Do Americans Have a Good Grasp on Financial Planning?

This month, we are discussing “financial planning” on 4word’s content. Leading our discussion is Kay Lynn Mayhue, President of Merit, which manages over 5 billion in RIA and Brokerage assets under management. As a Christian woman in the C-Suite, Kay Lynn understands the pressures women face as they try to find balance. If financial planning is something that has always left you feeling overwhelmed, Kay Lynn hopes to relieve that pressure this month!

You can listen to more of our conversation with Kay Lynn on our podcast, Work, Love, Pray! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the financial industry?  

I was in college, trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was taking a bunch of accounting and finance classes and was doing pretty well in those. But I loved people! I had been in sales while in college, and I was really looking for something that would take my passion around analysis, planning, and numbers, and join that with the “people side” of business. A professor then came to me and said, “You’re doing really good in these classes. I’m an adjunct professor in financial planning. I’d love to talk to you a little bit about the financial planning track that my college has.”

That was exciting and got my attention! So I’m one of those rare people that actually studied in school what I ended up making a career out of. I was one of the first graduating classes of University of North Texas that had the financial planning track which qualified me to sit for that CFP designation that I took just a few years after graduation. I know I got to where I am because of great people pouring into me and really trying to figure out what inspired me. My career path was the best of both worlds to really be helping people. 

In your words, what is financial planning? 

I would sum financial planning up as doing risk management at the same time as maximizing opportunities. It’s a fine line of planning for what could happen and hoping for the best circumstances. Most people think of financial planning and they think of investments. We do spend a good amount of time with our clients thinking through phases of life and how much should be saved before you enter retirement. But there are also other things that come up with financial planning. When I think of risk management, I think of things like dying too soon. What if something happens to you and your family is financially dependent upon you—have you planned for that? We also balance that with the question of “what if you lived too long?” 

So financial planning means you’re balancing the “bad what ifs” and the “great what ifs” all at the same time. 

Do you think Americans have a good grasp on financial planning and health? 

I would say we have underserved people in our communities. What I would consider to be mass affluent and wealthy individuals have access to great financial advisors and great financial planners because they have the means to hire someone or to pay the advisory cost on their portfolio to have someone professionally manage that. We do have people that need financial planning, but they can’t access it. I’ve got a huge passion around what I would consider to be financial literacy and reaching the folks at any stage.

Two of my five kids are in college right now. I think every high school and college kid should have to take a personal financial planning class to start learning how to speak money. So many people either don’t get exposed to the practice of financial planning early in life, or they don’t have someone who’s pouring in and really helping guide them in critical time periods where they might be prone to end up in credit card debt or having an enormous amount of student loan debt.

So in general, my answer would be, no, we’re not doing a good job with finances in America. There is a crisis in America as it relates to preparing for financial independence and being good stewards of the financial means that we have. 

In today’s uncertain economy, what new challenges have surfaced that threaten financial planning in the current market? 

One of the positives is folks have really put their attention on understanding what they’re doing with their money. Many people were automatically investing in a 401k but not really looking at the underlying investments to see if those were appropriate for where they are in their life cycle as far as savings and getting closer to retirement. So when you get a savings statement and that statement is down considerably, it causes everybody to say, “Am I doing the right thing?!” It’s kind of like a health scare. It can get your attention real quick and drive you into action. 

The other thing I’ve noticed is that people are more comfortable finding the experts that they need and not having to have them be in their backyard. Before COVID, people were very specifically looking for a financial advisor that was in their backyard, because they needed to have that relationship. That has now become less and less a necessity for individuals. They just want to find that individual or that company to partner with that really meets their needs, regardless of their office location.  

Do you think women face the same money issues as men? Or do women have different things they worry about when it comes to financial planning? 

I love that question, and having personally helped between 400 and 500 families go through different life transitions, it’s fascinating for me to see the differences between men and women in terms of financial planning. I feel like, as a financial advisor and being client facing for the first 25 years or so of my career, it was a huge advantage to be a female in a male-dominated industry. I was always paired with males on the team because we bring different things to the equation. That diversity brings some really great synergies to an advising relationship. In general, women feel like they’re looking at things through that risk management lens. On the other side, men, in general, are worried about capitalizing on the opportunities.

I think it makes a beautiful combination when you can bring both the husband and the wife into that financial planning relationship, because God has made us differently and that is why we’re partnered together. It’s a misstep when advisors in the financial planning and investment world build their client relationship with the man only. This is a partnership, and I will not do an upfront meeting unless the husband and wife are both present and involved, because we feel like we need to understand what their combined financial planning objectives are.

Kay Lynn has played many roles in the financial advisory industry: as a successor, partner, seller, and buyer. This unique and diverse background allows her to be able to relate to advisors in all phases of their careers and mergers and acquisitions. With a background in financial planning and leadership, her career expands over several areas, including advising clients, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic growth. 

Kay Lynn worked her way up from an entry-level position to earn her seat at the C-Suites table as President of Merit, which manages over 5 billion in RIA and Brokerage assets under management. She holds her CFP®, AEP®, and RFC® and has been a critical decision-maker for two firms over the past twenty years. Kay Lynn has overseen multiple mergers and acquisitions over the past four years and has been recognized for her position as a female leader in the financial services industry.

She is passionate about helping people take their careers – and themselves – to exceptional levels. Kay Lynn’s influence in the industry and her drive for success is a driving factor in Merit’s ongoing growth and appeal to growth-oriented advisors.