums as they get older.”

McClanahan isn’t just speaking as a doctor — she maintains her board certification by volunteering at the Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless — she also talks from personal experience.

“My dad owned a donut shop, so I was a little pudgy when I was growing up,” said McClanahan. “So I figured if I’m going to do life planning then I have to practice what I preach and I lost about 30 pounds.”

Relying on her network of contacts in the medical industry and through personal activities including running and cycling, she opened the doors of Life Planning Partners in 2004 on St. Augustine Road in San Marco. She currently reports 34 clients, with average salaries of $150,000 a year.

“They are mostly doctors, business owners and business managers that are a rung below CEOs,” said McClanahan. “We help some ensure they have enough money invested to help them retire comfortably for their fun time and others are working jobs they hate, but make a lot of money. They are just married to the lifestyle and we help them prepare for a transition to something they love doing.”

Doug and Jean Alred, owners of First Place Sports, have been with Life Planning Partners since 2004 and have enjoyed the personalized attention they receive from McClanahan.

“I don’t think we ever had a face-to-face meeting with our previous advisors after the initial meeting,” said Jean Alred. “She goes above and beyond any service we’ve ever had. Recently we were looking for a new payroll company, and she did all the research for us and presented us with options.”

McClanahan has kept a “small” group of clients due to the “intensive process” that is involved in the service her company provides. She meets with her clients regularly and schedules quarterly meetings to review their goals in the first quarter, investment plan in the second, estate plan in the third and tax/cash flow planning in the fourth to find out if any adjustments have to be made.

She isn’t content to rest on the comfy furniture in her office condo in San Marco. McClanahan also has a plan to achieve her goals.

Tapping into the medical background again, she would like to see a residency program developed for certified planners structured after the medical internship model.

“I’m working to develop a three-year residency program for Certified Financial Planners,” said McClanahan. “Most entry-level positions available for CFPs are in sales, but that position doesn’t offer experience in all areas of financial planning. There are a growing number of family planners coming out of the program.”

Experience is necessary for people to follow in McClanahan’s footsteps. Before she became involved in financial planning, she working in the medical field for 18 years and also in the medical insurance industry. This allowed her to build up a network of potential clients and now she does little advertising.

“We rely on word-of-mouth, Web site and speaking engagements,” said McClanahan. “This would not be easy to do for someone just getting their certification.”

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